In an earlier European campaign 2000 years ago, King Pyrrhus of Epirus suffered such heavy casualties at the hands of the Romans that his apparent military victories ultimately led to his defeat.
Out of that experience the phrase pyrrhic victory came into common usage and was used to describe someone who has been successful in some activity, usually politics, business or war, but the cost has been so great that it was ruinous to the overall project.
And so it is with the referendum of the austerity treaty. The people have spoken and the Fiscal Compact Treaty will now become part of the Irish constitution. But the success of the YES side does not make the arguments of the NO campaign any less true and in my view will lead to a worsening of the social and economic circumstances for most Irish citizens.
In the face of a deliberate campaign by the two government parties, supported by Fianna Fáil, built on fear, 40% of the electorate still said NO. And many of those who reluctantly voted YES made their anger clear. It is also obvious that social class played a part with the NO vote greatest among those working class and low and middle income families bearing the brunt of this Government’s austerity policies.
I believe that the success of the YES side in this latest European campaign is a pyrrhic victory. The adverse economic and social consequences for the Irish people will not ease in the years ahead and the battle of ideas between those who advocate austerity and conservative policies, over those who seek to defend the rights of citizens and the creation of a more equitable society, will increase in intensity.
This has been evident in recent days in the shallow and bitter criticisms that some on the YES side have engaged in since the referendum result. One columnist indulged in the usual nonsense when she described the outcome for Sinn Féin as ‘humiliating’.
The issues at the heart of the referendum haven’t gone away because of the success of the YES side. On the contrary the dangers are greater than ever. The Irish government and its Fianna Fáil ally are committed to more years of austerity policies and of the erosion of the state’s fiscal sovereignty. At the same time the situation in Europe deteriorates with increasing uncertainty around developments in Spain and Greece, Cyprus in trouble and new unemployment statistics revealing that unemployment in the Eurozone now stands at record levels at 11%.
The European political leadership, which is shielded from the reality of austerity and the impact of the policies they promote, continue to promote their conservative ethos.
On the same day citizens were voting on the austerity Treaty the EU Commissioner Olli Rehn was busy warning in Brussels that Europe needed more austerity and greater fiscal discipline.
Previously the head of the European Central Bank Mario Draghi set out his vision for Europe in the next ten years. He said: “We want to have a fiscal union. We have to accept the delegation of fiscal sovereignty from the national governments to some form of central authority.”
And his predecessor Jean-Claude Trichet is reported to have told a meeting in the USA last month that Europe should take on to itself the right to declare a sovereign state bankrupt and take over its fiscal policy. He pointed out that the Austerity Treaty gives fiscal oversight to EU states to levy fines on those they deem to have broken the rules. If all of this failed a country could be taken in receivership!!
So the direction for Europe and for the Irish state under this government is set. Greater economic and fiscal union, and the erosion of sovereignty for member states. All of this will be accompanied by a continuation of the Troika bailout programme that commits this government to €8.6 billion of additional cuts for the next three years and a further €6 billion in cuts as a result of the austerity Treaty’s demand for reducing the structural deficit to 0.5%.
Where does the government plan to get all this money from? It singularly failed to say during the referendum campaign. One YES economist Colm McCarthy – who produced the ‘An Bord Snip Nua’ report – told the Irish Small and Medium Firms Association at the weekend that the government will have to break all of its commitments not to raise income tax; not to touch welfare and to honour the Croke Park agreement.
Time will tell how accurate his predications are. However, the government did make a number of firm commitments during the referendum campaign. One was the Minister of Finance’s pledge that a YES vote would mean that December’s budget would be less harsh. Another was Fine Gael and Labour’s belated support for a jobs and growth package.
They now have to deliver. They need to demonstrate – in actions rather than words – how they intend to address the jobs crisis, the mortgage crisis, and get the economy growing again so that we get back into the markets by 2014.
The Government also has a duty to stand up for Ireland and to ensure that the banking debt issue is dealt with by seeking a debt write down.
It is important that they introduce the type of jobs stimulus that was talked about during this campaign – unless there is serious investment in job creation the numbers of citizens on the live register and emigrating will continue.
Sinn Féin has published firm proposals for a significant jobs stimulus package and in the time ahead we will set out the detail of this. But this is only part of what we must do. Republicans have a different vision for Ireland. We are for a new republic that is citizen centred and is based on equality and fairness. There is an onus on Sinn Féin to articulate this and to continue to evolve and develop our republican politics and policies and demonstrate that there is a viable alternative to the conservatism of Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil.
In the short term June will be a pivotal month in determining the future of the EU and of the Irish state. The French Parliamentary elections will take place on June 10 and 17th; the IMF is due to publish an all important report on the Spanish banks on June 11th; the Greeks go back to the polls on June 17th; and EU leaders will meet on June 28th and 29th to produce their blueprint for the way forward.