Referendum on Treaty on Stability, Co-ordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union: Statements

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to make this statement for the information of the House.

At its meeting this morning, the Government decided on the date for the referendum on the European stability treaty. The referendum will take place on Thursday, 31 May. On the advice of the Attorney General, the people will be asked in the referendum to agree that the following subsection be inserted after subsection 9o of Article 29.4 of the Constitution:

The State may ratify the Treaty on Stability, Co-ordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union done at Brussels on the 2nd day of March 2012. No provision of this Constitution invalidates laws enacted, Acts done or measures adopted by the State that are necessitated by the obligations of the State under that treaty or prevents laws enacted, Acts done or measures adopted by bodies competent under the treaty from having the force of law in the State.

In other words, the people are being asked to ratify the treaty and to enable the Oireachtas to adopt legislation to implement it. The Bill to amend the Constitution is now being prepared for publication towards the end of this week. Once published, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, will sign the order establishing the referendum commission.

The Government will put in place a comprehensive information campaign to ensure that voters are informed of the contents of the treaty which, in turn, will facilitate a full debate on the decision that we as a country have to take on this issue.

I will allow a brief statement by the leaders of each group.

I thank the Tánaiste for the clarity and information he has provided to the House in regard to the timing of the referendum on the European fiscal treaty. As I have stated previously, Fianna Fáil will be supporting ratification of the treaty and insertion of the subsection into our Constitution and will be campaigning on the basis that we believe this is good for Ireland and the eurozone. It is by no means a panacea to all of our problems. Significant additional measures will be required to bring stability to the eurozone crisis, in particular the provision of an adequate firewall and a broadening of the mandate of the European Central Bank, for which I have long argued. Some significant issues have yet to be grappled with.

It is important, given the relatively short timeframe within which the referendum is to be held, that the maximum amount of information is proactively and energetically provided to the citizens of this State to allow them make up their minds. I think information is crucial. It should be as comprehensive as possible. My understanding is that the Government does not intend to publish a White Paper. This would be the first time that has happened in relation to an important treaty for Ireland and for Europe. It should be possible to produce a simple and readable White Paper on this treaty. I ask the Tánaiste to consider that in addition to the other sources of information - leaflets, etc. - that people may require. I note that the referendum will take place on a Thursday. Perhaps there are logistical reasons for that. Many young people, particularly students, would prefer if it took place on a Friday or on a date that would facilitate those who wish to vote. I regret that the Government did not take their views into consideration.

The Deputy is a late convert to that.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an ráiteas seo. Is maith an rud é go bhfuil dáta an reifrinn ar eolas againn faoi dheireadh. I appreciate that this must have been a very difficult decision for the Government to make, given the lengths to which it went to try to avoid a referendum. At least the people will now have their say. Sinn Féin believes that this is a bad treaty for Ireland and for the European Union. It will institutionalise austerity into domestic constitutional law and into international law in perpetuity. It will cost taxpayers at least an additional €6 billion in public spending cuts and tax increases after 2015.

The treaty will mean more cuts to our schools, hospitals and community services. It will mean more charges and tax hikes. Significant new powers will be given to the European Commission and the European Court of Justice. The treaty will undermine the Oireachtas by giving unelected bureaucrats and judges in Brussels and Luxembourg significant control over economic and fiscal policy. That is why the European Trade Union Confederation is opposed to the treaty. That is why the French Socialist Party, the Social Democratic Party of Germany and the Dutch Labour Party, which are sister parties of the Irish Labour Party, are opposed to the treaty.

The comrades are split.

Austerity policies will not end this economic crisis. We will mount a vigorous and wide campaign to ask the citizens of this State to vote "No".

Surprise, surprise.

Deputies should remember that on this issue, Sinn Féin has been right on every single count and the rest of the parties have been totally and absolutely wrong.

What about the bank guarantee?

If they doubt that, I appeal to them to ask the young people who are rushing to leave these shores, the half a million people who are unemployed and the other victims of austerity policies.

I call Deputy Higgins on behalf of the Technical Group.

Where is Deputy Ross?

The Government should have given us more notice that this announcement was to be made.

The Deputy is never happy.

In case there is any misunderstanding, I remind the House that Standing Orders do not provide for statements to be made after a member of the Government has made a statement of this nature. Given the situation, however, I decided to allow each of the leaders to make a short statement.

The Chair is very generous.

Hence there is no need for advance notice that a statement of this kind is being made.

I welcome the fact that the Government has had to bow to reality and to the democratic rights of the Irish people. I am pleased that the referendum on the fiscal compact will allow for a vigorous debate among the Irish people over the next few months.

That is a first for the Deputy.

The debate will demonstrate clearly that permanent austerity is proposed in the fiscal compact. If the structural deficit targets for 2015 that are proposed in the compact are fully implemented, further cuts of €5.7 billion will have to be made in that year or equivalent cuts will have to be spread out over a few years. In other words, further disastrous damage will be caused to the domestic economy, which is suffering massively already.

The alternative is more borrowing.

I believe this treaty will undemocratically bind future Governments to austerity, even though they may have campaigned and been elected on the basis of their opposition to it. In the course of the debate on the treaty, the Government must explain clearly why it agreed to insert in the European stability fund treaty a clause that would deny any state not ratifying the fiscal compact access to funding from the European stability fund. That was quietly and secretly done in February, in a change from what was agreed last July.

If it was a secret, how come we announced it?

The Government had and still has a veto on that blackmail clause. The European stability mechanism treaty must come before this Dáil, as must the changes to the treaty on the functioning of the European Union that are required to copperfasten all of this. When the Dáil votes on those matters, it will be deciding whether to foist this blackmail on the Irish people as a weapon to try to force them to vote in favour of the fiscal compact. The Government and its Deputies have serious questions to consider. I look forward to a vigorous, democratic and open debate. I hope we will not hear any more lavish claims of massive jobs and investment on the basis of a "Yes" vote, as we heard during the debates on recent treaties.

European armies.

Those claims were disastrously forgotten about and betrayed after the referendums in question.

I will bring an international perspective to the debate. I will offer an alternative to further disastrous austerity. I will speak about a different kind of Europe that is not dictated to by the undemocratic financial markets, but run in the interests of the vast majority of ordinary people. We need a Europe for the millions - not a Europe for the billionaires in the financial markets.

The Deputy had a chance, but he ran away from it.