THE TREATY REFERENDUM

24 May 2012 No Comments by The Northern Standard

Like Shakespeare’s recalcitrant student “creeping like snail unwillingly to school”, the Irish people will go to the polls for the Fiscal Stability Treaty Referendum on Thursday, May 31 next more with a sense of reluctant duty than with animated enthusiasm.
That is, if they go at all.
The depressed state of the country’s economy has fed a pronounced disaffection with matters political to the extent that the large number of “Don’t Knows” that the opinion polls have thrown up may be constituted to a significant extent of “Don’t Cares” – not the most satisfactory environment in which a decision on an important constitutional matter must be taken, but an understandable one nonetheless.
For those of us grappling with the everyday practical difficulties posed by downturn and austerity, it is easy to feel there are much more important things to be addressed than whether the country says Yes or No to the ratification of a treaty about the rules limiting the size of government deficits.
While the issue to be determined is certainly relevant to the problems the country is experiencing, and may in the future have implications for how long those problems endure, its technical nature does not stoke the fires of political passion or ideological conviction to the extent of other recent referenda, which were put to us when the mood in the country was much less introspective than now.
The biggest challenge for the Yes and No advocates as what has been a somewhat muted campaign enters its final week may ultimately be to persuade people not of the merits of their argument, but that it is worth voting at all.
How both sides choose to modify and amplify their message in the days to come will be very important in this regard.
Although those who have professed themselves committed to a decision appear from the polls more on the side of endorsing the treaty rather than rejecting it, the numbers indicating non-committal are significant enough to suggest that the issue is still very much in the melting pot.
Thus far both the advocates and opponents of the Treaty’s ratification have played upon our fears.
The Government parties and the other Yes people seek to convince us that the country places itself in considerable and unnecessary jeopardy if we don’t follow their advice and confer constitutional formality on what are already informally agreed rules of governance for the euro area.
The parties of the left and the other nay-sayers brand the course of action being urged upon us as not only superfluous but dangerous, arguing that it equips this and future governments with the constitutional machinery to prolong austerity rather than construct a means of eventual recovery from it.
As ever with such matters, there is somewhere within the thickets of entangled argument a navigable pathway for the voter to find and negotiate according to the compass of their own values and priorities.
There are some salient landmarks on the horizon to assist in the navigation.
Whether we are entirely comfortable with it or not, Ireland is very much part of the euro zone and a committed component of the European Union whose rules on government deficits this Treaty is concerned with.
Our problems are part of the wider problems afflicting the euro countries, and it seems logical to state that their perpetuation or alleviation will ultimately be intimately bound up in the currency’s viability as a meaningful component of the global economy.
But we are also, undeniably, a country in austerity, and in recognition of that inescapable reality we cannot weight the Treaty issue without assigning weight of substance to the implications it has for future national economic policy.
It is our editorial view that it would be wrong for voters to use the referendum as an opportunity to pass an effective vote of no confidence in the current Government and its policies.
It is our respectful advice to our readers to first of all vote, and to vote according to their own counsel having regard to the outcome that would most closely accord with their own principles and priorities.
Just as people should not vote Yes in blind adherence to political party loyalty, they should also refrain from voting No out of political enmity.
But we also feel that a full evaluation of the issues pertinent to next Thursday’s vote must have some regard for the matter of our country’s future economic recovery.
Perhaps the best litmus test to apply to the decision being asked of us is this: which outcome will best serve the growth of the economy, the creation of jobs and the alleviation of the gross and in many instances unequal burden being placed on some sections of the population by the austerity policies that now prevail?
We would encourage those who have already determined their voting stance to review it in the light of this consideration.
And we would very earnestly encourage those who fall into the Don’t Know or Don’t Care camps to also address the question, and to register their answer at the ballot box.
The issue we are being asked to determine next Thursday is an important one and all those entitled to cast a vote should ensure that they have their say.

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