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Analysis/Comment Last Updated: Aug 23, 2010 - 8:24:15 PM


Lisbon Treaty: Thousands of Irish private sector workers will face bleak employment prospects in 2009 as No campaign leaders fight for jobs at the heart of Europe - in the European Parliament
By Finfacts Team
Jun 17, 2008 - 8:17:42 AM

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European Parliament

Lisbon Treaty: As 2009 beckons, it promises to be another perilous year for thousands of Irish private sector workers who face the prospect of unemployment and the leaders of the No campaign will be seeking jobs in the heart of Europe - in the European Parliament - even though they may wield as much influence as the UK Independence Party.

Sinn Féin MEP Mary Lou McDonald will seek re-election for a new term; former Green Party MEP Patricia McKenna is likely to seek to regain the seat she lost in 2004 and businessman Declan Ganley has not ruled out, standing for the Parliament.

The conventional political elite can be pilloried for its ignorance of the challenges facing the tradable goods and services sector while responding to two key power units in Modern Ireland:  the collective power of farmers and public sector unions and the money power of the construction industry.

The No side also has its elites and nobody better exemplifies the certitude and righteousness of a wrong position than former Trinity College lecturer Anthony Coughlan.

Coughlan, who from his comfortable academic perch, had railed against the European project since 1972, writes in the Irish Times today on the superior democracy via referendum enjoyed by Ireland compared "with the chance of voting on an EU constitution on which the prime ministers and presidents of the other 26 EU states had decided on no account to allow their peoples a say."

Should the original enlargement to nine, including Ireland, in January 1973, have been put to a vote? There would have been scaremongers warning about the cost of supporting the poor Irish. If the citizens of the original Six had been magnanimous towards Ireland in national votes, who would have campaigned against allowing in any further members? Some of our own indeed.

In the 1972 debate, Anthony Coughlan suggested: “Ireland would lose the power to control the influx of skilled foreign workers to Ireland. Skilled English, German and Dutch workers could come here if there were jobs for them and it would be unlawful for the Irish Government to seek to reserve employment in the interests of Irish Trade Unionists.”

Minister for Europe Dick Roche said in 2002 that Coughlan had argued in 1972 that:

  • Ireland would lose its Industrial base 

  • Foreigners would come into Ireland and would take any jobs that remained 

  • Farmers would lose income 

  • Ireland would lose trade 

  • Ireland would become depopulated 

  • Ireland would lose its Neutrality

Coughlan opposed the Spanish and the Portuguese accession in 1986.

"Shamefully, Mr Coughlan, while denying that he is in any way xenophobic, has re-iterated this threadbare argument in the current debate, cautioning on the prospects of 76 million citizens from East and Central European states flooding onto our shores," Dick Roche said in respect of the Nice Referendum in 2002.

In the Irish Times today, Coughlan writes: "I voted No to the European treaties over decades. It was not that I was against economic co-operation on our continent - I support free trade between developed economies."

For Ireland, the prescription in 1972 was the De Valera vision of comely maidens dancing at the crossroads. We didn't really need that €40 billion!

We don't need all those American firms, which with other foreign firms account for more than 90% of our total exports.

As for Anthony Coughlan, all he needs is a brass neck as the facts of success and the value of compromise, will never convince him.

We should not underestimate the number of comfortable Coughlans, for whom the business world is an alien place of fat cat developers and latter-day versions of the United Fruit Company. How many of them would know a typical Irish SME owner who works long hours and with a staff for whom the monthly orders' received total is a temporary source of satisfaction or longer-term fear, in a challenging world?

From an international perspective, the shine disappeared from the Celtic Tiger some years ago. What we surely don't need in these perilous times, is emboldened No campaign leaders, deluding people into believing that they have found some philosopher's stone that will restore prosperity without the cooperation and goodwill of other EU countries and the world business community.

As with US President George W. Bush, multilateralism is fine, until it's not. The EU may be needed to promulgate worthwhile anti-climate change measures but dare anyone imperil our neutrality - as to who are we neutral between, is another story and anyway, why complicate things when there is a simple option!

Soundbites clearly worked in the recent referendum but former Progressive Democrats' leader Mary Harney learned to her cost, that governing is a more complicated process than what is packaged for an election.

In the Dáil debate on the appointment of the Cabinet in 1997, Fine Gael's Alan Dukes said:  "The Tánaiste said something very interesting to me on the last day of the previous Dáil. She commented: “I know Minister Dukes does not like soundbites, but if it can't be said in a soundbite it is not worth saying”. She should reflect on that because the electorate told her that in spades during the election. She was clobbered by soundbites and she is now a very junior partner in Government because of soundbites. People decided they did not want to fire 25,000 public servants, or oppress single mothers whose families are too numerous for them to live at home with their parents with another baby they did not expect, and so on. I hope for the sake of good government, if not for the sake of the parties in government, and for the kind of politics the Progressive Democrats is supposed to stand for — the party is supposed to be policy driven — that the Tánaiste has learned the lesson that soundbites are inimical to good politics. Life is more complicated than a soundbite and I hope she has found that out."

It took 10 years for the penny to drop for Harney - in the general election of 2007. As for other peddlars of soundbites, they may well profit from them but at a cost to many others.

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