If a Yes vote is our only option, let’s make the most of the only thing we’ve got left: haggling about the price

FINTAN O’TOOLE
Irish Times
13 Mar 2012
**Via Newshound

DURING THE Northern Ireland conflict, the IRA trained its members to withstand heavy interrogation. Pick a spot on the wall, stare at it and keep your mouth shut.

For Irish and European leaders, the spot on the wall is the fiscal treaty. Insistent questions – about democracy and justice, society and sustainability – are screaming out for answers.

But the eyes are fixed on a single spot and the mouths are firmly shut to everything but empty blandishments. The point is the same: to resist all efforts at the interrogation of current strategies and their consequences.

The rest of us, however, should be asking the questions. Let’s begin with what should be the simplest: who is to vote on the treaty? Answer: the sovereign Irish people.

But no such people exists. Scarcely a week goes by without one Minister or another on the radio, explaining the cut du jour, usually to something that makes the lives of vulnerable children or adults a little more bearable, by saying that he/she has no choice, that we have lost our sovereignty.

And they’re not lying. Ireland is no longer a self-governing nation – the most important economic and fiscal decisions are taken elsewhere.

The notion of a “sovereign people” exercising that sovereignty in a referendum is a fiction. Our feet have been cut off but we’re told to perform Riverdance for Nicolas and Angela’s euro-vision show.

Which brings us to the second question: do we actually have a choice?

If there is no choice, the act of voting is a charade. If they take the exercise at all seriously, both the Taoiseach and our rulers in Frankfurt and Brussels have an obligation to spell out for us what the consequences of a No vote will be.

Will the ECB pull the plug on its financing of the Irish banks? Will we be barred from further recourse to the European rescue funds?

Would the International Monetary Fund, which is outside of the treaty’s frame of reference, help us if our gallant allies in Europe will not?

To even begin to debate the treaty, we need this information and it’s the Government’s job to supply it.

Is there a gun to our heads or is there not? If we are facing the economic equivalent of “immediate and terrible war”, there’s nothing to debate. The vote is not Yes but Yes, Sir.

Or, if in fact there are no dire consequences to flow from a rejection of the treaty, we need to know that, too, because we could then discuss the treaty on its (in my view rather meagre) merits.

But the line from both our domestic and European leaders is that they don’t have to talk about the consequences of a No, because a No vote is unthinkable – literally.

European Central Bank boss Mario Draghi said last week that “I just don’t want to think” about the possibility of a No vote. The corollary is that the only “thinkable” vote is Yes.

In which case, why bother to hold a referendum at all? Because the Constitution requires it.

But which Constitution would that be? The one that states unequivocally that the only body allowed to make governmental decisions is the Cabinet acting collectively? That Constitution is in silent suspension.

It is a simple matter of fact that one of the most momentous decisions in the history of the State, the bank guarantee, was not made by the Cabinet collectively.

It is also a matter of fact that the 2012 budget was sent for scrutiny and approval to the Bundestag in Berlin before it was presented to the Cabinet in Dublin.

Coming over all precious now about our sacred Constitution is like having everybody rush to fix a minor technical fault in the steering mechanism while ignoring the fact the ship has just been holed below the waterline.

So, if we’re not a sovereign people, we don’t have a choice, and piety about the Constitution is just another exercise in denial, what are we left with?

The bribe.

If this is all really just a ritual dance we have to perform for our masters, we may as well let it be known that the enthusiasm with which we perform the necessary gyrations will be determined by the colour of the client’s money.

Perhaps the most fatuous thing Enda Kenny has ever said was his claim, “The Irish people will not be bribed.”

The image it conjured was of a proud, haughty Cathleen Ní Houlihan contemptuously dismissing the offer of a bung from a shower of vulgar foreign parvenus.

The idea that Cathleen wouldn’t find a proposition immensely more attractive if it were accompanied by a fistful of euros tucked into her threadbare garter scores high on black comedy. But abysmally low on realism.

If we’re supposed to be a free people, we should act like one and insist on our right to be fully informed about the consequences of our choices.

And if we’re not, we should make the most of the only thing we’ve got left: the whore’s prerogative of haggling about the price.

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