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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: October 5, 2009 @ 9:56 pm

    A Last Word on Lisbon

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    There was a stark contrast between Dublin Castle last Saturday and the same place in June 2008, when the No side won the first Lisbon referendum. This time the place was like a morgue. Last time, photographers literally almost came to blows trying to take pictures of Gerry Adams and his colleagues in Sinn Féin.


    Give us an aul’ smile, Brian (Photo by Alan Betson)

    Last time it was Niamh Uí Bhriain who was hoisted on the Cóir people’s shoulders when the final official result was announced, this time it was Professor Brigid Laffan being carried aloft by the Ireland for Europe organisation.

    I predicted in the final weeks that the result would be 58-42 for the Yes side but the scale of the victory took everyone by surprise.

    The Yes people were actually quite nervous up to the end. This was more of a reflection of the effort they had put in this time, rather than a realistic assessment of the state of play. The economic house is in danger of going up in flames and the punters are looking to Europe to send in the fire brigade – which it already has, in the form of the European Central Bank and its support for the Nama project.

    There were no mobs around Adams this time: SF should probably have pocketed the gain on the commissionership and claimed the credit whilst advocating a Yes vote this time. It would have been smart politics although some of their supporters would have been upset. The EU has been a big supporter of the peace process in the North.

    Although he did not look particularly cheerful, it was a good day for Brian Cowen. At last he has won something, since taking over as Taoiseach.

    Normal business can now resume. The Greens will be agonising about their future on Saturday. Ceann Comhairle John O’Donoghue is in the firing-line over expenses. In the meantime, some may care to ponder and even react to my own thoughts on the result, as published in today’s paper:-


    ANALYSIS: Persuasion rather than bullying paid off for the winning side this time, writes DEAGLÁN de BRÉADÚN , Political Correspondent

    THE SIMPLE explanation for the dramatic turnaround on the Lisbon Treaty is contained in the timeworn phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

    The scale of our economic misfortunes that emerged in the period since the last vote in June 2008 undoubtedly played a critical role. But even a team playing with the wind at its back still has to win scores and the approach of various political and civic players made a significant contribution to the victory of the Yes side.

    As with the second Nice treaty referendum back in 2002, there was a more determined approach by Yes campaigners, born out of a realisation that this was their last chance. At his final press conference, Taoiseach Brian Cowen said there would be no “Lisbon III” and it is hard to see how a third appeal to the electorate would have had the slightest shred of credibility.
    Other countries facing referendums will now study the Irish example to see how you can overturn an unfavourable result. The twin lessons are: treat people with respect; and don’t rush things.
    In his book of reminiscences about his time as press spokesman for Albert Reynolds, Seán Duignan describes the Government’s strategy for the Maastricht Treaty referendum as one of simply striking fear into people’s hearts.
    This was not the strategy chosen on this occasion because of a concern that any hint of bullying which would give rise to resentment and merely enhance the support of the No side. There was already a “fear factor” in any case, because of the economic crisis and the state of the public finances.
    It is clear that about one-third of the electorate will almost always vote No to European treaties for a variety of reasons.
    The key task for campaigners in such a situation is to influence the “soft” vote that is broadly favourable to the EU but wary of change and susceptible to the argument that “Brussels is going too far”.
    This was the secret of Declan Ganley’s success on the No side last time when he portrayed himself as a strong pro-European who nevertheless had reservations about Lisbon. His Libertas group also had the resources to put this message across.
    As one Fianna Fáil insider put it, the sizeable element among No voters open to persuasion needed a “letter of transit” to bring them on to the Yes side. This was where the guarantees proved crucial. Despite the efforts by the No side to challenge the legal standing of these assurances, they struck home and were a decisive factor in the debate.
    Sinn Féin and others argued that the treaty text was unchanged. But, as one Government source put it, the real point about the guarantees was that they showed Europe was listening, especially on the critical issue of retaining an Irish commissioner.
    The Nice treaty was rejected in June 2001 and approved in a second vote in October 2002. Likewise with Lisbon, which was rejected in June 2008 and approved in October 2009. Nevertheless, this time there were elements on the Government side who wanted an early second referendum.
    Instead of that, a slow and fairly deliberate approach was adopted, with a survey conducted into the reasons why people voted No, followed by protracted consultations with the other EU member states about the guarantees. All this gave people time to weigh the implications of their decision in June last year and to consider the arguments to the contrary.
    There was also a greater level of solidarity and cohesion on the Yes side this time around. The Taoiseach’s comment prior to the first referendum, when he expressed the hope that the main Opposition parties would “crank up their campaign”, gave rise to extraordinary bitterness and resentment. Cowen weighed his words more carefully this time and there were no other major gaffes such as his former admission that he had not read the full text of the treaty.
    Fine Gael and Labour also refrained from using the referendum as a means of attacking the Government.
    The No side’s penchant for broad, sweeping claims such as the Cóir poster suggesting the minimum wage could fall to €1.84 posed a major challenge. The assertion left pro-Lisbon campaigners complaining bitterly about “black propaganda” and the difficulties in dealing with it.
    However, at an early stage of the campaign, Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin launched a scathing attack on “extreme groups”, pointing out the link between Cóir and anti-abortion group, Youth Defence.
    Although the Yes campaign generally adhered to a positive message, Martin launched another salvo against the United Kingdom Independence Party and its anti-Lisbon leaflet which he said was, “quite the nastiest, most deceptive piece of literature ever distributed in an Irish referendum”.
    Ganley’s return to the fray may have caused some initial concerns among his opponents but the reality was he had left it too late. His political standing suffered following his defeat as part of the general Libertas debacle in the European elections. He was also contradicting his statement at the count in Castlebar last June: “I will not be involved in the second Lisbon campaign. I’ve said that upfront.”
    Other key factors on the Yes side were the active campaigns run by civil society groups such as Ireland for Europe, We Belong and Women for Europe; the generally more positive approach from the farming sector and trade unions; the adverts taken out by Intel and Ryanair; and the muted approach by Eurosceptic British-owned newspapers on this occasion.
    But it finally came down to the economy and the ability of voters to distinguish between an unpopular Government and the issue of the treaty. The sophistication of the Irish electorate should never be underestimated.
    (c) 2009 The Irish Times

