Thirtieth Amendment of the Constitution (Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union) Bill 2012: Second Stage

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. No. 2, motion pursuant to section 23 of the Referendum Act 1994 prescribing a formal statement for the information of voters to be included on the polling card, which will be debated in conjunction with Second Stage of the Bill, will be formally moved when the debate on the Bill is concluded.

Tairgeadh an cheist: "Go léifear an Bille an Dara hUair anois."

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

It is a pleasure to address the Chamber on this Bill. It is also a pleasure to see the Seanad sitting on a Monday. The work rate has increased enormously since my time and I am very impressed.

At the end of next month, the people will face a decision with important consequences for the future direction of the country. In deciding whether Ireland can ratify the stability treaty, we will be sending a strong signal to the international investment community and determining our future relationship with our colleagues in the euro area. These are no small matters and it is important that people take the time to inform themselves in order that they are in a position to make the best decision possible for themselves and their country. I assure the House that there will be no complacency on the part of the Government and no question of taking the people for granted. We know from hard won experience the vital importance of voters having the information they need available to them ahead of a referendum. We are committed to ensuring they have that information. We will shortly send a copy of the treaty and explanatory material to each household, which will be followed up in due course with an information leaflet.

The Referendum Commission, under the chairmanship of Mr. Justice Kevin Feeney, will also play an important independent role, explaining the proposition, raising awareness of the referendum and encouraging a high level of turnout. However, we know that this will not be enough and that the case must be made person to person, door to door. We will be taking the arguments to every town and village, workplace and community throughout the country.

The polls at the weekend again highlighted that many people have yet to make up their minds, which is not surprising given the nature of the decision to be made. There is a great responsibility on us as their Oireachtas representatives to play our part in furthering the debate, which debate it is hoped will be honest, setting out fairly the arguments. That will be the approach of the Government.

The question to be put to the people is in some ways a straightforward one, namely, whether Ireland will ratify the treaty. The treaty is not too long or complex. It contains a modest 16 Articles and a few pages of recitals. It is hoped the people will take the time to read it. The implications of our decision cannot be restricted simply to the immediate words of the pages of the treaty. They must be set in the right context.

Europe has struggled to get to grips with the most severe and unprecedented crisis in recent years, and it is not over yet. Our recovery remains fragile and a number of countries continue to face pressure and scepticism in the markets. The EU and its member states have worked hard to restore stability and rebuild confidence. This treaty must be seen as part of that vital work, alongside the other steps that have been and remain to be taken. No one is suggesting that this is a fix for all our problems, far from it.

The Government has long argued that discipline and reform, however necessary, could not on their own ever be sufficient to get Europe back on track and on the road to economic recovery. Thanks in no small part to the arguments we have advanced, there is now also a sharp focus on the need for an active growth and jobs agenda at the highest level within the EU. Jobs and growth are now a central feature of the agenda of each meeting of the European Union Council of Prime Ministers and Heads of State. Parallel with this stability treaty, which we are now debating, there is already in place a jobs and growth agenda. We cannot tolerate a situation where in some member states there is a youth unemployment rate in excess of 50%.Europe cannot afford to waste the potential of an entire generation.

Since the crisis broke, the EU has strengthened the rules underpinning the euro, making it harder for member states to play fast and loose and get away with it. The EU has also put in place important rescue mechanisms, including the EFSF and the ESM, to ensure that there is a safety net for member states that find themselves unable to borrow on the open markets. To improve the capacity of these mechanisms to function as an effective firewall we have boosted the funds available to them and increased their flexibility. Ireland has benefitted directly and significantly from these arrangements, including from the reduced interest rate that now applies.

Europe has also, albeit late in the day, become increasingly serious about the structural reforms that member states need to undertake if their economies are to be sustainable into the future. As we meet, member states are submitting their annual national reform programmes under the Europe 2020 process. These will form the basis for detailed country-specific recommendations to be adopted at the meeting of the European Council in June. This is the context in which the treaty must be seen. It is an important part of a wide and committed range of action by the EU to address and resolve the crisis it has faced.

I now tun to the key elements of the treaty. At its heart, the treaty contains what has been called a fiscal compact, namely, an agreement among the countries that ratify it to maintain sound and sensible budgetary policies in which, taken over the cycle, they do not spend more than they raise and agree to return their debts to sustainable levels. It is made clear that they are doing so not in the interests of some dubious and abstract ideological position but to support the EU's objectives of sustainable growth, competitiveness and social cohesion. These are surely goals that everyone in this House can endorse.

What is the nature of the fiscal compact that lies at the heart of the treaty? First, it requires that a government maintain a budgetary position over the cycle that is balanced or in surplus and sets out technically how this is to be achieved. Is this, as some have argued, a recipe for continued austerity? The answer is absolutely not. The treaty does not suggest how much countries should aim to tax and spend, rather it indicates that choices should be balanced. This is a sound approach in a time of economic uncertainty. The treaty is, therefore, about stability and a more secure future.

The rules also contain the necessary flexibility to ensure they can be applied in the real world. The timeframe for compliance to be set out by the Commission will take country specific sustainability risks into account and progress will be measured as part of an overall assessment. There is an explicit acknowledgement that a temporary deviation may be required in exceptional circumstances, defined as an unusual event outside the control of the country in question which has a major impact on the financial position or periods of severe economic downturn. As is the case with much within the treaty, the rules are very closely aligned with what already is in place in EU treaties and laws, the main novelty being the requirement to introduce an automatic correction mechanism at national level which will kick in if the rules are in danger of being breached. The Government intends to do this through the fiscal responsibility Bill.

On the issue of debt, the treaty echoes the terms of the recently agreed six pack of legislation which requires member states to chart a course back to compliance and to the 60% debt-to-GDP ratio requirement which has been in place since the Treaty of Maastricht. In assessing what this may mean for Ireland it is vital to recall that the treaty makes it crystal clear that the terms of the programme we have agreed with the European Union and the IMF will continue to prevail over the terms of the treaty — something the Government fought for and won in the negotiations. Ireland's funding under the current programme remains protected under the treaty.

In highlighting the most important elements of the treaty it would be remiss of me not to mention the link to the European Stability Mechanism, ESM, not to scaremonger, as some would have it, but to ensure the people have the full picture available to them as they make up their minds. The treaty makes it clear that in the future only those countries which have ratified the stability treaty will be able to access emergency funding under the ESM. That link simply reflects the reality that those who are putting their money at risk in lending to others, as Ireland may have cause to do in the future, have an expectation that the country concerned is prepared to run balanced and sensible budgetary policies. This should not have been seen as something unusual. All exceptional lending, whether to countries or individuals, comes with conditions attached. We have seen how stringent the terms of our own EU-IMF programme are.

The Government does not believe Ireland will need to access the ESM and it is our strong intention to lead Ireland out of our programme and back into normal borrowing on the open markets at as early a date as is possible. If we decide not to ratify the treaty, we will leave Ireland without an important safety net. Whether we like it, that will send a negative message to those thinking of lending to Ireland or investing money here. It will suggest the position has become a great deal riskier; as we know, confidence and certainty are the lifeblood of investment, without which investors who create jobs will look to safer harbours elsewhere. A decision to lock ourselves out of the ESM will make it more, not less, likely that we will need it. People must weigh this issue very carefully in deciding how to cast their vote.

The Government is committed to ensuring a full and informed debate ahead of the referendum on 31 May which is now less than six weeks away. The materials we are making available, including on the dedicated website stabilitytreaty.ie, are designed to be accessible and informative. I hope people will take the time to read them and make up their own minds. I also hope they will see the decision ahead is an important part of Ireland’s road to recovery and that a vote in favour of ratification on 31 May will send a strong positive signal about the country to our European partners and the wider world. It will say that Ireland is looking to the future with confidence and that we are committed to sensible, sustainable economic policies that will allow this Government to get people back to work, to grow our economy and to create jobs. There can be no going back to the failed boom and bust policies of the past. It will say that we are remaining where we want to be, in the EU mainstream and at the heart of the euro, and that we are committed to ensuring a strong and stable currency. It will say that investors can look to Ireland with confidence. There is no increased risk and no uncertain future. It will say that Ireland is moving forward. That is the outcome I want for Ireland and that is why I, along with all of my colleagues in government, will work might and main for a positive outcome. I strongly commend this Bill to the House.

I am delighted to welcome the Minister of State to the House and compliment him on his speech. As is traditional, Fianna Fáil supports the EU and Ireland being a full and passionate member of it. The Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union, also called the fiscal stability treaty, is an intergovernmental treaty signed by 25 of the member states of the EU, excepting the Czech Republic and the UK, on 22 March 2012. The treaty will enter into force on 1 January, when Ireland takes over the Presidency, by which time 12 of the 17 members of the euro area will have ratified it.

The European Union is first and foremost a political project resting on economic foundations. Its aims are to promote economic and social progress, to bring peace and prosperity to the people of Europe and to build societies based on democracy and the rule of law. I quote Mr. Brendan Halligan from his presentation to the Oireachtas sub-committee on the treaty, who said that "economic co-operation between the countries of Europe is the cement which binds them together politically" and is the basis of their interdependence. It began as a Common Market 60 years ago, then evolved into a Single Market or Internal Market and eventually expanded into the economic and monetary union. The centrepiece of the economic and monetary union is the euro, the common currency of 17 of the member states of the EU. The EMU and the euro are to be safeguarded by rules applying to the conduct of the finances of any country adopting the euro as currency. The rules on public finances were broken, however, and this is the main reason we must introduce legislation to ensure it does not happen again.

There is a growing consensus that the current European crisis is profound. Mr. Halligan stated it is as profound and menacing as the Great Depression of the 1920s and 1930s. The two key points are unemployment, which is at an average of 10% in the eurozone, and the accumulation of private, public and corporate debt in advanced countries, which poses a grave threat to the global economy. As the Fianna Fáil spokesperson on jobs, enterprise and innovation, I sincerely hope the people will vote "Yes" to the forthcoming fiscal compact treaty. Unemployment, at 14.7%, is the greatest challenge facing our country. Ireland's greatest challenge is creating employment. I do not include the Minister of State in this comment but the Government is distracted by septic tanks and household charges. If it is not one thing, it is another. The Government is forgetting the real issue — unemployment — and we are not alone in that. Greece has an unemployment rate of 21.8%, the highest in its history, Portugal has an unemployment rate of 15% and a 40% rise in emigration, and Spain has record unemployment at 23.6% and half of the young people between the ages of 15 and 25 are unemployed. The mess we have got into bothers me. When we watch British television it is obvious they think their economy is in serious trouble but their unemployment rate is 8.3%. According to the unions, this treaty is not about jobs but, as far as I am concerned, it is about jobs. I draw attention to the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland calling for a "Yes" vote. This organisation is made up of the chief executives of the leading multinationals of the world, such as Google, Facebook, IBM and PayPal. The chief executive of PayPal is the sister of our former colleague, Senator Kieran Phelan, who sadly died two years ago. PayPal has just brought 1,000 jobs to Dundalk.

In the first four months of this year, 2,300 new jobs have been created by US companies. The American Chamber of Commerce Ireland stated that ratifying the treaty is necessary for further recovery and a stronger economy. The managing director of IBM Ireland, who is president of the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland, stated that Ireland has a plan for recovery and the stability treaty is a further step in the right direction. Instability and uncertainty have affected every citizen and with this treaty we have the opportunity to put in place new limits on public debt and budget deficits, providing stability not only for Ireland's domestic finances but across the eurozone.

