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Thursday 5 October 2023 Dublin: 14°C
AS IT HAPPENED: The Last Word's Fiscal Compact debate
We’ll be watching and updating you as the ‘No’ and ‘Yes’ campaigners take each other on in front of Today FM’s Matt Cooper this afternoon.

THEJOURNAL.IE IS AT the Irish Life building in Dublin this afternoon to watch six contestants…. sorry, campaigners… battle each other on either side of the Fiscal Compact referendum debate.

The Today FM Last Word Europe debate is hosted by Matt Cooper and features:

  • On the ‘Yes’ side – Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin; chief executive of 11890 Nicola Byrne; and (possibly) Richard Bruton – we’ll get you an update on that as soon as possible.
  • On the ‘No’ side – Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald; UKIP leader and MEP Nigel Farage; and MANDATE union leader John Douglas.

You’ll be able to see a pop-up livestream of the debate here.

Or you can sneak a peek at all the action on our liveblog, which will be running below for the duration.

We’re all present and correct here in the Irish Life building here on Abbey Street in Dublin. Richard Bruton has arrived for the ‘Yes’ side – originally it was meant to be a Labour minister. Wonder what happened there?

Richard Bruton being asked why we shouldn’t delay ratifying the treaty considering the French finance minister’s comments earlier today. Bruton says that Ireland needs certainty at this time and that the government has an obligation to go ahead with the referendum now that the Oireachtas has decided to put it to the people.

Bruton agrees with new French president Hollande that we need “additional growth” to be brought into policy but he says we must bring the treaty in first and build on that.

Micheal Martin being asked by Matt Cooper if reports are true that he would have preferred a later date for the referendum.

Why yes, says Martin, I said publicly that I would have preferred a later date. BUT – isn’t there always a but – the French president is not objecting to the treaty itself.

He says it is out of self-interest for Ireland so that we can “access funds” for frontline services at a cheaper rate than any other funds available. He reckons a ‘No’ vote is a vote FOR austerity. Which is a bit of a table-turner on the ‘No’ campaign’s slogan, no? (No pun intended… oh, never mind.)

Mary Lou McDonald is up next – she says it is in Ireland’s best interest to reject this treaty. She says that Hollande is refusing to ratify it and that the Germans are not in a position to ratify it.

The French, she says, think it’s a “recipe for more of the same”.

McDonald says “hacking away and cutting back and cutting back” has been the approach of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and – “sadly” – Labour and that is what she’s against and claims Hollande is against.

Matt Cooper: Mary Lou, do you want us to go back to living beyond our means? (ie, the State getting money from international moneylenders”.

She says no, of course, but reckons there is a better way of closing the deficit – by getting people off the dole, getting money circulating in the economy.

All eyes turning to Nigel Farage who finds it “oddly bizarre” that we are putting the treaty up for debate and referendum at all. He claims it is a referendum on a treaty that “won’t exist” by the time we ratify it.

We don’t normally like to comment on clothes and appearance but we are drawn to Farage’s bright yellow and black tie. It is like a rather buzzy wasp. No editorialising intended but it’s very eye-catching.

While we have been studying his tie, Farage has been saying that we are the least of the EU’s worries and is saying we are “David against Goliath”. He says that today in Killarney, there are MEPs spending a third of million “on a junket”.

He wants to live in a Europe that trades together but is not “ruled by Europe”.

Here’s businesswoman Nicola Byrne – she’s on the ‘Yes’ side but she’s not impressed by the “game of poker’ politicians are playing with this issue, waiting for each other to leave the table first.

She’s on the ‘Yes’ side though because she thinks it will keep us at the table, give us certainty in the economy, allowing people to trade and work.

Mandate’s head John Douglas is not happy with how younger people are suffering under austerity. He thinks it is a failure of the government and the Irish electorate who “pandered to the giveaway budgets” that we are in the situation we are in. His members at minimum wage certainly “didn’t dine at the table”, he says.

He feels that the first bailout hasn’t thrown out a lifeline – why would a second, he asks?

Richard Bruton asked by Matt Cooper how FG could have people believe it’s a vote for jobs. Haven’t we heard that claim before?

Bruton says that we allow investment to rebuild and that’s what we need to create enterprise and jobs.

