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Dublin: 4 °C Wednesday 26 November, 2014

As it happened: The Frontline Fiscal Compact referendum debate

We went minute-by-minute as representatives from the Yes and No camps went head-to-head over the Fiscal Compact treaty with just over a week until polling.

WELCOME TO OUR liveblog of The Frontline Fiscal Compact treaty debate being broadcast live RTÉ One tonight. Four campaigners, one moderator and, no doubt, a lively studio audience will debate the pros and cons of the treaty.

Hosted by Pat Kenny, the debate will see the following representatives from both sides of the argument:

  • On the Yes side – Tánaiste, Foreign Affairs Minister and Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore and publisher, businesswoman and star of Dragons’ Den Norah Casey.
  • On the No side – Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald and former European Parliament candidate and Libertas chairman Declan Ganley.

Ready? Let’s do this…

21.18 – Good evening and welcome to our live coverage of the Fiscal Compact referendum debate on RTÉ’s The Frontline. We’re just warming up the fingers before we launch into an hour or so of telling you what’s happening in Donnybrook as the Yes and No camps go head-to-head in one of the last opportunities to debate the treaty on national television.

21.20 – What happened the last time senior political party figures went on The Frontline to debate an issue of national importance? Let Sinn Féin take up the story that became known as ‘tweetgate’:


21.23 – We spoke to Declan Ganley a few hours ago ahead of tonight’s debate. He had plenty to say about the comments from Fine Gael’s Paschal Donohue about his involvement in the Swiss asset management firm St Columbanus AG and you can read about that here.

He also told us that while he may get questioned about this issue tonight, he hopes to focus on the issues at hand, namely the Fiscal Compact treaty which we’re all voting on next week.

21.24 – What’s been happening on the campaign trail today? Michael Freeman has been taking a look:

One man who doesn’t know the meaning of keeping his head down is Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary. He made his position perfectly clear this morning…

More of that here.

21.27 – In case you’re still a bit confused about what exactly it is we’re voting on next Thursday week, you can read our layman’s guide to the Fiscal Compact treaty, helpfully decoded by our own Gavan Reilly. Still time to read it before the debate gets under way and everybody starts shouting at each other.

21.28 – The Nine O’Clock News has finished up and now all that’s left is the weather, the ads and then Pat himself…

21.29 – Speaking of the weather. Wasn’t it glorious today? Your pale-skinned liveblogger might have even got a bit of sunburn on his neck. Here’s the outlook for the rest of the week.

21.35 – Almost ready to go now. A reminder that it’s Eamon Gilmore and Norah Casey for the Yes side and Declan Ganley and Mary Lou McDonald for the No side debating tonight.

21.36 – Here we go. Pat is introducing the protagonists….

21.36 – The Frontline audience is made up of people who applied for tickets balanced with yes and no voters with some undecideds as well.

21.38 – With the toss of coin, it’s Declan Ganley up first: The bank guarantee has left Ireland with untold billions of bank debt which we did not incur. This government is asking you to make the same mistake again. Ireland should not be rushed into a bad deal. There will be no recovery until Europe deals with bad bank debt and no fairytales will change that simple fact. Don’t copperfasten billions of bank debt that doesn’t belong to us to our future generations.

21.39 – Norah Casey next: A yes vote is an important step in building confidence and knowing we can borrow money. There are no credible alternatives. We can’t avoid it. I am a businesswoman, a Dragon on occasion, but I am also a mother who is not prepared to gamble with my children’s future. I have faith in our tremendous capacity for renewal but why would we want to do so without availing of best possible conditions. Yes will stimulate economy and boost employment.

21.40 – Mary Lou McDonald next: Many of you have yet to make up your minds. The last few years have been really tough and taken their toll. Families are down to the bone. There is no more to cut. This treaty will have consequences for our children – more austerity, more unemployment, more emigration. This treaty is a bad deal for Ireland and for Europe. We need a change of direction. We need investment in jobs. We need to say No.

21.41 – Eamon Gilmore now: Ireland has real problems and needs real solutions – more jobs and growth, relief for families in mortgage arrears. But there are no fairytale solutions. We’ve made a start, confidence and investment returning. Jobs are coming into Ireland. Voting yes will continue that progress. Stability is platform to achieving economic growth. Ireland needs a stable euro – treaty is about protecting the euro in your pocket. For stability, for growth, for certainty, vote Yes.

21.43 – Opening statements are done and now we open the debate. Pat is asking about whether this whole treaty is redundant because the changing situations in Greece and France.

Deborah Curran in the audience believes she is entitled to know what she is voting on and she does not believe that is the case with this treaty because of the changing situations in other countries. “The euro is on the edge of a cliff at the moment,” she says.

21.44 – Deborah is a No voter. The fella beside her is voting Yes. Now over the Eamon Gilmore to answer: “We know that already has been agreed is not going to be change,” he says but there may be additional measures to do with growth.

21.45 – Gilmore: Delaying the treaty vote creates uncertainty. We need to put an end to that. Us delaying on the referendum is going to lead to a situation where investors are scared off. We need to provide certainty for investors.

