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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: January 21, 2012 @ 5:56 pm

    Would it be Dumb to Hold a Referendum?

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    Enda Kenny faces a major decision in the near future. Should he put the forthcoming European fiscal treaty to popular vote in a referendum or not? Here are some of my own thoughts on the matter, from today’s newspaper. Tell me what you think:-

    If they ever make a film about Enda Kenny, who would play the leading role? There must be an actor who can bring our Taoiseach to life on screen, as Meryl Streep is doing with Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady.

    For those who haven’t yet seen the movie, the former British prime minister is shown mainly in dementia-ridden old age, holding imaginary conversations with her late husband, Denis.

    It’s odd to feel sorry for such a ruthless politician, but the device is a cruel one, especially since the subject is still living. Presumably it is intended to give a new twist to Thatcher’s life story, since her biographical details are so widely known.

    The market for a film about the life of a contemporary Irish politician would be limited, but it could be an arthouse success.

    Although Colm Meaney backed Martin McGuinness for the presidency, he would do a good job as Kenny, but he would need to apply a bottle of peroxide to his hair. Likewise, Brendan Gleeson shows in The Guard that, despite his Dublin background, he has a talent for west of Ireland roles.

    One is told that, in some British cinemas, cheering breaks out when Thatcher orders the sinking of the Belgrano , with the loss of 323 lives, during the Falklands war with Argentina. Charlie Haughey’s rejection of that harsh action was one of the few times he had a national consensus behind him.

    There isn’t a lot to cheer about just yet in the narrative of Enda Kenny’s term as head of government. He has the misfortune to be in power at a time when, as Financial Times journalist Philip Stephens put it this week, “presidents and prime ministers more closely resemble victims than masters”.

    Kenny has some major difficulties to overcome, especially on the European stage. In his time, Éamon de Valera negotiated a neutral path between Britain and Germany, and there are some parallels with the course Enda Kenny is pursuing nowadays, although the Germans, thankfully, have a different form of government nowadays.

    The Taoiseach has to keep London and David Cameron sweet while at the same time be seen to dance vigorously to the tune of our EU paymasters. It is no easy task.

    The normally ebullient Kenny was unusually subdued at the recent British-Irish Council summit in Dublin Castle and a study in low-key neutrality at the press conference afterwards.

    Small wonder he was minding his Ps and Qs. He had UK deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, sitting on his right and Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond, to his left. Only a few hours earlier on Morning Ireland , Salmond had accused the Cameron-Clegg government of “bullying” over the referendum on devolution and Scottish independence.

    Questioned as to whether he believed Scotland should take its place among the nations of the Earth, Kenny was masterful in his hands-off, nothing-to-do-with-me-guv disengagement. It was reminiscent of a Mayo supporter watching a Gaelic football match between Dublin and Meath.

    Yet Scottish independence would have huge implications for this island. Stormont First Minister Peter Robinson spelled out in detail the concern felt among the unionist population in the North at the prospect of their Caledonian cousins cutting loose from the mother ship.

    With the population trend north of the Border moving in favour of the nationalists, Robinson’s concern is understandable. A smaller United Kingdom without the Scottish dimension would be, to adapt David Trimble’s famous phrase, a cold house for Northern Ireland unionists.

    Perhaps Scotland will not opt for full independence but it is certainly moving to a different place politically.

    Alex Salmond quoted our own Charles Stewart Parnell: “No man has the right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation.”

    There is a bust of Parnell in the “Garden Room” of Leinster House. Now there was a man whose career was full of high drama, but a biopic starring Clark Gable proved a flop.

    Parnell would have understood the political context in which Alex Salmond is operating (as well as smiling perhaps at being quoted in Dublin Castle), but what would he have made of the circumstances in which Enda Kenny finds himself? The entire fabric of the State has been put in jeopardy by the banking crisis and the property bubble, and our hard-won sovereignty lies in the balance. And to think Scotland used to regard us as a role model.

    As the prospect of a restrictive fiscal compact looms at European level, Kenny must decide, with the advice of the Attorney General, whether or not to have a referendum on Irish participation in the new set-up.

    The late Kader Asmal, the Trinity College Dublin lecturer who applied the lessons of Irish history to ending the apartheid regime in South Africa, liked to say that “law is nothing more than congealed politics”. Referendums are a fascinating crossroads between the legal and political.

    Judging from an RTÉ report during the week, Brussels is getting impatient to know the Government’s intentions on the fiscal treaty: will it be put to popular vote in Ireland?

    There is a school of thought that a referendum should be held, even if it is not deemed necessary in legal terms. The purpose would be to ensure popular consent for the proposals. Given the caution in our political culture, that seems an unlikely decision.

    Alex Salmond, on the other hand, is gung-ho for a referendum in Scotland. If the Taoiseach chose to consult the voters, regardless of the legal advice, it would make for great drama and would certainly feature in the script for Enda: The Movie .

    There is something of a mood-change going on at the moment. The message that austerity isn’t working is beginning to gain traction.

    Meanwhile, the Coalition is looking more and more like its predecessor every day. A European referendum could be just the opportunity people are seeking to send a shot across the bows of the Government.

