Fear elbows out reason in debate on treaty


The groups leading the discussion have already decided which side their bread is buttered on

THE CHOICE defining this referendum – growth versus austerity – is a false one. Both options belong to the same box, to an argument about – in Declan Ganley’s audaciously inventive metaphor – how the chairs should be arranged on the deck of the Titanic.

If we are resigned to stay within the box of the euro, and the eternal supervision of our “partners”, there is no point in answering anything except Yes. Yes to austerity, yes to growth, yes to growsterity. Yes to whatever they propose.

(By “they” I mean, essentially, the Germans, who have now managed to dispense with the thin veneer of democracy that previously graced the EU.) Growth and austerity are sides of the same coin, on which, oblivious of the miraculous nature of money, we imagine ourselves to depend. The box, then, is a money box, in which the slot is too small to admit inspiration.

The box defines the debate and the debate keeps the box closed and locked. When, intermittently, an RTÉ presenter asks some naysayer, “Where are we going to get the money if we vote No?”, we are immediately subjected to two galvanising sensations: certainty and fear.

The certainty – that voting No would be an act of madness in our present predicament – comes first, because the question is not merely a question but, within the discussion it defines, a conclusive analysis. But the fear follows hard and settles the matter. The question defines the box which defines the debate, which yields the question and renders it obvious.

Were RTÉ a different kind of national broadcaster (for example, a national broadcaster) its presenters might occasionally ask different questions.

“Why”, one of them might ask Eamon Gilmore, “do you think it right that we subject our children’s futures to the whims of power-tipsy gamblers at roulette tables?”

One problem is that the organisations leading the discussion about our impending definitive answer to this question are all businesses who have already decided which side their bread is buttered on. Thus, the main objective is to create sufficient noise to render undetectable the absence of voices noting that what is in the short-term interests of businesses is not necessarily – and certainly not definitively – in the best interests of Ireland.

A Yes is the preferred response of those who have managed to accommodate themselves to the normalised conditions which have asserted themselves in the box after four years of chassis. A Yes would whimper: “If we can keep our noses clean and hang in for a little longer, saying Yes to everything, something must eventually happen, but nobody will be able to blame us.”

Within the terms of the debate defined by the box, a No outcome would not be the opposite of a Yes, but a close relative. No would mean “Maybe”, or “No, unless . . .”, or “No, but . . .” That the No side has, in effect, been led by Sinn Féin has ensured an argument couched in antagonism to a proposal rather than a proposal in its own right.

Sinn Féin, courtesy of recent history, is better adapted to antagonism than annunciation. It needs an enemy to rally people around itself, and a simple slogan to maximise results. Thus, the Sinn Féin No means no and little else, and the raggle-taggle of lefties who follow suit have felt no imperative to dig deeper. It is scarcely possible to imagine any No argument that would suit the Yes argument as well.

The arrival of Libertas has had a zero-effect on this phony war. Declan Ganley’s initial hesitation as to whether he would argue for or against has cast him as a Don’t Know upon whom a pragmatic if negative certainty has belatedly settled itself. The effect is likely to be positively neutral.

Nowhere in the discussion is there the possibility of a No that would do more than make our “partners” grit their teeth in impatience while smiling sardonically as they toy with the life-support switch. A “No to austerity” would be a zero-statement, conveying: “We are still in the box and happy enough to remain, but we want a bit more air for the childer if that’s not too much to ask, Your Ladyship”.

There is a different kind of No: one that might perchance emanate from some fundamental understanding of Ireland’s needs and hopes beyond the exigencies of the mess we have recently dug ourselves into. This kind of No would – couched in a particular way – be a deep-down Yes to a different way of being.

But such a No belongs to a different country than we have become – one with vibrant debates and courageous, visionary leaders and dazzling voices of opposition.

In a certain sense, then, there is no point in voting No. A No would imply that we have other ideas, that Ireland is a fount of alternative perceptions and proposals, that it harbours an audacious Plan B which we stand ready to implement if we fail to get a hearing for our analysis.

Some of us would like to utter such a No. But how would anyone begin to understand what we were trying to say?

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