16 June, 2008

Now What?

The omens weren't great. A pal sent me a text on Thursday morning saying 'it's probably going to be a train wreck'. Later on, when I walked into Jim's Barber Shop on Patrick Street in Dun Laoghaire, Jim said everyone who had come in the door that morning had voted No.

Friday morning I took an early train to Cork for a friend's wedding near Bantry. Enterprise Rent a Car picked me up at the station, and half an hour later I was negotiating roundabouts heading west in a Ford Fiesta. Posters of Kathy Sinnott MEP still stared out from every junction asking 'We give up power, in exchange for what?' A rhetorical question, but interesting to note that according to the website that she flags, the independence / democracy group is sponsored by 'EU-critics, eurosceptics and eurorealists'. The Workers Solidarity Movement had pasted their posters to lamp posts with a large anarchist A in a circle and the slogan - 'If you trust liars, vote yes, if you don't then vote no.' Their website cites Mikhail Bakunin's maxim that "Socialism without freedom is tyranny and brutality". Incidentally Bakunin held that the state should be immediately abolished because all forms of government eventually lead to oppression.

By the time I got to Bandon, Pat Kenny had some early tallies indicating a No vote. When I got to Dunmanway it was clear, the Treaty had been rejected.

-The Yes campaign started late. Cóir hit the ground running. The monkeys worked.
-Certain high profile individuals bizarrely stated that they hadn't read the damn thing.
-Cabinet pay hikes didn't exactly install fervour for politicians telling us what way to vote.
-People are concerned about the Mutual Solidarity Clause and European Security and Defence Policy.

Too be honest, I'm not a great fan of the line stating 'Member States shall undertake progressively to improve their military capabilities' in Article 42 of the Treaty. I guess that could mean making sure that Irish army radios can talk to other troops in Chad or elsewhere, or it could mean something more sinister. I do feel uneasy about other EU member states with large defence spending, but I certainly don't think that an arms race is at the heart of the Treaty. In fairness, Carol Fox and others from PANA put these points across in a level-headed way.

I made my own pitch for a yes vote in this week's Dún Laoghaire Gazette, and I'm glad to see that the Dún Laoghaire constituency delivered the highest Yes vote in the country. Interestingly, all the constituencies with a Green TD voted Yes, bar Dublin Mid-West. I'm disappointed that the strong lead that the European Union has taken on climate change may be diminished by the impasse over the treaty.

Saturday morning I drove back from Bantry to Cork, slightly the worse for wear from the celebrations of the previous evening. A wide-awake Declan Ganley from Libertas was on Radio One with Dunphy. He seemed to suggest that he had made most of his money in two-radios, and that really it was all about defending freedom. I'm not so sure. The car hire guy drove me back to the railway station, saying that he and his family voted no, because they didn't have enough information.

Sunday evening I went to hear Leonard Cohen up at IMMA. His voice was, well, as good as ever, but even there I couldn't stop thinking about the future of the Union. It must have been something to do with the roadies' truck, parked beside the big screen. Four bright yellow stars in an arc, reminding us that the Union is still there, and that disengaging is not an option. Where to from here? I don't think we can walk away and pretend Lisbon can't or won't happen. Hopefully we can negociate protocols that addresses the concerns both real and imaginary that people have about the EU's future. I'd hate to think that we might be left to one side as the other 26 countries chart their common future without us.


Pidge said...

This is a great look at where (most) of the Yes campaign went wrong:


Tomaltach said...

Hi Ciaran,
I think you are right about the campaigns and about the military aspect and perhaps a couple of other worrying clauses.

Yet I feel something wider was going on - which an effective No campaign managed to hook in to.

I think it's important to remember the lightening pace at which the European Union enlarged and deepened over the last 10 years. Part of that had a huge effect on Ireland. From monetary Union to very high immigration. Most of the Eu sponsored changes I argue were positive, but it is often not clear to many people, at a time when economic clouds are gathering, which progressive measures or positive programs were born in the EU and which were not.

In parallel there were of course other forces involved in the transformation of Ireland over the last decade. And don't get me wrong, I don't think this was an outbreak of xenophobia. More an unease at the pace of change and a desire to go into hold mode for a while. Also I think the new deeper political Union has to a great extent left people behind in terms of explaining how it works, justifying its existance. National leaders take the blame here also, or possibly primarily.

In short a sense of disquiet or unease, though just short of suspicion, has gained ground in respect of the EU. The No campaign fed on that, perhaps making concrete examples (though not always honest) of how a bigger central government posed a threat. They managed to solidify a sentiment into a conviction for many No voters.

tomcosgrave said...


I was hoping you might say something about Patricia. She has identified herself with the People's Movement as opposed to just campaigning on individual terms - is she on her way to being expelled from the Green Party? Would she leave? Do you think she and the Greens are becoming less and less compatible?

Ciarán said...

I'm in agreement with you on the unease. Rapid change is never easy for any society, and many are unhappy with the pace of Ireland's transformation.

Patricia. Yup. I think the interesting part of all that was that we didn't have a big row publicly about the issues that she spoke out on. Maybe we should have. Perhaps we were too diplomatic.

The curious positioning of the Green Party was the result of a very democratic consultation process amongst the grass roots members of the Party, and slightly less than two thirds of those who attended our special Lisbon Convention wanted the Party to adopt a Yes stance.

The Party's membership increased by over 40% in the last year, and many of those who joined were still probationary members and wouldn't have been able to vote at that Convention last January. Maybe we'd get the two thirds vote now, not that it's of much use!

Other factors that I failed to mention were the emptiness of the Yes slogans: "Be at the heart of Europe"; "Good for Ireland, Good for Ireland", and of course the tiny "Yes's" on the Labour Posters. (I think they eventually grew bigger.) The grinning head shots didn't help either. The Yes posters never engaged with policy, and while I spend a lot of my time arguing that the Green Party needs to get its hands dirty and engage in the politics of personality, rather than policy, on this occasion policy mattered, and those of us on the Yes side failed to clearly state the benefits of voting Yes.

Gay Byrne didn't help deliver a Yes vote from an older generation, and for the Sun readers there was always the "No way Jose" of Claire Tully on Page Three (and Page One) with her 600 points and first class honours degree from Trinity telling us that the EU pact was not the breast deal we could get.

Mic Mac said...

Does anyone else believe that the Irish psyche does not respond well to our "leaders" ganging up to tell us which way to vote? When they all get together to say "Wooo, scary stuff will happen if you don't obey us", our natural reaction is to go in the opposite direction. The No campaign could have produced a poster that simply said "Vote No! Just for divilment."
I voted Yes, but I had to grit my teeth and force myself. Only by repeating "Europe has forced through every decent bit of liberal legislation in the last 15 years against the opposition of these bozos" could I compel my hand to make the X in the right box.
Sad to say, I trust my future more in the hands of Europe than I do in the greasy paws of what is still Bertie's party.

Ciaran said...

I've since asked YES voters why they voted YES and not one could give me a reason...speaks for itself really.

I think YES voters decided to answer a different question, namely, 'are you in favour of Ireland's membership of the EU?'

The sole reason for this treaty is the efficiency argument, and it doesn't hold any water, decision making in the EU became more efficient, not less, since the entry of the 10 new countries (LSE study).

It's a bad treaty for all States, plain and simple.