New government or none, the EU still calls the shots

The unelected EU Commission 'continues to hold enormous sway' over our domestic affairs.

Protesters burn a European Union flag during a protest in the northern Greek port city of Thessaloniki, last year.

Protesters burn a European Union flag during a protest in the northern Greek port city of Thessaloniki, last year.

The most amusing observation concerning February's General Election results came from a satirical website. It ran a shock headline claiming health officials were deeply worried about a sharp rise in Alzheimer’s among the Irish population, as indicated by the doubling of support for Fianna Fáil.

The memory of Galway Right 2 Water, however, remains fully intact. Its committee has been zoning in on local TDs who attended the pre-election Galway demonstrations that called for the scrapping of the water tax and for the abolition of Irish Water.

Catherine Connolly since her election has proudly nailed her Right2Water colours to the mast. She is one of 39 TDs to have signed a motion calling for the scrapping of the charges and the carrying out of a constitutional referendum to enshrine public ownership of our water and sanitation in Bunreacht na hÉireann.

Lo and behold, the positions of Fianna Fáil’s Eamon Ó Cuív and the ex-PD-now- Independent Noel Grealish are not so clear. Both of them attended the Galway group’s protest before the election. Now though, Dep Ó Cuív is too busy to meet a delegation from the Galway Right2Water, while Dep Grealish, while initially agreeing to meet two representatives last Friday, then said he would cancel the meeting when he heard a few campaigners would accompany them. Indeed, there was even talk that gardaí would be outside his constituency office.

When nine members of Galway Right2Water, with five dangerous looking toddlers in tow, arrived at Dep Grealish’s office, the TD had flown the coop. However, two gardaí in a squad car were in attendance. This incident raises questions about politicians priorities. It also raises a serious question about Garda priorities.

'If FF’s 43 TDs were to sign up to the motion on abolishing water charges with the other 39 TDs, it would be automatically signed into law'

Meanwhile Fianna Fáil and Eamon Ó Cuív are trying to play it cute - making the issue of water charges a stumbling block in the negotiations with FG in an attempt to give the party the moral high ground. However, the fact is if FF’s 43 TDs were to sign up to the motion on water with the other 39 TDs, then it would be automatically signed into law.

The reality is that Fianna Fáil – like the equally conservative Fine Gael – wants to privatise our water in the future, when it is securely back in government. The EU wants all public utilities privatised, so that large corporations can make huge profits, and FF, FG, the ex-PDs, the Labour Party, and the Greens will and have slavishly carried out what in essence is the EU’s neo-liberal agenda.

Indeed, while there is incessant babble about forming a government, everyone seems blind to the fact that whether there is a new government or not, the unelected EU Commission continues to hold enormous sway over our domestic affairs.

It is hard to think of a single area of political life nowadays that is not affected by EU law. In most years the majority of laws and statutory instruments that are put through the national parliaments of the Member States come from Brussels, although most citizens at national level are unaware of this. In 2015 Eur-lex indicated that there were more than 134,000 EU rules, international agreements, and legal acts binding on or affecting citizens across the EU.

Leinster House

We hear plenty about the need for a new government, but no mention that the EU, not Dáil Éireann, makes at least 75 per cent of our laws. Nevertheless, the control the unelected EU Commission has over Irish laws seems virtually invisible. We may have just celebrated the centenary of an uprising to assert Ireland’s right to independence, but EU power over Irish destinies is all the more potent for being invisible, and not embodied in a foreign army, or other more obvious trappings of domination.

When a new government is formed, those politicians, who may want to develop the economy in the interests of ordinary people, with, for example, a public building programme to combat homelessness, they are going to be faced with a major EU-created obstacle - the “expenditure benchmark".

The expenditure benchmark kicks in this year for the first time. In essence, this instrument places severe and unprecedented constraints on how much a government can increase spending - and that is the case no matter how much revenue gushes into the public coffers. It eases somewhat when government debt is low; but because Ireland’s public debt will be high for decades – thanks to the EU neo-liberals forcing the Government to take on the private banking debt - the expenditure benchmark will severely constrain whoever is in power for years to come.

'Within the EU rules it is impossible to reform the Union, because any one state can veto change'

The Irish Fiscal Advisory Council estimates that increases in total government spending in cash terms will be limited to a mere two per cent annually over the remainder of the decade. However, do the maths and you find the impact of inflation and demographic pressures means there will be no room for an increase in public spending - and a Government that would dare increase spending would face the wrath of Brussels. Is this “the unfettered control of Irish destinies” which the men and women of the 1916 Rising aspired to?

By being made to obey laws made mainly by others, means we are being ruled by others. And those “others” are the neoliberal zealots of the unelected EU Commission and the European Central Bank. It is the opposite of being independent, sovereign, and democratic.

There are those in Galway’s anti-austerity lobby and also in Sinn Féin, who still believe in the myth of a “social Europe”, where Brussels can be made to work in the interests of ordinary people rather than big business. They ignore the fact that within the EU rules it is impossible to reform the Union, because any one state (Germany, for example ) can veto any change.

And once TTIP, a free trade agreement between the EU and the USA, comes into being, private corporations will be able to sue governments in secret courts if state measures harm profits.

Any hopes of achieving an Irish independent democratic republic lies not with whether we have a new government formed any time soon in Dublin, but ironically whether the British people and our brothers and sisters in the wee Six Counties vote for Brexit, to leave the EU, and give us a lifeline to independence a century after the Easter Rising.

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