Lisbon kicked into touch by disenfranchised


MY GAELIC football season is almost over. I still don’t know why people insist on calling it ladies’ football. Sunday’s All-Ireland final witnessed a brilliant battle of wits between Tadhg Kennelly and Graham Canty but I’m not sure that the Kerry and Cork men would wittingly describe their sporting skills as gentlemen’s football, writes ELAINE BYRNE

I’ve played football for Wicklow and Limerick clubs but Dublin is different. Our games bring us to parts of the city that most people never have the inclination to visit. Last week’s match was in an area of the city probably well-known to the Garda, as that subtlety goes. The dressing room was a burnt-out prefab decorated with graffiti, with no electricity or toilets.

Social divide is much more noticeable in Dublin. The wealthy clubs in the more affluent parts of the city boast granite entrances, complete gyms and synthetic training pitches. In Wicklow and Limerick, the distinction between the rich and poor clubs just wasn’t as obvious. My GAA season has been spent playing football with that demographic which for the most part voted No to the Lisbon Treaty last time out.

The Millward Brown IMS research found that 56 per cent of women voted No. The highest No vote was from young people in the 25-34 age group with some 59 per cent rejecting the treaty.

Working-class Dublin recorded the largest No vote with 66 per cent rejecting the treaty. This might explain why the Yes side have not yet held any public meetings with my neighbours in Fatima and Dolphin’s Barn in Dublin’s inner city.

Prof Richard Sinnott’s research on voters’ attitudes and behaviour in the Lisbon referendum found that “the main influence on increasing the No vote comes from working-class constituencies”. In his research report to the Department of Foreign Affairs, he concluded the Yes/No vote was clearly related to social class, which was “all the more striking in a society in which electoral politics is not strongly class-related”.

With that in mind, I conducted my own field research on the Lisbon Treaty this summer. In the idle parts of our games this season, I asked my markers what they thought about the referendum. Jersey number 12 for the opposing team would then generally proceed to detail her concerns about corporate taxation, the Irish commissioner, the non-aligned foreign policy and the veracity of the guarantees. She would chat about foreign direct investment in the Irish economy and the role of co-decision and unanimity in policymaking. Well, actually she didn’t.

Instead, number 12 would usually shrug her shoulders and say she didn’t know what it was all about and couldn’t care less about Irish politics, never mind a Lisbon referendum. Then she would tell me to shut up and play football and stop distracting her.

Last week after I brought it up again, number 12 and I flew into the air, in ladylike fashion, to field a high ball. Her stray elbow decided to directly introduce itself to my nose. A mild concussion and a bloodied nose later, the adage that sports and politics should not mix was a lesson painfully learned.

Political debate does not take place on sports fields for good reason. It is the wrong context. That’s what has characterised the Lisbon Treaty debate – the wrong context. The young, female and working-class constituencies are detached not only from European politics but Irish politics.

In a perfect world, debate on the Lisbon Treaty would be confined to the Lisbon Treaty. Instead our referendums have metamorphosed into electoral opportunities to vote against politics and to raise issues which are generally avoided in normal political discourse, such as immigration, taxation and abortion. Last time around, those opposing the Lisbon Treaty were not perceived by the public as politicians, at least not in the conventional sense, which may in part account for their extraordinary success.

Instead of blithely dismissing those that seek to use the referendum to masquerade other agendas, we should be asking ourselves why so many Irish citizens are prepared to listen and respond to such arguments. The Lisbon Treaty is the wrong context for those detached from Irish politics to air their genuine concerns about the direction of Ireland. The right context must be provided.

The Edward M Kennedy Serve America Act 2009 was one of Ted Kennedy’s last legislative initiatives before he died. The Act is the greatest investment in public service since the New Deal of the Great Depression and creates infrastructure to empower people to put their energy into addressing critical social needs.

Kennedy, whose month’s mind falls this week, would have endorsed the underlying motivation of the Irish diaspora attending the weekend’s Global Irish Economic Forum in Farmleigh and their pride in Irish culture, citizenship and Ireland’s future economic development.

Our Lisbon referendum experience should be used as an opportunity to reassess our definition of citizenship and create a genuinely responsive democratic culture where participating more meaningfully in the political arena is not just confined to voting. The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die.