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.
Polling day is finally upon us, so make sure to get out and cast your vote, whichever way you've decided. If you're one of those indecisive types who still hasn't made their mind up, Generation Yes have a quick list of 20 reasons to vote Yes (along with references to the articles involved) here. The polls will be open 'till 10pm tonight, so there should be plenty of time to drop in and cast your vote after dinner if you haven't had a chance earlier in the day.
The other week Jason posted an excellent and entertaining article on his 5 Reasons to vote Yes, including the following:
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.
Well, it seems reader Fergus O'Rourke has challenged us to come up with the list, and I don't want it to be said that Bloggers for Europe won't debate the treaty right down to the most obscure, narcolepsy-inducing technicalities. One word of warning, though; this is going to be probably the most boring post on the Lisbon Treaty you'll ever read. I'm going to be talking about the ways in which the Commission can help develop common techniques to monitor occupational hygiene across member states. There'll be arguments for the changes to comitology procedure, a subject so boring that it makes that priest with the really boring voice from Father Ted sound like Samuel L Jackson. In fact, I'm going to try to avoid mentioning anything even moderately exciting or groundbreaking, just in case any of you are still awake by the end of the post.
Just don't say you haven't been warned.
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.
This afternoon I'm going to be heading off to join Pat Cox and the Ireland for Europe team in Kerry as the campaign moves into the final few days. I'll be posting up here on the blog on how the campaign's going on the ground, and also twittering under my username @OwenRooney throughout the trip.
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.
Suzy Byrne, on her blog Maman Poulet, has an excellent post on Coir's "Death Panel Politics" and how it contrasts to the what's actually in the Lisbon Treaty on disability. You can read it here.
The Irish Times have the results of a new poll on the Lisbon Treaty in this morning's paper. The figures suggest that 48% of the population plan to vote Yes, 33% plan to vote No, and the remaining 19% are undecided. Although this is a steady improvement for the Yes side from the Irish Times' last poll, there's still a large chunk of the electorate that's undecided, and as the campaign runs into the last week the fight for these remaining voters will be sure to heat up.
You can read the Irish Times' report on the poll here.
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.
One of the many criticisms levelled at the EU is that it's run by faceless bureaucrats who are unaccountable to the people. There is a partial truth to it, but of course it is exaggerated and sensationalised beyond recognition. So to counter this claim I will start with the facts.
There are four institutions responsible for setting the direction of the EU, drafting legislation, passing legislation and implementing legislation. They are the European Council, The European Commission, The Council of Minister and The European Parliament. In a addition The European Court of Justice interprets and rules on the legislation.
The logical place to start is the European Council, it consists of the heads of government of all 27 member states in our case An Taoiseach Brian Cowen. It is the European Council which laid down the foundations of the treaties which establish all other institutions and the EU itself and as such it is the most powerful institution of the EU. It more resembles an international summit than an institution as it has no formal role in the daily business of the EU; as the heads of government for all 27 members states it essentially gives the EU it's direction and it's impetus through their cabinet ministers who sit at the Council of Ministers and through electing the head of the European Commission.
The Treaty of Lisbon only contains one major reform of the European Council, it will no longer have a rotating presidency but instead the position will be elected by the European Council for a 2.5 year term. The six month rotating presidency is flawed in many ways. With 27 states it will take 13.5 years for one full rotation. With terms of only six months the presidency is constantly in a rush to accomplish everything they set out, which can often lead to mistakes. But the main flaw in the rotating presidency is the major conflict of interest caused holding both EU and national office as the same time. The president should not be obligated to do what is best for his country as part of his national commitments and to do what is best for the EU as part of his European commitments, for while they will be compatible most of the time they can't be compatible all of time and whenever there is a conflict no doubt the national obligations will take precedence to the loss of every other country in the EU. Making the President of the European Council a permanent elected position solves all of these problems.
The new position has no formal or executive powers it is simply a glorified chairmanship. Duties of the position involve tabling discussions, presiding over meetings and acting as the European Councils external representative. It has no vote and no mandate to push it's own agenda, it is completely beholden to the European Council. Of course in their usual fashion many NO compaigners and Euro sceptics have picked up on this reform and completely misrepresented it as some sort of President of the EU similar in power and stature to the US president and then point to this as evidence that Lisbon creates a federal superstate which is of course complete nonsense.
In part II, I will deal with the European Commission and the new position of High Representative for Foreign Affairs.