Could Lisbon be Cowen’s downfall?
Deaglán de Bréadún
The more I read of the debate on Lisbon and its aftermath, the more it seems we are at a crossroads in Irish political life. The irresistible force has finally met the immovable object.
The force in question is the drive towards deeper and closer integration of the EU member-states. The immovable object is the Irish electorate which seems to have finally dug its heels in and said, by a sizeable majority, “Thus far and no further.”
Something’s gotta give. Given that so many other states have ratified the Treaty, it is unlikely Europe is going to “back off”. But there is no knowing how that volatile creature, Public Opinion, will react to attempts at revisiting the Treaty.
I have written already that I do not believe the Government will go the parliamentary route, viz., ratifying the essentials of the Treaty by legislation in the Dáil and Seanad and perhaps holding a referendum on some other aspects. It is undeniably attractive but probably unconstitutional, although I am told this option is being seriously considered by elements on the Yes side.
My best guess is that Brian Cowen will go for a referendum in the autumn of next year. There will be declarations or protocols attached to reassure the voters on issues like neutrality, taxation, etc.
Like any seasoned politician, he will be thinking of two things: 1) the local and European elections in midsummer 2009 and 2) the next general election. From the Government’s viewpoint (as well as Fine Gael’s) it would be very risky politically to hold the second referendum before or in parallel with the locals and “Euros”. Meanwhile, Declan Ganley and his friends in Libertas could complicate things if they run candidates for the European Parliament.
If the referendum were held in, say, October next year and the Yes side lost, there would not necessarily have to be an immediate general election. Sure, it would be a blow to Cowen but it would be a setback for Fine Gael also, which is traditionally the most pro-EU party in the Dail.
In the meantime, the pro-Lisbon parties will have to find ways of softening-up public opinion so that the voters will accept the Treaty next time round. A very tall order this, given the state of the economy and the general mood of disillusionment and discontent with the political establishment.
At the end of the day, to borrow a favourite phrase from Albert Reynolds, politicians need to get re-elected. Even the fate of the EU comes in second place to that. Whatever about a united Ireland, our political leaders will not give their political lives for a united Europe!
P.S. Has anyone out there any info on the authorship of the hilarious YouTube parody, analysed in The Irish Times here? Although not for the sensitive or squeamish, it’s a masterly piece of satire, based on the Hitler biopic Downfall, with Der Fuhrer employing Cowen-style four-letter words to berate his subordinates after the “fall of Lisbon”.
Deaglán de Bréadún, Political Correspondent, The Irish Times and 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