Mr. O'Neill the managing director of IBM Ireland, speaking on behalf of the US multinationals in Ireland said a "Yes" vote will promote stability, investment and growth in the economy. By voting "Yes" we will maintain our position as an attractive location for investment, continue to put in place the necessary economic and budgetary reforms and preserve our strategically important place in Europe. As far as I am concerned, Ireland must be unequivocally at the centre of Europe. This is a small open economy on the periphery. Unless we can make and export goods at a competitive price, we are going nowhere. This is the first Government that has welcomed wholeheartedly the contribution of foreign direct investment. It was taken for granted during the years of the bubble and I am pleased the Government knows where we would be without foreign direct investment.

Ratification allows member states to gain access to the permanent bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism, should that be necessary. Failure to ratify the treaty will impact negatively on the strength of Ireland's future funding position, whether we require the bailout fund or not. Membership of the EU and a stable euro are critical for exports, jobs, inward investment and economic recovery throughout Europe. Access to markets and exchange rate stability are critical for export dependent sectors, including the agrifood sector, which exported goods worth €9 billion in 2011.

Listening to trade unions yesterday and this morning, I find they do not know what they are talking about. This treaty will be put in place if we ratify it or not and the unions are ignoring the fact that we will not have access to funds if we need them. We will not be able to pay the teachers, doctors or nurses. It is a blind debate; they do not know what they are talking about. Unless we promote products that we can sell abroad at a competitive price we will not be able to create employment.

I join in welcoming the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Costello, and wish him well in his new role. He takes up office at a difficult and challenging time. Let me assure him that we will sit for seven days if that is what it takes. In a few weeks time on 31 May the people of Ireland will be called on to make a decision that will have major implications for the country and Europe for decades to come.

I welcome the fact that we in the Seanad commence the debate on the legislation that will enable the holding of the referendum on the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union. The key word of this treaty is "stability". As Members will remember that was in short supply in the second half of last year as Europe and the euro currency came under sustained pressure. We saw what happened in Greece. We saw the ratings downgraded, even in previously strong countries and global economic powers came under severe pressure.

We are all aware that our friends and neighbours were worried whether their savings were secure in the banks. They asked whether they should change their money into sterling or dollars. In the past six months much work has been done to address the eurozone crisis in terms of early warning systems, better financial regulation, bank recapitalisation and putting in place the supporting architecture that many feel should have been in place when the euro project was first initiated. In recent months, member states negotiated an agreement that has the status of an international agreement which commits 25 states, including all eurozone members, to responsible budgeting and working together to help each other. This agreement is the stability treaty that the Government is asking the people to support on 31 May.

There are three key elements to this stability treaty for Ireland. First, it is about ensuring a stable euro and building confidence abroad, particularly with those investors that we so badly need to invest in major job creation projects in the country, so that we can reduce the totally unacceptable current levels of unemployment and help to keep many of our fine young people at home. We welcome the very significant job announcements made in recent times throughout the length and breadth of the country, which have come about as a result of our improved political and economic stability. Second, this treaty is about managing our debt in such a way that over time, less taxpayers' money is going into the servicing of that debt. It is about good housekeeping and living within our budgets, but having an element of flexibility to cater for exceptional circumstances. We can never again have a repeat of the recklessness that brought us to the brink of bankruptcy. Third, this treaty is about having an insurance policy and ensuring that we have access, if we need it, to the ESM funding that we may need to fund public services and general Government spending, such as paying public servants, to whom Senator White referred. We hope that we can return to the markets, standing on our own two feet next year.

Support for this treaty is support for the economy and growth. It is very significant that in recent days key representatives of business, the multinational sector, chambers of commerce and the IFA have come out strongly in favour of the treaty. They know that membership of the EU and a stable euro are critical for exports, jobs, inward investment and economic recovery. I find it very regrettable that some trade unions are urging the people to vote "No". I always thought the protection and creation of employment and the development of the economy were the first priorities of every trade union. I hope the Irish Congress of Trade Unions will strongly back this treaty in the coming weeks, in the interests of the country and of its membership across various sectors of the economy. Every union member has a vested interest in ensuring we have stability and job creation and that the euro is safe.

The people will have a major decision to make on 31 May next. They will have to decide whether they want this country to remain at the heart of Europe, contributing to the strengthening and stabilising of the euro. They will have to reflect on whether they want Ireland to be able to access funds in the unlikely event that it will not be in a position to return to the bond markets as soon as we hope. They will have to choose whether they are in favour of rules-based economic stability, certainty and investment, which I believe are needed for economic recovery. Most importantly, they will have to consider the merits of avoiding a step back into the unknown, into isolation and into the financial and economic instability that brought us to the brink of collapse in recent years. This treaty will not resolve all the eurozone's design faults, but it will represent a major step in the right direction.

I commend the Fianna Fáil Party for supporting the treaty and recognising its importance in stabilising the euro and helping to bring about economic recovery. I would like to challenge our Sinn Féin colleagues by asking them to reconsider their position on this treaty. This is about our country and our future. They should set aside their policy of protest on this matter. They should look at the bigger picture. This is a time for real patriotism rather than short-term political gain. Our future is within an expanding and developing Europe. We all want to see an increased focus on tackling the jobs crisis in the EU. The Irish people expect Sinn Féin to play its part in encouraging the investment that will help to create employment and stimulate growth.

I look forward to a full and constructive debate in the coming weeks. I welcome the Government's commitment to ensuring the people are fully informed about all aspects of the treaty. It is very important. I welcome the establishment of a website in recent days. It is right that every household will receive literature explaining the treaty in great detail. I am pleased to support the treaty. I urge the people to vote for recovery and stability by giving a resounding "Yes" vote on 31 May next. If we all work together, we will ensure the economic recovery that is beginning to happen in this country accelerates in the coming months. On behalf of the Fine Gael Party, I am pleased to urge all Senators to support the Bill before the House.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House today. The European monetary crisis is having an impact on homes across the world, from Dublin to Delhi. It is increasingly evident that the problems of Europe have a local and a global impact. It is to Ireland's credit that since the beginning of this crisis, it has led the way by courageously facing tough realities. Ireland joined the European Economic Community — as it was — in 1973 and subsequently joined the eurozone. These decisions were evidence of its serious and permanent commitment to the European project. Despite its twists and turns, European co-operation remains possibly the most exciting project in the history of inter-state relationships. It represents a bastion of peace in a complex and capricious world. It serves as a table around which to build on common interests and thrash out the possible or potential disputes of 27 different and diverse states. The EU fiscal compact treaty is a direct response to the current crisis.

The causes of this crisis are not simple, nor are the possible solutions. There are myriad financial complexities and political sensitivities woven into the treaty and its context. The position may become yet more complex in light of the news today from France and the Netherlands. As we move into this critical phase of consideration of the treaty, it is important we have a robust, informed and honest debate to allow people to evaluate its merits, an issue to which the Minister of State referred. This debate should be free of rancour, myths, scare tactics and duress as these could steer the outcome in either direction through fear alone. While the Referendum Commission has an important role to play this regard, so too have all public representatives.

The press recently carried accounts of an unpublished report from the previous Referendum Commission which is reputed to state that the time allowed to perform its functions was "grossly inadequate" and to recommend the Minister review the referendum process as a matter of urgency and allow three months for debate on future referenda. Although it is too late to address these matters before 31 May, the report should be published to clarify whether the leaks are accurate and inform decisions for future referenda.

As part of the context of the debate on the upcoming referendum, it is important to recognise that membership of the European Union is a two way process. Europe has been good for Ireland. For example, among many benefits, access to EU Structural and Cohesion Funding was crucial in developing our infrastructure and retraining workers. Open access to the vast European market was particularly advantageous to us in a small, open economy, and we have also gained with our trading partners outside the EU from our position as the only English speaking people in the eurozone. Let us not forget or underestimate the critical impact of the moral and financial support of the EU in the development of the peace process.

Ireland has also been good for Europe. We opened up our markets and on accession allowed other member states generous access to our fish stocks. This was a concession of significant financial value. It is interesting that traditionally protection of fisheries was one of the main reasons neither Norway nor, until two years ago, Iceland sought EU membership. Ireland has also been among the strongest supporters of EU enlargement. We were among a small minority of member states not to place even a transitional bar on labour migration from the former eastern states upon their accession. This demonstrated Ireland was never afraid of converting our principled support for European co-operation into practical measures. This mutually beneficial relationship between Ireland and the European Union is one part of the background context to our current decision.

Another factor which deserves recognition is Irish people have accepted all necessary austerity measures to save our banking system. It is perhaps a sign of our interconnectedness that this system was so fundamentally damaged by a combination of flawed regulation and lending practices at home, which were fuelled by cheap loans from the banks of EU partners and underpinned by the European Central Bank's low interest regime.

Given the leap of faith demanded by the treaty and the many disappointments with leadership in recent years, the Government must set out clearly how it is projected the treaty will vindicate our people's sacrifices while restoring fiscal stability and ensuring economic growth. It must convince us the treaty is not alone about saving the euro but is just as much about Irish economic recovery and securing jobs. While these two issues are linked, people are worried and need evidence there is a real prospect of the creation of sustainable employment opportunities following ratification of the treaty.

The Government must also clarify the manner in which the treaty interacts with existing law, including by addressing concerns about applicable voting rules. What are the implications for the reverse qualified majority rules in the treaty after the changes to the voting threshold requirements in the Lisbon treaty come into force in 2014? Can the Government demonstrate that larger member states cannot dominate to their advantage at the expense of smaller states like Ireland, the so-called "big state"directoire?

The challenge to explain this treaty and its implications is clear. The most recent Behaviour and Attitudes opinion poll indicated that more than half of voters say they do not understand the treaty and that 31% of voters polled say they do not know how they will vote. In the run-up to the referendum and in order to allow all voters to make an informed choice, every effort must be made to ensure that the arguments on both sides and the reasoning underpinning them are clearly and effectively communicated. If this is done, and if we have mature and responsible debate on the issues relevant only to this referendum — I urge we ensure this — we can trust the Irish people to judge what is best for Ireland and to vote accordingly.

I welcome the Minister of State to the Chamber and congratulate him on his recent appointment as Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and wish him the very best in his portfolio.

I welcome the opportunity to speak today on the Thirtieth Amendment of the Constitution (Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union) Bill 2012. This is the most important treaty ever to come before the people for consideration. It is the legislative framework that is designed to protect the citizens of the State from reckless spending and its essence is based on sound budgetary principles which will ensure intergenerational transparency and accountability. In effect, governments will be precluded from engaging in the type of reckless spending policies pursued by Ireland's previous Administration in the noughties.

On 31 May 2012, the referendum to allow the people of Ireland decide whether we should ratify this treaty will be held. Prior to this, citizens will need the full facts on what is in the treaty and the implications of ratification for Ireland. In the coming weeks, information from the Referendum Commission will arrive to every house. Members of the Labour Party, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil will also canvass on doorsteps advocating a "Yes" vote. Furthermore, bodies such as the Irish Farmers Association will urge a "Yes" vote to ensure the integrity of the European project and Ireland's place within it. In the referendum, the people of Ireland will be asked to vote "Yes" or "No" to adding the following to Article 29.4 of the Constitution.

10° The State may ratify the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union done at Brussels on 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 that Treaty from having the force of the law in this State.

