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(screengrab via TV3)

HERE WE ARE, 31 days away from deciding on whether this country should ratify the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union.

That’s the official title – the ‘Yes’ camp prefers to call it the ‘Stability Treaty’; the ‘No’ camp is plumping for the ‘Austerity Treaty’. We here at TheJournal.ie are going to refer to it as the Fiscal Compact referendum.

Tonight, we’re bringing you full live coverage of the first major televised debate on the referendum – The Europe Debate with Vincent Browne - out in Ballymount at TV3′s studios. Let’s start the countdown…

Good evening, folks. All four of the politicians debating the issues of the fiscal compact have arrived at TV3′s studios in Ballymount. TheJournal.ie’s reporters have been on hand to tease out some of what you can expect to hear tonight…

Fine Gael’s Simon Coveney was first up on the… ahem… red carpet. Susan Ryan asked him about the tweet the Labour Party sent out earlier today in reply to @kencurtin’s enquiry about Labour sending no representative to the debate tonight:

Is it true, Simon Coveney – ARE you speaking for Labour tonight?

Coveney: “No, Fine Gael and Labour are two separate parties. We’re together in government and together in this campaign. We had a joint statement last Saturday so we’re very much working together and I hope we’ll work with Fianna Fáil also on this campaign. This isn’t about party politics and I hope that people focus on the issues because that’s the important thing.

What I say this evening I’m saying on behalf of Fine Gael and I hope that it will be supported by Labour as well.”

So now, Labour Party official Twitter account.

Mary Lou McDonald is limbering up even on her way in. The Government’s plan isn’t working, she said, and she’ll be setting out Sinn Féin’s alternatives for the country instead of signing the treaty.

“We need jobs, we need growth, this treaty will deliver nothing.” And off she goes.

Joe Higgins, as one would expect from the veteran Socialist Party man, has plenty to say. He told TheJournal.ie‘s Christina Finn:

“Austerity has brought us to the disastrous situation we are in today. Piling on more austerity is insanity. We need public investment and fundamental change in our taxation policy, our financial institution should invest in community and should not be in the hands of the sharks in the financial market.”

Asked if Ireland would be pushed out on its own, away from Europe, if it failed to ratify the treaty he said:

“The Government said there is no need for a second bailout so I don’t know why they are warning us? The question we will be posing tonight is what on earth the Minister for Finance was saying when he said that a no vote will affect the budget – a budget that is probably already decided between him and the troika already.” Ouchy.

Meanwhile, our reporter Sineád O’Carroll has been keeping track of Micheál Martin on his way to the make-up room. He wouldn’t answer any questions on whether Eamon O Cuiv was in trouble for plumping for a No vote.

“In terms of Eamon O Cuiv, his position is well known. He has articulated this at the outset of this campaign and rearticulated it.
As far as I’m concerned, the key issue is in front of the Irish people now – the treaty itself.
That is what we are concentrating on – we’re not going to get sidetracked or diverted to other issues.”
He added: “I’m delighted to be here to argue for a Yes vote for the treaty on the grounds that I think it will ensure safer and cheaper access to lower cost funding and also ensure restored confidence in eurozone economies and Member States which is good for Ireland and our capacity in the future.”

Here we go!

Why should people vote No, Joe Higgins?

Higgins feels that a No vote would be a “massive rejection” of austerity policies and a demand for radical change and job creation, and for a financial system that won’t serve bondholders and billionaires.

Simon Coveney’s answer is to recognise that the treaty won’t completely change the world but it will encourage ”responsible budgeting” among all European states and ensure “that we won’t get into this mess again”.

He brings up access to the ESM (European Stability Mechanism).

Mary Lou McDonald says we just can’t afford it – and we can’t afford to tie the hands of this Government or of any future government.

She says that this Government is behaving in an “inept” manner and is trying to “bully” people into signing up to something that will “deepen our problems”.

Micheál Martin is concentrating on the treaty in terms of guaranteeing us access to future funds. “We either get it from the markets or from the European Stability Mechanism”. A Yes vote would make sure we had access to “cheaper money that would cost less than if we vote No”.

Mary Lou is already rolling her eyes.

New question – if we don’t vote Yes, we won’t have access to a second bailout?

Joe Higgins believes that the idea that we won’t have access to ESM funds if we vote No (the “blackmail clause” he calls it) has not yet been enshrined in EU law and that Ireland has a veto vote to stop that becoming the case…

And, he says, we’re already in a bailout situation which has proven disastrous for our people. A second bailout would destroy the economy.

