Taking on that ‘political cartel’

Declan Ganley – Libertas

Declan Ganley is following up his victory in the Lisbon Treaty referendum with a campaign to win a seat in the European Parliament for Libertas.

How is the election campaign going?

It’s going good. As you can see all the other parties understand that the alternative is us. (Laughs) Which is why they all spend so much time attacking me. I suppose I take that as a compliment because they recognise that we are a serious threat to the political cartel in this country which has got us into the mess that we’re in right now.

The fact is that this government hasn’t worked, we know that. The other thing that hasn’t worked is the opposition in this country. The opposition is supposed to oppose, to challenge and to come up with alternative ideas and what the opposition is proposing is to move the deck chairs around on the Titanic.

Has your own style of campaigning become more combative?

I don’t think so. Perhaps an outsider looking in might think so. I take an entrepreneurial brain to the process, I look at things analytically and I call them what they are. If people don’t like that – tough. I’m not going to sugar-coat the truth. We have to face up to reality and come up with solutions.

But will you be able to affect much change by going to the European parliament?

Well, the European Parliament up until now has been markedly ineffective and there’s a few reasons for that. Firstly, there’s ineffective people in it, with some notable exceptions. 

Also, MEPs get away with stuff that you wouldn’t get away with in a functioning parliament. A number of Irish MEPs voted, for example, against details of their expenses being published in March this year. They did it because they believed they would get away with it, that nobody would be watching.

Yet you think the European Parliament is important?

Most people don’t understand that around 80 per cent of our laws and regulations are initiated in Brussles by people we can’t hold accountable in the ballot box. The European Parliament can’t initiate laws, only the Commission can do that. 

The other reason why it’s so absolutely ineffective is that the parliament has over 700 seats taken up by around 190 political parties, because all of the political parties are national parties. With the best will in the world if superman won a seat for Fine Gael or Fianna Fail, he couldn’t get anything done because he’s going to be only one out of 700. 

Libertas doesn’t seem to have a place on the political spectrum. Are you left or right?

A bit of both. We’re all guilty of trying to pigeonhole new ideas and movements. People try to fit new things into old boxes. 

It would be like trying to describe to somebody fifty years ago what a Blackberry does. Is it a telephone? Is it an entertainment device? Something you get letters on? Something that delivers the news?

Like Libertas, you can’t describe it because you’ve never seen it before. We aim to be the party of common sense. If we need state intervention in a particular area then we’re not going to get hung up on ideology. In the same way the market is a good thing if it’s allowed to function properly.

One of the problems in Brussles, for example, is the amount of lobbying that goes on for various private interests. There are more than 15,000 lobbyists in Brussles without any no legal requirement to register. That ends up stifling real competition in the market place.

Are you a eurosceptic?

Our opponents want to label us as anti-European because that would make it easy for them. But we’re not – not even remotely. The fact is that we’re committedly pro-European and that annoys some people on the eurosceptic side as well. It’s why we get attacked by UKIP (UK Independence Party), Jean Marie le Pen and other unpleasant organisations. 

The difference between the Europe that Libertas wants and the Europe that the political cartel wants to see is that we want Europe to be built on a foundation of democratic accountability.

The other parties can’t become pan-European in the way that Libertas can because there’s so many of them.

How can Libertas appeal to a broad swathe of opinion from, say, people who are pro-life to people who are pro-choice?

Libertas will adhere very strictly to the policy and practice of subsidiarity. Those policies are absolutely the preserve of the member states, none of Brussles’ business. People can have a variety of private opinions but the key thing is to keep the EU out of those matters.

The opinion polls on the Lisbon Treaty don’t seem to be going your way. Are you concerned?

No. The opinion polls were wrong before. They’re just a snapshot in time and they are not reflected in poll results, especially in referendums.

Would you be concerned that people might be frightened by the current recession into backing the Lisbon Treaty?

Well the truth is that if we were to accept the Lisbon Treaty we would do ourselves enormous economic damage. The fact is that we have a bunch of ‘eejits in government and opposition who still don’t seem to have read the document. These are proven economic illiterates, so why would people think that they are right about this when they were  wrong about everything else. 

The Lisbon Treaty is all about harmonisation in areas that are not in Ireland’s interests. We are on the geographical periphery of Europe, we’re not smack bang in the middle of it, we’re not on the rail or road networks. We need to keep a large degree of economic flexibility. 

If there was a free vote on this anywhere in Europe now it would be the same result that Ireland delivered.

You stated that Libertas hopes to gain up to 100 seats in the European Parliament. Is that credible?

We are running over 300 candidates right across Europe. Some are sitting MEPs but not that many. We have very good candidates. We have former prime ministers, former finance ministers, business leaders, national political figures, people from the media, people from the law. We’ve got a lot of experience and we’re not part of this tyranny of mediocrity.

Are you surprised at the level of hostility directed at you from parts of the media and the political world?

No.  The fact is that we, and others, took on the political cartel, who have run a ‘Punch and Judy’ show which is supposed to pass for political debate here and we changed that. 

What you find is that the political parties, Fianna Fail and Fianna Fail lite tend to focus their attack on us. They recognise that we are something completely different.

How should Ireland respond to the downturn?

We can’t keep ourselves holed up in a corner. We’ve got to come out swinging, all of us, and assert the fire that has been inherent in Irish people throughout history. We will pull out of this and we will end up in a better place.

Recognising we can do that is prerequisite number one to the challenge of getting ourselves out of the mess we are temporarily in. 

And the reason we are only temporarily in this mess is that when we challenge this bunch of economic illiterates who are running this country and the bunch of economic illiterates sitting opposite them, we will break this political cartel and come up with some really fresh ideas and breathe some oxygen into the political system, we can do some great things.