Should the people of Ireland agree, the Government will ratify the treaty and will, subsequently, introduce legislation to give effect to it.

While the contents of this treaty have come under attack from various quarters, such as some of the Opposition Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas and some trade unions, I wish to be clear that this is not an austerity treaty, but a treaty designed to end austerity. We must be mindful of the fact that at the very core of its title is the word "stability". This must resonate with each and every one of us who have craved this in previous politically and financially insecure times. The problem with the recessionary times in which we live is that during Celtic tiger Ireland, no savings were made for a rainy day. Budgets were giveaways, banks were largely unregulated and consequently ran amok. The rest is part of our unfortunate recent history.

As a small open economy, it is essential that we have such plans for stability in place. Stability is about us adhering to a Keynesian economic framework, whereby we strike a delicate balance between taxation and distribution during the good times so that we have enough of a cushion, should anything untoward happen to the economy. Not one of the provisions of this treaty should cause any concern for Ireland. To alleviate any reservations in this regard, it is crucial to point out that the terms under which we are currently governed under the EU-IMF programme go considerably further than what is envisaged in this treaty. What this treaty will do is ensure financial and economic accountability for each and every member state in order that monikers and acronyms like PIGS will be a relic of a bygone era. Such an approach will bring credibility and confidence to the euro and stability to the financial markets.

What some Opposition commentators fail to grasp is that without such stability within the member zone, we will have difficulty endearing ourselves to multinational companies. We only have to look at Ireland's record in this regard. Eight of the top ten pharmaceutical companies in the world are located here, not to mention multinational giants like PayPal, Facebook, Twitter, Google and eBay. These are all household names. Comfortingly, and despite our economic difficulties, in 2009 we attracted €9.8 billion worth of foreign direct investment to our shores. In 2010, 63 multinationals set up or expanded here, and this figure reached over 140 in 2011. This is no fluke. We are well placed geographically, we are English speaking with a highly educated workforce, and we are becoming more price competitive. More crucially, we are a member of the EU. We are well placed as a country to avail of such investment opportunities, so why then would we usurp this upward trend when we need it most?

Under the treaty, we will be compelled to ensure that the Government deficit will not exceed 3% of GDP, our structural deficit will not exceed 0.5% of GDP and our ratio of debt to GDP will not exceed 60% of GDP. It is in the national interest that we affect such debt reduction and bring budget deficits under controlled limits. These figures will be scrutinised by the Department of Finance, the Commission and the Council, so that we have full accountability of our financial movements. However, there is some scope for movement in these figures in the event of exceptional circumstances, whereby the State can deviate from them. Irrespective of the outcome of the referendum, we will be compelled to abide by the aforementioned figures, by virtue of the Stability and Growth Pact 2011, as all that is required is for the agreement of 12 of the 17 member countries to ratify it. The fundamental difference a "Yes" vote will yield is that our Government will be able to choose how these targets are reached, thereby helping us regain some degree of our fiscal sovereignty. This will be but one step in the right direction. Moreover, the passing of this treaty will ensure relative parity of borrowing between the various member states, such that the actions of any one country within the monetary union cannot adversely impact on the interest rate with which other eurozone countries can borrow money on the international financial markets. Furthermore, it will ensure that we will not have to face the indignation of paying over 8% on the bond markets or seeing our bonds being termed junk status. The massive disruption experienced by the financial markets in recent times, which led to Ireland having to rely on the EU and the IMF to provide us with access to funding in order that we could ensure our schools, hospitals and other public services could remain operational and that our social payments could be honoured, will be a thing of the past.

As a consequence of our citizens voting "Yes", we will have access to the European Stability Mechanism, which is a permanent rescue funding programme to succeed the temporary European Financial Stability Facility and European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism in the 17 member zone. Some Members of the Opposition in these Houses consider it blackmail that if we fail to ratify the stability treaty, we will consequently be precluded from accessing the European Stability Mechanism. I would like to say to them that we do not live in a monetary utopia. It would be great if this State could continue to receive funds without being obliged to deal with our fiscal problems, which is one of the provisions of this treaty. We must be mindful that there is no bottomless pit in Europe from which we can continue filling our black hole. In any case, why would we, as a proud nation, want to continue to suffer the ignominy and continued financial envelopes from the EU and from the IMF? Where is the Opposition's national pride? We need to be part of this to ensure our long-term financial security.

Restoring stability to the euro is a critical step in removing ourselves from our current predicament. The treaty will play a crucial part in realising that objective, such that we need to pass this referendum for stability. It is only through such determined action that we will get back on track. We are on the road to recovery, but I acknowledge that there are difficult times ahead for many thousands of families in Ireland. I urge those people not to make their decisions on the household charge, septic tanks or on this Government. All of these issues are separate to that of the economic and fiscal well-being of this country. We need to pass this referendum to aid our recovery and provide certainty to our international investors and consumers. A "Yes" vote will signify that we are serious about our recovery, that we are serious about our fiscal and economic independence, and will help us build political capital within the European Union. Let me re-emphasise this. A vote for the treaty will be a vote for economic stability and economic recovery. Irrespective of that, the train is leaving the station and Ireland must be on it. A "Yes" vote is a vote for a better future; therefore, I commend this Bill to the House.

I also welcome the Minister of State and thank him for his address. We must consider the small print in the legislation. I look forward to the debate, but it is important to start by stating those who may vote "No" are just as patriotic as those who think we should vote "Yes". One should not impugn the motives of those who may be in the "No" camp.

There are many problems with this proposal. I will quote Professor Karl Whelan, who stated:

Ideally, debate about this treaty in all European countries should move beyond misleading analogies about the prudence of households balancing their books to focus on its actual long-run implications. Once passed into treaty form, it will be extremely difficult for European citizens to change these rules. Hopefully, it is not too late to prevent the golden rule from becoming a golden straitjacket.

We are attempting to use fiscal controls to solve a monetary problem which should have been tackled by proper control over the banks once we had created the single currency. Trying to correct all the damage done by that failed monetary policy by imposing fiscal austerity is addressing the wrong problem. First, Ireland should have read the small print before joining the euro; and second, the problem Europe faces is the instability of its currency which was badly designed from the beginning, as Mr. Delors, one of its early advocates, has pointed out. It imposed a one-size-fits-all interest rate when we needed higher interest rates and Germany needed lower ones, causing inflation here. Small countries must be protected from tsunamis of credit flowing from rich countries such as Germany which destabilised our banking system. In addition, there should be an exit mechanism from the euro currency. As I have said in the House before, I cannot see how Greece can ever make progress. How can a country get its goods on shelves when it is locked into an overvalued exchange rate?

I know there is strong opposition in Germany to transfers — Germans prefer the austerity route — but transfers are part of fiscal federalism and Germany has gained a huge amount from the creation of the euro. To impose austerity to this degree on the southern countries and now on their neighbours in places such as the Netherlands is pushing the single currency concept too far, to the detriment of so many citizens. Before the advent of the euro, currency devaluation was quick; it worked and allowed access to export markets.

Making a currency status symbol can be a mistake. The European Union works extremely well as a free trade area, from which we have gained hugely, but we must ask whether the single currency was a step too far. Why is it that the United Kingdom and Ireland have never had relations as good as in the recent past, despite having different currencies? Does it matter to people in Dundalk or Clones that the currencies are different? We are friendlier now. I thank the Minister and the officials in his Department for their role in engendering this friendship. Never have Ireland-UK relations been better; happily, never have North-South relations been better and the fact that we operate with different currencies has not interfered with this. We should not, therefore, elevate the single currency to a status it may not deserve when it may, in fact, be imposing misery on so many of our fellow citizens in Europe.

The definitions of "structural" and "cyclical" will be a problem. There is much divergence in the economic literature in this regard and it is not as easy as it seems. I have no particular problem with the 3% rule, but when a country has serious difficulties such as we have had, it may be necessary to go above that figure. We always adhered to the 60% rule for debt-to-GDP ratio; in fact, I think it was down to around 25% before the banking tsunami hit us. The Government which lost office last year made mistakes, but were it not for the 40% of GDP we required to bail out the banks, Ireland would have a debt-to-GDP ratio lower than that of Germany. We were adhering to the rules as best we could. People such as Mr. Karl Whelan and Mr. Colm McCarthy have pointed out that reducing the debt-to-GDP ratio to the desired 60% over 20 years, at the rate of one twentieth per year, could lead to a debt-to-GDP ratio of 17% or 25%. This could, in turn, create problems for pension funds and might lead to asset bubbles. I speak as an economist rather than as a political figure. There are genuine technical concerns about the way the treaty was designed and the small print. I am especially keen to hear the Minister's reply to these points. Last time around we signed up to have a single currency without working through the ramifications which have been horrendous. I am keen to ensure we do not make the same mistakes again.

What is Ireland's role as a small country in the European Union? It is to engage in these discussions and when there is political pressure from the centre to do certain things, it may be necessary for us to point out that, having researched the issues, we have found that the results will not serve properly the interests of most member countries and that following such courses of action will cause unemployment. The phrases "wearing the green jersey" and "wearing the European jersey" have been used. However, exercising the European brain is also a function of small countries such as Ireland and Houses of Parliament.

Serious concerns arise in the economics literature to the effect that what we did last time around caused serious problems. In Europe there was an era of profligacy in terms of credit which caused all of the problems. Using fiscal austerity to correct such a regime may not be the best way to proceed. Why not tackle the banking system and the associated currency crisis directly? The job of a non-partisan House such as the Seanad is to question whether the economics stand up and make sense.

I am pleased that we are discussing these issues over a period of two days. That is very important. We should have engaged in more consultation in Parliament before we got into some of these relationships. One criticism has been that at European summits too many decisions are taken at 4 a.m. when everyone is exhausted. Do they always have the expert advice they need to ensure decisions work to the benefit of all citizens? That is what the Minister of State and I wish to ensure as a result of the debate. I look forward to his reply and the further discussions tomorrow.

I welcome the Minister of State and wish him well in his new role. I pay tribute to my colleagues who have contributed in a constructive way to the debate.

It is important when considering the issue to reflect on where we have come from. One of the submissions made to the sub-committee on the referendum was by Mr. Jim Power who stated:

The EMU appeared to work well for the first decade, but it has struggled to deal with the first serious crisis to test it, namely, the global dislocation caused by the sub-prime crisis. This crisis has exposed deep flaws in the system. These flaws include: the lack of proper oversight and regulation of the European banking system; the lack of a proper financial architecture, including fiscal federalism and a super-finance ministry with the powers of the US Treasury; a more centralised political structure; a Euro Zone debt agency and Euro Bond issuance; proper rules to impose fiscal discipline; and the lack of focus on economic growth rather than just control of inflation. These flaws have rendered it very difficult for Europe to deal with the current crisis and the very survival of the currency has been brought into sharp focus. Most European policymakers now recognise that it is simply too horrible to contemplate the chaos that would ensue if the second biggest currency bloc in the world were to fall apart.

That is a small extract from his submission but emphasises from where we have come.

In the first decade we did extremely well. There was a lack of control and we as a country suffered. Our Governments have been slow to balance the books every year. Historically, there are two major issues regarding how we manage our economy. It is easier to borrow and continue to grow services without considering that in the future there may be a downturn. That is what has happened in Ireland. We borrowed too much in too short a period of time and are now finding that during an economic downturn it is difficult to make repayments.