Cooper asks why we’re talking about international funding all the time – are we not confident in domestic enterprise? Bruton says they too need access to international markets. He says we shouldn’t be talking about “Alice in Wonderland economics”. Mary Lou McDonald not liking that.

Nicola Byrne – during our boom years, we didn’t retract our public service – we “boomed’ it. The private sector is hurting – “the public service has to realign downwards now.”

Mary Lou McDonald doesn’t accept that it’s just international companies who can create jobs. Now she’s getting to tackle the “Alice in Wonderland economics” – Richard Bruton not happy but this is radio – one voice at a time, y’know.

Bruton says Mary Lou McDonald and Sinn Fein won’t every say how they are actually going to fund it. Bit of heckling from the audience – the Q&A section should be interesting…

Bruton is being taken on by Farage now who claims that Ireland will be giving away money if they ratify – that Ireland will have to sign up to an 11 billion euro bailout fund. “YOu will be massive net payees”. Bit of a way-hey from the same heckling quarter here.

Micheal Martin making the mistake of saying that Matt Cooper is not entirely impartial. Then tells Cooper to relax. Which sets off the heckler. Goodness gracious. Time, please.

Calm again – Martin says we should sign up because it gives us definite access to the ESM fund in 2014 and 2015. He also says there is a “big lie” in the ‘No’ campaign when they say a Yes vote means more cuts.

He calls Matt an “independent objective” observer – so we’re all pals again.

Mandate’s Douglas says we’re looking for money to pay the bankers. Break time. Thank goodness.

And this is the scene on the ‘Yes’ side during the news bulletin break:

(Pic: Hugh O’Connell/

On the ‘No’ side he appears to be reading a leaflet from the ‘Yes’ side and throwing his hands up in the air and rolling his eyes at Mandate’s John Douglas.

In other news, Matt Cooper is encouraging people from the floor to cheer as they wish – but maybe keep the heckles down…

Well there’s the cheer he was looking for. Welcome back.

Mary Lou McDonald being taken up on her challenge of how she would fund the State.

“From the get-go, that is the most clearcut admission” that a second bailout might come to pass. She says she also accepts that a second bailout may come to pass.

She says that at senior level in Europe that it has been made clear that Ireland will be helped until it is “match-fit” to go back to the markets (to avoid euro collapse).

She also claims that Ireland won’t be left “to swing” because it would be too serious for the rest of the eurozone.

Her third point: “The fund is not yet established” and that to be established it has to get the say-so from Ireland.

Richard Bruton: Mary Lou McDonald’s last point there is “totally misleading”. He adds: “Sinn Fein is advising people to reject a treaty that gives us the solemn right to access those funds.” It’s a phoney argument he claims.

Cooper: Isn’t there an obligation on them to fund us or else the euro would implode?

Bruton: There is a standby fund but the people who give to that fund will want to see that the states that benefit are sticking to their budgets.

Micheal Martin suggesting that ML McDonald is asking us to “take a risk”. ML McDonald: “ML is NOT asking us to take a risk”. We’re in third-person territory now.

Martin wants McDonald to bring economists forward who will say exactly what a yes and no vote mean. He says that serious economists are saying a ‘No’ vote actually will mean more cuts. The initial Sinn Fein appropriation of quotes from economists who actually want a ‘Yes’ vote is brought up.

Mary Lou says the treaty will cost us €6bn. Martin goes a little bit nuts and challenges her to name one economist who says this.

McDonald: “Michael Taft”

Martin: “Who?”

*audience laughs*

This is Michael Taft by the way.

John Douglas is saying we’re looking at a second bailout when the govt said a few months ago that we weren’t. We’re not going to be looking for money “from your aunt in America”. We think he means anyone’s aunt, not an aunt of Micheal Martin’s in particular. We hope not.

Nicola Byrne is saying we should forget about Greece for a minute. If this vote “doesn’t make it, we have no way to hold our hand up high”.

Nicola Byrne doesn’t want the public service to disappear because she says that that is where the private sector is getting its work and funding at the moment. No-one is disagreeing with her.

Richard Bruton is making a mistake – by the audience’s reckoning- of even mentioning a second vote. “I think Ireland will be looking to say, ‘Can we vote again?’” because we’ll regret a No vote if it leaves us out in the cold.

