What a difference a week makes, or in this case doesn’t make. Last week I was reflecting on how the people decided to pass the fiscal treaty despite the actions (or should that be inactions) of the Taoiseach.
In the seven days since that, we have heard several senior EU figures ruling out relief or restructuring of Ireland’s bank debt. These unwelcome and negative statements from Brussels, Berlin and Frankfurt have been followed by the usual chorus of equally negative and unconstructive responses from euro sceptics here.
The basic point they appear to miss is that the unhelpful comments from the EU are the logical and direct consequence of the refusal of the Taoiseach and his colleagues to show any ambition or urgency on the matter.
As Micheal Martin stated bluntly in the Dail last Wednesday, the tragedy for us is that although they are over 15 months in office, nobody in this Government has yet clearly stated what it is that Ireland is pushing for in Europe. All we have seen is Kenny and Gilmore offering support for the proposals of others once they look as if they have a chance of being accepted.
Both the Taoiseach and Tanaiste have been woefully incapable of deciding on a strategy to press Ireland’s claim to fair and equitable treatment. Both men never tire of telling us how well connected they both are to the political elites across Europe. Isn’t it time the country reaped the benefits of these fast and deep connections?
Remember the symbolism of Enda Kenny’s trip to Berlin to meet his EPP party colleague Chancellor Merkel at the start of the general election campaign? The meeting was intended to convey the message that by electing Enda as Taoiseach, we would be getting a leader with both access and influence in Germany.
The reality since then has been less impressive. While the people thought they were electing a Government that would be tough; that wouldn’t pay another cent to the banks and that would make sure it was its way, not Frankfurt’s way, what they actually got was one that was meek and unfocused. As a consequence, we have seen such ludicrous situations as the Taoiseach and Tanaiste claiming credit for an interest-rate reduction which was four times what they asked for and was extended to every country.
Just being the “best boy in class” will not reap benefits for those looking for a job, particularly the increasing numbers who are now long-term unemployed.
Ireland has a very strong claim, but having the claim is
not sufficient, we need to use all our diplomatic and political skills to press our case forcibly. That means getting out and across Europe. It means hard debating and tough negotiating, but as we saw during the referendum: these are not skills that come easily to the Taoiseach.
The crisis is escalating across Europe. Spain and Cyprus may both require major help in the coming days. This is not the time to have Kenny and Gilmore standing at podiums on the steps of Government Buildings telling the Irish media what they would like to see happen — they need to say unequivocally what they calling for — and launch a real diplomatic initiative across Europe behind it.
It is deeply depressing to still hear Berlin talking about not setting a precedent by refinancing or reducing Ireland’s bank-related debts. It is almost as depressing to not hear the Irish Government strenuously rebutting such nonsense.
Could it be that this Government fears that telling its EU counterparts about all that was achieved between 2008 and 2011 risks exposing its own political hypocrisy in opposing those measures?
In those years, Ireland tackled its deficit problems with urgency and great public sacrifice. The bulk of the bank-related debt was only incurred because of wider European fears of contagion. While admitting this fact may remind us of Fine Gael and Labour’s political opportunism at the time, not doing so weakens our legitimate case for relief now.
Kenny and Gilmore must stop waiting for others to tell them what they think and get on with devising a plan that serves the interests of the country, not the poll numbers of their parties.