EU leaders' attitude to No vote realistic, says McCreevy

IRELAND’S EU commissioner Charlie McCreevy has said that every political leader in Europe knew that a referendum on the Lisbon…

IRELAND’S EU commissioner Charlie McCreevy has said that every political leader in Europe knew that a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty would have been rejected by 95 per cent of the 27 member states.

Mr McCreevy yesterday expressed the view that the attitude of the leading politicians in other European states to last year’s No vote on Lisbon was realistic and understanding.

He contrasted that attitude to what he portrayed as the “shock horror” reaction of EU functionaries living inside the “Brussels beltway” and those of heads of state who were glad that they did not have to hold a referendum on the treaty.

Mr McCreevy, who was minister for finance for seven years until 2004, said that the realistic approach of European leaders led to them offering to assist Ireland as much as possible as the Government faced into a second referendum on the treaty.

Addressing the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ireland at the National Concert Hall yesterday, Mr McCreevy said: “When Irish people rejected the Lisbon Treaty a year ago, the initial reaction ranged from shock to horror to temper to vexation. That would be the view of a lot of the people who live in the Brussels beltway.

“On the other hand, all of the [political leaders] know quite well that if the similar question was put to their electorate by a referendum the answer in 95 per cent of the countries would probably have been No as well . . .

“I have always divided the reaction between those two forces: those within the beltway, the ‘fonctionnaires’, those who gasp with horror [on the one hand] and the heads of state, who are far more realistic. They are glad they didn’t have to put the question themselves to their people.”

Mr McCreevy noted that Irish people had now had a period of time to reflect about Lisbon. Many would consider being members of the euro zone had been a great benefit to Ireland during the economic crisis.

He also said there had been much greater debate in Ireland than in any other member state.

“Everybody says we do not know enough about Europe.

“I can tell you in my humble opinion that the ordinary people of Ireland know a damn sight more about the intricacies of the European framework than nearly all the members of the other 27 states.”

He also defended the holding of referendums, saying it was the way the Irish did business and there was no need to be ashamed of it.

“We might not like the result on occasion . . . but that’s democracy and we should not be ashamed of it,” he said.

He also said the second referendum would be intensely debated, but expressed his hope that the Yes side would win.

Asked after the event by Today FM had he read the treaty since admitting during last year’s campaign that he had not read it from cover to cover, he replied: “I am going to stay up every night during every day of the summer reading chapters.

“I will put questions to every journalist I meet asking them what different subsections mean. A lot of that is political nonsense.”