As the fiscal treaty referendum campaign begins in earnest, there is confusion and exaggeration on both sides.
This is a basic treaty in many ways. It will not change matters hugely if carried.
It will copperfasten what many people would regard as a badly needed overview from Europe, which would seek to prevent the kind of financial lunacy on the part of future governments which has brought us to the current sorry pass. It will also guarantee a second bailout if we need one. And that is pretty crucial.
For those close to this wretched process of austerity, book-balancing and loan repayments are privately conceding that we might well need that further financial dig-out, if you pardon the unfortunate expression.
If we vote No, it will not end austerity. There will be no bright new dawn. The Economic War will remain a fact of life.
We will, of course, have shown some of our European partners that we have a sense of independence. And that we will not be dictated to by Frankfurt.
Remember Eamon Gilmore’s great election promise that it would be either Labour’s way or Frankfurt’s way in the days ahead if his party was in power ? That was the rhetoric of a general election campaign.
Mr Gilmore, his party and the Government are now confronted with reality. So, unfortunately, are the Irish people, who know only too well that it was always going to be Frankfurt’s way.
Frankfurt is contributing to the financial resources we use to pay the bills right now. So giving a two-finger gesture to Europe would be rather pointless. It would not win us back our economic sovereignty.
That ship has sailed. And it will not return to port for a long, long time, if ever. So, in one sense, this treaty is the essence of a routine measure we are asked to adopt in the teeth of a terrible economic recession.
For that reason, both sides would be well advised not to hype up their case as they ask an angry and disillusioned electorate to make their choice. The Government campaign started badly. Withdrawing ministerial speeches from a Government website hardly inspired confidence that the Coalition was getting its act together early on.
The No side is also having its gaffes. Sinn Fein, in particular, made a dog’s dinner of its campaign when it quoted economists, who have rightly been critical of the detail of the treaty, while, at the end of the day, calling for a Yes vot
And nothing has defined the idiocy of this lamentably bad judgement by Sinn Fein more than the pathetic attempts of its representatives on radio and television programmes desperately trying to justify what the party had done.
If you are advocating a No vote, then you only quote in your favour those who are voting No.
Economist Colm McCarthy might appear to be an unlikely ally for Sinn Fein in ideological terms. After all, one presumes the party would not have welcomed his “An Bord Snip Nua’’ report, commissioned by the last government, which advocated slash and burn.
Savings had to be made. Cutbacks, including the abolition of Government departments, which did not happen, were to be the order of the day.
But, lo and behold, Mr McCarthy had a fine credibility for Sinn Fein when the party quoted him on the fiscal treaty referendum.
Mr McCarthy said: “As an exercise in addressing the eurozone’s twin banking and sovereign debt crises, the fiscal compact makes no worthwhile contribution.’’
Fair enough. Few, if anybody, would disagree with that. It will do nothing to deal with those crises. And the Yes side should bear that in mind when pitching their case to the people.
But, then, there is no magic bullet, so to speak, which will deal with those two obstacles to winning The Economic War.
That blunt reality, however, cannot be used as an argument to vote No. The treaty has to be viewed from the perspective of what it is setting out to do. And that alone.
What it should be doing, or what it might be doing, or what it could do, are entirely irrelevant to the decision voters will make in the ballot box.
It would have been preferable, therefore, if Sinn Fein had not so selectively quoted Mr McCarthy.
For he went on to say: “If there has to be a referendum, the electorate would be well advised to swallow hard and vote Yes, notwithstanding the inadequacies of the proposed treaty.’’
And, by the way, talking about Thatcherism, as Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has done, is old ideological hat.
It is reminiscent of battles of decades ago, now lost in the mists of time. We desperately need to rescue this country in economic terms and free our people from fiscal slavery.
Old slogans count for nothing. What will work will work. And we need to find out what it is in much greater detail.
A bit of old fashioned common sense from both sides would not go astray as we look towards May 31st.