Many eurosceptics expected on Friday the 2nd of October that the referendum would be passed. They expected it to be passed with a whimper of submission, a reluctant approval by an electorate that had been "bullied" by Brussels bureaucrats into voting again. They were right about the result, but very wrong about the scale and the sentiment of it. One million, two hundred and fourteen thousand, two hundred and sixty eight Irish citizens came out to vote Yes that day, a greater number than has ever voted in favour of a European treaty in the history of our country. The turnout of 59% was the highest of any European referendum since the vote on our accession to the EEC in 1972. The scale of the Yes vote, at over 67%, was higher than even the most optimistic pro-Lisbon campaigners had hoped.
As the results came in on the Saturday, it became clear that this was far from a whimper of submission, it was a roar of approval. It was an endorsement of our place as an outward looking, progressive society. It was a rejection of the fringe forces who would drag us back to conservative nationalism, to an introverted and cynical Ireland that we left behind when we took our place in Europe in 1973. Above all else, it was a recognition that, as a small country on the edge of a continent, our future, both economically and socially, is inextricably linked to that of our neighbours, and working with them is the best way to make that future a confident, prosperous and just one.
A week on from the result, as the nation's politics returns to scandal, strikes and special interests, it becomes all the more impressive that, on one issue, there could be such agreement from such diverse groups. From every mainstream political party to businesses, unions, farmers, civic groups, students, and even a few bloggers, the nation came together to send out a clear message that, despite our other disagreements, the vast majority of us can agree on; we see ourselves at the heart of Europe, and we're proud to be there.
Jobs. Inward investment. Reform of the institutions of the un.....bleuggh! You'll have heard all that stuff before, and from people way smarter than me.
Here's why I'm voting yes.
The EU works. It does more good than harm, and I’ve not come across a proposal from Sinn Fein or Joe Higgins or UKIP or Coir/Youth Defence which makes better sense, and wins as much support, as the EU.
We’re not voting on the EU, you cry. We’ll still be in the EU regardless of how we vote.
Yeah, that’s true, but here’s my problem:
If we vote No, the rest of Europe will respect our decision. They will accept that we have voted twice against further integration, and that we are sincere in our beliefs that this is as far as we go. In short they will, much to our surprise, actually believe us.
It seems logical to me that those other countries that want to move on will negotiate amongst themselves, and not invite us, because:
A) We have said (Three out of four times.) that we’re not interested.
B) Why would anyone negotiate with an Irish government that can’t get any agreement it makes ratified through a referendum anyway, after failing twice in a row?
They will respect us and leave us be, and I don’t want us to be left be. I want us at the table when Angela Merkel turns and says “What does Ireland think?” and no one on the No side can assure me of that. Neither Joe Higgins, Mary Lou or whoever the mysterious people in Coir/Youth Defence are have the power to make the rest of the EU pay attention to our concerns after a second No vote. Kieran Allen of the Socialist Workers Party (A People Before Profit franchise. Or is it the other way around? I can never remember.) says that the Irish people can take to the streets and demand things from the rest of Europe. Yeah, like we’re going to teach the French how to protest? I can see Sarko snorting already: “Call that a demonstration of public anger? Ha! I’ve seen Carla have bigger tantrums than that!”
There is good stuff in the treaty, but it is technical. The Council will vote in public, for example. Does that excite you? Does that cause your nether regions to stir? Is there anyone closing their curtains, and sweatily slipping “Red Hot Council Decisions Volume 2.” into their DVD player? No there isn’t. But then there are no teenagers slipping a well thumbed copy of “Aircraft Window Sealant regulations” under the sheets either, but next time you get on a plane, and look at the seal around the window, I bet you’ll think: “I hope someone checks this stuff.” Stuff can be boring AND important and this is one of those things.
Many of the people opposed to the treaty are sincere. Joe Higgins is, but Joe is also using the treaty to fight for a vision of society that he has never suceeded in doing in a general election. Trying to turn Ireland into North Korea without the psychotic midget dictator and the daily diet of tree bark and weevils is going to be a hard enough sell. At least turn up on the right battlefield , Joe.
Sinn Fein are still moving away from a 19th century view of the world towards modern times. There are some who say that Sinn Fein opposed this treaty primarily because they knew they would be the only party who would, and so would get additional publicity. Certainly, when you look at the way Sinn Fein ministers in the North talk about the EU (Quite nicely in a More Tea, Vicar? Chocolate Hobnob? kind of way.) and with the same tone that the PSNI talk about their committment to human rights, you can’t help thinking that they’re either two-faced, with a partionist approach to the EU, or the ministers in the North show the way Sinn Fein is heading on Europe. Either way, their alternative has almost no support in the rest of Europe, and believing that Sinn Fein can make the other 26 countries surrender everything is a bit hopeful: When they tried to negotiate with just one country (The Brits), the best they got were all-Ireland telly ads telling us how to not get the runs from food poisoning.