Still, Richard, probably never a great idea to mention a second referendum to Irish voters, whatever innocuous way you mean it.

Nigel Farage is in after a little bit of time. He says that democracy in Ireland appears to have died because you have to keep voting until you get the vote that politicians and their “German overlords” want.

Martin tackles Farage – says his motivation is to bring England out of the UK.

Farage and Martin heckle back and forth but when Farage calls Martin a “collaborator”, that doesn’t go down well with anyone. Hot words.

“This isn’t us opting for a splendid isolation within Europe,” says Mary Lou McDonald. She reckons if other countries were to vote on this, their citizens would equally have an issue with the treaty.

McDonals wants to see the currency stabilised but sees flaws in the EU. “If we vote ‘No’, we are not johnny-no-mates in Europe.”

Martin wants to know who she thinks we would be aligned with if we vote ‘No’.

Bruton is saying that this is not “a blank cheque” as McDonald called it.

Martin gets last word in this section. He says the ‘Yes’ vote is giving binding status to the fiscal rules that “everyone” else in Europe has signed up to .

Break time. Micheal Martin is telling the heckler in the audience that it’s “not on”. The heckler has been calling Martin the “pro-Treaty” party, referring back to when Fianna Fail “used to be” a republican party. History note: FF originated from the De Valera led group which voted no to the Anglo-Irish Treaty.

We’re back. Nigel Farage has been in Ireland this week and says the mood in Dublin is that people here are more depressed than they were 5 or 10 years ago because of either personal debt or debt from bailout out the banks.

Matt Cooper asking him who is going to pick up the bill of the debt he speaks of. Farage saying that Iceland did well out of refusing to bail out the banks.

Martin says people in Iceland had their savings halved.

Farage says we need to write down some of our bank debt “because it’s just too big”.

John Douglas from Mandate is saying that the top earners in Irish society have actually become richer since the austerity measures/banking bailout began.

Richard Bruton: That’s just not true.

Then he clarifies: It’s not true that we are targeting the poor.

Matt Cooper: Should we not have gotten a deal on the banks before we agreed to put the fiscal compact to referendum?

Bruton: No – we need access to funds and growth strategy and that contrary to what the ‘No’ side say, Hollande is not looking to have debts written off. He says Michael Noona has been renegotiating the debt.

Is there a little schism here in the ‘Yes’ side? Businesswoman Nicola Byrne trying to get in there as Bruton is speaking. I’d like to hear more from her.

Martin: Yes, we should get a better deal in the promissory notes issue but the treaty is not the vehicle through which that can be addressed.

He reckons that being a member of the EU has been a help in terms of getting together mechanisms to help countries like Ireland.

McDonald: They won’t be writing down any debt unless they are asked.

Meanwhile, you might think we are quick with the updates here but Libertas beat Banagher – they have already posted up this press release on Richard Bruton’s mention of the electorate wishing to go again for a second vote if they vote No and we suffer because of it.

Richard, you can’t say we didn’t warn you that it wouldn’t come back to bite you…

Martin says that we have already agreed to rules in the fiscal treaty and won’t mean more cuts than those already agreed.

McDonald says the issue of the structural deficit is new. Martin says it’s not.

What’s “crucially” new, says McDonald, is that you seek to give the rules “constitutional” ratification.

Nicola Byrne is asking: If we vote Yes, and pull out afterwards, what difference is that from voting No. At least you’re giving us a chance.

John Douglas says that the Greeks are being demonised, “the Greek workers”.

Bruton is saying he is not a spokesman for the Labour party. (As we asked at the beginning of this liveblog, why did no Labour minister want to come on to the debate?)

The next part of the debate – possibly going to be the final one – is going to be questions from the audience.

From the heckling and heat in here so far, I would suggesting fastening your safety belt for this one. I’m putting on my crash helmet although I’m pretty sure there will be no flying objects.

Fairly sure.

A university student asks what a Yes or No vote will do to affect his job hunting?

Richard Bruton says a Yes vote will improve his chances – says that the stats show we can build on a fragile recovery. We have a long way to go but some of the most creative ambitious countries in the world “is picking Ireland to do business in”.

