Noxious propaganda and inventions should have no place in debate on the Lisbon Treaty
It is vital to focus on the positive aspects of Lisbon in the weeks ahead - first, however, it is necessary to address misleading claims
BEFORE TURNING to the Lisbon Treaty I want to comment briefly on Thursday’s opinion poll in The Irish Times. Two weeks before this year’s local elections, I wrote that Fianna Fáil would not do quite as badly in these as had been suggested in the most recent TNS mrbi poll. This was because in my view the downward adjustments in the number of Fianna Fáil voters that TNS mrbi had been making for many years previously, in order to allow for consistent overstatement of Fianna Fáil support, were no longer appropriate – now that Fianna Fáil had lost its traditional “flavour of the month” status.
My analysis proved to be correct. Whereas the final TNS mrbi pre-local elections poll gave Fianna Fáil only 18 per cent of the votes, in the event it secured 25 per cent.
However, I also pointed out that in local elections Fianna Fáil has an on-the-ground advantage that it does not enjoy to the same degree in a general election.
Consequently, on the basis of Thursdays poll, I would judge that, if an election took place now, Fianna Fáil’s support would be somewhat higher than suggested by the adjusted national poll figure of 17 per cent – perhaps about 22.5 per cent.
What Fine Gael’s 2002 experience shows is that with about 22.5 per cent of the national vote, a party can win only one seat in a five-seat constituency unless one of the candidates is a national figure.
Moreover, a party with that share of the vote will fail to gain any seat at all in one-third of the four-seat constituencies, and will secure none in one-half of the three-seat constituencies.
Overall, that would give Fianna Fáil no more than about 30 Dáil seats in all.
So much for that particular matter!
In the Lisbon debate it is important to get across to voters the many positive aspects of the treaty – which we failed to do last year. In the weeks ahead I shall therefore be concentrating on this aspect of the matter.
But first of all I want briefly to address some of the noxious propaganda being spread, especially through posters, by that extremist group Cóir.
First of all, Cóir has sought to abuse the memory of three of our 1916 leaders, Thomas Clarke, Patrick Pearse and James Connolly, by invoking them in aid of their xenophobic campaign.
Now, my parents both served in the GPO under those three leaders, and it does not need much imagination to guess what the stance of those men would have been in respect of Cóir’s current alignment with British Europhobes who are currently seeking to use Irish opponents of the Lisbon Treaty to advance their narrow cause.
Three years after the Rising, in the spirit of 1916, my father spoke of the need to go beyond securing political independence from Britain by forging closer links with the rest of Europe.
And in 1973, in the first of what have turned out to be seven referendums, we at last achieved economic independence vis-a-vis our near neighbour, within the broad and generous framework of what is now the European Union.
Because we placed ourselves at the heart of Europe our membership enabled us to almost treble our living standards within three decades, passing out our British neighbour in terms of output per head.
Cóir should now be seeking to protect that achievement by abandoning its perverse and damaging alliance with extreme British nationalism.
In its posters Cóir has also deliberately set out to mislead our electorate about the EU decision-making system, by suppressing that part of the system under which we have an absolutely equal voice with twenty-times larger Germany in providing – or withholding – support for the 55 per cent of member states required to take an EU Council of Ministers decision.
As for the allegation that the EU might reduce our minimum wage to a fictitious figure of €1.84, the EU has no role whatever in respect of wages The minimum wage, like wages generally, is a matter for the Irish Government only.
Finally there is a poster complaining about our EU milk and fish arrangements. The key fact is that EU membership for the first time opened the rich continental European market to our farmers and fishermen.
Moreover, so far as milk is concerned, because of the goodwill which we had earned by our positive engagement with our partners, on my proposal Ireland was uniquely accorded an extra 13 per cent of milk quota over and above those of our partners.
As to fish, precisely because of the Community Fishery policy we had a veto on new international agreements which in 1976 other member countries like Germany needed to negotiate with Iceland and Norway. I invoked that veto to secure increases in our fish catch from the miserable 75,000 tonne we were fishing before we joined, to today’s 200,000 tonne – which aid from the EU has equipped our fishermen to catch and our Navy to protect.
Facts are sacred. Lies and inventions should have no place in public debate.