Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein will be the big winners if the Republic of Ireland says No in the fiscal reform referendum

Henry McDonald in Dublin

The only principle that really counts on Thursday when the Republic's electorate go to the polls is the uncertainty one

Uncertainty over a post-euro future where Ireland to follow Greece out of the Eurozone-door is probably the strongest factor in prompting a Yes vote on the referendum over the EU fiscal reform treaty this week.

Fear that voting No will leave the state cut off from future European and IMF aid packages and the inevitable second bail out the Dublin government will need to keep paying nurses, gardai, soldiers and civil servants as well maintaining schools and hospitals, is likely to secure a narrow Yes vote in the plebiscite.

On the streets of Dublin, if you judge by the volume of posters alone, it would appear the outcome of the referendum was in fact swinging the other way. Sinn Fein, the United Left Alliance and an assorted, disparate range of other political forces from the No camp dominate the lamp posts and hoardings.

The visible absence of the Yes side at street level reflects the way the pro-European parties have mishandled their campaign. In contrast to the opponents of the new austerity treaty (one that effectively boxes national governments into strict annual budgets across the EU) there is a lack of passion, verve or guile in the Yes camp.

One backroom Fianna Failer has been particularly scathing of the Fine Gael-Labour coalition's performance through the referendum battle. A series of ministers have made gaffes about a possible second referendum, one on better terms for the Republic, even if voters reject the current German-drive fiscal pact.

He points out frustratedly that these mistakes provided useful ammunition to the No side who argued that this was tacit admission from the government that Ireland could reject the treaty and then go back to its European partners to renegotiate a better deal.

Angela Merkel and her government in Berlin effectively killed that scenario stone dead on Friday when the Germans insisted there would be renegotiation. The treaty drawn up earlier this year would stand regardless of what way the Irish voted.

Moreover, economists and IBEC, the southern Irish version of the CBI, continually warn that a No vote will prevent the Republic from seeking further emergency funds from Europe, send a further, damaging shockwave into the Eurozone and delay any chance of the country re-entering the private international bonds market to raise the necessary cash to keep the state's infrastructure going.

Over the next three years once funding from the original EU/IMF bail out runs out the Republic will require a staggering €50 billion to make up the short fall from what the government brings in via taxation and what it spends on public services and public sector wages.

A majority of economists and business leaders south of the border argue that this extra borrowing will not be available from the German funded EU if the Republic rejects the treaty.

Sinn Fein used their annual conference in Kerry at the weekend to further amplify its No message to the electorate. Clearly they would be the main winners if the Republic did reject the EU treaty on Thursday. And even if there is a majority Yes vote the party will have made further in-roads into parts of Middle Ireland they had never reached before.

However, it is important to counter some of the hysterical commentary from local broadcasters and writers about Sinn Fein's fortunes south of the border. Much of Middle Ireland is turned off by the northern-based leadership tainted as it still is by the Provisionals' blood-soaked paramilitary past.

A new leadership of southern based politicians would undoubtedly make the party much more attractive to middle class, economically conservative Irish voters. That in turn would require Sinn Fein to dilute its leftist, autarkic policies on southern economic issues and at the same time risk alienating its older, poorer base.

As the latest opinion polls at the weekend indicated there is still a small majority in favour of endorsing the EU treaty. A lot of that electorate is based on a sullen realism, a resentful realisation that Ireland cannot go it alone anymore and needs to be inside the EU tent rather than even have one foot outside it like the recalcitrant Greeks.

In certain Dublin pubs and clubs, particularly on the north side of the city, they still engage in a romantic booze fuelled nationalistic ritual after the bar staff have declared last orders and the band strike up their final tune of the evening.

Inside a local hotel in north Dublin last Tuesday night a traditional folk group ended their session with a hoary and out of tune rendition of the Irish national anthem, A Soldier's Song. Everyone stood up, some of the older clientele even squaring up their shoulders and holding their arms behind their backs as if they were standing to attention on a military parade ground.

Not everyone however struck up such a sombre, upright posture as the band played on. An old friend of mine who lived outside the state for most of the 1990s and the first decade of this century quipped under his breath that the trio jangling their guitars and plucking their banjos were playing the wrong national anthem. “Never mind 'Soldiers Are We',” this former part time Irish soldier giggled. “They should be playing 'Deutschland Uber Alles” instead.”

Belfast Telegraph


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