Lisbon supporters must separate fact from fiction about EU


OPINION:No vote groups do not represent majority Irish view about EU

WE ARE, it seems, on the last lap of the tiresome – but extraordinarily important – saga that is the Lisbon Treaty’s circuitous route to ratification by Ireland.

What must our EU partners make of us? It’s difficult not to conclude that we’ve made a spectacle of ourselves. Some of them must see us like a spoilt child who they thought had grown into a mature, clever and successful adult – only to watch us lurch back into brat mode.

We have now extracted from them a “decision” of the European Council (that EU ruling collective that is all the union’s heads of state or government) that simply states what all of them know to be the case – namely that Lisbon is nothing to do with abortion, has no implications for our system of taxation, and doesn’t change anything we are doing regarding defence. In the whole area of defence, we don’t have to do anything different because of Lisbon. We don’t have to participate in anything that we don’t want to. There is not, and will not be, a European army, and there won’t be conscription into a non-existent European army .

The European Defence Agency (in existence since 2004 and of which we are a member) was founded “to improve the EU’s defence capabilities in the field of crisis management and to sustain the ESDP [European Security and Defence Policy] as it stands now and develops in the future”.

Ireland retains its veto on ESDP, but the Government is committed to putting the agency into the triple-lock mechanism, meaning our involvement will be conditional on a Government decision plus Dáil approval and only then for UN-mandated activities. That’s the way we were operating anyway, so no change there.

And just to be sure, all the stuff that the council decided is not in Lisbon will get wrapped up in a protocol to be attached, by each of our obliging EU partners, to the next accession treaty. To paraphrase a Sinn Féin quip at unionists, in response to their successive demands for IRA decommissioning, what part of “Lisbon does not do this” do you not understand? But of course, none of this will matter one jot to the antis who, within minutes of Friday’s EU summit decision were pumping out rejectionist statements.

The EU and the Government were “spoofing the media and public” said the rather grandly titled National Platform, the vehicle of essentially one man, the redoubtable Anthony Coughlan. The legal guarantees are an exercise in “creative manipulation designed to mislead the public”, according to Patricia McKenna, who has just failed to be elected an MEP.

The No side has disparate groups with hugely overlapping memberships, suggesting the noise levels are disproportionate to the number of people involved.

The comments of former Green McKenna (who is also in the People’s Movement) were put out by Pana, the Peace and Neutrality Alliance. Pana, which regards itself as the custodian of true Irish neutrality, lists 26 affiliated on its website. They include the following:

The Celtic League, whose general secretary, Rhisiart Tal-e-bot, told me its membership amounts to “about 2,000 members in total” across Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Brittany, Cornwall and the Isle of Man; a total of “around 150” people in Ireland. Who else?

The Irish National Congress, whose website shows a 2007 photo of Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness sharing a laugh and whose archive lists nothing newer than autumn 2006.

There’s the Irish El Salvador Support Committee, whose website was last updated in October 2002. The group was founded in 1979 and its site claims it has three members.

What about the Ireland Algerian Solidarity Group whose website lists among its supporters two TDs now dead? The group is seeking, since 1992, to “establish the truth about human rights abuses in Algeria”, but appears to have given up the ghost with the announcement of the “Dublin initiative” in February 2002, the last dated reference on its site.

There’s the Cuba Support Group, something named simply Christian Democrats; Citizens in Defence of Neutrality; the Communist Party of Ireland; Éirígí (objective: “To effect a British withdrawal from the occupied six counties . . . to establish a 32-county Irish Socialist Republic”); the Irish Missionary Union; Women in Media and Entertainment; the Woman’s International League for Peace and Freedom; Sinn Féin and The Green Party.

The point is this. The individuals involved in groups like Pana, (linked to the Socialist Workers Party), the People’s Movement, etc are doubtless highly motivated, but do they represent the majority of the Irish people and do their anti-EU views represent the best interests of the Irish people?

Time will tell, but I think not. This week, the Department of Foreign Affairs will launch, part of the Government’s fight to separate EU fact from EU fiction. About time too.