05 Jul 2022

Political Notebook: European banking and fiscal union not far away

How far are we of from some kind of European banking and fiscal union ?

How far are we of from some kind of European banking and fiscal union ?

Not very far, it appears. And who is crying about our loss of sovereignty and our sense of nationhood? Pretty well nobody.

The blunt reality is that we blew it as a society. We failed Independence. We had the chance to build a new society and a new and vibrant country. And we failed.

A half-century ago Sean Lemass made the first moves to bring us into Europe. He knew that the old protectionism of the Dev era would not work. And he knew that the only hope of a modern Ireland would be in the realm of Europe.

His vision was that the rising tide would lift all boats. An economic upswing would ensure that there would be jobs for Irish people in Ireland. The relentless grind of enforced emigration would be part of our history. No more than that.

There is a story told about Mr Lemass, perhaps exaggerated, or maybe not, that circulated in the years that followed his all too brief term as chief executive of Ireland Plc.

He was the newly-elected Taoiseach, standing by the lakes of Killarney, as a local Fianna Fail activist pointed to the beauty of the landscape.

“There it is Taoiseach,’’ said his guide. “Is it not a splendid sight ?’’

As always, the patriot in Mr Lemass had a bleak eye. He told his guide that he would not rest easy until there was smoke bellowing from factories which would provide work for local people.

It was a patriotic statement.

He was acutely aware that in that terrible decade between 1951 and ’61, some 400,000 Irish people left these shores for the emigrant boat and plane.

Some were glad to leave a wretched and dysfunctional State.

Others were forced to go. They were ill-prepared on the grounds of education and social conditioning. Some were casualties.

Even today, a stroll through London on a night would yield the awful sight of some of those emigrants sleeping rough. And who is helping them?

Yes, the social services of the ancient enemy.

What would have happened had this failed country not had the outlet of emigration?

Would there have been a social revolution?

The unemployment marches in the late 1950s on Leinster House saw the outcome of those people’s frustration resolved itself in the perennial Irish solution of the emigrant ship.

What had they remained at home ? Would the Ireland of Eamon de Valera and John A Costello have been able to provide them with any kind of social solace?

Would the anger have spilled over into the kind of riots we now witness in modern day Greece ?

It is interesting to speculate as we face, yet again, The Economic War.

And so, in the Ireland of 2012, we wonder where our future lies. It lies in Europe. Mr Lemass saw that a half-century ago.

He saw that the heady hopes of Independence were not being realised. When he took over as Taoiseach, he set the economic agenda.

It was Ireland’s challenge, he said, to underpin the achievement of Independence with economic security.

And what happened ? Those entrusted with that duty blew it.

This week, the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, goes to a European summit where fiscal and banking union is on the agenda.

Mr Kenny, to this credit, is devoid of the kind of rhetoric of other days.

There was much made of our sovereignty in those times of what largely passed for political debate.

In that sense, Mr Kenny has it all to play for.

“The solution is, in Ireland’s view, to accelerate moves to develop a joint response to the banking crisis in Europe,’’ he said at the weekend.

Perhaps, as he says, fiscal and banking union cannot be achieved in the short term.

That is fair enough. But, in the longer term, there will be fiscal and banking union.

And it will be no bad day when a mandarin from Brussels casts a cold eye on economic policies drafted and delivered from Merrion Street, in Dublin.

Had we that kind of scrutiny in the past, would there have been the expensive nonsense that was the policy of decentralisation announced by a previous Fianna Fail-led government with a keen eye on the local elections ?

This week’s EU summit is unlikely to yield anything by way of some relief from our banking debt.

That debt is crippling this country. Side by side with it, we have to borrow a huge amount of money to keep the ship of State afloat.

It is a grim scenario.

However, in Europe this week Mr Kenny has an opportunity to support the moves towards fiscal and banking union.

It is long overdue.

Mr Lemass, a half-century ago, saw that our future was in Europe.

Today, more so than ever, we are relying hugely on Europe.

Over to you, Mr Kenny.

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