We have a budget of over €55 billion this year. On a few occasions I have referred to two key areas, health care and social welfare. Last year we spent €13.4 billion on health care and took in €13.317 billion in income tax. The spend on social welfare was €20 billion. We have had to borrow in order to maintain services over the past 12 months. A lot of people have emphasised the amount of money we have to pay back to the banks as if we do not have to borrow money to maintain services. We continue to borrow to maintain services and it is right that we try to maintain services, but we need to create efficiencies while doing so.

This is about creating stability and making sure there is stability not only in this country but in the other economies to which we are exporting. Ireland exports 80% of what it produces. It is important that the countries to which we export continue to be able to import from Ireland. They also have to have stability which is why the treaty is so important. It is extremely important that stability is brought about at an early date.

The evidence of the road we are going down is quite clear. In the last week alone 1,000 new jobs were announced in this country. In my constituency Apple Computers announced the creation of 500 jobs. This has happened because we are part of a bigger global market. We are the only English speaking country in the eurozone and have a major contribution to make. That is why it is important we vote "Yes" on 31 May and make sure we continue to play a big role in the future development of Europe.

I support the fiscal compact. However, my support is heavy-hearted in some ways. My party is full square behind the treaty. I have no difficulty with the technical rules in the treaty. Those who urge a "No" vote have a duty to answer where they were when the six pack legislation was being debated by the European Parliament and Council and in this Parliament, when they had the opportunity to raise the majority of economic or fiscal items in the treaty.

There was no mention of the six pack by Sinn Féin. There was no mention of the fact that even if the treaty is rejected there are budgetary corrections required under it, which are convoluted and, in some respects, wishy-washy because some of them are subject to agreement with the Commission and do not come into force until we are out of the IMF programme. Sinn Féin and the other people who advocate a "No" vote must get away from this "No" to everything policy. They did not take the opportunity to change these deficit rules when it presented itself——

The Senator did not tell us why he is supporting the referendum——

I will explain the reason. However, those parties advocating a "No" vote must explain their silence and perhaps their laziness, their lack of ability to know what was happening in Europe when these measures were being passed and when they were on the Seanad Order Paper. A debate could have been requested. As far as I know, the procedures in the Lisbon treaty could have been raised by these individuals. This did not happen and now they are instinctively advocating a "No" vote in this referendum on the fiscal compact and this will get through to the populace. Many people will instinctively vote "No" to Europe——

The Senator is waffling because he cannot explain why he is supporting it. Perhaps he should try to tell us why Fianna Fáil is supporting it.

I will tell the Senator why I am supporting it. However, the particular issue to which I referred needs to be addressed. I have no difficulty with the fiscal measures in this treaty because they need to be in place as we are already subject to a pretty severe programme of adjustment and this will need to be continued even if we are not with the IMF in the future in order to put our own budgetary house in order. The measures in the treaty are reasonable and our membership of the eurozone requires some concession on the part of the country and we have already given plenty of give, so to speak. However, considering the crisis, we have to acknowledge that we must play our part in keeping the euro on track. It is our currency and we are as entitled as anyone to keep it on track. Unfortunately this requires these measures to be implemented and they would be required anyway no matter what the currency. We are not taking in enough money and we are being funded by outsiders on whom we depend. I regard the conditionality clause as a blackmail clause from the donors' point of view but in our case we must face the reality that if we require additional funding in the future we must ensure that such funding is in place. No one has yet successfully answered the question of where we will get the money if the funding is not forthcoming. I do not speak on behalf of German taxpayers but it is a reasonable question for them to ask what conditions are in place before they would agree to loan us the money. The Sinn Féin attitude seems to be, "Take the money and run" and this attitude goes a long way back.

On a point of order, I ask for that statement to be struck out because it is out of order.

No, I will not withdraw it because I did not refer to Senator Ó Clochartaigh personally but to his party.

I ask the Chair to rule. In my view that statement was out of kilter with the previous tone of the debate and the Senator is really lowering the tone with his contribution.

I think Senator Byrne was not addressing Senator Ó Clochartaigh. I ask Senator Byrne to continue.

It was no reflection on Senator Ó Clochartaigh who during that period, I understand, was a member of the Labour Party and it is blameless, as we keep hearing from it. That applies to Senator Ó Clochartaigh.

I am no longer a member and I do not see what that has to do with it. I ask the Chair to rule on the point of order.

I rule that Senator Byrne did not make a personal attack on Senator Ó Clochartaigh.

I ask Senator Byrne to continue. He has one minute remaining.

This was meant to be a European treaty and Britain and the Czech Republic have vetoed it. When we go forward for another referendum and when we may have the opportunity to use a veto, we have now proven that the veto is worthless, that it makes no difference. This treaty should not have gone ahead, considering Britain wished to veto it. We have come to know and understand Europe and we have defended it over many years. Ireland had a veto on many national interests but where now does our veto stand on the issue of corporation tax or on abortion. We have to face this reality. The fact that this is outside the structures of the European Union will lead to difficulties in the future. We would have been far better off to try to undertake further negotiation with Britain and the Czech Republic to bring them on board. Britain is not even a member of the eurozone and it was not required to comply with many of the provisions unless it wished to. Will the Minister clarify the treaty obligations of member states that are not members of the euro? A greater effort might have been made to persuade them, particularly Britain, to come on board, perhaps by affording some type of opt-out but still keeping it within European structures. The Commission has been the protector and promoter of small countries by ensuring a level playing field in Europe. However, that is lost in the treaty, which is a pity.

The reality for a country of Ireland's size is that to reject the treaty would be an act of political madness. We would be telling the other 24 member states which have signed up that we do not want to be part of the new system. One can only imagine the reaction to this and it is a prospect we all must consider. My party leader and his Front Bench were very forthright in seeking a referendum on the treaty, while at the same time offering wholehearted support for its provisions. I, too, support the treaty, although not wholeheartedly. My support is based on a consideration of the pros and cons and the benefits for the people. Nevertheless, my view is that we should seek improvements further down the line and work to keep all of these issues within European Union structures in order that our interests will be protected as far as possible.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Joe Costello, and wish him well on his appointment. We look forward to him bringing his customary enthusiasm and expertise to this important portfolio.

I also welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. We had our first discussion on the stability treaty on 14 March with no Minister present. I found that debate extremely useful in refining arguments and engaging to and fro with colleagues. I welcome Senator Thomas Byrne's comments. Fianna Fáil's support for the treaty amounts to a very responsible and pragmatic approach and the Senator has put the arguments fairly.

We are having this debate in the context of the preliminary results of the first round of the French presidential election which show Mr. François Hollande in a strong position. He has changed his call for a renegotiation of the treaty to an emphasis on the need for a growth agenda within the treaty, something that has been emphasised by Irish negotiators and is already referred to on page 1 of the treaty in the reference to the desire of the contracting parties to promote conditions for stronger economic growth in the European Union. Growth is an integral part of the provisions of the treaty.

I spoke about the need for clarity of language and join other speakers in highlighting the need for an informed debate. We are all pleased that every household will receive a copy of the treaty. As the Minister of State said, it is a relatively straightforward document. However, the language in which we describe it is critical. The "stability treaty" is the most accurate summary of the much longer title of the treaty. However, people have got into the habit of referring to it as a fiscal compact, which reflects only part of what the treaty is about. There has also been an unfortunate tendency by those opposed to it to describe is as the "austerity treaty", but to do so is to confuse cause and effect. My colleague, Senator Lorraine Higgins, put it fairly when she said it was utterly wrong to point to the treaty as somehow causing austerity. Rather, it seeks to deal with the causes of austerity, the economic difficulties we are facing and the crisis in the eurozone. Others have described it as a jigsaw piece or component of a larger solution. It is certainly not a panacea. Nobody who supports it is suggesting it will somehow cure any flaws in the euro overnight. I listened carefully to what Senator Sean D. Barrett had to say about the flaws inherent in the euro from its inception. However, we are where we are. One can point to these flaws in hindsight, but the question now must be how to shore it up. That is what the treaty seeks to address.

The trade union leader Mr. David Begg put the case honestly when he said that while he did not like what was in the treaty, the alternative was worse. That sends a clear message to trade union members throughout the country. It is unfortunate and unhelpful that SIPTU is taking a conditional support approach. The bottom line is that we are not in a position to impose the conditions that organisation has suggested. We are being funded by outsiders, thanks to the profligate economic policies of the previous Government, and are in a bailout programme. It is critical that we continue to maintain an open door or route back into the European Stability Mechanism should it be necessary, notwithstanding that the Government is working hard to ensure it will not be required. As the Minister of State said, one of the key arguments in favour of the treaty is to ensure access to that safety net. The Irish Farmers Association has given clear and unconditional support and emphasised that it is in the interests of its members that the referendum be approved.

There are some substantive reasons for voting "Yes". First, there is very little that is new in the treaty. As previous speakers indicated, it builds on measures already agreed at EU level, particularly the six-pack reforms to reinforce the Stability and Growth Pact. One assessment indicates that approximately 90% of what is contained in the treaty has already been agreed at EU level. Clearly, it is not an EU treaty but rather an intergovernmental one and, therefore, we have no veto in respect of it. Regardless of whether we vote "Yes" or "No", the treaty will proceed and will enter into force. We will, therefore, be left behind if we do not support it.

The goal of balanced budgets and sustainable economic policy is extremely important and we should put forward a very clear and positive argument forward in respect of it. This goal does not, as some on the left contend, run contrary to Keynesianism. Keynesian economic policies do not require the building of excessive or reckless deficits, rather they advocate prudent investment and intervention in the markets. This can be seen in the Nordic countries, where the model of a social Europe has really been pioneered. Those on the left can take comfort from the goals of the treaty in respect of sustainable economic policies. Short-term deviations are permitted under the treaty. In addition, provision is made for exceptional circumstances. From the point of view of Ireland, the treaty's terms do not override the troika programme to which we are already party. The specific goals contained in the treaty will not apply to this country until after our exit from that programme. There are quite a number of positive reasons to vote for the treaty.

The treaty involves trying to maintain a level of stability across the eurozone, not just in Ireland. The alternative to it for those who are advocating a "No" vote is uncertainty and instability. It is important that those of us on the "Yes" side should not scaremonger, that we should not be complacent or that we should not overstate the case. I have not heard a clear argument from those advocating a "No" vote as to the alternative to the treaty and what will happen if it is rejected by Ireland. We know it will come into force in any event for the other states which ratify it but what we do not know what the position will be with regard to this country and its economy if the people reject the treaty. External investors are watching with great interest to see whether they will feel secure in the context of continuing to invest money in Ireland.

I welcome the Minister of State. As we face into the forthcoming referendum campaign, I do not believe any of us would have chosen the current political climate, with the difficulties relating to the household charge, water charges and the septic tank charge, in which to launch such a campaign. The French presidential election campaign has given rise to talk with regard to add-ons being made to the treaty halfway through the referendum campaign here. Since the debate on the Bill began earlier, the Dutch Prime Minister has gone to Her Majesty, Queen Beatrix, to offer his Cabinet's resignation. All of this is happening in the background and, in my opinion, it makes it even more important that the information campaign relating to the referendum be wide-reaching in nature.

I welcome the establishment of the website, stabilitytreaty.ie. However, if we reflect on recent referendum campaigns, it is obvious that there is a need to use a diversity of media and that the information supplied must come from a wide range of trusted sources. Let us prove we have learned our lesson in this regard as we proceed with the forthcoming referendum campaign.

