Martin admits Lisbon challenge


Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin today admitted the Government faces a tough battle to get the Lisbon Treaty ratified in the upcoming October 2nd referendum after the latest Irish Times/TNS mrbi poll showed support for the treaty has declined over the summer.

However, the Yes side is still in the lead with four weeks to go to the referendum, according to the poll, which shows that 46 per cent would vote Yes, a drop of eight points since the last Irish Times poll in May, while 29 per cent say they would vote No, an increase of one point. The number of people in the Don’t Know category has increased by seven points to 25 per cent.

When undecided voters are excluded, the Yes side has 61 per cent, with 39 per cent in the No camp. That compares to the referendum result in June 2008 of 53.4 per cent No and 46.6 per cent Yes.

"I was never under any illusion but that it would be difficult to secure this but I do think we can do it," Mr Martin, director of Fianna Fáil's Yes campaign, said this morning.

"There is a very significant challenge ahead, it's going to be a very tight campaign and it will demand all of the resources, conviction, politics and passion of all of those on the Yes side," he told RTÉ's Morning Ireland.

"I was never under any illusion but that it was going to be difficult to secure this, but I do think we can do it, and the significant difference . . . between this time last year and now now is that the "don't know" category has reduced significantly, and according to some research that we have seen . . . the information deficit has been improved - in other words more people are aware of the issues," the Minister said.

Warning against becoming "mesmerised by the last campaign," Mr Martin said: "The significant difference on this occasion is that we have succeeded in ensuring every country retains a commissioner, and basically the only guarantee now that the Irish people have now in terms of retaining a commissioner is to vote Yes.

"Whereas if we have a No outcome, we don't have any guarantee in the future that we will have a commissioner every year, and that's a fundamental change in terms of the campaign last year."

However, Mr Martin said the broader issue was Ireland's position within the EU, the perception of Ireland within the it and the degree to which the State wanted to facilitate the reform of the Union "on a modest basis".

Speaking on the same programme, Sinn Féin's Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said there was no agreement that the arrangement on commissioners "would continue into perpetuity".

"In relation to the protocols in the declaration, all we're looking at here is clarifications, and in the statement by the presidency following the conclusion of the summit on the 18th and 19th of June, they made it patently clear in their own text that nothing whatsoever in the protocols would have any effect in relation to the actual treaty.

"These are only clarifications . . . I don't believe at this point in time, I have not got sufficient assurance that we are going to have a commissioner into perpetuity," he said.

Mr Martin said the Sinn Féin TD was putting forward the "basic conspiratorial approach, the basis approach of lacking any trust at all in the European Union".

"To be fair, Sinn Féin have opposed every single European treaty since we joined the European Union in 1973," the Minister said. "It's about commonsense against the conspiracy theorists."

In response, Mr Ó Caoláin said: "My main concern here . . . is in relation to our Government here at home who have patently failed to honour the position already answered by the Irish people in relation to the Lisbon Treaty.

"This is exactly the same treaty that we voted for in June 2008."

Fine Gael TD Billy Timmins, the party's campaign director, said the Irish Times poll was a timely reminder the work still faced by Yes proponents.

"Yesterday’s poll provides confirmation of the tough task that lies ahead in convincing people that Ireland's interests are best served by remaining central to the European Union. One million jobs have been created here since we joined the EU in 1973 and at a time when jobless figures are at almost 430,000 we need to grab the economic handrail Europe provides."

“Twenty-five per cent of Irish people have yet to be persuaded that ratification of the Lisbon Treaty will be positive for Ireland, and that represents an opportunity to those of us advocating a Yes vote to highlight how beneficial the European Union has been for the Irish economy."

The decline in the numbers saying they will vote Yes comes after three Irish Times polls in the first half of 2009 that had shown consistently solid support for Lisbon. Most of those who have left the Yes camp have moved into the Don’t Know category rather than shifting into the No camp.

In the Irish Times poll at a similar stage in the first Lisbon Treaty referendum campaign, 35 per cent said they would vote Yes, 18 per cent said No and 47 per cent said Don’t Know.

The latest poll was taken on Monday and Tuesday of this week among a representative sample of 1,000 voters in face-to-face interviews at 100 sampling points in all 43 constituencies. Voters were asked whether they were likely to vote Yes or No to the treaty on October 2nd.

Fianna Fáil voters are the most enthusiastic supporters of the treaty by a margin of 62 per cent to 23 per cent. Among Fine Gael voters there is also solid backing for the Yes campaign by a margin of 58 per cent to 23 per cent. Labour Party supporters are less enthusiastic with 43 per cent in favour and 31 per cent against.

Green Party supporters are significantly out of tune with their party on the issue with 36 per cent intending to vote No and 31 per cent Yes, despite the party’s decision at a special convention to support Lisbon.

In line with their party’s stance on the issue, Sinn Féin voters are strongly against the treaty, with 66 per cent intending to vote No and just 13 per cent Yes.