    • barb.ie says:

      Enda Kenny can rot, as far as I am concerned, until he reopens Ireland’s Embassy to the Holy See and publicly apologizes to Pope Benedict XVI for his wrongful utterances in that dreadful speech which was designed to gain popular support with the Liberal Ascendancy in this country and without any regard whatsoever for the wishes of Ireland’s Roman Catholics.
      Also, if there is no referendum on the new “set-up”, the people of Ireland will oust this farcical government which was resurrected from the dark corners of oblivion on account of the anger of the people. And so, in the same manner, it will be annihilated.
      Oh, and I’d suggest Will Ferrell be cast for the lead role in “Enda: The Movie”…………….

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      This has to be the worst generation of political leaders – across the full left to right spectum – since the 1930s.

      The lack of vision is breathtaking but I guess shouldn’t be too surprising as Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore’s political DNA was set in the 70s and 80s, as it was for all the current TDs over the age of about 50 -55 and they are simply not up to the task.

      One simple way to release politicans would be for there to be state funding of politics – even to the nutters and those starting out and that way the grip of vested interests (unions and business) can be removed.

      But even then would any of them have the guts to stand up and say Ireland, Greece etc cannot pay the debt burden from their banks that they were forced to take on, those countries have to deal with their current spending deficits but until there are Eurobonds and the ECB becomes a proper central bank then the debt crisi is like rust eating away at roof supports – it takes a while but sooner or later the whole edifice will crash down.

      We can only hope the right people are sitting under the roof when it caves in.

      Danny Kay should play Kenny – a grown man who acted like a child and was emotionally immature. Mr Kenny spent 15 years working hard to get his current job and it seems he gave no thought to what he would do when he got the job.

    • RPE McCarrthy says:

      Ever since I saw Adrian Dunbar play a west of Ireland school teacher in Tom Murphy’s Conversations On A Homecoming about 10 years ago, he has been the only choice. He physically resembles our dear leader and can do a great wesht accent. He also recently proved himself as a political impersonator in a role that was heavily limited by stilted, exposition heavy dialogue as David Trimble in “Mo”.

      On the more serious point, I can’t see any of the proposed amendments are not an erosion of sovereignty. If it is genuine treaty change then they will have to hold a referendum. I am still strongly in favour of the dream of de Gaspari, Adenauer et alea but I am not in favour of Ireland becoming a whipping boy for the rest of Europe’s political travails.

      We did get ourselves into this mess collectively and some 40-44% consistently voted a FF/PD line for ten years. Had other parties been in power there is no gaurantee that they wouldn’t have gotten punch drunk either.

      There is a difference between taking responsibility for the situation one finds oneself in and punitive damages which is what we are dealing with at present.

      Contrary to suggestions that we had too much capitalism, we probably haven’t had enough. The bonds we are being asked to pay for private institutions is obscene.

      The future will not look kindly on the bank guarantee at all. Or Europe’s approach towards dealing with the crisis.

      The Tower of Babel anyone?

    • Ted says:

      I think you get close to what should happen in the fourth last paragraph… but is even more unlikely than you suggest.

      Historically every referendum, especially those on European treaties, has been heavily sold by the government of the day, usually with the wider establishment joining in vociferously. What should happen this time is the government should put the referendum, make it clear they are doing so at the behest of ‘Europe’, stay out of the debate, and let ‘Europe’ and the ECB and whoever else threaten us with whatever they like. I think I know how the Irish voters would respond. The government should be led by the people, not driven by Continental drovers.

      Already Herr Fischer is blitzing us from the fatherland with dire threats, as if every treaty we’ve signed up to since 1972 wasn’t worth the paper it’s written on. The Franco-German dispensation is beginning to sound and act worryingly like that Austro-Hungarian crowd, and we all know how that ended.

    • John O'Driscoll says:

      ”’Strong drink and moral cowardice”, the twin curses of Ireland so accurately identified by Michael Davitt 150 years ago and yet, like everything else accurately identified as being wrong with this place ever, still firmly in situ. If ”Ireland”, by which I mean Her leaders and controllers and everyone who ever voted for them, didn’t have the backbone to stand up to BUSHCO and the United States of Illegal War and Torture, and chuck the foreign despots and their slaves off the Ho’Lie Ground any time between March 2003 and now, Desmond, what on earth would lead you to expect that ”Ireland” would now be able to stand up to bondholders, foreign bankers, unelected EU bodies such as the Commission and the ECB, even though that means the next five decades will be spent as a moribund PRotectorate, a damp little PRovinCe; a neo-Judea, in the armpit of the nEU Roman Empire?

