Lady Bracknell and the Lisbon Treaty
Deaglán de Bréadún
My late and much-missed Irish Times colleague Dick Walsh wrote a very useful and interesting book about Fianna Fail, entitled The Party. His father had been a founder-member and throughout his life Dick was fascinated by the Soldiers of Destiny. Over the years they developed characteristics that Dick found distasteful, yet they kept on getting elected again and again and again. As he points out in his book, the very people who had opposed the establishment of the Free State by force of arms went on to take over its institutions and remould them in their own image. FF has now been in power for 23 out of the past 30 years and their bottoms have only occasionally warmed the opposition benches over the past three-quarters of a century.
That’s why one must greet with some scepticism the airy predictions that a second referendum will be held on the Lisbon Treaty. Admirers of the EU project naturally wish to see Ireland at the centre of things and regret this blot on our escutcheon as model Europeans. But at the end of the day the side with the most votes wins and there are reasons to doubt that the Lisbon result can be reversed next time around.
Certainly, mid-level contacts in Fianna Fail are openly sceptical about the chances of turning things around with a second run at the polls. Indeed, observers both inside and outside the party have expressed the view that there is a new mood among the public that is dubious about politicians in general, feels alienated from the ruling elite (with “the meeja” seen as part of that) and believes it did not get a fair share of Celtic Tiger largesse.
They weren’t prepared to take it out on FF in the general election because they feared the consequences of bringing in new, untried management to run the economy. So they used Lisbon to give their rulers a risk-free rabbit-punch. A reheated Lisbon presented to the voters next spring could well get the same response.
That would have major implications for Europe but, even more importantly in the eyes of Fianna Fail, it would have serious consequences for them. As Oscar Wilde’s inimitable Lady Bracknell might say, “To lose one referendum could be seen as a misfortune, to lose two would look like carelessness.” There would be Opposition calls on Brian Cowen to resign and, even if he stayed on, the local and European elections next summer would probably go much worse than expected. The prospect of the Government lasting its full term would be very slim indeed.
Needless to say, other EU leaders are keen for Cowen to dip his toe in the scalding water again. Germany’s Chancellor Merkel is understood to have pressed the case particularly strongly. There are rumblings about a new strategy to “put the frighteners” on the electorate with dire warnings about exclusion from the European club but Irish voters are a stubborn lot and this approach could well prove counter-productive.
And then there’s the economy. No politician likes going to the polls when the indicators are going the wrong way and that includes promoting a Treaty that has already been rejected. Fianna Fail did not achieve its overwhelming dominance in this State with moves like that and will think long and hard before taking the risk again.
#Deaglán de Bréadún, Political Correspondent, The Irish Times, is author of The Far Side of Revenge: Making Peace in Northern Ireland, recently published in a second edition by Collins Press, Cork (www.collinspress.ie)