Arguments linking treaty with jobs gain traction in Tallaght

Mon, Sep 28, 2009, 01:00

Dublin South West turned out the largest No vote in the last Lisbon referendum, but No campaigners worry the swing is towards a Yes this time

IF THERE’s one part of Dublin where No posters outnumber those of the Yes campaign, it’s Tallaght. Last year the constituency returned the highest vote against the Lisbon Treaty. More than 65 per cent of voters here ticked the No box on the ballot paper.

Local Labour TD Pat Rabbitte says the resounding No came as little surprise. “We had picked that up on the canvass,” he recalls. “We knew it was going to be high.”

But even No campaigners admit that this year is proving more difficult to predict. The chill winds of recession have bitten hard in Tallaght, an area already long scarred by high unemployment, and the Yes side’s arguments linking the treaty with economic recovery are gaining traction.

“People are frightened by the message ‘Yes to jobs, Yes to recovery’. The scaremongering is having an effect,” says Seán Crowe, a Sinn Féin councillor and former TD for the area.

“People are concerned about their jobs, and Lisbon is not really the priority at the moment for most people. It’s about food on the table for their kids. They’re not particularly interested in the issues related to the treaty. They’re asking if this will affect jobs.”

It’s Saturday afternoon at The Square shopping centre, and both Rabbitte and Crowe, who is accompanied by Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, are canvassing shoppers. They are not the only ones. There are several fresh-faced Generation Yes volunteers in yellow T-shirts. Mick Billane (59), a local volunteer for Cóir, stands at the bottom of an escalator, handing out leaflets and pinning red No stickers on children.

A well-dressed elderly woman swerves to avoid Rabbitte. “As a committed Christian, I feel this is a godless treaty,” she snaps. Two middle-aged sisters tell him they were discussing how they should vote the night before. “Why do we have to vote again?” asks one. “We’ll still be in Europe anyway.”

Meanwhile, Billane is happy with the response he’s getting from passersby.

“You better believe it – I’m voting No,” says one man as he walks past.

“I was a No voter from the day go,” says another.

“Why? It’s simple – they’re taking over. We’re not stupid.”

But Lucas Andzel (29), who moved to Ireland from Krakow five years ago, stops after Billane presses a leaflet into his hand. “Have you even read the treaty?” asks Andzel, before going on to tell the tweed-waistcoat-clad Cóir volunteer that Ireland has nothing to fear from it.

“See,” Billane fumes as Andzel walks off. “Those Europeans, those Poles . . . they’re getting used to telling us what to do already.”

Outside, Gerry Adams is being harangued by Pat Lyons, a local taxi-driver waiting for a fare. “You’re all on more than €100,000 and we’re trying to make ends meet on €4 an hour,” he shouts. “We’re no fools.”

Adams listens as Lyons lists a litany of grievances ranging from Fás to the banks, before handing him a leaflet on Lisbon.

The Sinn Féin leader doesn’t want to predict how Friday’s vote may turn.

“Some people are indignantly voting No because they think it’s an insult to be asked to vote twice on the same treaty, and some people are quite clearly frightened by some of the arguments the Yes side are putting up,” he says. “It’s all to play for.”

Pat Rabbitte notes that many who voted No last year in Tallaght have now changed their minds, but he worries that others will use the referendum to punish the Government. “Our main campaign theme is yes, we know what you’re telling us about issues like the banks, and the fact the live register in Tallaght has increased by 90 per cent in the last 12 months, month on month, but please don’t confuse a rejection of Lisbon with rejection of Government,” he says.

It is a message that resonates with Phyllis Cannon, as she takes a leaflet in between shopping for a debs dress for her daughter Emma. They live in Dún Laoghaire, the constituency that recorded the highest Yes vote last year. While Emma (18) plans to vote No, her mother says she has changed her mind and will vote Yes. “They’ve made some changes and I feel I have more information,” Phyllis says. “It is the right thing to do this time.”