During the debate in the House on the fiscal stability treaty a number of weeks ago, I encouraged Members to reserve their opinions until the wording of the proposed constitutional amendment emerged. I raised concerns during that debate in respect of the treaty. Now that I have read the Bill that has come before the House, however, I commend the Government on its drafting. As I understand it, the proposed wording does not, despite some people's concerns, insert austerity into the Constitution, nor does it bind us to the terms of the treaty at constitutional level. The wording merely facilitates the treaty's introduction into law. I agree that this is the best course of action.

It seems that the current wording also means we must treat the fiscal stability treaty and the measures prescribed within it as separate matters within themselves. However, these matters and measures remain unclear. While the fiscal treaty is probably the most accessible treaty to emerge from Europe, it is also, in ways, the most nebulous. We still do not know how or by whom the structural deficit will be estimated nor do we know the timeframe in which Ireland and other contracting parties should be delivering "rapid convergence towards their respective medium-term objective". We do not know the format of the automatic correction mechanism the Government is examining or what aspects of the Constitution create the need for a referendum in the first place. I am concerned that this lack of auxiliary information is contributing to the divergence of opinion which is apparent when one examines the claims made regarding the treaty. On one side I have heard that a "Yes" vote will bind us to austerity while on the other side I have heard that it is tantamount to saying "Yes" to jobs. While both points have been made forcefully and often, I have yet to see any evidence to support either of these positions absolutely. In the absence of empirical verification, these claims amount to nothing more than histrionics and only seem to cloud the issues that are before us as we debate it. Rightly or wrongly, we are bound to austerity, not by Europe but by our current domestic economic policy. This treaty only serves to formalise the commitments to the course of action we have already adopted. Equally, it is not about creating jobs, nor will it defend against the inept fiscal policies that originally brought us to the brink of ruin, as some of the media have erroneously claimed. We have a duty as Members of this House to challenge these claims.

During the boom years Ireland was more in compliance with the terms of the treaty than Germany. There is nothing within the measures contained in the treaty that would have protected the economy from the financial crisis in which we find ourselves, nor is there anything to repair the damage that has been done by it. My feelings are best summed up, surprisingly enough, by the Czech ambassador, His Excellency, Dr. Tomas Kafka, who noted that the treaty is designed to restore mutual trust and confidence at EU level. That, for me, is what the treaty is about, namely, restoring mutual trust and confidence at EU level. We are faced with a choice between maintaining the ESM safety net or facing the deficit crisis alone. We have already subscribed to the terms of the treaty and have already set on our current course. Surely we should capitalise on the only positive opportunity with which we have been presented. I have researched, deliberated and decided to advocate strongly for a "Yes" vote in the forthcoming referendum.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and congratulate him on his recent appointment. It is good to see him. As the Minister, Deputy Shatter, said previously, the stability treaty is simple in nature. It is straightforward in principle. It is a short document relative to previous treaties and is written in a language that is far more straightforward than previous treaties. In effect, it will enshrine sound budgetary principles.

The treaty is designed to prevent a repeat of the Greek debt crisis and protect against the potential collapse of the euro currency. It is a clever communications gimmick to call it an austerity treaty but that is all it is. It is a gimmick akin to a communications stroke such as calling an inheritance tax a death tax. The repetition of the phrase "austerity treaty" leads people to suspect and believe that it enshrines austerity. This is simply not true. It enshrines sound economic principles and the idea that over the medium term we cannot spend more than we bring in.

This treaty will protect the current and future generations from governments taking part in the type of reckless spending policies pursued in the recent past. It removes us from our endemic short-term nature in terms of budgetary policy whereby if one has it, one spends it, and if one does not, one cuts. This treaty, in isolation, will not solve our problems and this needs to be recognised. As the Minister, Deputy Shatter, said, it is merely one piece of the jigsaw. However, it is a central piece and we absolutely need it to be passed.

I urge people to consider the real implications of a "No" vote and the treaty does not come to pass here. This is not like other treaties. The train leaves the platform, as my colleague said recently. That phrase seems to be used all the time and I tried to think of another way to say this. The train leaves on 1 January and that is it. Even if the will existed to re-run the treaty, the practical implications are that it is impossible to do that. Due to the repetitive nature of the referendums on the Lisbon and Nice treaties, a dangerous precedent was set whereby a significant percentage of the population have come to expect that if a European referendum is rejected, it will be run again with minor tweaks in our favour but not so this time. It is impossible.

In terms of why we are voting "Yes", it is a fairly simple argument. The economy is hanging in the balance right now and all economies are predicated on the confidence of investors, consumers and those who can hire. A "No" vote will suck confidence out of the economy, particularly from investors in technology who are the ones fuelling our only growth sectors. That is the reason American Chamber of Commerce came out immediately in favour of the treaty. If those on the other side of the House wish to call it an austerity treaty, so be it. I will start referring to it as an investment treaty and invite others who believe in it to do the same.

The Minister of State is welcome back to the House in which we served together for a number of years before he was demoted to the Lower House. I always refer to moving from the Upper House to the Lower House as demotion.

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak in this debate. Whether someone is running a family home, a business or a government, the books must be balanced. We all know this. We also know that if we do not balance the books, we will have to go back to the banker to ask for help to get through this difficult period. We do not throw away the keys to the bank door and say we will never need them again. For some years to come we will need the European Union more than it will need us. In that respect we must not throw away the keys. We are spending approximately €7 billion a year more than we are earning. We must get the figures right. If we are to achieve a solution, we must make sure we keep the doors open to get through these difficult times.

As far as I can see, the fiscal treaty states that if a country is going through a difficult time economically, it can spend a little more than it is bringing in. When we were going through a very good period, as we were for ten or 15 years, and earning far more than we were spending, we should have put funds aside for a rainy day. That is what the treaty seems to be indicating.

It was interesting to listen to two trade unionists speak about this matter on radio yesterday. Mr. David Begg spoke in favour of the treaty, but he has been on the board of the Central Bank for some time. When he was appointed to it, I considered it made sense because he knows the real difficulties, about which he spoke logically in that regard. Later I heard Mr. John Douglas of Mandate speak and he was asked the reason he wished to vote "No". He replied that voting "Yes" would not lead to the creation of additional jobs. He was asked if voting "No" would do so and replied that it would not. I do not understand this. We must find a way to ensure the treaty works.

I have a number of queries. An amazing statistic was reported last week, namely, that it would take Ireland 15 years to get back to where it would have been had the economic and financial crisis not hit us. Our growth rate is forecast to be reasonably strong at 2.6% per year on average, but our pre-crisis growth rate was so high it will take us that number of years to catch up.

It was interesting that Mr. Barroso floated the figure of €380 billion for the assistance given to Greece compared to the figure of $13 billion for the Marshall plan in the 1940s. Some 83% of that $13 billion comprised grants, but the Greek bailout figures —€110 billion in 2010 and €130 billion this year — are loans which are contributing to that country's debt. We must find some solution and a way to handle this crisis, but we have a much better chance of being able to do this and negotiate better deals when we are in, rather than out.

Questions remain about how EU institutions such as the European Commission and the European Court of Justice can be used to enforce what for now is, essentially, an international agreement among sovereign nations. Will the Minister of State explain how that will happen? Many questions arise regarding what will happen to countries that fail to ratify the new treaty. Some believe the future of these countries, as eurozone members, could be put into question should they fail to ratify. This is why we must consider all the ramifications of rejection. Other countries in trouble, including Greece and Portugal, have ratified the treaty. Portugal ratified the treaty by a commanding majority. Some 204 of its 240 Members of Parliament were in favour of it. This has probably weakened the position of François Hollande competing for the French presidency.

Some believe that rejection of the fiscal compact could have serious financial and economic consequences and I am certainly of that opinion. It means qualification for the European Stability Mechanism. A return to the bond market would be made much more difficult. We must consider having the full range of tools available if we are to be on the path to recovery. Ratifying the treaty, along with other changes, will enhance our ability to recover.

The Government and the major Opposition party are taking the right path. They are saying we really do not have a choice and must ratify the treaty. We can improve our negotiating position afterwards; we cannot do so if we do not ratify the treaty.

I welcome the Minister of State to the Chamber. I am glad to have an opportunity to speak on this treaty. I will go off script because I would like to comment on the contribution of the previous speaker who has attributed some of our problems to low or less than optimum interest rates in Ireland over the past ten years. It is a reasonable position but it is not very satisfactory because low interest rates are a function of the accumulation of capital. That the accumulation of capital occurred at the centre is not an accident. Ten, 15 or more years ago, the Germans put in place a series of reforms that led them to reap economic benefits today. This treaty, while it will not allow us to be where Germany is, will certainly allow Europe to create the conditions in which these reforms can take place structurally. That is very important.

I will speak a lot more on this topic later. I now want to speak not so much on the treaty itself but on the language used in conversation on its merits. My colleague, Senator Bacik, rightly indicated that the way people talk about the treaty, that is, by referring to it as a fiscal treaty, austerity treaty or stability treaty, betrays or illuminates their position. Some of the language being used is associated more with rhetoric than trying to explain the detail of the treaty. I have heard terms such as "blackmail clauses" and "austerity treaty" being used by opponents of the treaty in a manner that does nothing at all to illuminate what we are asking the people to vote on in the referendum on 31 May. This type of language is not calculated to make a robust argument; it is calculated more to frighten people. That is being done by opponents of the treaty when anyone on the Government side tries to explain the implications of the treaty. It is essential for all sides in the debate to attempt to make their arguments with honesty and with a view to establishing what is best for the country. Their arguments should not use rhetorical devices aimed at playing on the fears of very many hard-pressed people.

Some commentators are betraying their real motivation in the use of some of their language. The motivation may not be placing the best interests of the country as a priority. I suspect commentators are using this opportunity to criticise Government policy in other areas. It is fair and reasonable to expect the Opposition parties to want to beat the Government but I appeal to them not to use the treaty as the stick with which to do so. I hope they do not.

Some commentators have voiced legitimate arguments against the treaty and this is where the debate should lie and what the conversation should be on. Other commentators are stirring up fears in an attempt to further party political gains. If they are doing so, it is nothing short of scandalous.

The language we use discussing the treaty is very important. I will give one example. I was recently speaking to some members of the board of a large US multinational corporation that may be interested in investing money in Ireland and creating the jobs our people so badly need. The company does not have a presence in Ireland. I was flabbergasted when one of the directors asked me whether his company's money would be safe if it invested in Ireland. It was an incredible statement to make. I asked him what his concerns in this regard were. He said he did not have concrete concerns but he heard negativity and doom and gloom from the country. I readily accept he has not formed his opinion having listened to this debate, rather it was formed over several months or years. A lot of noise will be generated during the debate on the treaty and in this Chamber, but we must be measured. If people wish to score political points they should do so in the full knowledge of the effect their words and actions will have outside the Chamber and in the wider public arena.

I refer to the number of trade unions that have come out in opposition to the treaty. It is remarkable for the trade union leadership to find itself in a position whereby it is advising its members to vote against the terms of the treaty and against the interests of the ordinary workers of the country. It is in the interests of every worker in the country that the treaty is passed. It will ensure that economic stability is restored across Europe. It is only through the restoration of stability and confidence that we will be in a position to attract investment, retain the investment we have and create the conditions for new jobs.

