We need to prevent Brexit contagion from spreading across this continent

Issued 14 December 2016

Taoiseach,

In advance of the European Council, I have a small number of concrete proposals that I hope you will take on board.

The first couple relate to Brexit.

Last night, my party held a Brexit forum, and I must say I was delighted with the numbers that wanted to attend – it showed clearly the level of public interest in this topic.

On the 9th of November, we discussed Brexit on questions to the Taoiseach.

I asked that you would provide a weekly update to opposition parties on the Government’s preparations.

You confirmed you were happy to do so.

Now, I was happy to wait a couple of weeks for people to figure out the best way of doing this.

I am not asking for a major weekly debate – even an email update to members of this House would suffice.

But this would be a small way of making sure that everyone is properly involved in Ireland’s preparations on this issue.

So I hope you will reconfirm your commitment to this idea today, and confirm that beginning in January, weekly updates will be provided by the Government.

Much of the focus of the Brexit debate to date has, justifiably, been on the impact on the border.

But I am of the view that it is time for us to start stepping up our economic planning.

The CEO of Enterprise Ireland spoke at the event last night.

And she rightly pointed out that she needs to plan for the worst possible Brexit.

Should a different outcome come to pass, we can deal with that, but there is a real need for some advance planning on the European side to support Ireland in the event of a hard Brexit, and I hope this is something you will push for.

We know that Brexit might provide some opportunities in some sectors.

We also know that there are some sectors that will be particularly vulnerable;

And that many of these sectors are significant employers – sectors such as agri-food and tourism.

Now, much of our work will rightly be focussed on helping protect employment in these sectors.

But in a hard Brexit scenario, we know we won’t be able to fully protect all of these sectors.

I believe we should be planning now for the expansion of tools such as the European Globalisation Fund.

The criteria for that fund were expanded during the crisis, and I believe they could be expanded once more, to support those who face a loss of employment in the event of a hard Brexit.

Taoiseach – you might confirm whether you support this approach, and whether you will begin raising it at a European level?

More broadly, for all of its flaws, and there are many, the support of the Irish people for the European project remains strong.

That, however, should not be taken as an agreement with those who argue for more Europe, as the solution to our current malaise.

Those of us who champion the European Union, must also be at the forefront of reforming it.

Because a Europe, that drifts ever further from meeting the expectations of our people, cannot hold.

I have argued for some time that we need to make greater investment in our societies;

So that what we deliver as politicians, can begin to match the legitimate expectations of our people.

We need to make investments which can be felt by people across Europe;

Investments that make a noticeable difference to people's lives.

Investments in hospitals and nursing homes;

In roads and trains;

In schools and sports centres.

All of these are investments in our people.

And in my judgement, these policies will help us meet the challenge of rising populism.

 

Too often, over the past number of years, the belief that only populist politicians have answers to public fears, has gone unchallenged.

We must meet this challenge to democracy, by providing people with real and workable answers.

We are too constrained from doing so, by some of the strictures of the stability and growth pact, and the fiscal rules.

In the main, this is because what the rules require of our states is that we measure fiscal performance, but not social measures.

Why do we have a set of rules that measure our debt to GDP ratio, but don’t require any routine monitoring of basic poverty levels.

Why do we focus on fiscal medium-term objectives, but not on the health of our environment, or of our people.

As we speak, the rules that govern the European Union are forcing Government inactivity;

At a time when people across this continent are crying out for Government action!

My Party is beginning two pieces of work in this area.

Domestically, we have drafted a Genuine Progress Indicators Bill, which we will launch early in the New Year, and which I hope will have the support of members on all sides of this House.

It will require, as a matter of law, that we publish a national set of indicators each year – indicators much broader than just the size of our economy.

By looking in the round at our social progress; and at the state of our environment; as well as the health of our economy; we can better measure whether Government is serving us well.

Because social progress is what matters to our people.

I think this is an important initiative.

But even with the best intentions in the world, I accept that Ireland could not achieve real social progress on our own.

The European rules that currently prevent additional capital expenditure need to change.

Ten days ago, I raised this issue with the leaders of social democratic parties across Europe.

We agreed to a sensible process, that will hopefully lead to some real change.

At my suggestion, a group of social democratic economists and fiscal experts will meet early in 2017.

And they will draft a set of proposals, to modify the stability and growth pact, including the fiscal rules.

These changes will not undermine fiscal discipline, but should add an urgency to investment in our societies, and place the monitoring of our social good on a par with the strength of our economies.

To prevent Brexit contagion from spreading across this continent, this is the sort of action we all need to take.

Taoiseach – I would encourage yourself and Minister Noonan to begin a similar process with your Christian Democratic colleagues.

For that matter, I hope that Deputy Martin might do likewise with his Liberal colleagues.

 

 

In Syria, we are continuing to watch as a human tragedy unfolds before us.

A deal, struck too late, that would have allowed the besieged people of Aleppo to escape, seems to have been ignored.

Through yesterday, the bombardment continued.

Unicef reported that “many children, possibly more than 100, unaccompanied or separated from their families, are trapped in a building, under heavy attack in east Aleppo”.

It’s hard to disagree with the UN spokesperson who described a “complete meltdown of humanity” in the city.

The appalling situation in Syria has continued to shock us.

But in truth, our shock matters little.

As a union of nations, we have failed the people of Syria.

We have failed to adhere to any notion that we have a responsibility to protect.

Faced with a Syrian dictator backed by Russia and Iran, the West has been reduced to pleading for the carnage to stop.

The US ambassador yesterday asked:

“Are you truly incapable of shame, is there literally nothing that can shame you? Is there no act of barbarism against civilians, no execution of a child that gets under your skin, that just creeps you out a little bit? Is there nothing you will not lie about or justify?”

The continuing bombardment of Aleppo may be our answer.