    • Eoin says:

      Good article, captures all the main reasons for the decisive Yes vote.

      However I would question the assertion that “the sophistication of the Irish electorate should never be underestimated”.

      Would this be the same Irish electorate that allowed a councilor convicted on corruption charges – Michael “Stroke” Fahy – to top the poll in Galway East at the last local election?

      Rather I would say that the sophistication of the Irish electorate to vote in a manner that maximizes their self interests should never be underestimated.

      Something Bertie’s election machine understood all too well. We’ll see if the Green’s continue the trend this weekend.

    • Liam says:

      Sometimes a good bartender knows when to stop serving the booze , giving us an endless credit line may not be good in the long run. It will be ironic if the end result is that the EU simply gave us more rope to hang ourselves.

    • Mike Ryan says:

      Now that the Lisbon vote is settled, I think that the government should tell us clearly how it will affect us and what changes they will have to make to our constitution.

    • Graham Byrne says:

      A very well-written piece. I voted no and I stand by that vote. I do not envy the current government as it now has a lot of promises it has to stand by. I can’t wait to see all these new jobs, now that Ireland voted yes. Not to mention the economic recovery that is just around the corner. Yeah, can’t wait.

    • frank jameson says:

      I am a bit concerned about the tendency to put the YES vote simply down to a victory for the Government and for Brian Cowen. This was particularly evident on RTE from Sean O’Rourke and others. The Irish electorate is perhaps more sophisticated than many Irish political journalists.
      I don’t think the Stroke Fahy story is representative of the Irish Electorate by the way. Illustrative of a small parochial group perhaps but of the National Electorate, no.

    • Mick o Brien says:

      “Other countries facing referendums will now study the Irish example to see how you can overturn an unfavourable result“.

      A yes or a no in a democratic referendum cannot be called an “unfavourable result“. Is it not the will of the people?
      What do comments like these tell us about the future of our democratic Europe?

    • Jack James says:

      What about the massive vote fraud perpetrated by the Saudi-funded YES side this time? Vote tampering was caught on film & the vote can be declared void within 7 days. http://blog.antilisbontreaty.com

      and antilisbontreaty.com

    • BetterWorld Now says:

      Deaglán, you may be flattered to know that you were chosen to fire the first shot in the covert media war when you were singled out on 22 August to reported that “Lisbon is a dead duck, a goner, not a hope in hell.” – http://www.irishtimes.com/blogs/politics/2009/08/22/stark-honesty-for-once-in-leinster-house/

      You might like to revisit the circumstances of your meeting with that unidentified informant to see if there were any clues you missed before the invisible hand of the puppeteer was inserted into the usual orifice and his words appeared via your keyboard.

      The privilege of protecting your sources carries with it a responsibility to test their facts. History records that those particular facts were bogus.

      In hindsight, that was a text book example of a spin meister’s ploy to ensure that the Yes voters came out to vote, a key component of the eventual result (+5% turnout over Lisbon 1).

      The usual suspects will undoubtedly suggest that you were a willing collaborator in that manipulation but I’m willing to accept the other explanation.

      The Lisbon 2 campaign has shown how easily the media was to orchestrate by a sufficiently expert, covert and determined group to achieve their fear-mongering ambitions.

