I speak today as a woman, a mother, a Minister, deputy leader of the Labour Party and Director of Elections for the Labour Party’s referendum campaign on the Stability Treaty.
And no matter which of those hats I am wearing, I can give you any number of reasons to vote Yes.
As a woman, I have always looked favourably on the European Union. When Ireland joined the EU, I saw membership as a way of benefiting from all the freedoms which European women enjoyed: the right to work after we got married, the right to equal pay, the right to control our own fertility.
As a mother, I remain delighted that my own daughter and all her generation take those freedoms for granted.
But Europe hasn’t just been good for Irish women; it has been good for us all.
Our participation in the European Union helped us break free from British dominance; helped expand the definition of being Irish; helped us find markets for our goods and services and attracted multinational investors, mainly Americans, to our shores as they sought to gain a toehold for their products and services in the European marketplace.
Our European neighbours have over the years also supported us generously with structural funds so that our economy could catch up with the rest of Europe, bringing unprecedented prosperity on a scale that those who fought for Irish freedom could hardly dare to have dreamed of.
And let us not forget either that the European Union helped form bonds on a continent that had been ravaged by the Second World War – heralding a period not just of unprecedented prosperity, but of great peace as well.
It is true that the financial crash of 2008 has left both Europe and Ireland reeling. As Minister for Social Protection, I see the distress, dashed hopes and hardship caused by the economic crisis. But remember this: the Stability Treaty is designed to help stabilise the situation.
The Department of Social Protection will spend €20.5 billion this year alone to help those who are genuinely in need. Our pensioners. Our disabled. And our unemployed.
We need to be sure that the government will continue to have the money to pay for this humane social welfare system, because unemployment is not going to disappear overnight despite the many good jobs announcements made by the likes of PayPal, Mylan, Apple, Cisco, Amgen and SAP in recent months.
And the last thing we need is to do something that would jeopardise existing jobs or discourage investors from creating the sort of new jobs we’re hearing about every week.
IDA chief executive Barry O’Leary is urging people to vote Yes because he says that by voting Yes, we will be eliminating any conceivable doubt about our relationship with Europe in to the future.
That is exactly what I also hear when I talk to multinational employers in my own constituency and all around the country. They say one of the main reasons they continue to locate in Ireland is because they believe we are totally committed to the European Union.
Why do we have this Treaty? Well, because late last year the euro currency – the currency in which the Department of Social Protection pays pensions, jobseekers allowance, disability allowances – was in real trouble. It was genuinely close to collapse and European governments had to respond.
What twenty-five European countries – including everyone using the euro – proposed was the Stability Treaty.
A treaty designed to stabilise our euro and set out how countries work together and help each other. The Treaty has rules for good housekeeping so hard-earned taxpayers’ money is managed properly.
The opponents of the Treaty suggest that good budgetary housekeeping will in some way undermine growth and investment. But we only have to look to the examples of the Nordic countries and Germany to show how good housekeeping, economic growth and social investment can go hand in hand.
Voting Yes to the Treaty gives us access to the new bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism – the ESM. We hope and intend to say goodbye to the Troika on time next year and raise money again in a normal way – but what if circumstances mean we can’t?
I want to be sure that there’s money there to cover the €20.5 billion we are spending on social protection.
I cannot understand why anyone would choose to walk a tightrope without a safety net, in this case the €700 ESM billion safety net.
Sinn Fein and their hard left allies can’t say where they would get the money to run the country. Richard Boyd Barrett let the cat of the bag when he said he would find the money by increasing taxes by €10 billion next year.
I would far prefer to have certain access to a €700 billion insurance policy than to impose such a huge tax burden on our citizens at such a difficult time.
There is a big advantage of staying the course with Europe. For starters, collective action to boost growth and investment offers a much better prospect to restore the health of national budgets than going it alone.
I am heartened by the election of President Francois Hollande, a fellow socialist who sees investment and growth as a key to unlocking our common futures.
Our previous experience of such joint European action through the Regional and Social funds was entirely positive. Our roads and colleges are the legacy of those funds that we continue to enjoy today.
Ireland is not alone in its current troubles. Bank debts and unemployment haunt many European economies. There is a lot more to be done to help beleaguered countries I believe we are far better off making that case along with like-minded Governments inside the European tent than being a lone voice outside.
As deputy leader and director of elections for the Labour Party, my message to you is to Vote Yes in the Stability Treaty Referendum on 31 May.
Voting Yes will promote stability in the Irish economy and will enhance a stable euro – our currency, the money in your pocket.
Voting Yes will increase investor confidence in Ireland.
Voting Yes will give us guaranteed access to funds if we need them. The ESM is our insurance policy as we work out way out of the bailout programme and return to the markets.
Voting Yes is simply a matter of good housekeeping. It will ensure responsible budgeting so that we never have a repeat of the economic mismanagement of the past.
Voting Yes gives us the certainty we need as women, mothers, politicians and citizens to plan for a certain future for Ireland and for Europe.