The importance of a Yes vote


PERHAPS ONE of the most interesting features of the latest Irish Times/TNSmrbi poll on attitudes to the Lisbon Treaty is the doubling in a year, from 9 to 18 per cent, in the number of those who say that it would be better not to be part of the European Union. Forty-three per cent of No supporters are of this view.

Although most No campaigners, from Declan Ganley to Joe Higgins, profess to be strong supporters of the idea of a European union, albeit very different models, one result of their campaign has in fact been to push very significant numbers into the ranks of outright Euroscepticism. In the face of such a reality those making the case for Lisbon have again found it necessary to go back to basics to remind voters of the case for EU membership itself.

The treaty defines the nature of our membership and of our relationship with our partners in what has been and remains for this State an enormously important and beneficial common project. The EU has helped to lay the basis of our economic and social transformation and has brought down barriers across a continent, opening extraordinary opportunities for travel and education of our young and for business. It has provided an international platform for Ireland to find its “place among the nations”, to establish a separate identity from the British, and in the process has contributed significantly to peace on this island. In the wake of a century marked by Europe’s bloodiest wars, it seems extraordinary to have to restate that the EU provides a unique, first-of-its-kind, democratic model for peaceful reconciliation, balancing the interests of sovereign nations large and small, an important counterweight economically and politically to great power rivalry.

At a time when Ireland needs more than ever to be at the heart of Europe, the danger is that rejection will qualitatively change that relationship. There is no such thing as a free lunch. There will be a price. This is not the time for Ireland to be isolated, to go it alone.

At the very least Ireland would pay through its relative marginalisation politically, institutionally and economically. Politically because of the weakening of Ireland’s standing as a core member and of the goodwill that engendered and which has done us proud. Solidarity in the councils of the union cuts two ways. Institutionally, because our partners will want to press ahead and will seek to devise new ways of reinforcing their mutual co-operation, if necessary leaving Ireland in some form of semi-detached status. That could be through new opt-outs by Ireland or the evolution of a second-tier system of membership. Economically, Ireland would suffer because of the doubts a No would conjure up among foreign investors in relation to our commitment to the European market and in terms of the price we will pay to borrow money.

Ireland’s place is at the heart of this Europe, contributing our genius to this great, imperfect project as much as drawing from it. Europe needs us. We never needed Europe more than now. It is overwhelmingly in the interest of citizens to vote Yes on Friday.