Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

While Ireland's place is in Europe, the EU needs to change

A new direction for Ireland the EU institutions is needed
A new direction for Ireland the EU institutions is needed

Opinion polls carried out in the 26 counties in recent months have consistently reflected significant shifts in popular opinion, and a dissatisfaction towards the Fine Gael/Labour coalition.

These have been indicative of likely voter attitudes towards the European Parliament election.

It’s clear there is deep anger with the Irish government, especially in relation to planned water charges, removal of medical cards, and public service cutbacks.

Our small and medium business sector north and south is being hit by a lack of bank credit; levels of property debt and negative equity remain huge; youth unemployment and emigration are increasing.

The economic and social crisis which has gripped Ireland since 2008 was caused by both domestic and European factors. The British and Irish governments, European Commission and European Central Bank (ECB) all share responsibility. Popular opinion generally recognises the current austerity stems from their bad decisions.

When the banking crisis began in 2008 the Fianna Fail/Green coalition capitulated to ECB pressure to bail out the banks.

A combination of the banking guarantee scheme, nationalisation of Anglo-Irish Bank, a recapitalisation of Bank of Ireland and Allied Irish, and a further dig out with tax payers' money, all caused spiralling public debt. This pushed up government borrowing and the state deficit.

Meanwhile, the British Government slashed the northern Executive’s block grant and brought forward unbearable welfare cuts.

The European Union has supported the austerity agenda in Ireland and simultaneously cut its own budget, significantly reducing other financial supports north and south.

The dominant neo-liberal economic thinking across Europe is that austerity and cutbacks can tackle the economic crisis. British and Irish establishment parties have chosen to socialise the bankers’ debt instead of promoting a social Europe.

Economic stimulus and growth strategies are the alternative.

British Conservatives and local unionists increasingly speak of a possible withdrawal from Europe.

That’s a wrongheaded position.

Ireland’s future is bound up with the political and economic reality of Europe. However, a new direction for both Ireland and the EU institutions is needed.

While Ireland’s place is in Europe, the EU needs to change, and so too must the political and economic context within which economic recovery is planned.

Sinn Féin believes the existing economic and social status quo runs counter to the achievement of balanced economic growth, productivity, workers rights and real recovery.

On Thursday and Friday the electorate can influence the future debate required about Ireland’s relationship with the European Union.

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