Falsehoods deserve debate 'red card'

 

A YELLOW and red card system should be used in the debate on the forthcoming referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, Brigid Laffan, the principal of the college of human sciences in UCD, said at the Merriman summer school yesterday.

She said any group deliberately perpetuating falsehoods about the treaty should receive a yellow card. “If they persist, they should receive a red card. This would not muzzle debate but would ensure that we have a debate based on fact and reasoned argument.”

Prof Laffan, who is chairwoman of the Ireland for Europe group, said the referendum was taking place in a different context given the severity of the economic crisis. But it was imperative the debate focused on the treaty and on Ireland’s relations with the EU in a way that avoided demonising the EU and making claims about the treaty that were false. “The debate on the first referendum was replete with examples of false or exaggerated claims. There is a real danger of this happening again,” she said.

“Given that Ireland pursued an economic policy that was driven by openness to the world economy, the mismatch between domestic policies and global events is striking,” she said. “Irish electoral politics rewards those with a high level of local engagement. Activity such as scrutiny of European directives in parliamentary committees or engagement in European affairs is not rewarded.”

She added that EU membership had not led to a majority of Irish people adopting a European identity. “The narrative on Ireland and Europe, with its focus on benefits, in particular financial transfers, had left the Irish bereft of a broader cultural frame within which to position Ireland in Europe. Although 75 per cent of second-level students take a continental language for the Leaving Cert, proficiency in speaking continental languages is varied. At third level, language departments have come under pressure with a decline in the number of students taking languages.”

Irish voters combined a diffuse support for EU membership with a low level of knowledge of how the EU works. When asked what the EU means to them personally, Irish respondents were more likely to refer to the economic aspects of the EU, such as freedom of movement, the euro and economic prosperity. “High levels of transfers from the EU budget have enhanced a utilitarian approach to integration,” she said.

Referring to the “engagement between Ireland and Europe that marked the first millennium”, she said an undue focus on the material aspect of EU membership since 1973 had left many without a sense of their European past.