27/09/2009 - D-7
"Do you consent to the revision of article 29 of the Constitution to enable the State to ratify the Lisbon Treaty?" This is the question which 3 million Irish will have to answer on 2nd October.
On 12th June 2008 53.4% of the electorate rejected ratification and 46.6% voted in favour. 53.1% of those registered turn out to vote.
It is the second time that the Irish are being called to vote on the European treaty after having rejected the test in an initial referendum. On 19th October 2002, 62.89% of the electorate approved the Nice treaty after a majority of them had voted against it (53.87%) on 7th June 2001.
According to post-electoral surveys difficulty in understanding the treaty was the primary reason mentioned by those who chose to vote "no" in explanation of their vote. These surveys showed that the Irish saw the construction of Europe as a positive thing, and wanted their country to remain in the Union.
The text on which the electorate will be voting on 2nd October now includes several guarantees which the Irish government achieved from its European partners. These involve defence (upkeep of the military neutrality policy), social affairs (upkeep of constitutional measures on the right to life, education and the family) and taxation (no modification of the Member States' present competences). Ireland has also been assured that it will retain its Commissioner in a smaller European Commission.
In this electoral campaign the media modified their airtime rules. Although in 2008 the same time was allocated to each camp (the press followed this rule), the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland indicated that a fair balance had not necessarily been respected after they saw that the opponents to the Lisbon Treaty, fewer in number than the text's supporters, stood out better and their message had been received better because their appearance in the media had been more frequent. In Ireland during a referendum the government is not allowed to use public funds to try and convince the Irish to vote in one direction or another but it can inform the population about what is at stake (McKenna jurisprudence of the Supreme Court).
"It is clear that a second "no" vote to the Lisbon Treaty would have serious consequences for Ireland especially now that our partners have granted us what we wanted," declared Prime Minister Brian Cowen.
The Mobilisation of the European Authorities
According to the polls the first difference of opinion over the approval of the Lisbon Treaty is one of political belonging: the ruling Fianna Fail supporters are more enthusiastic, those close to Sinn Fein (SF), the only political party in favour of the "no" represented in the Dail Eireann (Chamber of representatives), the lower Chamber of the Oireachtas (Parliament) are more inclined to vote "no".
The President of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek travelled to Ireland on 8th September. "This referendum is not a popularity test for your government it is about our joint future in the European Union," he said. He stressed that he had not come to "tell the Irish how to vote", "I lived under a dictatorial regime for too long to even dare consider this," he added.
José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission was in Limerick on 21st September. He said to the Irish that they really had to vote in support of the Lisbon Treaty if they still wanted to have a Commissioner in Brussels (the Nice Treaty plans for the reduction of the number of Commissioners) and criticized those who "play on fear" by saying that the Irish minimum salary would be decreased if the Lisbon Treaty is adopted. On 19th September Mr Barroso made a move in Ireland's favour by putting forward aid totalling 14.8 million € for the retraining of 2,400 workers who had recently been dismissed from the Dell factory in Limerick. "The European Union is based on solidarity. Our natural answer is to come to the aid of those in difficulty," he said. This aid still has to be approved by the European Parliament and accepted by the 27 EU governments.
"The Lisbon Treaty is the fruit of eight long difficult years of negotiation between 15 and then 27 partners. It is not perfect, compromises never are, but the reason why we are all prepared to invest so much time and energy into this text is precisely because it will allow us to manage challenges such as the financial crisis, globalization, climate change and migration," declared Margot Wallström, Vice-President of the European Commission. Former Polish President (1990-1995), Lech Walesa visited Dublin on 17th and 18th September to support the "yes" vote.
"We shall accept the result and if it is negative we shall continue to apply the Nice Treaty," said Irish Finance Minister, Brian Lenihan. He insisted on reminding the youngest voters that before 1973 (when the island entered the EEC) Ireland depended greatly on the UK. Today the country sells its products and services to the entire world and its exports have increased 600% over the last 36 years. Brian Lenihan said that without the European Central Bank the Irish financial system would have collapsed in 2008 when foreign banks withdrew their cash.
Finally the Catholic Bishops Conference wanted to reassure church-goers and said that the text would not lead to the legalization of abortion. "The Lisbon Treaty does not question the existence of legal guarantees for the foetus in Ireland," says the press release on 21st September.
