Coalition warned to put effort into Yes vote

Thu, Apr 5, 2012, 01:00

THERE WAS only a “fragile majority” in favour of the Yes side and the referendum needed a “full-scale general election-sized effort”, according to Dr John O’Brennan, director of European studies at NUI Maynooth.

Dr O’Brennan told an Oireachtas committee yesterday that after the Lisbon Treaty there were plans to “do things differently”, but he had seen no evidence of any “substantive change”. He termed the engagement with the EU and referendums as “groundhog day syndrome”.

The task of communicating the EU had been very neglected “and could come home to roost”, with “episodic and fitful” engagement.

The latest polls demonstrated a “very solid majority 44 per cent to 29 cent in favour” of the treaty, but “we’ve been here before”, Dr O’Brennan said. In 2001, before Nice, and in 2008 before Lisbon, a poll showed 46 per cent to 23 per cent in favour.

The weight of responsibility for the treaty would rest with TDs and Senators but the precedents were “not encouraging” and he was “not convinced there is the seriousness of purpose” required.

Dr O’Brennan was speaking during a meeting yesterday, one in a series by the sub-committee on the referendum on the fiscal stability compact.

UCC law lecturer Declan Walsh said that in the first Lisbon vote there was an “absolute lack of knowledge” about the referendum and 45 per cent voted against it because of that. Confusion over the document allowed issues on abortion or neutrality to come into the discussion.

The document for this treaty was “much shorter and very easy to read”. The content was quite focused and “should be understandable to the vast majority of people”.

Dr Gavin Barrett of the UCD school of law said this treaty was “probably the most limited EU treaty that Ireland has had a referendum on”.

Political reassurance for the German public was a major factor in having the regulations contained in a treaty and while it might not be legally necessary it was “politically necessary”.

Lord (Lyndon) Harrison, Labour Party chair of the House of Lords subcommittee on economic and financial affairs and international trade, said bringing the fiscal compact treaty “within the EU treaty architecture would offer benefits for all member states, including the UK”.

Chief economist with Friends First Jim Power told the committee the treaty was “nothing to do with jobs” but he did not believe Ireland could reject the treaty and remain part of the euro.

Irish Times economics editor Dan O’Brien said often people did not look at other people’s perspectives.

“When the Germans think about Ireland, they think of the Depfa bank, based in Ireland, bought by a German bank just before the crisis. It has cost German taxpayers €100 billion.

“The Germans get extremely upset about it, but almost nobody in this country knows about it.”