Nicola Byrne says: It won’t make a difference either way. (Brave stance for someone sitting on the Yes side of the table). She says she wants a Yes vote so we can put the debate aside and focus on growth. She has a pop at Nigel Farage – why are we letting a person in from the UK to tell us how to vote?

Nigel Farage says Lisbon 2 was meant to be a yes vote for jobs but that 120k jobs were lost after that. He says again that there are tons of MEPs in Kerry this evening advocating a Yes vote but having one MEP in from the UK is considered “evil”. I wonder if the UK MEP was not from the UKIP, would it make a difference?

Mary Lou McDonald says Sinn Fein is committed to keeping the 12.5 per cent corporation rate. (that was to Matt Cooper).

She tells the student in the audience that his interests are best served by voting No and that there will be precious few jobs here for him as things are going.

John Douglas says that a degree will help him but is his future here? He doesn’t know. Douglas’s own son is in Australia and his daughter is heading to London after the summer.

Micheal Martin is saying that people in Irish and multinational companies are saying vote Yes and that their word is better than Martin’s in terms of knowing what’s good for the jobs market.

The 20-year time scale to reduce the Budget: can that be met, asks Fiona O’Connor in the audience.

Yes, says Richard Bruton. He wants to clarify:

“There is no chance of a second vote on this. I’m retracting what I said. There is nothing wrong with being honest. Government has made it clear that there will be no second vote.”

So now. There is a drape in front of the table so we can’t see if his legs are backpedalling furiously.

Mary Lou McDonald says that the policies to date in government haven’t worked thus far.

There’s going to be a break for the comedian and impressionist John Colleary’s take on the referendum. Then the news. We’ll keep an eye out for fisticuffs here in this room where the temperature is either blood-hot or freezing cold depending on where you’re sitting in the room. And it’s nothing to do with the air conditioning.

The campaigners are all going to have to make a final stab at making a sum-up of their position after 6 o’clock. Micheal Martin and Richard Bruton are finally having a chinwag. Which is nice.

It will be a one-minute pitch each.

Lots of laughter in the room as Today FM’s news bulletin brings up Richard Bruton’s “Ireland will be looking to day, Can we vote again?” quote.

Again, we don’t want to say it but… told you so.

Competition time on Last Word. Top of the range coffee maker prize gets a ‘whoooo’. Clearly, we haven’t left ALL of Celtic Tiger tastes behind.

Questions from Aoife Mullen:

If we fail to ratify the treatment, what happens next?

All eyes to Richard ‘secondreferendum/sorry, no secondreferendum’ Bruton.

Bruton says that basically it would become very difficulty to persuade investors that we would be stable and that we will continue to adjust and that we will be able to build “growth strategies”.

Stating their cases in one minute each:

Nicola Byrne – we are voting on where we are getting money in the future. The No side is deliberately mixing up arguments – she does believe in spending, not saving and getting back to work.

John Douglas: THis is not a Europe the trade union movement signed up for – we signed up for a social Europe – a No vote puts it back on the stage.

Micheal Martin: I believe in the euro and that a Yes vote gives it stability. And it also gives us access to stable funding to keep everything going. There is no need to take a chance by voting No and a Yes vote is “that bit safer”.

Mary Lou McDonald: The treaty won’t work for us, it’s a risky thing to do to hand over so much power to the EC and the European Court of Justice. It will mean up to an additional €6bn of cuts. We need to be part of the “great demand” that is coming from France and other countries that is looking for a change and work for the citizens. Banks can fail but citizens are too big too fail.

Richard Bruton: It gives us certainty for investors, for funding for our public services, we will be part of a EU coming to terms with challenges.

Nigel Farage: The merits of this treaty are that it involves an “unacceptable loss of control”. He says that the “whole game has changed” since the referendum was called and that a new European Union is being called for. “You would look very silly if you had sign up to a treaty” that doesn’t even exist. “Don’t be mugs.”

Oh now.

So that is that. Entertaining, surely, but did you learn anything that helped you make up your mind either way? We’d be interested to hear in the comments.

By the way, the major heckler of Micheal Martin throughout the debate was Hermann Kelly, Nigel Farage’s PR consultant. Micheal Martin “joking” on the way out that he should have had his own consultant in the audience heckling too.


So long for now. We’ll be back with the Referendum Roundup for the day at 9pm.

Stay calm.

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