Renegotiate Lisbon instead of rerunning it


OPINION:Last June almost one million people voted to reject the treaty and thus gave the Irish Government a strong mandate to deliver a better deal for Ireland and the EU, writes Mary Lou McDonald 

TWO MONTHS ago the Government established an Oireachtas subcommittee to address Ireland's future in the European Union. Sinn Féin engaged with the subcommittee on a constructive and positive basis.

Although critical of its composition and narrow terms of reference, we welcomed the opportunity to debate the future direction of the EU and Ireland's role in shaping that future.

Throughout the proceedings of the subcommittee, Sinn Féin made clear our view that Ireland's place is at the heart of Europe and that co-operation with our European partners must continue.

We brought forward recommendations as to how the concerns of the Irish people could be addressed and emphasised that the Government had a responsibility, indeed an obligation, to begin the process of building social and political alliances across the EU to secure the treaty's renegotiation.

At the outset we had clear concerns that it was the Government's intention, with the support of Labour, Fine Gael and the Greens, to use the committee as a space to prepare the groundwork for a rerun of Lisbon. We made it clear that we would not be part of such an undemocratic exercise. We argued strongly for the terms of reference to be broadened into a discussion on the future direction of the EU itself and how Ireland could shape that future. Unfortunately the Government chose to focus instead on the narrower remit of the impact of the Lisbon Treaty referendum and Ireland's future in the EU.

There were also repeated attempts to scaremonger the public about the implications for the economy following the Irish people's rejection of the treaty. No evidence was presented to the committee to back up their claims.

Why? Because it does not exist. It is the duty of Government to rebuild the economy and to address the deficit in public finances; let them not imagine that they can lay the blame for their failures on the treaty at the feet of the Irish electorate.

Sinn Féin also argued that the subcommittee should proactively engage as broad a section of the public as possible, that it should meet in open session, in and outside of Dublin, and listen to the opinions of ordinary citizens.

That the Government chose to reject this proposal was deeply regrettable. Instead they opted for a format that effectively excluded the public, once again demonstrating their disregard for the democratically expressed wishes of the people.

As a consequence, the sessions were on most occasions simply a rerun of the debates of the treaty referendum campaign itself, involving many of the same well-known public faces, with little new content.

That many discussions took place in private session simply made a bad situation worse. Probably the starkest demonstration of the Government's approach was evidenced by the deliberate imbalance in the speakers that addressed the subcommittee. Of the more than 100 individuals who addressed the subcommittee only a handful were against the treaty.

Having excluded the general public, and selected a panel of speakers that held the Government's own view, it is hardly surprising that the subcommittee's official report merely confirmed the Government's own position.

Sinn Féin did not support the report produced by the committee and instead produced our own Majority View - Minority Report - The Future of the EU and Ireland's role in shaping that future. This can be downloaded at www.sinnFé

This report sets out in detail the challenges facing Ireland and the EU and the mechanism for addressing the concerns of the Irish electorate on key issues such as maintaining our political strength, protecting neutrality, workers' rights, public services and taxation. It is clear that these issues can only be addressed in a new treaty which includes legally-binding protocols and not declarations of clarification which are not worth the paper they are written on.

Last June almost one million people voted to reject the treaty and thus gave the Irish Government a strong mandate to deliver a better deal for Ireland and the EU. As the work of the Oireachtas subcommittee makes clear Fianna Fáil and the Green Party did not agree with the electorate and have spent the last six months trying to find a way to get around this democratic decision.

They have been supported in this by Fine Gael and the Labour Party. Despite the fact that all 27 member states have to support a treaty for it to become law, the Government has not even sought to renegotiate the treaty with EU leaders, never mind actually engaging in negotiations.

Nor have they engaged broader European public opinion or civil society to gauge the extent of popular political support for a new treaty.

The Government's handling of the treaty has been even worse than their handling of the Budget and the current economic crisis. Opinion poll after opinion poll has made it clear that the electorate wants Ireland to remain at the heart of the EU.

The same opinion polls, including the most recent by The Irish Timesdemonstrate that people's concerns over neutrality, workers' rights, public services, democracy and Ireland's influence must be addressed in any future EU treaty.

It is time that the Government stood up for the interests of the Irish people and used the political goodwill which we have built up over many decades. EU leaders will only move if the Irish Government leads the way. Sinn Féin is totally opposed to rerunning the referendum. It must be renegotiated.

• Mary Lou McDonald is a Sinn Féin MEP for Dublin