Lisbon No vote will be seen as spiritual 'withdrawal' in EU


A NO vote in the upcoming Lisbon Treaty referendum would represent a “spiritual withdrawal”, from Europe, Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan has warned.

Mr Lenihan said it seemed many voters, “born since 1973” when Ireland joined the then European Economic Community, were unaware of the extent to which Ireland owed its economic development to the European Union.

“A No vote will be seen inevitably, if wrongly, as a retreat into economic isolationism by Ireland; it will be seen as a spiritual withdrawal from Europe,” he said.

Mr Lenihan said younger voters needed to be reminded that before 1973 Ireland was hugely dependent on Britain for exports, whereas exports had grown by 600 per cent since then.

“Certainly what I’ve said is not to be taken in any way in disrespect to younger voters. It’s just to say that younger voters have treated our European membership as so axiomatic in their lives, and in this referendum we have to re-examine the importance of that axiom,” he said.

The Minister said the European Central Bank (ECB) had provided a lifeline to Ireland’s financial system, as foreign banks withdrew funding. Without the support of the ECB, the financial system would have collapsed.

“And if anyone has any doubt about that, all they have to do is look at Iceland which is now very keen to become a member of the European Union,” he said.

Mr Lenihan said the ECB would support the National Asset Management Agency (Nama) by swapping Government bonds for cash.

A Yes vote in the referendum would earn Ireland the continued goodwill and support of the EU in tackling the banking crisis, he added.

It was clear that economic recovery and job creation would be led by exports, as it was in the 1990s. He said Ireland’s EU partners bought nearly two-thirds of its exports. “You don’t need a pie chart to see just how large a share of our exports go to other European countries.”

Mr Lenihan said the choice that voters faced in three weeks’ time could not be starker, and that the referendum would define Ireland’s relationship with its European partners for years to come.

“It is not a cost-free choice. We need Europe in order to overcome our shared problems. We need the reforms contained in the Lisbon Treaty in order to tackle those shared problems,” he said.

A No vote would signal to the rest of the world that Ireland has retreated into economic isolation, he said.

He insisted that a Yes vote would be a vote for economic recovery.

The Minister acknowledged the “tremendous support” for the treaty from the Fine Gael and Labour parties.