Cowen accuses Lisbon opponents of confusing voters


CAMPAIGN LAUNCH - Fianna Fáil:OPPONENTS OF the Lisbon Treaty are trying to confuse voters and pull Ireland back from close involvement in the EU, Taoiseach Brian Cowen has said.

Launching Fianna Fáil's month-long campaign, Mr Cowen said the party would "campaign vigorously" for a Yes vote in the referendum, which will be held on June 12th.

"Ours is a positive message, but we will not be slow to counter the attacks of those who want Ireland to change its approach to Europe.

"During every European referendum, groups have emerged which have claimed that deep conspiracies are being hatched against the people of Ireland. The most common tactic has not been to try to persuade people, but to try and confuse them."

A Yes vote next month would equip the EU to face global challenges and strengthen Ireland's position, and would be the last such referendum for a generation.

"There are some shrill voices who always try to use this debate in an effort to raise fears, raise the concerns, narrow the base, suggest that there is a comfort zone here that we can live in isolation from the world, step back, we mightn't be able for it, we might be overwhelmed.

"Those voices have been with us since the European debate as far back as the 60s. If that is their view of the world they are entitled to put it."

Mr Cowen said this was not the way the world worked if Ireland wanted to be a player on the international stage, "and Ireland has contributed so much - way beyond its size, way beyond its economic wealth".

Urging voters to consider that global challenges were changing, he said: "You have to make sure that you are engaged to manage that change.

"You can't suggest that change is an optional extra. Change is a reality in all of our lives. It is the same in politics.

"We either decide that we are going to be part of a process using our capacity and our own native genius to ride the wave, to take the hits, to take the pluses and the minuses, to be able to negotiate our positions, or you don't."

Expressing confidence that there would be a Yes vote, Mr Cowen said Ireland's 35-year experience of the EU showed that the country best secured its interests when it was at the heart of the EU.

While he defended the campaign the Government and Fianna Fáil had run over the last two months, he acknowledged that the party's attention had been consumed by the party's change in leadership. However, Fianna Fáil would lead a strong campaign over the next four weeks, involving every member of the parliamentary party.

"Take it from me that all of the members of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party support this treaty," he said, when asked if internal doubters existed.

He put down a strong line to any TD who might consider repeating Eamon Ó Cuív's decision to vote against the first Nice Treaty referendum and talk about it afterwards.

"And if there were to be anyone - and I don't know of anybody, but take it hypothetically - who had a conscientious problem they would have to consider that outside the context of my party."

Mr Cowen also echoed comments made at the party's campaign launch in Galway yesterday concerning the threat by farmers to withhold support for the treaty because of their concerns over the World Trade Organisation talks.

Urging farmers to vote Yes, he asked if they were prepared to vote the referendum down because of fears that may not materialise. The Government wanted to secure extra milk quota and a simpler farm payments regime in Brussels over the next few months and a Yes vote would assist in securing those objectives.