The smart people of Ireland have No excuse, says Libertas


On the campaign trail with Libertas in Co Sligo: Anti-Lisbon activist Declan Ganley found plenty of support on the streets of Sligo yesterday, writes KATHY SHERIDAN.

IT BODES ill for the No blitz when a livid fundraiser for the National Council for the Blind demands that the relentlessly perky No activists be moved from her post office pitch.

"It's our one day in the year," she protests.

Libertas founder Declan Ganley, fresh off the sleek black-and-white liveried No bus (with "TAX - Don't let Brussels in the back door" on the side), immediately puts his hand in his pocket : "Here let me give you something . . .", he says, producing a €20 note with the confidence of a man accustomed to moving things right along. "That's not the point," says the woman, only slightly mollified.

Ganley, dapper in his suit, shirt and tie, surrounded by about 10 local volunteers in their blue No caps and T-shirts, moves the troops out. "Get me caps and as many treaties as you can carry," he calls to his press officer John McGuirk, a task which sounds none too onerous, until the "treaties" turn out to be 384-page tomes produced by the Independence and Democracy Group in the EU Parliament, edited by veteran eurosceptic Danish MEP, Jens-Peter Bonde, and - in theory anyway - Libertas's unique selling point.

"Has anyone on the Yes side sent you a treaty - or even read it themselves?" asks Ganley, early and often.

"Isn't it too complicated to read?" ventures a Danish journalist. "No. We're very smart people in Ireland. I have faith in the Irish people and believe they know when the wool is being pulled over their eyes . . . It's the readable version of the treaty," he explains. "All the subjects are indexed and what has been added to this treaty is in bold text . . . "

It's true. He and the tome look pretty persuasive, until he tries to give one to James Brady, a bloke in a black vest with a few drinks and a No cap on him. "I'm a 'No' because I'm fed up of this carry-on of people trying to take over the country," he says with fabulous conviction.

"Do you want to read the treaty?" asks Ganley politely. James looks horrified. "No, no, no! I don't want a book! Now here's the girlfriend Jo. We've four kids and what way are we voting, Jo?"

"No," she says, to no one's surprise. James, a gardener, agrees that it's great weather for gardening. "But we're just havin' a few drinks today. We'll be back earnin' tomorrow."

As Ganley stops to politely explain his position - emphatically and at length - to voters and media, the team sweeps on, their local connections cheerfully evident. The connecting thread between most of these local No activists is also strikingly evident.

Olivia Kelly, a 32-year-old former model-turned auctioneer, devotee of the Medjugorje Marian shrine, and a stunningly energetic canvasser, is motivated by her faith. "I'm here for the Lord," she says, expressing concerns that the treaty will bring "abortion, euthanasia, homosexual marriage, that are totally against our Catholic beliefs". Her sister Edel is also on the team today along with five friends; all are involved in the local youth prayer group.

Tommy Banks, a Fine Gael member since 1973 who works in the stores with the local authority, is also on board, with his wife Magdalen. They reckon that the treaty is "bringing us into a dictatorship - Hitler all over again" and that the Sligo business community is run by Masons.

They too are offering gifts, a booklet from the Irish Society for Christian Civilisation, entitled "9 reasons why a conscientious Catholic citizen should reject the Treaty of Lisbon". Reason number five, for the record, is that "the amended Treaties, for the first instance in an international juridical document, impose the parity between men and women in all areas".

Caroline Simons, a non-practising solicitor from Dublin who teaches law part-time, says she got involved with Libertas when she read the treaty: "I looked at the powers being given away . . . and I realised that all the points Libertas was making I agreed with."

And what motivates Ganley himself? "Rafaella, Micheal, Clementine and James," he replies, naming his four children aged 13 down to 6. "It's about democracy . . . This treaty is not just undemocratic, it's anti-democratic."

By now we've reached the Wine Street car park at the rear of Tesco, and to the rich amusement of the Libertas group, we come into contact not only with the Fianna Fáil Yes Bus and its Ógra FF yellow shirts from the east, but a slew of Save Sligo Cancer Services campaigners, using the smoke coming out of their ears to blow furious No signals at the FFers, as well as waving posters featuring the FF logo and the words, "Final nail - the Privatisation Party".

Last week's Dáil decision not to retain the local cancer services clearly spells trouble for the treaty in the north-west: 40,000 signatures were delivered to Leinster House, which the group is hoping will translate into a massive No vote.

"It's nice to see a leading politician instead of five children," says Sligo cancer services activist, Deirdre O'Sullivan tartly, referring to the conspicuous dearth of Fianna Fáil heavyweights among the youthful canvassers, while glaring at her neighbour, Cllr Seamus Kilgannon. A sheepish Cllr Kilgannon, chairman of Sligo County Council, and Cllrs Deirdre Healy McGowan and John Sherlock are indeed the most senior politicians here. "The big fellas wouldn't come out because they know what they've done. They're afraid," says O'Sullivan.

Kilgannon points out that there were no TDs out because the Dáil was sitting and the two local Senators also had business. "We did try to change the bus schedule," he says miserably, conceding that "the [ cancer services issue] is big and it's taking a while to settle. There's definitely a No vote there."

Then he rallies: "But the Yes will carry and carry easily if we can get them out . . ." before trailing off, "I don't know how we're going to do it."

Meanwhile, a man from Save Sligo Cancer Services is complaining to Kilgannon that he has been "threatened" by a Yes youth. Jackie Lally, Fianna Fáil's full-time regional organiser, flounces off when offered a treaty tome by a No canvasser. A few yards away, Ganley is engaging another earnest Yes youth - a law student - who accepts a free treaty tome before walking thoughtfully back to his mates.

Libertas is buoyant. "The girls today are saying that the No vote is about 80 per cent here," says Ganley, "and I was getting that in Grafton Street too. It's not reflected in the polls or in our own internal poll taken about two weeks ago [when the Yes side was 10 points ahead but the undecideds were at 47 per cent] but there has been a palpable tilt since then."