Irish in Brussels look 'shrunken' by No vote


IRISH CIVIL servants working in Brussels felt "beaten down and kicked" by the outcome of the Lisbon Treaty referendum, RTÉ's Europe editor Seán Whelan has told an Oireachtas committee.

Mr Whelan said the effect on the morale of those who worked in the permanent representation offices in Brussels should not be underestimated.

He said a "huge amount of wind" had been taken out of the sails of Irish civil servants.

"It manifested itself in almost physical ways. It may be the perception of these things, but they looked shrunken. They looked like beaten people," he told the Joint Oireachtas Sub-Committee on Ireland's Future in the EU.

Both Mr Whelan and The Irish TimesBrussels correspondent Jamie Smyth were invited by the committee to speak to Oireachtas members about Ireland's current influence and standing within the EU.

Mr Whelan said there were "real but intangible" consequences for Ireland's No vote and there was a perception within the EU that Ireland had less influence.

"You can perceive it, you can feel it, you can taste it - all those myriad ways in which you can sense these things - there is definitely a perception of a shrinkage in terms of Irish influence. There is a reduction in credibility too. A lot of people talked to us about the poor job that was done in presenting the arguments for the Lisbon Treaty," he said.

He described "incomprehension, incredulity, anger and cynicism" as the dominant feelings in Brussels about the Irish No vote.

Mr Smyth said the No vote was initially greeted with shock which had not dissipated.

"The EU politicians that we are mixing with every day can't really understand why we rejected the Lisbon Treaty and they are somewhat bemused as to the reason for the No vote because it seems to focus on issues which are not in the treaty such as conscription, abortion and taxation," he said.

He said the rejection of the Lisbon Treaty was more serious than the initial rejection of the Nice Treaty because of the time and energy that had been put into the negotiation of the Lisbon Treaty by politicians and diplomats. "They poured their heart and soul into it for seven years. It is going to be very difficult for them to give it up," he said.

He also said the elevation of the Irish language as an official language was tangible evidence of the goodwill that was once there, especially during Ireland's successful presidency of the EU in 2004.

"Had we voted Yes, there was a chance they [member states] would be able to massage deals and get compromises which might just help us," he said.

Mr Smyth said the Irish No vote had created domestic difficulties in several other European countries. In Austria the government collapsed when the chancellor suggested that future treaties be put to a vote, in Poland the Irish No vote is worsening tension between the president and the prime minister, and there are fears in Croatia that the Irish No vote will stop them joining the EU in 2010.