Fresh from his first encounter of taking leaders’ questions on behalf of the Technical Group, Thomas Pringle is adamant that Ireland’s approach to Europe needs to change.
He had asked the Tánaiste why the Government won’t make an application for funding to the European Financial Stability Mechanism in 2013, thereby ensuring future funding and by-passing the need to access the European Stability Mechanism (ESM). The Tánaiste insisted that, while the Government wants to get back to the markets, the ESM will be the only funding available after 2013 and is needed as a “safety net”.
Pringle is so dubious of the ESM Treaty that he is taking legal action against the Government and the Attorney General for agreeing to ratify it without a referendum. Instead, the Government intends to ratify the ESM Treaty and to approve an amendment to Article 136 of the Lisbon Treaty (to allow a stability mechanism to be created), after the outcome of the Fiscal Treaty referendum is known.
Member states will be required to pay €80 billion in five equal instalments to the ESM. Ireland is required to pay instalments of €1.27 billion. The ESM may decide to accelerate these instalment payments. Pringle is wary that this decision has already been made as a statement from the Eurogroup of finance ministers on 30 March states that member states will pay their initial capital in five instalments over a two year period instead of a five year period i.e. July and October 2012, two in 2013 and one in the first half of 2014. The statement also says that payment of the initial capital may be further accelerated.
Explaining his rationale, Pringle tells eolas: “An amendment to Article 136 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, effectively the Lisbon Treaty, will be done by a simplified procedure, which basically means that they don’t have to go through referenda or constitutional issues.” He acknowledges that amendments are provided for under Lisbon, “but only where the union isn’t taking any extra competencies onto itself.” He argues that because the ESM would be a totally independent institution under the European Union, the union “is taking on massive competencies.”
Pringle “will be arguing that the ordinary amendment procedure should have been followed.” This would have meant a referendum in Ireland, which, he believes, the Government and other European leaders “want to avoid at all costs.”
Despite the fact he is an independent TD, with no party backing, he is determined to follow through regardless of Enda Kenny’s commitment to “vigorously” defend the Government’s position. “If my action is successful, the European Stability Mechanism probably won’t be established,” he reflects.
An alternative Europe
While Ireland has the Constitution as its “basic rule book”, European institutions must “get back to the rule of law,” Pringle believes.
“I think the European Union has the potential to be a union of equals and a union of partners,” he explains. However, the removal of democratically elected leaders in Greece and Italy, to be replaced with “technocrats”, are “very serious developments” that “go to the heart of the so-called democratic union that we are supposed to be a part of.”
Pringle contends that “member states and citizens need to be aware that they have recourse to the rule of law because if we don’t have that then it becomes a dictatorship where ‘might is right’.”
When it is put to him that the European Parliament is directly elected and acts as a moderator to the unelected Commission, Pringle responds: “The Parliament has no power. It is like a county council.”
The Parliament’s latest President Martin Schulz (elected in January 2012) wants the Parliament to become “a counter power” that can stand up to the European Council and exert pressure on the European Commission.
A resolution outlining the Parliament’s requirements for the Fiscal Compact Treaty was passed by 433 to 124 on 2 February.
The Government’s performance to date has been “very poor,” according to the TD who un-seated former Tánaiste Mary Coughlan. It has been “abysmal” at protecting those who need protecting such as the unemployed. “They have targeted those people for the cutbacks that have to take place and have made a conscious decision not to tax the people who can afford it.” By focusing on foreign direct investment, the Government is ignoring the domestic and “real” economy, he claims.
The decline in GNP “shows where the real haemorrhage is taking place and where the real pain is being felt in society.”
Despite it being “a cliché”, Pringle acknowledges that “we need to get people back to work.”
In terms of job potential, a report by the Western Development Commission estimated that between now and 2020 “they could create 18,000 additional jobs in the north west’s creative sector, simply by assisting them in exporting and creating an online presence.”
He is currently drafting a private member’s Bill to amend the PSRI so that, by making extra contributions, self-employed people would be able to claim jobseeker’s benefit if their business closes or they are out of work. “I want to develop a mechanism to allow them to have that safety net, which would encourage more people to get back into self-employment or entrepreneurship.”
Job opportunities also exist in agriculture “which is basically mired in EU and environmental reports which is stifling it completely.” When it is put to him that the Agriculture Minister intends to encourage more young farmers and farm businesses (see pages 8-10), Pringle argues: “There are 90 Natura bays which are designated as special areas of conservation around the country. A lot would have potential and existing agricultural businesses that can’t get licensed because of blockages in the department.”
Like the other independents, he is opposed to the €100 household charge as it stands. An alternative would be “a property tax that was linked to people’s income and the value of their properties and was equitable.” When asked whether it was irresponsible to encourage people to break the law by not paying it, Pringle responds: “No, I don’t think so. When the first Dáil sat in 1919, they broke the law. If a law is unjust, I think you have the right to oppose it.”
While the tendency in opposition is to protest, Pringle believes protest politics must be accompanied by “positive ideas and suggestions.”
Pringle was a Sinn Féin councillor from 2002 to 2007. He is quiet when asked what his relationship with the party is like now. “They are in opposition like myself.” Why did he leave? “I left for a number of different reasons. I’ve been in politics for 13 years and in Sinn Féin for [five] of them and it’s the only issue that people are interested in,” he laughs. “It wasn’t what I expected it would be when I joined.”
Pringle spends his spare time with his wife Caroline and three children. He relaxes by reading and is currently on the final book in the Hunger Games trilogy. “The greatest thing” for him is Thursday evenings “when you start to go over the Pettigo road and you see the mountains and you know you’re home.”
Tags: Positive protest
Date posted: Monday, May 28th, 2012 at 7:53 pm