Coir/Youth Defence have it in for, well, 21st Century life on Earth. As one architect friend of mine summed them up: ” According to Coir, voting Yes will mean that the gays can force unborn children to fight in Afghanistan for €1.84 an hour.” How can we listen to people who don’t even identify themselves on their own website? What’s their real agenda, aside from splitting the lease with Youth Defence?
We have problems, big giant Godzilla-without-cute-Godzuki sized problems coming at us. We don’t need to create new problems for the sake of it, and that’s what we will do with a No vote. If you’re pissed off with the government and the political establishment, that’s fine. Kick the crap out of them at election time.
But voting No to get at the government is like being one of those morons who throws rocks at the fire brigade. As Iceland discovered, the EU is the fire brigade, and it sure is handy having a direct line to the station.
Yes is, quite simply, the sensible self-interested way to go.
In the past few days, Libertas have started putting up a new poster, eschewing their pastel blues and ballot boxes from the last campaign in favour of apocalyptic skies, crying children and the death of democracy. While I'm going to assume all of you are knowledgeable enough about the Lisbon Treaty to know that it won't signal the end of Irish democracy, what I'd actually like to take issue with is the startling lack of knowledge of the history of democracy in Ireland that Libertas are displaying. Democracy in Ireland didn't, as the poster suggest, suddenly appear on the scene in 1916. In fact, we didn't even have an elected parliament in 1916, and the roots of Irish democracy go back much further.
The first recorded meeting of the earliest Irish Parliament was on 18 June 1264 in Castledermot, County Kildare, and the Parliament of Ireland was then officially established in 1297. Admittedly the franchise for elections was extremely limited in these early days, but this was the case for any democratic system that developed during the middle ages. Although the parliament had a large degree of independence from the English Parliament and British Monarch originally, the act known as Poynings' Law severely restricted the powers of the Parliament of Ireland in 1494, giving the King and English Parliament effectively complete control over it.
The trend towards English consolidation of power in Ireland was temporarily reversed when, in 1782, Irish politicians led by Henry Grattan managed to have Poynings' Law and many other restrictions on the Irish Parliament reversed, after which it went through a period known as 'Grattan's Parliament'. The parliament at this stage had more autonomy than at any time before, and extended the vote to the Catholic majority in 1792. The Act of Union in 1800, however, abolished the Irish Parliament after this brief period of legislative freedom, and for more than a century the only Parliament with power over Ireland was to be the one in Westminster.
Despite campaigns by men such as Daniel O'Connell throughout the 19th century, it was not until 1919 that a parliament sat in Ireland again. Following the 1918 Westminster elections, the 73 MPs elected for Sinn Fein unilaterally founded the first Dáil Eireann, and ratified a declaration of independence on its first sitting on 21 January 1919. Although the Dáil wasn't officially recognised, and in fact declared illegal by the British government, it managed to negotiate the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the establishment of the Irish Free State.
The Irish Free State was established in 1922, with a Dáil and Seanad elected by proportional representation, and an 'Executive Council' chosen by the Dáil. The Constitution of the Irish Free State also provided a range of measures for direct democracy, such as constitutional amendment by referendum and a citizens' initiative, although these were never actually used. It was on 1 July 1937 that the first ever referendum was held in Ireland, where the voters approved the Constitution of Ireland, as proposed by the government of Eamon de Valera. The modern constitution, which severed the relationship to Britain and the Commonwealth, kept the Dail and Seanad in largely similar form, introduced a directly elected President, and could only be amended by means of referendum, which has since happened 21 times.
So, while looking for a date for the 'birth' of Irish democracy, Libertas could have chosen 1264, 1297, 1782, 1919, 1922 or 1937, all important years in the progression towards our current democratic society. In comparison to these dates, 1916, while an important step towards Irish independence, wasn't actually a turning point in Irish democracy, with democracy in various forms having existed in Ireland since more than 650 years beforehand, and the subsequent return to national democracy occurring 3 years later. If Libertas wish to claim themselves defenders of Irish democratic traditions, it might help if they took the time to learn what those traditions were in the first place.
Professor Alan Matthews (of the Dept of Economics, Trinity) has a post up on The Irish Economy blog on the potential economic impact of a Yes or a No vote on Oct. 2. You can read it here, and there's some well informed discussion in the comments section too.
