Tánaiste's address at the launch of the third volume of the Government and Politics Review, UCC

Address by the Tánaiste at the launch of the third volume of the Government and Politics Review. University College Cork, Department of Government, 1 March 2012

(Check against delivery) 

I am very happy to be here today to launch the UCC Government and Politics Society’s ‘Government and Politics Review 2012’. I am also very pleased to see this large group of students and academics from UCC and other universities around Ireland.

I know that the Politics Society aims to engage UCC students in European issues and I believe this journal is a significant and constructive way to achieve this goal.

The Government is committed to building public understanding and knowledge about Ireland’s EU membership.  A part of this is the Communicating Europe Initiative, under which the Politics Society received funding towards this publication. I applaud the Society for its foresight in bringing out this publication and I look forward to reading the individual contributions in the journal itself. Included in these I see are articles relating to the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy and also Development Aid, subjects at the forefront of the work of my Department. I would also hope to have the opportunity to meet some of the contributors themselves later.

In the time available today I am going to confine my remarks to progress being made on two key issues of vital interest to us at tomorrow’s European Council - the jobs and growth agenda; and the new ‘Fiscal Compact’ Treaty. I will finish with some thoughts on our Presidency of the EU in the first half of next year.

Since this Government took office our absolute priority has been to secure Ireland’s economic recovery and to ensure employment for our people. Our membership of the European Union – and playing a full, active and influential part at its heart – is an essential part of the work that needs to be done if Ireland is to get back to where it wants to be.

The outcome from the informal European Council on 30 January last on growth and jobs was important, not just for Ireland but across the EU generally. There is now a real appreciation at the highest European level of the urgent need to focus fully on growth-generating policies, not just as a counter-balance to discipline and austerity, but as an essential element of any sustainable programme of recovery.

The European Council focused on three key areas – unemployment, especially among young people; the Single Market; and SMEs.

On the employment front the Commission is now setting up ‘Action Teams’ to work with Member States with above average rates of youth unemployment, including Ireland, to improve job opportunities for young people.

With regard to the SME sector our main concerns have been to ensure access to finance and reducing red tape. These must be addressed if SMEs, the engines of economic recovery, are to be able to fulfil their potential.

We have also taken a highly targeted approach in our initiatives - including the reduction in VAT on tourism services; the cut in PRSI for employers of low earners; and the reform of our bankruptcy laws – aiming specifically at those measures most likely to contribute to growth and recovery.

Reaching agreement on the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union, the so called Fiscal Compact, was another equally important milestone.

The purpose of this new Treaty is to strengthen the rules governing how countries in the Eurozone manage their economies. The 17 countries, including Ireland, which use the euro, have decided that rules about national debt levels and deficits must be tightened and if one country breaks the rules, it should be easier for the other countries to ensure that it corrects its actions. We need to do this to bring stability to our currency we share – the euro.

This is good news for Ireland and other countries using the euro that are playing by the rules. Ireland is doing what we promised to do. We are reducing our deficit and we are on track to bring our national debt under control. This is painful for everybody in Ireland, but it has to be done. Otherwise we would just make our problems far worse for us in the future and worse for future generations.

While much, if not most, of the Treaty is already provided for in the EU Treaties and existing EU law – including the provisions of the Stability and Growth Pact as strengthened by the six legislative measures adopted last year – setting it out in a new Treaty takes it onto a new level in ensuring that everyone will play by the rules and be held to account if they don’t.

It is important that the Treaty recognise that law making processes and traditions - including at a Constitutional level - vary from country to country and have to be accommodated when we agree to act together. The arrangements for entry into force provide that the Treaty will enter into force on 1 January 2013, providing that 12 euro area Member States have ratified it. Member States will then have a further year to transpose its contents into their national law.

As everyone here will be aware the Taoiseach said in the Dáil last Tuesday that he will sign the Fiscal Compact treaty tomorrow and that arrangements for a referendum on the issue will be held in the coming weeks. The advice of the Attorney General has been that, on balance, a referendum should be held.

In the coming weeks, the Government will finalise the arrangements for this referendum, including the establishment of a referendum commission to ensure adequate public information is provided.

I am very confident that, when the importance and merits of this treaty are communicated to the Irish people, they will endorse it emphatically by voting Yes to continued economic recovery and stability.

In ten month’s time Ireland will take over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union.  

Ireland has held the Presidency on six previous occasions, most recently in 2004.  During the first decades of our membership, our reputation in Europe and indeed internationally, was shaped in part by how we successfully managed these Presidencies. 

Ireland showed that it could manage the challenging agenda of the EU competently, fairly and effectively.  We demonstrated that what a small country could achieve and proved to the rest of Europe what we in Ireland were capable of.  

We will be seeking to do this again in 2013 by running an effective, impartial and cost-effective Presidency. 

Our Presidency in 2013 comes at a challenging time for both Ireland and Europe.  The issues that affect our country today are also European questions.  Most Member States across the EU have been affected by the global economic crisis.  Worries and concerns about unemployment and economic growth affect citizens not just in Ireland, but also across Europe. 

The economic crisis demonstrated how interlinked our economies are.  And this is why the crisis demonstrates how important the EU is to finding a solution.  We cannot tackle economic issues in isolation.  As in the past, Member States and the Union will emerge from the crisis by working together and acting together in solidarity. 

This is why the Presidency is so important.  In 2013 we will seek to address the issues that most concern citizens and governments across Ireland and the EU today.  Making the Europe more competitive, restoring strong and sustainable economic growth, creating jobs and sustaining the EU’s social systems will be the main objectives of the Irish Presidency in 2013. 

But we also plan to use the Presidency to drive action on issues of particular importance to Ireland, including fighting hunger and poverty and supporting development in the poorest parts of the world.  

We also hope to address other issues which affect us all across the EU, such as fighting climate change, tackling cross border crime and assuring energy security. 

I believe that EU membership is good for Ireland and is a central element of our economic recovery and future development.  In addition to our Presidencies, Irish citizens have traditionally played a strong role in the European institutions, including in shaping and defining EU legislation. I hope that some of you will consider choosing a career working in one of the European institutions; there are many opportunities open in a range of fields and I know that a new graduate level competition will be starting in a couple of weeks time. 

We have contributed a great deal in the past to shaping today’s EU, and I firmly believe that we have can do so again in the future.  But this will be up to you.  How do you view Ireland’s engagement with Europe over the next four decades?  How do you want the EU to evolve in the future?  Do you think you can use your skills and abilities to follow in the footsteps of other Irish nationals who have sought, at home and abroad, to work to shape the EU? 

In conclusion, I am very happy to be here today, not just to give this address, but to have the opportunity to engage with you, not only the issue of Ireland’s current place in Europe, but where we hope to be in the coming years as we emerge from our present financial and economic difficulties.

 

 

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