Ganley: People want to know about whether or not we are going to have tax harmonisation. Hollande said he wanted a common tax across Europe, that is the German agenda, he wants a transaction tax. We need to see what the deal is that they want to put together before we sign up to this. Richard Bruton admitted there probably will be a second referendum here.

21.47 – Gilmroe and Ganley go back and forth over whether or not tax appears in the treaty. They both agree it doesn’t. There will be no agreement on a common corporation tax base insists Gilmore unless all EU member states sign up to it.

21.48 – McDonald: The only certainties we have is that since 2008 the policy of austerity has failed miserably. Live Register numbers have doubled, economy is on the floor. The only fairytale is that somehow by sucking additional billions out of economy there is going to be a prospect of growth. We need a healthy level of demand in the country.

21.49 – Casey: We need to talk about the treaty, most of it already in law. Treaty is good housekeeping. Austerity will be with us whether we vote Yes or No. It will be worse if we vote No.

21.49 – Member of the audience talking about Ireland’s debt levels. We have to pay it back, he says, adding how are we going to pay the money back?

21.52 – Deborah from the audience (a No voter) is jumping back in saying why is France not ratifying the treaty, asking Norah specifically why this is the case. It’s all getting a bit shouty. Pat goes to a graphic showing text from the Referendum Commission’s guide to the treaty.

Ganley is accused of twisting Hollande’s words about renegotiating the treaty by Gilmore. Ganley says that debts that were socialised after the bondholders made bad bets need to be cut, we must cut that bank debt, he says. The only way we send a signal is by voting No. Otherwise Europe will not listen to Ireland.

21.54 – “We don’t even know who this money went to,” says Ganley of the payments to bankers and bondholders. He says he has met with European journalists are all asking him about the bank debt. We’re telling them that it’s a message about the bank debts if we vote No.

Gilmore: France is looking for what Ireland has been looking for. We need to have a growth agenda and job creation. On bank debt, he says that we have to negotiate it down. That is something that the government is already doing.

Ganley says that Gilmore has not negotiated down the bank debt, brings up the famous ‘Labour’s way or Frankfurt’s way’ quote and says the government has failed to negotiate it down. A smattering of applause from the audience.

21.56 – McDonald: The result of this treaty will be more austerity and Gilmore was quite prepared to sign on for that. Irish have to rely on Hollande to call it like it is that austerity has failed. Trade unions, the social and democratic parties, and the Labour parties around Europe know that austerity is failing. The European trade union body has come out against a European treaty, for the first time ever.

21.57 – McDonald gets some applause.

Casey: We have to be honest, there are no bondholders left to be burnt, we’ve paid most of them back. We are continuing to spend beyond our means and we have to balance the books. We have to deal with it. There’s a tiny amount of bondholders to be paid.

21.58 – Gilmore, Casey and McDonald shouting over each other now as McDonald tries to make a point about balancing the books by having growth.

21.58 – “Austerity will not balance the books,” says McDonald to a smattering of applause.

Seamus in the audience is voting Yes because of access to the ESM.

21.59 – A woman next to Seamus is voting No. “It’s our only chance to get a message across,” she says to applause from the audience.

22.00 – Pat says that if we don’t ratify the treaty we don’t get access to the ESM, that’s according to the Referendum Commission anyway. “It’s as clear as day,” he adds.

Ganley says there won’t be enough money in the ESM to bailout all the countries that will need it. We need to get rid of the insolvency in the banking system first.  We need to ensure that the bank debt issue is dealt with before we sign up to ESM, which is not yet ratified.

22.02 – Gilmore: The only certain source of emergency funding after 2013 is the ESM. We only get access after 90 per cent of the funding countries sign up. Ireland has just over 1 per cent. There is no veto for Ireland, it will come into effect irrespective of whether or not Ireland ratifies the treaty. Sinn Féin changing tact on the ESM, he claims. “Only source of emergency funding that is available to this country is the ESM,” the Tánaiste insists.

22.05 – McDonald: We’re heading into bailout two if we continue current government’s policy. The fund is not yet established, aside from the 90 per cent funding requirement, in order for it to be legally constituted there will have to be change to existing treaties. Given his (Gilmore’s) level of his concern, ample opportunity to remove the offending clause – the so-called blackmail clause. The treaty which establishes the ESM explicitly stated that it is for countries in crisis.

Gilmore: Sinn Féin is selectively quoting.

Lots of shouting over each other… Pat interrupts. Lots of calls from viewers saying they can’t hear what’s going on because of the shouting, says Pat.

Pat lays down the law.

22.07 – Casey: This is about how much you pay for the money. I live here all year round, in a veiled dig at Ganley.

Ganley: Xenophobia. I speak with this accent because my parents had to emigrate…

Casey: I employ people in Ireland..

Ganley: I do too…

All a bit unsavoury… and Pat goes back to the audience.

22.10 – Fella in the audience representing the agricultural sector says that if we have uncertainty we will go downhill “rapidly”. Another farming voice says the opposite, he says that one thing that is not mentioned is the cap – the debt brake on spending. The ESM fund is insufficient, says James Reynolds from the ‘Farmers for No’ group.