It's fashionable in eurosceptic circles to declare that the EU is undemocratic and unaccountable. The thing is, they tend to be a bit hazy about what the EU needs to do to be democratic. It seems to involve Germans having less rights than Irish people, which doesn't seem very democratic to me.
The other example they tend to give is of the "unelected" commission. It is unelected. like the Secretary General of the Department of Finance, or the head of the ESB, or the HSE, or Iarnrod Eireann. What's the point? Ah, but they cry, the Sec Gen and others are answerable to a minister! Which is true. As is the commission. 27 ministers, actually. What's the point?
The parliament is dismissed by eurosceptics as an irrelevence, yet the Lisbon treaty gives the parliament more powers than it has ever had. They can't have their cake AND eat it, unless they don't really believe what they are saying in the first place. And bear in mind the fact that the commssion, the bete noire of the "democrats", takes the parliament seriously.
I'd also say that the parliament does a better job of holding the executive to account than the Dail does.
The EU does not work like a nation state, with an elected government, because it isn't. We've never said that we wanted it to be.
It seems Sinn Féin are going to be the latest party to propagate the voting weight myth, with a new poster that claims the following voting weights under Lisbon:
Germany 17%, Britain 12%, Ireland 0.8%.
This quite accurately describes the 'population' requirement of Double Majority QMV, however it is a lie of omission as it does not tell the full story.
Click below the fold to find out the real deal...
Updated to remove mistaken info [16-09-2009]
1. We really have enough problems as it is without getting more by voting No. I mean, NAMA, An Bord Snip, tax rises, the economy, Jordan single again, and now we want to go and piss on our generous German aunty's apple strudel?
2. The mysterious faceless Coir are against it. Yeah, the "We live in the same house as Youth Defence but we have never met the fella" crowd. Coir: The people who thought Tom Hanks was the baddy in The Da Vinci Code.
3. For the polar bears. We can either have global climate change treaties negotiated by major players like the EU, the Chinese and the US, or we can watch Ringsend go under water. And run out of polar bears. Not in Ringsend, obviously. I mean generally. You can't move for polar bears in Ringsend, all over the place, standing on clear mints and pontificating.
4. It improves the EU in loads of technical ways which you really don't want me to list here. I mean, we'll get them for you if you want, but only if you promise to read them. There'll be a test.
5. The sky won't fall on our heads if we vote No. But the rest of Europe will probably respect our decision, believe us, and move on to integrate without us and the Brits. Great, we're effectively back in the UK. Nice one, Mary Lou. See, this is where the No campaign falls apart. They hint that they can stop the rest of Europe moving on. They can't. And anyway, would you really rely on the shinners to negotiate? The one time they were sent in to negotiate with anyone, they went in looking for a united Ireland and came out with a food safety board. Bag of magic beans, anyone?
"Seamus Heaney launches fierce attack on Irish opponents of Lisbon Treaty", reported the Observer Sunday. Seamus Heaney was interviewed by the Observer, and said that:
" "The reasons for voting 'no' are manufactured, on the whole. And if it's 'no' again, I think we have lost ourselves in the modern world."
Europe was "more than a bureaucracy, it's an ideal," he said. "The word 'Europe' is one of the first cultural underpinnings to our lives in this part of the globe. It's for Greece, Italy, Rome, England, France that I feel it." He also dismissed claims that the Lisbon Treaty would end Irish sovereignty and see the republic absorbed into a European super-state. "
Following on from the economists, employers' body IBEC has released the results of a survey of 500 employers around Ireland (link here), which shows almost complete agreement amongst firms that a Yes vote is an important step towards economic recovery. Of those surveyed, 86% said that a Yes vote would be "important/very important for Irish companies exporting into the EU", a figure that rises to 89% amongst companies that currently export.
Given that almost 65% of Ireland's exports are within the EU, this is as clear a message as possible that if we want an export-led recovery to our current economic woes, then a Yes vote on the 2nd of October would be a crucial step towards that.
Indecon, an economic consultancy firm, has just released the results of a survey of 66 non-governmental Irish economists on their attitudes to the Lisbon Treaty. You can find the report here. The headline stat is that 91% of economists surveyed said that "Ireland’s overall economic interests would be best secured by a 'Yes' vote", which is excellent news for Yes campaigners as they try to convince the populace that voting Yes will help drag Ireland out of the economic doldrums. Other interesting stats are that 65% of economists think that a Yes vote would help bring in FDI (compared to only 3% who said a No vote would do the same) and 75% think that a Yes vote would "significantly enhance Ireland's reputation" (with just 1.5% claiming it would damage our reputation).