Public support for Lisbon rises as recession deepens


ANALYSIS:A key issue for the Yes side is the Government’s ability to wage an effective campaign, writes STEPHEN COLLINS

THE LATEST Irish Times/TNS mrbi poll confirms a trend that has been developing for the past six months. There is now solid support for the Lisbon Treaty holding up as the recession bites ever deeper.

There has been another increase in support for the Yes side and a small decrease in the No vote over the past two weeks. This would have given the Yes side a comfortable 66 per cent to 34 per cent margin of victory if the referendum had been held last week.

Such a margin of victory would have represented a more comfortable victory for the Yes side than the second Nice referendum in 2002, when 63 per cent voted Yes and 37 per cent voted No.

The decisive shift in public opinion, which has been clear for some time, raises questions about the failure of the Government and the main Opposition parties to put the issue to the people before the European election.

The problem now is how a badly demoralised Government will be able to wage an effective campaign in the autumn, on an issue that is so vital to Ireland’s national interest, if it suffers the kind of electoral disaster next Friday that now appears unavoidable.

The referendum will also require all the political parties to mobilise their supporters and commit significant funds to the campaign so soon after the gruelling European and local elections which will have drained the energy and pockets of their supporters.

There will be some comfort for the Yes campaign if Declan Ganley and Libertas fail to make a significant breakthrough in the European election campaign as The Irish Timespoll indicates will happen.

Ganley has said he will not have a leadership role in the next referendum if he fails to get elected to the European Parliament and that will remove at least one thorn from the side of the Yes campaign.

On the other hand, support for the other main anti-Lisbon party, Sinn Féin, has remained solid in the poll with the party’s MEP, Mary Lou McDonald, still in with a chance of retaining her European Parliament seat in Dublin.

Socialist Party leader and anti-EU campaigner Joe Higgins is also in with a chance of a seat in Dublin, although it would be at Sinn Féin’s expense.

One way or another, though, the victory of an anti-Lisbon politician in Dublin would not be a serious worry to the Yes campaign as both Sinn Féin and Higgins have been adamantly opposed to the European project since 1972.

The key problem for the Yes side now is whether a battered and demoralised Government and a buoyant Fine Gael and Labour Opposition, with the scent of Fianna Fáil’s blood in their nostrils, can put their differences aside to work together in a coherent Yes campaign.

If the autumn referendum somehow turns into another disaster and the No side win again then Brian Cowen, Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore will all be equally responsible for the failure of political nerve that prevented them from getting the referendum campaign over with in the first half of the year.

The clarification of the Lisbon Treaty to allow all countries retain an EU commissioner, along with the legal guarantees on specific Irish concerns such as neutrality, taxation and abortion will be agreed at an EU summit in Brussels in a few weeks.

They could just as easily have been agreed at the March Council and the referendum would now be out of the way.

The poll makes it clear that support for the treaty has increased again among all categories of voters. As expected, middle-class voters are the most enthusiastic, but there is now a clear majority for the Yes side among all social categories.

In regional terms, the Yes lead is now the biggest in Dublin, where 60 per cent support the treaty and 23 per cent are on the No side. In Connacht-Ulster, the Yes lead is 55 per cent to 27 per cent, while in the rest of Leinster it is 55 per cent to 30 per cent. Munster is the least enthusiastic region, with 47 per cent to 31 per cent.

Asked if, in the current crisis, it is better for Ireland to be part of the EU, an overwhelming majority of 81 per cent say Yes compared to 10 per cent who say No with a small number of undecided voters at 9 per cent.

There is a substantial majority in favour of the EU among all social classes, age groups and party supporters. Not surprisingly Sinn Féin supporters are the most negative about the EU, although a decisive majority was still in favour. What is surprising is that the most enthusiastic supporters of the EU are Green Party voters, followed by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour in that order.

In class terms, the best-off AB group is the most supportive; the poorest DE group the most negative. Farmers are still among the most enthusiastic.

In age terms, older voters over 50 are the most positive, while those in the 18-24 age group are the most negative, although there is still strong support for the EU across all age categories.

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