Ireland Votes NO!

While 78% are Pro-EU, Many Did Not Understand What Was at Stake, or Were Simply Afraid of the Unknown

A poster campaigning for the “No” vote leading up to the Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty on Jun. 13. They show the fear tactics of anti-EU propagandists

A poster campaigning for the “No” vote leading up to the Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty on Jun. 13. They show the fear tactics of anti-EU propagandists

A poster campaigning for the “No” vote leading up to the Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty on Jun. 13. They show the fear tactics of anti-EU propagandists

A selection of posters campaigning for the “No” vote leading up to the Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty on Jun. 13. They show the fear tactics of anti-EU propagandists

A selection of posters campaigning for the “No” vote leading up to the Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty on Jun. 13. They show the fear tactics of anti-EU propagandists

campaign posters

A selection of posters campaigning for the “No” vote leading up to the Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty on Jun. 13. They show the fear tactics of anti-EU propagandists

Friday the 13th is regarded by some as a harbinger of bad news. In June 2008, it was certainly an unhappy day for the European Union. In a referendum to amend the Irish Constitution to ratify of the Treaty of Lisbon, the electorate said NO!

The result was greeted with emotions ranging from outright anger and dismay through frustration and disappointment to cheers of congratulation from the occasional Eurosceptic. Then the analysis began.

The Europhiles were furious. One heard, “The ungrateful Irish are really anti-European, and should be thrown out of the EU forthwith!”  But as passions cooled, it became possible to review the facts and figures that help explain the vote.

The first fact is that of all the 27 EU member states, Ireland is the only one that had to seek the electoral approval of the Treaty. Ratification of the Lisbon Treaty required a constitutional amendment, which in Ireland must be approved through referendum.

The second fact is that voting is not compulsory. In this referendum votes were cast by some 53% of the electorate, meaning almost 47% of the electorate did not vote at all.  Reasons can be very fickle.  In a recent referendum in another member state, the turnout of electors was about 10%, partly explained by a sudden warm Sunday after a spell of bad weather. Thus the Irish turnout was relatively high. In general, those opposed to amendment usually make a greater effort to vote.

In this case, the “No” vote was carried by a 53.4% majority of those who voted. In short, the amendment was defeated by between 25% and 30% of the Irish electorate. Two weeks later, an independent poll showed that 78% of the Irish people are pro- European.  In the Dail (The Irish Parliament), the three major parties who together hold more than 90% of the seats strongly advocated a “Yes” vote. This Government, on behalf of the people, had signed up for the Treaty at Lisbon in Dec. 2007.

So why was the amendment rejected? And what can possibly happen now?

Apart from the perennial fact of opposition to any change, the treaty is difficult simply because of its complexity and scope.  This was recognised by the Government, who established an independent Commission in March to explain the implications of the treaty in layman’s terms.  Again the scope of the Treaty is such, however, that potential opposition could be spread across a range of issues.

Two axioms may be relevant here:  “The devil can quote scripture for his own purposes!” but also, “The devil you know is better than the one you don’t!”

In the first case, it is easy to take passages out of context and suggest implications. Tax harmonisation is such an issue, fearing it would reduce foreign investment in Ireland, resulting in a loss of jobs. Valid point – except that tax harmonisation is a proposal from which Ireland is specifically excluded. Yet the fear remains.

In a more general way, suggestions that the treaty would threaten traditionally held values like neutrality are sufficient to create uncertainty.  The fear of change provokes inertia.  We know what we have, with all its faults and weaknesses; a future uncertainty may be worse, so vote “No.”

The fact that some of these misgivings are utterly without foundation is not strong enough to overcome the seeds of doubt. Travelling by car is much more hazardous than flying; but in a car, we think we have control.

One clear problem is rotating Commissions, and the thinking behind opposition easy to trace: The fear is that the Commission can make any decisions it likes about our future without even having to listen to our views because there is nobody there to represent us. Ultimately it comes down to individuals not understanding what is at stake or simply fear the unknown.

So what now? There are three main avenues of response. Abandon or redraft the treaty; proceeds without Ireland; or find a way that provides for the ratification of the Treaty with Ireland included.

In reality, the first two can be excluded from any serious consideration of the way forward.  So the answer must be found in the third way. Politics is the art of the possible and a solution will be found – hopefully sooner rather than later.

Share This Post

Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » appearance » Widgets » and move a widget into Advertise Widget Zone