I recently attended, and greatly enjoyed, a debate organised by Marc Coleman of Newstalk on behalf of the centre-right “National Forum” thinktank. The subject was the Fiscal Treaty, and the speakers were Brian Hayes TD, Minister of state at Finance, Eamon O Cuiv TD, Michael McDowell and Declan Ganley. A few observations:
Brian Hayes gave a pretty stock Vote Yes for Jobs/Send the right signals for FDI speech. Having said that, his speaking style was quite engaging, almost Blairite, and he did have the one killer line that the No campaign either avoid or struggle to engage with: What happens if we need a second bail out? He seemed on top of his brief, and along with Lucinda is beginning to emerge as one of the younger FGers worth watching.
Eamon O Cuiv is an odd fish that I can never quite work out. There seems to be a certain sincerity and thoughtfulness there, yet I can’t help thinking that he has never made a political sacrifice on a point of principle. His point seemed to be that we can blackmail Europe into giving us a deal on promissory notes and corporation tax. Curiously, he seemed to be against federalism but in favour of a federal EU banking regulator.
Declan Ganley was funny and very comfortable with the mantle of European Federalism. I’m not sure I agree with his stance on the FC, which seems to be to play chicken with the rest of Europe, and some aspects of his federalism would worry me, but he deserves credit for laying out a clear vision of the EU and its future direction. He also seems to have lost some of his more agressive style and it has done him good. Irish politics certainly gains from his participation.
Michael McDowell always reminds people when he speaks what we are missing from the Irish political scene. He’s a politican that likes ideas and discussing them, which is very refreshing compared to the “I’m calling for a full scale review” carry on that most Irish Pols offer. He strongly advocated a Yes vote, making the same “Who is going to pay?” argument that Brian Hayes made. He then attacked the concept of a United States of Europe on the grounds that there is no European demos. He made very valid points about the dangers an EU superstate without a real democratic anchor, but having listened, I’m still more with Ganley on this.
One other observation about the evening was the tone of the meeting. I spotted a lot of ex-PDs in the audience, and any mention of the Croke Park Agreement set off the crowd. Marc Coleman gave a pretty fiesty centre-right speech which was notable by its absence on the political arena, outlining a series of positions that a moderate US Republican or British Tory would regard as perfectly reasonable. I don’t say that disparagingly, by the way, what I mean is that it is a pretty disgraceful state of affairs that we don’t have a party advocating a clear centre-right pro-private sector position.
One other thing: Nessa Childers MEP spoke, giving a centre-left analysis. She was heckled a bit, but for the most part listened to. Curiously enough, I have always found right of centre meetings far more tolerant of left wing contributors (and rightly so) than vice versa. Or is that just me? One woman at the back called for a minute’s silence for that poor Greek bastard who took his own life. Do you ever notice how people who call for a minute’s silence always wait until they have exhausted what they want to say, and then want the minute’s silence from someone else’s speaking time? A pet peeve of mine.
You can get more information on the National Forum here. I’m not a member, by the way, but I would go to another meeting if it was a lively as this.