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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: September 2, 2008 @ 6:53 pm

    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

    • Brian Boru says:

      I think you are correct in saying we have dug our heels in against further European integration. But so too did the French and Dutch electorates and their govts and national parliaments pushed ahead anyway under a renamed Treaty that Cowen and Bertie admit is over 90% the same as the rejected EU Constitution. Unless there is an optout from the Charter I will vote no again, because the ECJ is increasingly interpreting existing EU law in an overly integrationist manner and I don’t want to wait to see how they will interpret the Charter. But realistically, what can the other govts do if we stick with our rejection of the treaty? The legal position is that unless all ratify, it doesn’t come into force. I don’t feel isolated from voting no. Those who are really isolated are the political-elites from the European citizen/

    • An Fear Bolg says:

      I heard on Drivetime the other day, when Cowen was attending the emergency Commission summit, that his stock answer for everyone (media and foreign governments) in relation to questioning on Lisbon was that research was being carried out, would be provided to the Government soon and that they would reflect on it.

      This is incomprehensible. A private company is carrying out market research/opinion polling and the government will read the results. This is the government response? How utterly pathetic.

      Lisbon might be a big nail in his coffin but it is only symptomatic of this paralysed government. I am an FF supporter but cannot believe the complete uselessness that has taken hold under Cowen.

    • Deaglán says:

      I think, Fear Bolg (a Fhir Bhoilg?), you are being a tiny bit unreasonable. The people voted Yes or No but did not give their reasons on the ballot-paper. It is reasonable that the Government should seek to ascertain the main reasons the Treaty was rejected. They will then presumabley seek to address those objections by securing declarations, protocols or whatever. Some on the No side argued for a renegotiation of the entire Treaty although this would be darned awkward given that so many member-States have ratified it, albeit via parliament rather than in a referendum. In response to Brian Boru, can I say that an opt-out from the Charter of Fundamental Rights is very unlikely, because the trade union movement is very attached to it. Deaglán

    • An Fear Bolg says:

      We know what the reasons for the No vote were – the problem is that they are many, varied and mostly stupid (not being a politician or journalist I have the luxury of such flippancy/straight talking).

      The research will show 5% anti-dead-pretty-sonds, 5% anti-abortion, 5% anti-drugs-and-prostitution, 5% anti-anti-religion-dirty-secular-EU, 40% just anti-EU, 60% random-collection-of-naysayers.

      What then? It’s time for leadership, not mob rule. Only a general election would really sort his out, á la Sarkozy, who made it a core part of his campaign to pass a new Treaty without referendum.

    • Brian Boru says:

      Well Deaglan, whatever the outcome of their research any amended treaty should again be put to a referendum. Any attempt to get around the no vote through legislative ratification will only further alienate Irish voters from the EU and possibly from the politicians that try it. It would also amount to forcing on 3 nations (us, France and Holland) a template we had rejected, and in my opinion would be anti-democratic. If the EU is going to lecture other countries on democracy – which it often does – then it should practice what it preaches.

    • Paul Henri CADIER says:

      I don’t know about you Deaglán, but I find all this “Paddy bashing” and sheer menace being exerted on the Irish people, frankly despicable. If such pressure was being exerted by the former colonial power rather than by the institutions of the EU, there would be an outcry. And rightly so.
      It is not the other peoples of Europe who are asking you to “think again” about Lisbon but their political élites. Sarkozy admitted as much to Declan Ganley, that if referendums were held across Europe on Lisbon they would all have come to the same conclusion as the Irish!

      When politicians ignore the wishes of their people they are dangerously “betting against the house” in the same way hedge-fund managers did (precipitating the global financial meltdown).

      That domino has already fallen. Questions are being asked by “the People” about the competence of their “expert élites” and the answers are unsatisfactory. The global supra-national system is in the dock and the politicians, bankers and civil servants are worried and hanging together rather than hanging separately.

      Long live Vaclav Klaus! However, if he continues to express the opinions of ordinary Europeans, in such an outspoken manner, I have my doubts.

    • Cash gifting says:

      Hmm I think the answer is “no” as some people already explained!

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