For the government this is an election it cannot afford to lose
"There are several reasons why we should vote "yes" but the most important one is that Ireland needs a Europe that works. A negative vote will not mean that we shall be thrown out of the European Union but it will not be without consequences," repeats the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen. "It is not about whether we support the government or not or whether we agree with Brian Cowen or not" he repeats aware of his low popularity rating and the dissatisfaction on the part of the majority of Irish with regard to his government. "If the international economic crisis made you angry, then you really have an opportunity to do something positive with your vote," stresses the Prime Minister, trying to convince citizens that the European Union is the only entity capable of taking the financial system forwards. "This is the moment to employ common sense which is an Irish feature, to acknowledge we need Europe and that Europe needs Ireland," he concluded.
Foreign Minister Micheal Martin, Fianna Fail's campaign leader spoke on the island's European future. "We shall be very uncomfortable if we remain in the EU and are marginalised and are unable to play the role which has been ours for the last 36 years," he said, adding that the country's international reputation would suffer if the vote was negative.
"Is the European Union vital for our future?" This is the question we have to answer on 2nd October next," says Mary Coughlan, Tanaist (Deputy Prime Minister) and Enterprise, Trade and Employment Minister, in the daily The Irish Times. "For employment, growth and the protection of workers, Ireland needs the Lisbon Treaty," she writes. Prime Minister Brian Cowen recalled that 2/3 of Irish jobs were linked to Europe.
Enda Kenny, the leader of Fine Gael, the main opposition party supports the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty and is campaigning on the fact that a "no" to the referendum equals a "no" to employment. He stressed how Ireland's membership to the European Union had helped to attract foreign investors to the country and recalled that without the Union the country would never have achieved such economic prosperity. "It has become a cliché when we say that only a letter separates Ireland from Iceland. In reality the difference between the two countries lies in two letters: the 'e' and the 'u'" says Gay Mitchell, an FG MP. "A negative vote would push Ireland towards the UK and the Eurosceptics. We have nothing to gain in continuing to follow British Eurosceptic interests," he added.
The "yes" vote also has the support of civil society and the business community which have rallied in force for this second referendum. Ireland for Europe, led by the chair of the European Movement and former President of the European Parliament, Pat Cox has devoted 500,000 € to the campaign. Airline Ryanair has had "Vote yes to Europe" painted on one of its planes. The computer company Intel has spent 200,000 € on the manufacture of posters in support of the "yes" vote. Finally David Cochrane and Naoise Nunn, the Libertas spokespeople have called on the Irish to vote in favour of ratification after have received the guarantee that Ireland would retain its Commissioner in Brussels.
The Coir organisation (justice in Gaelic) has been one of the greatest opponents to ratification. Amongst the groups against the text are also the People's Movement whose chair, Robert Ballagh is accusing the political parties of scaring the Irish who want to vote "no". Finally Richard Boyd Barrett from the Alliance "People before Profit" says that the EU has failed to manage the present international economic crisis. 136 local councilors signed a text in expression of their opposition to the Lisbon Treaty maintaining that this would lead to the privatization of public services and to the creation of a militarized Europe. Amongst these councillors are several members of the far left party Sinn Fein. Kieran Allen, Socialist Workers' Party (SWP) is trying to play on Irish dissatisfaction and discontent. "Voting "no" is a good way of pushing the government out," he says. But the event during the "no" campaign came from Declan Ganley who publicly announced on 12th September in an interview in the Wall Street Journal, that he would return to politics and spoke of his renewed commitment in the fight against the Lisbon Treaty. The Libertas leader justified his return by his desire to react "to the insane proposals on the part of the "yes" camp". In his opinion this new referendum is anti-democratic. Declan Ganley failed in his attempt to bring his party success in the last European elections in June and is barely credible since he publicly announced that he was retiring if he lost the European elections. "Declan Ganley is thoroughly against the EU, he shares the same hostile approach as the Eurosceptics who want to use the referendum to achieve their anti-European goals," declared European Affairs Minister Dick Roche.
"More than 55% of the Irish will ratify the text," says Dick Roche who is confidant with regard to the referendum result on 2nd October. Just days before the referendum the polls seem to confirm this. According to the latter 53% of the Irish are about to vote "yes" and 26% "no"; 2 in 10 (21%) are still undecided. Another poll undertaken by Red C and published in the Farmers' Journal reveals that 69% of farmers will vote in support of the Lisbon Treaty in comparison with 15% who reject it; 16% still have not made up their minds.
"This campaign has been marked by greater motivation on the part of the "yes" camp," analyses Peadar O'Broin, a researcher at the Institute for International Relations in Dublin who does warn however that there may be a sanction vote (the Irish GDP is due to decline by 7.7% in 2009).