Vincent: So we shouldn’t bother taking a second bailout if we need one?

Higgins: It would be a bailout for bankers and it would destroy what is left of the country.

Simon Coveney: As long as 90 per cent of the funds to be put in the ESM are contributed by member states, it WILL be set up he said. Ireland won’t have a veto, he says, sure, we’re only putting in 1.57 per cent of those funds.

Coveney says that actually investors are more likely to give us money if they think we are part of the ESM because it’s almost like an insurance.

Vincent wants to know why the Government signed up to the clause that said we only get access to ESM funds if we vote Yes.

Simon Coveney is saying it’s in our interest to – that it’s a source of stability and there isn’t a source of funding anywhere else.

Vincent not letting it go…

Coveney repeating that ESM is a stability mechanism.

Mary Lou McDonald is getting in on this – she says the Government is being very “cynical”. The ESM “is not yet established – that’s a fact”. The Government has to give it its approval for it to be set up, she says.

She’s telling Vincent Browne he had a “fair point” in his question about the “blackmail clause” because she claims the Government have ability to get rid of it if they want to.

That got Micheál Martin going. “I don’t want to veto the ESM fund!” Why would we, he says, it’s a secure, stable fund that could fund Irish public services if the markets won’t lend to us.

Joe Higgins seems to have scented the blood of the argument getting going so he’s coming in with “underhand manoeuvre” accusation at Taoiseach Enda Kenny who he said gave EU “gun to point at the head of the Irish people” over threat to leave us out of ESM if we don’t ratify.

Much talk of big sticks, guns to head and blackmail in store tonight, it seems…

Micheál Martin is that reducing general debt to below 60 per cent of GDP  is achievable…

Mary Lou McDonald saying that the provisions of this treaty wouldn’t have protected us from the economic crash that happened. Austerity strategy “is not working” and that this is not a stimulus. In fact, the treaty would tie the hands of the State to make prudent investments to get the economy going.

Simon Coveney: “Mary Lou can’t back up where she would get the money (for those measures).

Mary Lou McDonald: “Mary Lou can back that up… let me do the figures…”

While Mary Lou McDonald is scribbling, Simon Coveney has a pop at Sinn Féin “misquoting” economist Karl Whelan in their referendum leaflets while simultaneously asking why businesses are looking for us to vote Yes if this is a treaty that will squash jobs and growth.

Mary Lou McDonald is back with figures: There is €5.5bn in the National Pension discretionary fund, she says. You can’t cut your way out of this.

Joe Higgins is saying that the onus is on the Minister (Coveney) and Micheál Martin on what economic impacts the treaty would have if it went through. Micheál Martin complaining that Joe Higgins won’t answer his question. Yeah, says Simon Coveney (sort of). The question – in case you’ve lost the thread  - is to ask Higgins what he would suggest as an alternative to signing up to the fiscal compact.

Vincent Browne: One way or another, there will be austerity but if we say No and are deprived of a second bailout should we need it, where will we get the money?

Joe Higgins wants everyone to agree first that a second bailout “as proposed by them” (of bondholders and bankers, he says) would kill us. What we need are taxes on high earners, he says, and put those funds towards bailing out the people.

Vincent making Higgins answer the question: What if we need a bailout in 2014, where will be get it?

Higgins says a progressive taxation on wealth.

“€15bn overnight from taxation?” asks Vincent incredulously. We wish the camera would pan to his face at this point.

Mary Lou McDonald says she thinks the Yes camp is wrong to keep saying we won’t get money from ESM if we vote No. She says the reason it is there is to keep Europe stable.

Ad break. Put on the kettle. I’m going for a lie-down. Coveney and Martin are going into a huddle*. (*I may have made that one up).

So now. If you want to read the Fiscal Compact for yourself, our own Gavan Reilly did a rather handy version of it in layman’s language. Plain English if you will. Read it HERE.

Note: This document should be not should not be treated as a full, legally valid document. It is offered only to try and help people understand the requirements and terms of the treaty by ‘translating’ each point into more everyday English.

A full ‘official’ copy of the original treaty is available in English here and in Irish here.

And if you’d prefer to take a break and talk about the weather, this is how miserable it looked out in TV3 this evening. Lashing it was. (Thanks to Susan Ryan for standing out in the cold).

We couldn’t help but notice that the various pols were doing their ‘doorstep’ on one of the disability parking spaces. But, we’re told, there were lots of parking spaces available at TV3 this evening.

Aaaannnd we’re back.