      And when fear controls how votes are cast oppression is not far away. All dictatorships, electoral, military or economic, are built and maintained by fear.

    • Deaglán says:

      God love ya, Betterworld. It must be great to have a simplistic view of the world as a multinational capitalist conspiracy. The truth is that there were important people on the Yes side who were convinced they were going to lose at the time I wrote that post. Even up to the last minute, some prominent Yes people were very, very nervous.

      Life is not a John Le Carré script, dear boy. If you read my piece more carefully you would see that I am quoting more than one person. The comments are based on chance encounters with Leinster House politicians. They were expressing their state of mind at the time and there is no evidence or reason to believe they were lying or seeking to manipulate the media in this context. I have known them all for years and they have never said anything they did not believe at the time – even if, as on this occasion, their predictions turned out to be wrong. Like everyone else, TDs can make incorrect forecasts.

      And regarding your remark that, “All dictatorships, electoral, military or economic, are built and maintained by fear”, does that apply to your friends in Cuba and China?

    • Marcus says:

      Jack James- Wow you should stop believing everything you read.

    • robespierre says:

      I would like to provide some back-up to the distinguished quill behind this thinkspace.

      I was speaking with politicians who were Directors of Elections for different parties and prominent civil society group leaders ALL of whom were extremely nervous in August that the treaty would be defeated.

      It was only when I campaigned that I realised how different the media coverage in a (referendum) campaign is to reality. The McKenna ruling means that a perverse amount of time is allocated to minority views, giving them the oxygen of credence.

      My experience was roughly (at worst) 40 to 45 no in several lower income parts of Dublin including Priorswood (Darndale), Fatima Mansions and Kilnamanagh in Tallaght. Every step you took beyond these areas Yes voters increased dramatically.

      The Politicians were genuinely scared they would lose and the people voted because they were scared the friends, family, children and grandchildren would lose even more.

    • It remains disturbing that the French and Dutch peoples are likely to have something forced on them they rejected (under another name) in 2005. That will be the first time in EU history that has happened.

    • dealga says:

      Your line “It is clear that about one-third of the electorate will almost always vote No to European treaties for a variety of reasons.” is key in my eyes. These are the people who have been screaming loudest on this and other websites for the last two years and more every time Lisbon has been mentioned. It was never about convincing them – it was about convincing the middle ground that all these people represented were hysterical lies and scaremongering nonsense.

      P.S. I like the way you put ‘BetterWorldNow’ back in his box for a while. At least someone has.

    • Ray D says:

      The Yes vote is a massive vote for the Government. The fact is that the same people that brought you the Yes vote have put FF in power for 40 of the last 50 years. Long may it continue because they make a smashing little country out of it.

    • “Your line “It is clear that about one-third of the electorate will almost always vote No to European treaties for a variety of reasons.” is key in my eyes. These are the people who have been screaming loudest on this and other websites for the last two years and more every time Lisbon has been mentioned. It was never about convincing them – it was about convincing the middle ground that all these people represented were hysterical lies and scaremongering nonsense.”
      As part of the one-third who voted no I reject that argument. I voted yes to Nice (both times) and Amsterdam. I would have voted yes to Lisbon but for the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which will ultimately mean the ECJ dictating asylum policy (Article 18/19) and forcing us to allow asylum-seekers to work (Article 15(1)). In a recession charity must begin at home. The UK optout means that Ireland would be put in the unsustainable position of being the only English-speaking country apart from Malta to allow them to work. We are told we have an optout on Justice and Home Affairs. The problem is that the new Article 29.4.7. of the Constitution allows the Oireachtas/govt to abolish that optout. The failure of the Referendum Commission to mention this undermines its impartiality in my opinion.

    • Ray D says:

      The Referendum Commission impartial – where did one get that idea from? We even had civil servants in Foreign Affairs preparing brochures for the yes side that were sent to every home in the country.

    • Marcus says:

      Future Taoiseach – Yeah you’re right, those damn asylum-seekers will ruin us!! Why not, while we’re at it, get rid of the whole concept of social welfare and then make the pensioners pay for everything! They have to pull their weight too! And sure why not make children work in coal mines because, sure, the freeloaders do nothing! You know the Referendum Commission also failed to mention the fact that the Lisbon Treaty will help aid that goes to Africa? Both Trócaire and Concern both came out and supported the Treaty.

    • Marcus, I’d thank you not to be putting words in my mouth I never said. The PC-brigade want to silence debate on immigration by implying racism whenever tighter controls are suggested. The question is one of the sovereign right of this State to decide who may and who may not live here. That is what I am defending. Whatever your position on asylum itself, it should not come under the remit of the European Court of Justice.

    • Ron says:

      Very sad the Irish people have sold out the people of Europe. The majority of French, British, Germans do not wish fo this treaty. You had a vote but failed, shame on you.

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