Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

The EU ignores the Irish people, again

Daniel Finn on the EU's reluctance to renegotiate Ireland's loan package, and the new opportunities for the left in Irish politics.

March 6, 2011
5 min read

Over the years, the leaders of the European Union have had quite a lot of practice in ignoring decisions made by the Irish people. When the Nice and Lisbon Treaties were voted down emphatically, there wasn’t even a moment’s pause before the instruction came down that Ireland would have to vote again and behave itself the second time around. So it must have come very easily to Olli Rehn and Jean-Claude Trichet as they explained that whatever the Irish electorate may have voted for last week, it doesn’t matter a damn. As Trichet succintly put it: “For us, the plan is the plan.” Rehn explained that “the issue of bondholders – senior debt in the banks – is not on the cards nor on the agenda concerning Ireland”. The same article in the Irish Times noted that while there may be discussion of a cut in the interest rate on Ireland’s EU-IMF loan package, “diplomats close to the talks say only a modest decrease may be in prospect”.

To take full measure of the contempt for democracy revealed by these statements, we need only remind ourselves of what people actually voted for on February 25th. The only two parties in the election standing over the EU-IMF deal negotiated in December were Fianna Fáil and the Green Party. Fianna Fáil suffered by far the worst defeat in its history, declining from almost 42% to just over 17% of the vote. The Greens were wiped out altogether, losing all their seats. All told, less than one-fifth of the electorate endorsed the governing parties. The rest of the vote was divided between groups (Sinn Féin and the United Left Alliance) that rejected the EU-IMF package altogether, and others (Fine Gael and Labour) that called for its re-negotiation. The latter parties concentrated their attention on two issues for re-negotiation: the interest rate and the insulation of bondholders from any losses.

In both cases, the argument for a radical restructuring of the deal is unanswerable. The rationale for the prohibitive interest rate charged on the money Ireland is borrowing – much higher than the cost borne by the EU in making the cash available – is that it should be punitive, and discourage bad behaviour. This doesn’t stand up to a moment’s scrutiny. The Irish people did not borrow money they can no longer pay back – the private banks did. Fianna Fáil did not consult the people on its decision to make private bank debts the responsibility of the Irish state. At the earliest possible opportunity, Irish citizens ejected FF from office and gave it an unprecedented electoral mauling. Perhaps Rehn and Trichet believe that those citizens should have acted sooner – instead of waiting for the next election, they should have risen up to overthrow the government the day after the bank guarantee was passed. I would be delighted to think that such robust Jacobin thinking holds sway at the European Commission, but it seems difficult to credit.

The case regarding the bondholders is even clearer: much of this debt was not even covered by the terms of Fianna Fáil’s disastrous bank guarantee. If these gentlemen wish to reclaim their gambling losses at the expense of the Irish people, they should be required to come here themselves and call around to people’s homes, demanding a fiver or a tenner from each household. It would be interesting to see how many return alive.

Yet it’s hardly surprising that EU officials demonstrate such contempt for the will of the electorate: if they looked to the Irish commentariat for guidance, they would find exactly the same mentality at work. Stephen Collins – chief political columnist for the Irish Times – demanded in the wake of the election that Labour form a coalition with Fine Gael:

“The severity of the economic crisis demands a national government composed of the two biggest parties.” He also insisted that in such a coalition, Labour would have to defer in every possible way to Fine Gael’s perspective on the scale and speed of cutbacks in public spending: in other words, since the feckless electorate had refused to give Fine Gael an overall majority in the Dáil, Labour would have to do the job for them.

It appears certain that Labour will bow to such counsel, helping lead Ireland further down the same disastrous path it has followed since September 2008, instead of taking the opportunity to lead a strong left-wing opposition that could form a government next time around. But fortunately, others on the left need not confine themselves to railing against Labour’s cowardice. The new Dáil will have its strongest ever group to the left of Labour: over twenty TDs, including Sinn Féin, the United Left Alliance and left-wing independents. The ULA alone – with more seats in Dublin than Fianna Fáil – is close to matching the level attained by the Workers Party in the 1980s (the last time Labour faced a significant challenge from its left).

For decades, one of the major strategic dilemmas for those interested in transforming Irish society has been what position to adopt towards the Labour Party: should they try and replace it altogether, or push it in a more radical direction? The election result has made things a lot simpler. Whether we expect to clear Labour out of the way, or enlist its support for a new left-wing alliance, the course of action over the next few years will be the same: to organise the strongest possible opposition to continued austerity and economic vandalism under the new government.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part

Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper

Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s

Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach

Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.

Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite

Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead

Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee

Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power

The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced

India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya

North Korea is just the start of potentially deadly tensions between the US and China
US-China relations have taken on a disturbing new dimension under Donald Trump, writes Dorothy Guerrero

The feminist army leading the fight against ISIS
Dilar Dirik salutes militant women-organised democracy in action in Rojava

France: The colonial republic
The roots of France’s ascendant racism lie as deep as the origins of the French republic itself, argues Yasser Louati

This is why it’s an important time to support Caroline Lucas
A vital voice of dissent in Parliament: Caroline Lucas explains why she is asking for your help

PLP committee elections: it seems like most Labour backbenchers still haven’t learned their lesson
Corbyn is riding high in the polls - so he can face down the secret malcontents among Labour MPs, writes Michael Calderbank

Going from a top BBC job to Tory spin chief should be banned – it’s that simple
This revolving door between the 'impartial' broadcaster and the Conservatives stinks, writes Louis Mendee – we need a different media

I read Gavin Barwell’s ‘marginal seat’ book and it was incredibly awkward
Gavin Barwell was mocked for writing a book called How to Win a Marginal Seat, then losing his. But what does the book itself reveal about Theresa May’s new top adviser? Matt Thompson reads it so you don’t have to

We can defeat this weak Tory government on the pay cap
With the government in chaos, this is our chance to lift the pay cap for everyone, writes Mark Serwotka, general secretary of public service workers’ union PCS

Corbyn supporters surge in Labour’s internal elections
A big rise in left nominations from constituency Labour parties suggests Corbynites are getting better organised, reports Michael Calderbank

Undercover policing – the need for a public inquiry for Scotland
Tilly Gifford, who exposed police efforts to recruit her as a paid informer, calls for the inquiry into undercover policing to extend to Scotland

Becoming a better ally: how to understand intersectionality
Intersectionality can provide the basis of our solidarity in this new age of empire, writes Peninah Wangari-Jones

The myth of the ‘white working class’ stops us seeing the working class as it really is
The right imagines a socially conservative working class while the left pines for the days of mass workplaces. Neither represent today's reality, argues Gargi Bhattacharyya

The government played the public for fools, and lost
The High Court has ruled that the government cannot veto local council investment decisions. This is a victory for local democracy and the BDS movement, and shows what can happen when we stand together, writes War on Want’s Ross Hemingway.

An ‘obscure’ party? I’m amazed at how little people in Britain know about the DUP
After the Tories' deal with the Democratic Unionists, Denis Burke asks why people in Britain weren't a bit more curious about Northern Ireland before now

The Tories’ deal with the DUP is outright bribery – but this government won’t last
Theresa May’s £1.5 billion bung to the DUP is the last nail in the coffin of the austerity myth, writes Louis Mendee

Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell

Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths

Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe

How empire struck back
Walden Bello dissects the failure of Barack Obama's 'technocratic Keynesianism' and explains why this led to Donald Trump winning the US presidency


2