Vincent is starting from the right this time. Simon Coveney is asked if there wouldn’t be absolute chaos if we turned down the treaty.

Coveney doesn’t think it is “believable” that we could not sign up and then go looking for money from the EU.

We notice that TV3 is telling us to follow the debate on Twitter #Vinb.

May we also humbly suggest #euref ? That appears to be the one most people are using.

Micheál Martin says a No vote creates an “uncertain scenario”. We might not be barred from borrowing from European mechanisms or from the IMF – but it’s by no means clear, he says.

Why wouldn’t we choose for a vote that would get us cheaper money, he says.

Vincent putting forward the interesting theory that people might vote no, partly because they have had no say in what has happened to us fiscally in the last few years.

Martin: If they do vote no, they’ll have consequences to deal with. He says that a bailout programme was a “sensible” option because otherwise we would have been off looking for money at “punitive” rates to get us out of the economic hole we found ourselves in.

Simon Coveney is being posed the question that the Government didn’t ask for a writedown of the debt once they got into power.

Coveney slightly chides Vincent (careful, now!) saying people are tuning in to listen to a debate about the fiscal treaty. “The idea that we would take a leap into the dark and throw Ireland into the eye of the storm” of uncertainty by advocating a No vote is madness he says. He might not have said madness, but that’s the jist.

Mary Lou McDonald says there are certainties from the treaty alright – but a certainty that the State will concede more powers to the EU courts, to more austerity.

McDonald is saying that the treaty will essentially rip the hearts out of the public. Martin is saying treaty gives a structure on the way back to growth. Higgins is holding up his notebook and wants to speak.

Higgins says Coveney has “the nerve” to say a No vote will throw us into the dark. This will create “further devastating crisis” he says.

“We need to break with the current financial system”.

Martin says the EU has to up its game, and get budgets balanced and we do need a European Central Bank and we need European bonds. But, he says, all of that can happen and the treaty won’t stop that.

Higgins: A No vote will be a protest against the “financial system”.

Simon Coveney says Mary Lou McDonald is “misleading” people saying we can get money from elsewhere. We (the Government, we presume) have sat down and laid out a potential way of getting it.

ESM, EFSF, IMF – the “alphabet soup” McDonald mentioned earlier – are places we can get money, she says.

Micheál Martin ends the debate with thought that his party wants the best for the country. No-one else gets a little summary line – will they be happy with that?

So that’s it until Tonight with Vincent Browne at 11pm where he will discuss the debate that he has just chaired.

There will be a final doorstep with candidates – sorry, debate participants – on their way out of Ballymount. We’ll bring you any interesting lines from that shortly.

In the meantime, who do you think will be in the biggest hurry to get out the door?

Which of the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ camps pulled together best?

While Vincent Browne was pointing his biro at the four speakers in TV3 studio, Lucinda Creighton and Clare Daly were having it out on the same issue on RTÉ’s Prime Time.

We’ll leave you to decide who was in which camp.

Eamon Ryan and Declan Ganley will be two of the guests on Tonight with Vincent Browne later, we are just hearing.

We wonder how this lady will be voting?

This is Rita Fagan who was with the Spectacle of Defiance and Hope group, protesting today at the May Day protest march in Dublin. Today is International Labour Day and the march was organised by the Dublin Council of Trade Unions – around 500 people marched at it biggest point, and it included community groups, Occupy activists as well as trade unions. And Rita. Photo from Mark Stedman in Photocall Ireland.

So, you’ll remember the story we ran last Thursday about Sinn Féin denying that they had “selectively” used the quotes of economists on their ‘No’ campaign leaflets? All three economists – Karl Whelan and Colm McCarthy of UCD – and Seamus Coffey of UCC are actually advocating a ‘Yes’ vote.

Karl Whelan was tuned in tonight. I don’t think Sinn Féin will be quoting him on this one:

On the way out of the TV3 studios, Simon Coveney said that there will definitely be no second referendum if we fail to ratify the treaty this time. It only needs 12 countries to ratify it.

Joe Higgins was asked what he thought of his performance and he said that the purpose of tonight’s debate was to focus on getting the ‘Yes’ camp to vote on X,Y and Z. Mary Lou McDonald was asked what she thought of Higgins’s performance and she thought it not a fair question and that it wasn’t up to her to comment.

As for Micheál Martin, he’s willing to work with Fine Gael on getting the ‘Yes’ vote through…

That’s it for now. We’re off to bury our heads in the Fiscal Compact. See you for the next illuminating (?) debate on the issue before the 31 May polling date.

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