Ultimately, everything we do must be aimed towards creating jobs. This is why I find it remarkable that some trade unions are calling for a "No" vote. I heard vague talk from some of the union leadership about this being an austerity treaty. The unthinking implication of this is that if one votes "No" there will no longer be any need for austerity, which we know is nonsense. I have heard vague talk about putting in place a stimulus package. If we reject the treaty the stimulus we will feel will be the sharp sting of gradual economic isolation in Europe and not being able to access funding if we need it.

I look forward to debating the treaty further in the Chamber. I am already doing so on the doorsteps. I have had a very good reaction to it. I hope when we make our arguments we do so for the right reasons. It was stated that it is one's patriotic duty to vote "Yes" and one is also a patriot if one votes "No", which is fair once one votes for the right reason.

Tá mé tar éis éisteacht go cúramach ar feadh dhá uair go leith le díospóireacht ar son an reifrinn, agus fáiltím roimh an chúig nóiméad atá agam le labhairt ina choinne. Déanadh cuid mhaith cainte ar thírghrá agus mar sin de. Tá mé chun a bheith an-soiléir ó thaobh pholasaí Shinn Féin de, mar sin bíodh Seanadóirí ag éisteacht. Dúirt cuid acu nár chuala siad na hargóintí ar an dtaobh eile.

Tá Sinn Féin in gcoinne an chonartha ar chúig chúis, go bunúsach. A haon, ní chreidimid go n-oibreoidh sé. A dó, creidimid go gcuirfidh sé níos mó déine i bhfeidhm sa tír. Chomh maith leis sin, creidimid go gcaillfimid ár bhflaitheas polaitiúil agus ár bhflaitheas dlíthiúil agus go bhfuil an conradh docht daingean agus nach bhfuil aon éalú as.

My esteemed colleagues from County Galway, Senators Mullen and Higgins, and others have talked about patriotism and national pride. I remind them that we are not steering away from that in Sinn Féin. We agree with them. I would like to quote a number of other patriots who would agree with us. Many Senators were at Easter celebrations. The Proclamation states: "We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible." Pádraig Pearse wrote: "A nation can bind itself by treaty to do or forego specific things . . . but no treaty which places a nation's body and soul in the power of another nation, no treaty which abnegates the nation's nationhood is binding on the nation any more than a contract of perpetual slavery is binding on an individual." That is the tone of patriotism we need to take.

One would think, based on the debate so far, that Sinn Féin members are the only people in the world opposed to the treaty, which is completely untrue. I will not get drawn into barracking as I have only five minutes.

The Senator wasted Senator Byrne's time.

Senator Ó Clochartaigh to continue, without interruption.

It would have been good if Senator Byrne had clarified whether his parliamentary party was in favour of the treaty or if Deputy Ó Cuív had changed his mind.

There is increasing support for a "No" vote across Europe. Monsieur Hollande in France has serious problems with the treaty. If he wants the treaty to be written in the way he likes, there will be need for renegotiation. The Dutch Labour Party, French socialists and conservative Spanish Government, even though it has signed up to the treaty, have said they do not agree with it. The European trade union movement has also come out against the treaty.

We do not stand alone in our opposition to the treaty and will focus on the five reasons we are calling for a "No" vote. We do not believe the austerity treaty will solve the eurozone crisis or fix the Irish economy. It will deepen the recession and lead to greater levels of instability at home and across Europe. It will also lead to more austerity. Even though the Government parties might not like to admit it, the current situation under the troika is causing austerity. The new measures to be introduced under the fiscal treaty will continue that type of austerity into the future and will mean we will have to balance our budgets in a certain way, which will involve cuts to public services. It will result in a loss of political sovereignty. The treaty significantly strengthens the capacity of the European Commission to enforce member state compliance with existing and new rules. Member states will have signed up to a legally binding obligation to automatically enter an economic partnership programme when they are in breach of the rules. It will also result in a loss of legal sovereignty. The treaty gives the European Court of Justice jurisdiction to determine whether member states are complying with debt and deficit rules.

The treaty also allows one member state to take another member state to the European Court of Justice if it believes the member state in question to be in breach of the rules. The treaty is binding and permanent. It restates some old rules and strengthens some new ones. By placing these rules in an international treaty and giving it the protection of the Irish Constitution they will be made binding and permanent. Due to time limits I will continue with those arguments on Committee Stage.

A lot has been said about multinationals investing in the country. There seems to be a contradiction in the argument. At one stage the Government focused on the investments made by Google, Facebook, etc. However, it is telling us if we do not sign up to the treaty these companies will automatically stop investing here. That seems to be the thrust of the argument, which we do not believe. The reality is that if we do not sign up to the treaty the status quo continues. We will not be thrown out of the EU.

I am allowing the Senator some injury time. He has one minute left.

I do not believe that argument washes well. As has been pointed out by Senator van Turnhout, the fiscal rules would not have helped the Celtic tiger situation or prevent it from happening, and it could happen again. There is huge confusion around what a structural deficit is and most economists do not seem to be able to agree on it.

The argument being put forward that these types of economic policies are actually working is something we completely refute. The Dutch and French credit ratings have been downgraded by Standard & Poor's and other rating agencies. Only Germany, Luxembourg and Finland have not been downgraded. Our argument is that austerity is hurting the people and is not working across Europe. We need to say "No" to the treaty in order that we can find a political solution that will be fair.

I would like clarification from the Minister of State on whether an equal amount of money is being spent on both sides of the argument on the Government website. If not, does it potentially contradict the McKenna ruling? The Government seems to be telling us we need the ESM as a safety net but when we went in to the first bailout we were told there would only be a need for one. The Government should tell us if we will need a second bailout. If we will not it should not be using the argument that the treaty is a safety net because its skews the argument.

We need to note some quotes by people such as Angela Merkel. She is right when she says the rules are designed to be permanent and binding, valid forever, never to be changed by a parliamentary majority. The Government has chosen the path of austerity but the people should reject its attempt to tie the hands of future, more sensible Governments. What this will do is enshrine in constitutional law in Ireland the austerity and economic policies being put forward. Sin an fáth go bhfuilimid ag cur i gcoinne an reifrinn seo agus cuirfimid i láthair tuilleadh argóintí nuair a bheidh Céim an Choiste ann. Táim an-bhuíoch den Chathaoirleach faoi bheagán am breise a thabhairt dom ar an cheann seo.

As Ireland benefits massively from membership of the European Union, anything that will improve the way the Union and the euro function will certainly be in Ireland's interests. The stability treaty aims to contribute to the reconstruction of the euro system to ensure economic stability for the country and the Union. The treaty is an essential component of the major reconstruction of the euro system being undertaken by the Union and provides strong foundations for disciplined budget management in every member country. As the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, stated recently, strengthening the euro system by itself will not restore the eurozone to robust economic health, but it is a necessary condition for a return to sustainable growth in Europe.

A "Yes" vote on 31 May is fundamental to our economic recovery. The outcome of the referendum will be interpreted as a signal as to whether we want to remain at the heart of the European Union or whether we are moving towards the periphery based on suspicion or mistrust of the Union's direction and intent. In the business world sentiment matters. One only has to look at how the international money markets work. However, there is little doubt that reaffirming our commitment to the euro would help to restore confidence externally in our ability to manage our way forward. The same applies to inward investment. All of the main business groupings, including IBEC, Chambers Ireland and American Chamber of Commerce Ireland which has been mentioned, have confirmed their strong support for the treaty. IBEC's director of policy stated that, despite tough economic times, Irish business remained very supportive of Ireland's place and role in the eurozone. This view is also reflected in the overwhelming support for ratification of the new treaty.

The future of the European Union, the restoration of economic stability and growth and the creation of new jobs are all dependent on the Union being led out of the crisis. I reject the idea that we can stand outside the Union, put our recovery funds at risk and alarm the international companies and investors on whom we rely for the creation of jobs in Galway and many other areas throughout the country. We have responsibilities and made commitments to our fellow members, just as they have to us. It is not and can never be an à la carte membership. The treaty enshrines new binding and enforceable fiscal rules in order that all participating member states will have economic responsibilities to each other to ensure the mistakes of the past will not be repeated.

Our current programme funding is secure until 2013, but it is vital for investment and stability to have a funding backstop beyond the existing programme. The stability treaty makes it clear that should assistance be required post-2013 from the EU bailout fund, we will require ratification of the treaty. A "No" vote will result in an increase in borrowing costs for Ireland when we return to the markets and it could fatally undermine our capacity to return to them. Those who promote a "No" vote need to tell the people where we can source funding to pay pensioners and social welfare recipients, teachers, gardaí and all other public servants. If we cut ourselves off from this insurance policy of the bailout programme or assistance from the European Union, from where will we get funding? That is a question which will have to be posed and answered by those who promote a "No" vote in this campaign.

Some commentators suggest the result of the French presidential election may result in changes to the treaty. This is only an attempt to muddy the waters and I am sure we will witness plenty such attempts throughout the campaign. As a Government, we will press ahead with the referendum with a view to strengthening and protecting Ireland's interests in the European Union. The Taoiseach has for a long time argued within the Union for the emphasis to be on growth and the jobs agenda. Any further support from outside in this regard, be it from France or any other country, can only benefit Ireland and we would certainly welcome it.

For all these reasons, a "Yes" vote is vital to our economic recovery. I commend the Bill to the House and urge all Members to support the treaty in the interests of all our citizens.

As others have said, my party has decided to support the fiscal stability mechanism treaty and we are doing so in order that we can continue to access the European Stability Mechanism. However, my view differs from that of the Minister of State. I do not believe there is much of a chance of Ireland being able to go back to the markets at the end of the current programme period. The Government will have to repeat the exercise and go back to the European Stability Mechanism. For that reason, it is important that we position ourselves in order we can do this.

I support the treaty for another reason which has not been mentioned in the House, although it was what initially prompted me. I support the idea that we must balance our budget and, therefore, avoid the situation here in the 1980s under the parties in government and also under Governments in which my party was involved, where the necessary steps to correct the budget deficit were not take because it was politically unpopular to do so. In our case, it was a question of priming public expenditure in the run-up to general elections in order to maximise support. That was wrong. I have spoken before about the Swiss model. I was taken with the fact they had a debt brake system in place and that they had to have a balanced budget. For that reason, I support the treaty.

It is welcome that there are penalties included in the treaty and that the European Court of Justice will be the adjudicator. In fact, penalties up to 0.1% of GDP can be applied to countries which fail to meet their requirements. That will certainly put strictures on us. We are conceding sovereignty — we did this the first day we joined the EEC, as it was called in 1973.

The question of not exceeding 0.5% of nominal GDP needs explanation. What is meant by "structural deficit"? To the best of my knowledge, this term has not been defined in the treaty, nor has it been defined by the participating parties to the agreement. I ask specifically, for example, whether it will include or exclude capital expenditure. What will be included? That is a pertinent question. If it has not been answered, it will need to be in the lead-up to the referendum.