      Nothing, of course, about this skulking shivering marrow-dried-from-bone place could lead one to that expectation. And as we saw with Lisbon 2, even if there are enough people in this country with backbone enow to stand up and say ‘No more! You have trampled our democracy and betrayed all our values and principles long enough!” there are far far more people who will at the least bit of fear-mongering come out and say ”Bring it on! Take everything we ever had, values, principles, land, sovereignty, dignity, rights, and take it twice. Just as long as I’ve a euro in my phoca agus siucre i mo tae.” So any referendum, unless it gives the ‘right’ answer, will be ignored and re-run again and again until ye DO give the right answer. MOreover, the Constitution is a busted docket. I’d say at this stage any ‘laws acts and measures’ of my kids’ Friday Play Club is superior to it.
      That said, it’s always better to go down with all guns blazing than with a glug and a whimper. It’s a dignity thing. A pride in oneself and one’s country thing. Not surprised most people wouldn’t have a baldy what I mean by that of course. I’ve forgotten myself what it must feel like to be proud of one’s country been that long since I was I wonder was it all a dream.

    • Emmet Murphy says:

      Hmmmmmmmmmm, who could play Enda? Well It would have to be spineless, slithering and have a forked tounge. It could be something that knows how to srangle the life out of people and it wouldnt be human, I dont know?

    • John O'Driscoll says:

      @6 Gollum? But no. Smeagle doesn’t have good hair.

    • barbera.. says:

      Deaglán must be gone to Davos……….
      Our Dear Leader is there…….and Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin……this friendly alliance between our Dear Leader — a Roman Catholic who attacks the Holy See and a leading member of the Hierarchy here that seems nonplussed by that whole debacle — worries me greatly as a Roman Catholic.

    • JO@D says:

      Now that I’ve calmed down a bit and re-read your piece Deaglan must say I like the style. You swing from Maggie’s karmically earned dementia to Irish neutrality (qua moral cowardice) to GAA to CS Parnell to Irish thespians to Scottish independence to political philosophy to Irish constitutional theory to Scottish independence (ah yes but will they tak ownership of the Debt them canny Scots hey?). Wow. I like it. And yet you knit all these digressions neatly into the question of whether it would be good to ask the People of Ireland their opinion at a time when such would be neither profitable nor popular. Well. I’ve no vote in Irish referenda (the UK Parliament being the only authority to make laws in the UK referenda in the country of my citizenship are apparently only for guidance not legally binding and so Brit Citz here can’t vote in referenda. Nor can we elect your President because we don’t elect their Queen apparently. So I believe). So perhaps I shouldn’t comment. But I will.

      It seems to me that whether ye should have a referendum on whether to toss more Irish sovereignty overboard in pursuit of another mess of ECB dead-tree pottage with which to repay the debts ye’ve incurred bailing out MiLord and MiLady KissmearseBanker from their recklessness at the roulette tables of London Dublin and so forth is a decision for your President, the good Mr Higgins. If he decides that a bill is of such national importance that the will of the people thereon ought to be ascertained (to use the language of the 1994 Act) and the Satraps well ok ‘Government’ for want of a better word agree with him then Populus (or is it Mobile?) Locuta Est Causa Finita Est.
      Although I suspect that might not deliver the result Ireland’s plutocratic owners and controllers foreign and domestic might want. At least not on the first run. But of course they can run it as many times as they like can’t they? And meanwhile issue plenty of Turr Lurts Code Red to scare the 300,000 extra voters who voted Yes to Nice 2 and Lisbon 2 (having not bothered to vote in either Nice 1 or Lisbon 1) out of their burrows to apply their ‘stupid oul’ pencils’ to the appropriate Yes box. And sure yirrah given that as I previously observe Bunreacht is now subservient to any laws acts or measures of the sEUperstate now anyway sure how could any laws acts or measures of same be repugnant to it? So isn’t after all your question somewhat moot?
      Don’t forget, Bunreacht was written and enacted for a sovereign People with indefeasible destinies that nobody could set the ne plus ultra to no not even Adolf nor Winston. That description no longer applies today. PIty. But there you go. Y’can’t ate sovereignty nor can you use it to buy nice shiny Mercs and big flatpack Southforks in the backend of Cavan or Leitrim or wherever. For that you need the bits of dead tree that the ECB issue from its discount window which are apparently worth far more to the majority in Ireland than the bit of dead tree that Pearse et al issued from the GPO. Sic transit and so forth.

    • peter barrins says:

      I think it would be better if referendums were not required for such things. The fact is, if there is a referendum on the proposed Fiscal Compact, it won’t actually be about this at all but every other issue with which the Irish Electorate is presently dissatisfied. The Government is democratically elected to govern and they should be able to do so without being held to ransom by pointless, time consuming and costly referendums. In my view, there should be a referendum to alter the Constitution so that EU related treaties can be passed by a 2/3 majority of the Dail – which is the case in many other countries. In any event, it would seem that a referendum will not be required in this instance, in which case it appears certain to come before the Supreme Court.

      In relation to ‘the Compact’ itself, the proposed changes are required and probably do not go far enough. It’s complete nonsense to think that monetary union can operate successfully without fiscal integration and controls, which are adhered to by all participants.

    • John O'Driscoll says:

      Duh. DIstracted. JP Morgan’s conference and subsequent failure to stabilise the Weimar currency was one of the causes that led to WW2. Not 1. Obviously. Altho’ JP Morgan did make rather a lot of money financing WW1. One can so easily get confused, all the different wars our wunch of bankers make their pounds of flesh from. As one of them was made to say a long time ago tho’ ”If you prick us, do we not bleed?”.

      That might be taken as a hint.


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