Speech by Brian Hayes MEP to the MacGill Summer School – Friday 21st July, Glenties
“Enda Kenny once remarked that Ireland could become the best small country in the world to do business in. My vision for my country is that Ireland could become the best small country in the world in which to live in. A country that could change ahead of time. A country that was genuinely a meritocratic society. A country that prepared for hard times. A country that valued every person and was a beacon internationally for the decent society. A bridge between old and new Europe. And the essence of the plan – a five point plan if you like.
So my five point plan consists of the following,
1. The need for centre ground politics.
2. Why Ireland needs a new relationship with the EU.
3. Ireland a core country of the Eurozone.
4. The relentless need to benchmark ourselves.
1. The Need for Centre Ground Politics
“I don’t believe we can move forward as a country, even with the wind in our sail, unless we have a government that enjoys majority support in the Dáil. For whatever reason, it’s not in our political DNA to reach out and compromise – yet we need it now more than ever.
“After the next election, what is really needed is a majority in the Dáil over a five year period. The only logical centre ground government has to be FG/FF in a grand coalition for a 5-year term. I believe such a government could make the right choices for the next generation sure in the knowledge that they would have a working majority in the Dail. It works in other countries it can work here. In the meantime it’s in the interest of centre ground politics that the current government lasts as long as it can and, Fine Gael’s perspective it’s crucial that it does not take FF for granted.
2. A new relationship with the EU
“Brexit, a more optimistic view of the Eurozone and defeat for now of the hard right in some countries – provides a good back drop for Europe right now. Suddenly the EU is not looking as sick as it did. As Europe comes back from the financial crisis – just like Ireland – I believe we need to pivot to Europe. That our attitude needs to change. That our politics needs to take the EU politics much more seriously. We are one of the oldest EU member states. We need to build new partnerships from the Baltics to the Benelux countries. We need to review our contribution to EU security while having a mature debate about our traditional policy on neutrality.
Our own difficulties around the collapse of the country in 2010/2011 have conveniently allowed many people to believe that it was all the EU’s fault. That the debt was imposed upon us to save German banks or that in some way we could have dodged the bailout had the EU intervened. All of that is economic and political fairytale. The reason Ireland entered a financial assistance programme was because our tax base collapsed, based on a big fat property bubble. Europe didn’t guarantee the banks; we did.
3. Making Ireland a core Eurozone country
“Being part of the Eurozone core is something we should strive for. That means getting our debt down well below 60% of GDP – I think we should aim for 40% within the next 10 years. Yes our debt levels are very high. But a decade of sustained growth – averaging out at 3% – would make a great difference in reducing the actual debt and the cost of servicing debt.
“The key priority right now – must be about getting to a balanced budget next year – what a remarkable achievement that would be. What many commentators do not fully appreciate is that under the Fiscal rules, we will have reached our Medium Term Objective if we achieve this next year and then all the talk about the restrictiveness on fiscal space will fade away. By getting to a balanced budget you then have the flexibility under the existing rules. Until we reach a balanced budget, the expenditure benchmark rule limits our spending levels.
4. The need for benchmarking.
“In the future what’s needed for Ireland is a relentless benchmarking exercise – comparing ourselves against what other similar sized EU countries are doing. They can also learn from us.
“We also must ensure that real growth in current expenditure should never exceed where we see real GDP growth in the economy. We should also make sure, in so far as possible, that increases in expenditure are not of the permanent variety. We should put aside as much as possible for the rainy day, preparing for the worst. And finally we need to respect the advice of the Fiscal Advisory Council.
5. Going global is good for Ireland.
“The one country in the EU that has gained most from globalisation is Ireland. Yes you can become fragile as the world economy dips, but the upside brings real prosperity. We have no fear in embracing globalisation. We are better educated and have an enormous FDI footprint which helps our trade and our connection to the rest of world.
“In the 8 years since 2008, world trade has only increased by half the rate in comparison with the 8 years before. 90% of growth this year is not in the EU. Europe needs trade deals like TTIP and CETA – freeing up markets and opening up trade – as part of its comeback since the financial crisis. And Ireland is perfectly located as an English speaking bridge to the US to help Europe deliver on trade.