Economic (Ireland’s or anyone else’s) sovereignty has not existed since Bretton Woods

Eamonn has a whole range if great writers guesting at his blog these days. Among them Maurice Hayes, who makes some fundamental points about Irish politics and the strange relationship that exists between the legislature and the sovereign voice (aka, those bloody referendums):

It is not being less democratic than advocates for a referendum to argue that the essence of democratic decision, accountability and transparence, can, on occasion, be better achieved by elected representatives properly informed and mandated than by popular, even populist vote.

Neither is it entirely derogatory of democratic values to point out the difficulty of deciding complex and highly technical issues of fiscal policy, economic governance and constitutional propriety by a simple “Yes” or “No”.  Even the title –The Treaty on Stability, Co-ordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union is enough to turn off most voters and to provoke an almost reflexive expression of rejection.

A common feature of referendums in Ireland has been a loss of focus, of the substantive issue being lost in a welter of domestic gripes, the occasion being treated like a bye-election, an opportunity to cane the government for its performance or lack of action.  The vote is more likely to be about unemployment and recession, about septic tanks and hospital closures than the great issues of sovereignty and national survival.

Indeed. But he also makes another excellent point, which sort of strikes in the opposite direction, towards core inadequacy of the legislature itself:

The fact is too that Irish political parties are not very good at managing referendum campaigns, where the battle is to sell ideas rather selling candidates.  It is one thing knocking on doors and asking for a No1 or No2, quite another to have to be faced with a request to explain the intricacies of the balanced budget rule and the penalties for non-compliance.

In conclusion:

Referendum or not, what is needed is a broad based public debate on Ireland’s relations with Europe and the Euro.  There is no need to be frightened by the idea of a more federal Europe.  Sean Lemass, fifty years ago recognised that joining Europe was the beginning of a journey towards a closer political entity.  The logic of a common currency requires some element of economic and fiscal governance.  If that means a more federal Europe, it would be a better subject for debate than the arid technicalities of a financial treaty.

But it needs an open debate, not propaganda or proselytism, with all sides of the argument allowed their say and the issues, pro and con, teased out as dispassionately as possible.  The Irish people deserve no less than to be treated as adults, to have the issues explained to them, the options and the alternatives costed and argued, and their views and concerns taken into account.

Proselytism is a good term for what often passes for public debate on Irish policy, for that is what these treaties are. Dr Hayes deserves more than a fair hearing in Dublin. But each time someone calls for such a debate, it seems to fall on deaf ears. It’s as though the country doesn’t possess the ‘public software’ to perform such a service.

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