Once more into the breach on the Lisbon Treaty
Deaglán de Bréadún
Mamma mia, here we go again, another Lisbon referendum, if the heavy hints being dropped by Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin are anything to go by. He said on RTE last night a decision on the issue would be made in advance of the next EU summit in Brussels on 11 and 12 December.
The conventional wisdom is that it won’t be held before the autumn although there have been suggestions in senior political circles of late that the coming spring might be a good time to “get it out of the way”.
Many people will feel a certain weariness of spirit at the prospect of having to go through the debate again. The same tired old issues keep cropping up with the same arguments getting the same responses.
The latest Irish Times/TNS mrbi, published today, shows that if we could retain ”our” member of the European Commission and if there were reassuring declarations on abortion, neutrality and taxation, the majority of respondents would vote Yes next time.
The poll figures are 43 per cent Yes, 39 per cent No and 18 per cent with no opinion. When the “Don’t Knows” are excluded, this gives you 52.5 per cent Yes and 47.5 per cent No. There is a big class divide: among the AB social groups, it’s 57-27 for Yes but at the D and E levels it’s the other way round with only 29 per cent voting Yes and 47 per cent voting No.
One suspects immigration is a factor here. The Nice Treaty opened the door to many central and east Europeans to come to Ireland to make their living. They have made a terrific contribution to our economy, culture and society but it hasn’t always gone down well with the less well-off among the indigenous population who see their livelihoods as being under threat.
I don’t have statistical data to hand but my empirical impression is that many of our immigrants have left, now that the economy and the all-important building trade are in precipitate decline. Ironically that may help the passage of any future Lisbon referendum.
While the Yes side will be encouraged by the poll findings, the actual campaign could change all that. Whether one agrees with them or not, the No people have traditionally been more energetic and imaginative in EU referendums. The last Yes campaign, with some exceptions, was a tired and halfhearted affair. To rework an old saying, “The No side doesn’t win EU referendums, the Yes side loses them.”
The present writer has probably tapped out more articles on his computer keyboard about EU matters than any other journalist based in Ireland and it’s an uphill struggle trying to spark people’s interest in the subject. There is very little interest in or commitment to the European ideal in this country for reasons one could well speculate about. Maybe it’s the fact that the South stayed out of the second World War and the people do not understand or appreciate the role of the EU in maintaining peace in Europe. Maybe it’s the education system. Even some of our senior politicians don’t seem to have a good grasp of how the EU works. Until we see people emerging on the Yes side who have the same zeal, commitment and singlemindedness as Declan Ganley and the Cóir activists – whatever one’s views of their politics – the prospects for getting the Treaty passed will remain uncertain.
Deaglán de Bréadún