My second point concerns the 60% debt-to-GDP ratio that must be met. There are serious questions to be asked in this regard and I am surprised the matter was not mentioned by the Minister of State. Our ballpark deficit figure will end up somewhere in the region of 120% of GDP. While some economic commentators suggest it will be considerably in excess of this figure, let us take it as being conservative. That means we will exceed the 60% requirement by 60% and that 60% must be corrected over 20 years. I realise there will be some amelioration for countries such as ours which are in the current programmes. However, presumably at the end of the current programmes we will be left with a very high overhang or deficit which must be corrected over 20 years. If that is in the order of the 60% as I am suggesting, it means there will have to be a correction of 3% per year which at current levels of GDP amounts to €4.8 billion. How will that be managed given the magnitude and especially when one considers the last budget under which the correction was less than that? Apart from not being good economically, I thought it was politically insane but the Government went for soft options. It increased the VAT rate by 2% and it increased the cut in capital expenditure by €750 million. They will not be options in future.

One must consider the penalties as well.

There was nothing about public service numbers, public service pay, the social welfare system and the rate of social welfare payments or wasteful expenditure throughout the public service. None of those targets was identified. If this treaty is to be passed — I wish to see it passed — the issue of combining banking debt with sovereign debt is considerable. As a country we are culpable for following pro-cyclical policies and we have accepted that. However, the ECB and the especially the German and French banks were participatory in what occurred in this country and elsewhere because of over-liquefying the banking systems. I disagree fundamentally with the spokespeople for the ECB who maintain that we must take all of it. There is no way this country is in a position, nor should the taxpayer be asked, to accept the full burden. We must play our part and I do not suggest the German or French banks should play their part but they must accept some of it. This message must be driven home. I am concerned that, when it comes to it, the people may decide that the message might overhang the decision they must make.

I believe the Government parties may be caught on their own petard. For the past four years they have said that the deal arranged with the EU, IMF and the ECB, that is, the troika, was an abrogation of our sovereignty. That sounded good politically but it was not the case and the Government parties knew it. Instead, it involved going with the terms of the people who were lending money to us. Whether at private or sovereign level, no one lends money without knowing the borrower is putting his house in order such that he can repay it. It was no more than that. The issue of the loss of sovereignty will arise in this referendum. The Government parties should admit to the people that their statements were purely for political consumption, gain and advantage. They will be faced with this issue in the debate. An element of reality and straight speaking must be forthcoming but I have not seen to date. I urge the Government parties to start it now as a matter of urgency because, as other speakers have said, we only get one bite at this cherry and it is far from certain the referendum will be passed.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss the stability treaty. That is what we are discussing. I welcome the robust, genuine and sincere contributions from across the floor. No one has a monopoly on patriotism or concern. We are all trying our best to represent the best interests of our families, children and those in our communities, many of whom are unemployed or not living in the country any more. We would all prefer if this were not the case.

I take a simplistic view of the stability treaty. The country is not in a good place. This is not a good time for Ireland nor is it a good time for many families in Ireland. Therefore, I respectfully suggest that it is not a good time to be making enemies. It is a time to harness the resources and the support we can draw from our friends economically and politically throughout Europe.

If one were to set out on the road to prosperity and given a roadmap, a Kerry person might say: "I wouldn't start from here if I were you." Certainly, this is not the place to be starting out in that direction. I will not use that horrible phrase but at this juncture we are at this location and, therefore, we must start from here. The Tánaiste, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, stated at our centenary conference last week that the Government had restored stability and confidence. He further stated that we must now seek to establish growth, job creation and investment from that platform. We must weigh up the possibilities from that juncture. I agree with Senator Walsh's view that it is by no stretch of the imagination a foregone conclusion that the stability treaty will find favour with the majority of the electorate. The reality is, however, that the electorate must weigh up the consequences if we have a "No" vote. This is not scaremongering. It would be irresponsible to suggest there are no consequences, that nothing would happen next or that we can stay where we are. That is simply not the case.

Some people are suggesting that we are raising household charges and water taxes to pay off banking debt. That is absurd and untrue. The country must borrow €18 billion per annum simply to pay its way, to pay for teachers, the Garda, nurses, doctors and pensions. Some have suggested that we should not worry about it because if we are stuck, we will be helped anyway. No bank operates like that. One cannot say to a bank, financial institution or resourcing agency that one intends to default unilaterally and not pay one's debts and then, if one is stuck at some stage in future, to expect them to give one a dig out again, regardless of what one did last time.

It was useful to hear somebody boil the matter down into further detail. It came as a shock to me to learn that we borrow €44 million each day to pay our way. That has nothing to do with Anglo Irish Bank, the promissory notes or banking debt. It is simply to run the country. Had there never been a banking crisis, which compounds and aggravates our circumstances, to all our indignation, we would still have a serious financial deficit that must be addressed. We are still indebted to the markets and, as everyone accepts, we are in no position to go back to the markets to borrow. I am uncertain at what stage we will be able to do so but I hope we will do so at the earliest juncture.

I make it my business to be here as often as I can when Senator Sean Barrett is speaking. He is an eminent economist but I take a layman's views on these matters. He pointed out that until the crash occurred, Ireland was abiding by the rules and regulations and operating within the boundaries of deficit limits and so on. We had good adherence. Unfortunately, this brings us back to the fact that we would prefer if the banking crash had not occurred. Regardless of whether we like it, warts and all and with all its flaws the euro is our currency and we bought into it in a big way. Are the opponents of the stability treaty realistically suggesting that we should return to the punt? That would represent a serious risk to take with people's lives. It is a fair risk to put to the 450,000 people who are unemployed and to suggest that we should take a chance with this move and see where it ends up. There are 450,000 people on the dole.

I agree with the point being made across the floor to the effect that there are serious aggravating problems in countries such as Greece, which is struggling to come to terms with the austerity imposed on it by Frankfurt. Problems are emerging in the Netherlands and Belgium which are aggravating matters and making the stability treaty all the more complex. They also give opponents of the treaty a grand opportunity to further muddy the waters, but that does not escape the reality that we must put our own house in order regardless of what occurs in mainland Europe. It is prudent and necessary that we do this and the provisions of the treaty will keep our minds on it. The debt brake — a good idea to keep the budget deficit within a certain band and in control — will bring an end to the practice of political parties of all persuasions bringing forward unrealistic and costly manifestos for which, ultimately, the taxpayer ends up paying a hefty price, with parties attempting to buy elections. What would be wrong with saying goodbye to this system of politics? It is high time we did so.

Where I come from a person cannot get money from someone, whether it be €44 or €44 million, and expect him or her not to ask what one intends to do with the money or what one has done with it. What is unreasonable about this? People are saying the European Union is interfering. If someone was giving money on that scale to anyone, much less a country, surely the European Union and the European Central Bank are entitled to expect we would put the money to good purpose. As a committed European, I believe the European Union has been good to and for Ireland. In that regard, Ireland is seen by multinational companies as a bridgehead to Europe because it gives them a toehold in the European market. It is not acceptable to say, therefore, that it will not matter in the morning if we are not a fully fledged member of the Union and the eurozone. It would have significant implications.

I welcome the comments of François Hollande. I will say a little prayer that he is elected the next President of France because the Sarkozy-Merkel axis, in terms of the philosophical approach they are taking to the problem, is too austerity driven and one-sided. It is welcome that we could have a socialist at the helm in France which would curb the excesses of the book-keepers and the bureaucrats who would have us on our knees with austerity for decades to come. Mr. Hollande's election would not be a bad outcome.

A total of 25 countries have committed to the treaty which only requires 12 to pass it. The idea being put forward in some quarters — I include certain elements of the trade union movement in this and Deputy Eamon Ó Cuív is not blameless in the matter — that we should not worry about rejecting the treaty because we would get a second shot at it is highly irresponsible. We will only get one shot at agreeing to the stability treaty. I, therefore, implore the people whom I will be canvassing door to door across the country to support it.

I tender my support for the treaty in the referendum. Despite current opinion poll results and trends, it is not certain that the referendum will be passed, even though I dearly hope it will because there is too much at stake for us as a people to reject it.

I endorse what my colleague, Senator Jim Walsh, said about the economic collapse that occurred here two or three years ago. We seemed to be at the forefront in that if our banking system had collapsed, other banks throughout Europe would have been in serious difficulty. Senator Jim Walsh has made a concise point that should be repeated, namely, that the ECB, in particular, and the German banks which lent the money cannot pretend it never happened. They were at fault to a certain extent, but this was the first country to face this calamity. As the late Brian Lenihan stated, going to the European Union was like being at the gates of hell and he was at the gates of hell from an economic point of view. It is important to note also the comments made by eminent individuals such as Senator Sean D. Barrett who stated that up to the time of the economic collapse — many people do not realise this — we were playing by the rules. However skewed or wrong they were, we played by the rules, but, unfortunately, we were trumped because of what had happened and the nation will suffer for many years to come as a result.

I am critical of the debate about whether we are in or out of the European Union. The reality is that we have been a member since 1973. By and large, the Union has served us well and remaining outside it or deciding to step in or out as the occasion might suit us is not good for it. I am not an economist or an expert in economic matters, but had these banking constraints and the straitjacket being suggested been in place four or five years ago we would not be in this difficult position.

From a constitutional point of view, we are facing a referendum on the Thirtieth Amendment of the Constitution Bill. It is a matter of history that, compared to Australia and America, we have had far more referendums since the Constitution took effect than any other country in the world. The time has come for the Taoiseach to refer or examine the necessity to hold a referendum on every move that happens in the European Union. I am not making a broad statement that we should never again hold a referendum on issues that affect the Union, but we should examine the process of holding referendums as far as our commitment to and our working within it is concerned. The time has come for us, as a nation, to consider amending the Constitution in respect of certain moves in the Union that trigger referendums which are costly for the county, apart from the effort involved in holding them. I am not sure how much holdindg this referendum will cost, but it will be many millions of euro to endorse a commitment that the vast majority of Members of the Oireachtas support. Whether it be 75% or 80%,if the vast majority of Members of the Dáil and the Seanad decide a particular European treaty should be ratified, we should examine that concept. I am not sure the notion that every time something happens in the Union we must go to the people is correct. I am not ignoring the importance of the referendum and the right of the people to decide on certain issues, but we should consider a new structure. The Constitution took effect in 1937. It is interesting that it is referred to as de Valera's Constitution, but some of the key individuals in the background advising him were eminent Free State people or Blueshirts, as they were referred to in those days. They put the Constitution together in a different era. Eamon De Valera was Taoiseach and it is said it was his Constitution, that he was influenced by the Cardinals and so on, but some of the main strategists behind it were people from another party.

I had not intended to speak on this issue, but I am happy to add my aguisín in favour of the referendum. I say to the parties opposite and the Minister, for whom I have great respect, that this is an issue we cannot take for granted. There will have to be an all-out effort made because if we fail, those on this side of the House cannot be blamed. The onus is on the Government parties to ensure the referendum is passed. They will have to go out with all guns blazing because there is no certainty about what will be the outcome when the people cast their votes in five weeks time.

I apologise for being late for what has, no doubt, been a healthy and fruitful discussion. Having called for this debate, I am pleased to speak on the treaty. When the fiscal compact was signed, I took the view that holding a referendum would be healthy. If the Government had ratified the treaty without a referendum, it would have been accused of preventing the people from having their say on it. When they are given the opportunity to express themselves on important issues, they give wise counsel and due consideration, show great care and examine the facts. We need a meaningful debate that is focused on the subject matter of the treaty as opposed to extraneous, albeit important issues. When a referendum is held on a specific issue, the subject matter should be discussed. I regret this has not always been the case in recent referendum campaigns.