Reynolds continues until Pat interjects and goes off his head: “They’ll take it from the farmers! We will do the programme on the CAP in January! Let’s leave it alone!” He adds: “Ah, get a life!”

Pat seemingly very annoyed about a mention of the EU Common Agricultural Policy by farmers and tries to change the subject while waving his arms frantically.

22.11 – An audience members asks: “Where’s Phil Hogan!?” We’ve been wondering the same thing…

22.12 – Thank God! We’re at a commercial break as it all goes a bit mental in the audience and the household charge gets more than one mention. Pat going mental as well wanting to move away from all talk of the household charge. Our moderator needs a few minutes to compose himself, we think.

22.14 – The verdict so far? It’s all very, very, very shouty so far with everyone trying to get a word in. Some good points made in relation to whether or not the ESM will be sufficient to bail out all the countries that might need access to it if the uncertainty about Greece etc… continues but otherwise it’s getting lost in shouting and personal attacks, most notably when Norah Casey went for Ganley over his tendency to only ever appear when there is a referendum in Ireland. Ganley accused the Dragons’ Den star of “xenophobia”.

22.16

22.16 – We’re back. Pat tells us that so far the No side have had more time than the Yes side. Ganley says we have better arguments, Casey says they’re just more long winded.

22.17 – Now we get onto the deficit limits and the “correction mechanism” that is activated if a country goes over a certain limit. Why should we sign up to something that the economists can’t agree on the meaning of, asks Pat of Gilmore….

22.18 – Gilmore: The structural deficit takes account of the specific conditions of the country. It is done over time, it is not something that operates over time. It allows for certain flows on the deficit limit. Also allows for certain events and extraordinary circumstances. Allows us flexibility, insists Gilmore.

22.21 – McDonald: If economists can’t agree on it, it’s utterly insane. To meet this new structural deficit rule, you’re looking at an additional €6 billion of cutbacks – (Gilmore insists it’s not true) – Objective is to cut and cut and cut.

Casey: We have austerity either way. The difference between what we spend and raise is €13.6 billion. We have to make cuts and raise taxes. There is no other way.

Ganley: Cut the bank debt.

22.22 – Casey: We have an ongoing problem each year when we spend more than we raise. We will have worse austerity if we vote No.

Ganley makes a Titanic analogy and talks about the bank debt, again.

22.24 – Ganley: I am on the record saying that if we have to get a deal on… the bank debt, of course. We’d be nuts to support this if we don’t get a deal.

Gilmore: The bank debt is a separate issue.. the audience shouts at him. We have already got a deal. This treaty is not about the bank debt. It’s about providing confidence for investors who come in here to create jobs.

Back to the audience…

22.25 – Audience members says that taking money out of economy will shrink economy. Gilmore engages with him and says that we have to sort the deficit out but the audience member is insistent that the economy cannot grow by taking money out of it.

22.26 – McDonald: “As political parties go, we’ve got a heck of a lot of negotiating experience.”

22.26 – Nice line from McDonald who continues that the books will not be balanced with nearly half a million people on the dole.

22.26 – Casey: I have no political allegiances. The treaty is about having an overdraft facility, good housekeeping and if you vote No it’s the worst of the two evils.

22.27 – Gilmore: People have suffered a lot. Nobody wants continued austerity, we want to get out of austerity and that means getting investors, job creation. Investors will only invest if we have confidence in the country.

Lots of shouting in the audience.

“We don’t solve this problem, Pat, by shouting slogans at it,” insists Gilmore as there is yet more shouting from the audience.

22.29 – Ganely closing statement: Let’s wait, we need to deal with this issue of bank debt. This deal is about bank debt. The whole of Europe has to deal with it and until we deal with, there will be no recovery.

Casey: This is common sense. This about needing to be calm. We needed to be a trustworthy nation. We will have access to funding if we vote Yes.

“Lambs to slaughter,” shouts someone in the audience for no particular reason.

22.29 – McDonald: Austerity has failed, people know that. “The world and its wife knows it”. We will not be rolled over, we want a future for our children and our families.

22.30 – Gilmore sounding grave: If we want to get out of austerity, we need to have stability. We need investors to have confidence and invest here. And as a people we need to have certainty. A Yes vote is a vote for certainty, stability and growth. A No vote is heading into the unknown.

22.31 – Pat Kenny bring matters to a close and says that he hopes it’s informative.

22.32

He’ll be getting his full Chelsea kit on shortly then…

22.35 – Well that was all very shouty and the reaction on Twitter seems to be rather negative about the tone of the debate and the quality too.

Plenty of TDs on both sides (Most the Yes side as there’s more of them) have been tweeting. Of those still sitting on the fence in this whole campaign, independent deputy Shane Ross asks: “How were the four debaters chosen?”

22.36 – Labour TD says it wasn’t the politicians’ fault:

22.40 – And that’s where we leave you for the night. Thanks for being with us and we’ll talk to you all again soon.

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