Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty was in fine form during the Budget debate. Particularly enjoyable was his contrasting the Cabinet ‘s bellyaching over when to pay the miserly €5 extra to pensioners with the carefree approach to dishing out another €4,000+ per annum to ministers.
Great TV – Dep Doherty denouncing the Government and the three sheepish looking ministers sitting on the frontbench, resembling three culprits in the dock. What the cameras did not catch though, was the presence of the EU elephant in the Dáil chamber.
Insider is not referring to the supposedly apocalyptic Brexit, but the devastating Brussels’ neo-liberal fiscal compact, which forbids any serious State investment, and debars the Government from putting State aid into areas such as housing, health, education, etc.
Despite their 'radical' economic policies, neither SF nor any of its fellow Left parliamentary groupings appear to pay any heed to that EU elephant either. They trot out their calls for huge public housing projects to end the housing crisis, but fail to draw the conclusion that the only way that can be achieved is by exiting both the EU and the euro.
Denouncing the coalition Government’s neo-liberal economics without calling for Irexit, the Irish version of Brexit, is nothing other than grandstanding. We saw in Greece how Brussels and Berlin humiliated similar opposition to neo-liberalism. The Irish parliamentary Left, either for opportunistic reasons – the fear of losing votes – or downright ignorance, fail to recognise that EU membership has not proved to be an economic panacea.
Although, many will tell you the EU was our cash cow for decades, political pundits prefer to ignore how in return for the CAP etc. we gifted our massive fishing grounds to the EU fishing fleets. “But sure Irish people don’t like fish”, one apologist recently argued on radio. You do not have to like something to sell it. And according to Eurostat’s estimates of the value of fish catches by non-Irish boats in Irish waters since 1973, they are a many-times multiple of the EU cash we got in return.
Since 2014 we are net contributors to the EU budget, we no longer get some of our fish back in cash from Brussels. We pay €1.69 billion and receive €1.52 billion, recycled back. So, Brexit should be seen as the Republic’s opportunity to bale out of the EU.
Other countries are doing fine outside the EU. Take Norway and its 5.2 million citizens. Its unemployment rate is 4.1 per cent - a fraction of ours and no mass emigration. It has excellent public services and has a hugely profitable domestic fishing industry thanks to a 200 miles fishing limit. It also has control over its sound currency making it economically independent.
Sure Norway has oil. In the 1970s the Norwegians offered assistance to Ireland to set up a state oil company to exploit fully our natural resources. However Des O’Malley, during his time as Minister for Industry and Commerce would not countenance any State involvement, with the result we have no gain from our oil and gas. In contrast, foreign companies involved in gas and oil exploitation off the Norwegian coast are expected to pay Norway’s government 78 per cent of royalties.
It is not only the parliamentary Left that are reticent about departing the EU, Fianna Fáil Galway West TD Eamon Ó Cuiv, aka Dev Óg, is also quiet. Anyone who has met him privately will have heard his epic tale about how he campaigned in 1972 against EEC membership - speaking on a platform in Killarney outside the Fianna Fáil Árd Fheis. Ah, those were the days my friends.
Today, Eamon is driving another campaign this time via the N59 between Galway and Clifden. Thanks to others it has serious anti-EU overtones. A potentially dangerous road for human lives and limbs, but Brussels believes they are less important than the poor bog cotton.
However, all along the N59 the cynical hurlers on the ditch have not been shy commenting on Eamon’s newfound interest in this road. For nearly 20 years while he had a chauffeur, power, and lashings of loot he ignored this shocking 'National Road'. Instead, he built on Inis Mór a pier of Ceausescuesque proportions that cost €50m+. It has not generated one extra fish and its maintenance costs are now the centre of a standoff between the ferry people and the Galway County Council, therefore reducing the number of visitors to Kilronan.
Why the then minister Ó Cuív did not deal with the road by making an IROPI application to overrule EU objections is unknown. Maybe some journalist would ask him?
Interestingly Ireland has never made an IROPI application until now, but that will not be in relation to a road, but a harbour – this time in Galway city. Dep Ó Cuív is clearly fond of harbours, because when it came down to building a harbour in either Galway city or Ros á Mhíl – he said both! Some would argue he was being glic, others thought it showed a lack of courage.
In contrast, the late Bobby Molloy rightly thought the new harbour should be in the deep natural harbour at Ros á Mhíl. It would not only be cheaper to construct, but would give a combined impetus to the fishing industry, tourism, and Connemara. What might prevent the success of an IROPI application to build the harbour in the city docks is that there must be no alternative. Of course, there is: Ros á Mhíl! But Insider is digressing.
There are sound business reasons why Ireland should not remain in the EU. Most foreign investment here is aimed at exporting to the English-speaking markets, in particular the US and UK. Once Brexit takes place, two-thirds of our exports and three-quarters of our imports will be outside the Eurozone. A strong euro would be disastrous for our economy and in particular the SME sector, which accounts for 73 per cent of our total workforce.
With sterling falling against the euro, what we need is control of our own currency as was the case back in the 1990s, when the Irish punt was overvalued against sterling. Then we had a major devaluation of the punt, which made our economy more competitive and inaugurated the Tiger Celtic Years.
Within the Fourth Estate, you have to turn to the Financial Times’ Wolfgang Münchau to hear an alternative voice to the pro-EU/anti-Brexit roar. He argues that Ireland will lose a significant ally once Britain has left the EU and will be compelled to accept tax harmonisation, and its 'business model' as a tax haven will become unsustainable. He concludes the next step then will be Irexit.
In the meantime Irish television and radio continue to inundate us with inane apocalyptic tales of our impending doom because of Brexit. First it was a shortage of marmite and then - shock horror - pot noodles. But still the sky had not fallen in.
And one day last week, Morning Ireland’s anchor announced with bated breath, that RTÉ’s business editor had entered the studio with breaking news on the impact of Brexit – had the sky fallen in? Something similar, Ryanair’s profits were down. That brought a smile to Insider’s gob.