In the weeks leading up to 31 May I hope we will have an exercise in democracy in which information is distributed correctly, through the proper channels and by the appropriate sources. In that respect, I understand An Post has been awarded the contract for distributing leaflets, which is the correct means of disseminating information to 1.6 million households.

The first 50 years of the 20th century were difficult and traumatic for Europe, whereas the latter half of the century was much more settled. The Continent has experienced another turbulent period recently, in which we have had a financial war, if one likes, with banks and credit institutions arising from greed, light touch regulation and the absence of proper management and monitoring. While we can correctly accuse the previous Government of failing in this regard, these problems extended across Europe as credit institutions, banks and big business were allowed to set the agenda. When member states work together in co-operation, they have been highly effective. Recent turbulence has brought us to a position in which we must tighten the rules and embrace an insurance policy. The fiscal compact treaty is such an insurance policy and will ensure the events of the past decade do not recur in the coming decades.

Irish people have benefited significantly from the country's membership of the European Union. While we may be a drop in the ocean, as it were, we have had a significant ripple effect in Europe in terms of our influence across the Continent. We have a choice of being Europeans on the periphery or at the core of decision making. The treaty is as much about consolidating our place in the European Union and ensuring it has confidence in us and realises we are dedicated, committed, total Europeans rather than "minus two" Europeans. It is crucial that we are seen to be perfectly and totally committed to the European model in all senses. While the insurance policy is one issue, confidence is another.

I am a committed and proud European and Irish person. I am glad Ireland operates in a properly regulated, managed and controlled European framework. There is no alternative to voting "Yes" to the European fiscal compact, a treaty which provides a set of rules that were decided by the European Union in consultation with all parties, including the Government. We are happy with the document. Having read it in detail, I note it is well thought out, balanced and focused. The treaty will ensure what happened in the past will not happen in the future. We owe it to future generations, our children and grandchildren, and those who have confidence and faith in this country and are willing to invest their hard earned money in it to accept the treaty. If China, the United States, Middle Eastern and other European countries are willing to invest in Europe, we must prove we are dedicated and demonstrate that Ireland should be the channel through which they will forward their hard earned money into the European Union. I have no doubt we will play a pivotal role in the future of the Union. This referendum is very much a deciding factor. I dread to think what will happen if Ireland does not vote "Yes" on 31 May.

I welcome the opportunity to say a few words in the five minutes available to me. Like many colleagues, I welcomed the Government's decision some weeks ago to hold a referendum on the ratification of the treaty. At the time, one school of thought suggested the Government could proceed to ratify the treaty without holding a referendum. If the Government had taken such a decision, it would have been appealed to the Supreme Court where an adjudication would have taken place one way or another. Instead, it took the courageous and proper decision to allow the people to express their will by way of a vote. However, when one consults citizens on a possible constitutional amendment, it automatically imprints on their minds that the question being asked is substantial and the issue being addressed is one of major importance. In this case, however, the treaty is short and relatively modest in nature. As a result of offering the people an opportunity to vote, those on both sides of the argument are scrambling to come up with 50 good reasons to vote for or against the treaty.

I concur with the sentiments expressed by my friend and colleague, Senator Martin Conway, on the desirability of having the referendum passed. We can, however, be modest about its contents which are about housekeeping and ensuring governments here and elsewhere in Europe act in a financially sane manner. It allows us to take out a degree of insurance. The average, sensible citizen has car, household and health insurance and the treaty provides a degree of financial insurance for the future of the economy. This is one of the reasons I strongly support the referendum.

In the past 24 hours I have listened to a number of trade union representatives set out their reasons for opposing the treaty. We need to ensure maintaining jobs and creating new jobs are the Government's first and second priorities. For this reason, I am surprised and disappointed — to put it mildly — that any union is taking a negative view of good financial housekeeping and efforts to ensure a return to growth, stability and prosperity in the European Union. Politicians must do their jobs and union leaders must do theirs.

I hope modest language will be used in this debate. It is important that members of the public receive the required information in the near future. In recent referendum campaigns we had the undesirable scenario of households either not receiving the relevant information or receiving it at a late stage. Surely it will be possible to have a copy of the treaty and non-directive, balanced and reasonable supporting documentation issued to households in the coming week or thereabouts. I hope people will take time to study the treaty, as I would not like any voter to argue subsequently that he or she was not informed before voting. Providing information is the first requirement of the referendum campaign which should be focused on enhancing knowledge and disseminating information rather than having one side shouting down the other. Our job on this side of the House and for the majority of the other side should not be to browbeat people into voting "Yes", but to enthuse people on the basis that the treaty, modest and all as it may be, is good for Ireland and its economic position at this time, and that it should be supported. That is what I will be trying to do in my own inadequate way.

I would like to make one final point, which I made from the other side of the House during previous referenda. I am deeply disappointed that the referendum will be held on a Thursday. If we want to enthuse people and bring them with us, we should try to encourage every person to vote, and holding the referendum on a Thursday is not helpful in that respect. Other referenda will be held during the lifetime of this Government, and as a minimum degree of decency and good electoral practice, voting should take place at weekends. My preference is for a one and a half day voting period; be it a half day on Friday and all day Saturday, or all day Friday and half a day on Saturday. Democracy is a precious flower and we should not be concerned greatly whether it costs €400,000 or €800,000 to have a vote. We must try to make our voting system more accessible and more flexible. That is my one disappointment. Notwithstanding that, the date has been set and will not be changed now. It is in the interests of our country and our people to say "Yes" and to ensure that we continue to play a central role at the heart of Europe, and not in the ante-room, which is where a "No" vote would leave us for some time.

I appreciate this opportunity to address the House on the Thirtieth Amendment of the Constitution (Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union) Bill 2012. I thank all Senators for their contributions during the debate. This is an extremely important Bill as it will facilitate the holding of a referendum on the stability treaty on Thursday, 31 May.

This treaty is very important for the future of the country. For one thing, it is about making sure that the costly mistakes of the past are not repeated again. This treaty is about our future and it is part of a package of measures and initiatives aimed at securing that future. It is about getting a sustainable, fair and people-focused economy here in Ireland and across Europe.

The decision that the people will take at the end of May will have real consequences for the future of this country. We in the Government believe it will say a great deal about where we stand, about our aspirations for the future, about who we are and where we are going. The Government is determined to fully equip the people with all the information and understanding they will need to make an informed choice on 31 May. For that reason we have launched the most comprehensive Government information campaign held to date for a European referendum.

Last week, we launched a dedicated website —stabilitytreaty.ie— in order that everyone can read the treaty and have it explained to them article by article. The website is available also in mobile format. In early May, a copy of the treaty with explanatory material printed in both Irish and English will be delivered to every home in the country. Closer to polling day, every home will get another information leaflet to help make their final decision as well informed as possible. We will spare no effort to inform the people. The debate under way in this House is a vital part of these efforts.

I again pay tribute to the sub-committee of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Union Affairs, and to its Chairman, Deputy Hannigan, for their work both before and since Easter in debating the stability treaty with a large variety of speakers. I know Members here are playing an active part in its deliberations. Their work has been invaluable in informing the debate. The public has also been hearing many of the arguments around the treaty for the first time and I believe that we have made a very good start in involving voters in a healthy and informed debate on the real issues that are at stake in this referendum.

The Government firmly believes that the stability treaty is an important opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to being at the heart of the eurozone and the European Union. It is in the interests of Ireland and its people, and it is as simple as that. The very first article of the treaty states that its purpose is to support the achievement of the European Union's objectives for sustainable growth, employment, competitiveness and social cohesion. This is a treaty on stability and is about ensuring a stable euro. It is about confidence abroad and maintaining and enhancing the influence we have been rebuilding with investors, job creators and our European partners. I wish to mention in particular job creating investors, from whom so many great job announcements have come in recent months; PayPal and Apple being two great examples among them. Their decisions have been thanks to the determination of the people, the stability restored to the economy and our place at the heart of the eurozone. They know where we stand on that issue.

The stability treaty is a vital piece of the jigsaw as we look to get Europe back on track. It will not solve all our problems on its own. Nobody is claiming that it will. It is part of a much wider picture. For Europe to move beyond its current difficulties, there needs to be a balanced approach with equal focus on the growth and jobs agenda. I think we all agree with that. This view has gained widespread support and recent meetings of the European Council at the end of January and at the start of March have been firmly focused on the jobs and growth agenda, and have identified key measures needed in order to drive that forward.

The Government played a key role in pushing this growth agenda. We have long argued that discipline and reform, however necessary, could never be sufficient on their own to get Europe back on track and back on the road to economic recovery. Thanks in no small part to the arguments we have advanced, there is now a sharp focus on the need for an active growth and jobs agenda at the highest level within the EU. It is absolutely essential that this remain the case. This is the context in which the treaty must be seen. It is an important part of a wide and committed range of action by the EU to address and resolve the crisis it has faced.

There are those who wrongly claim that this treaty is about austerity. My firm view is that voting "No" will not help Ireland's recovery, but will hinder it. Let us be clear about this. Even if we were not party to the treaty, as a matter of proper economic management, we would have to reduce our indebtedness over time. Those who make claims about the treaty imposing austerity seem to believe that we can run a deficit for ever, or accumulate debt without limit. We simply cannot do that.

The stability treaty is about good housekeeping. We regard the creation of strong rules on budgetary matters in Europe as necessary to restore stability and confidence to the euro, and as entirely consistent with the work we are doing at home. Much of what is in the treaty is already in the existing EU treaties and laws.

This treaty is about having an insurance policy or safety net, making sure we have access, if needed, to the ESM funding that allows us to fund those public services and all government spending. We are determined to return to the financial markets next year to raise money on our own again like we did before. We are on target with our programme but we are far from immune to global economic events. Markets need to know that there is a backup in the form of the European Stability Mechanism and we can only access that if we ratify this treaty on 31 May.

Some opponents of this treaty try to argue that linking the ESM to the treaty is some form of blackmail. This is fundamentally disingenuous in my view. Let me be very clear about this. Ireland did not seek this link in the negotiations but, if I am asked if it is unreasonable, I say that it is not. It is logical that those who are prepared to offer financial support in time of difficulty should be assured that those receiving it are prepared to run sound and sensible policies.

The Government is putting hard questions to the advocates of a "No" vote. Who would argue that it is in Ireland's interests to be excluded from the ESM and advocate that we should invite the uncertainty that would bring? Most of all, what are the other sources of funding that opponents claim are alternatives? There simply is none. This is a treaty that will contribute to our recovery, ensure economic stability for the country and our currency and contribute to the restoration of confidence in Ireland as a good and secure place in which to invest and do business.

The decision in the referendum on 31 May will be an important one for Ireland and the Government will be making the strongest possible case for ratification. We will be making it absolutely clear that ratifying the treaty will build on the progress Ireland is making, including in restoring investor confidence. We will be joined by many elements of the Opposition and many civil society organisations. We are hoping for a calm and informed debate, with a positive outcome. I look forward very much to playing my part in achieving that object to ensure a stable euro, investor confidence and recovery. I, therefore, urge the House to pass the Bill. I again thank all the Senators who contributed to the debate.

Cuireadh an cheist agus faisnéiseadh go rabhthas tar éis glacadh leis.

Question put and declared carried.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Tomorrow.

Céim an Choiste ordaithe don Mháirt, 24 Aibréan 2012.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 24 April 2012.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Ar 10.30 maidin amárach

The Seanad adjourned at 6.05 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Tuesday, 24 April 2012.