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31 May 2001 Edition

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Nice Treaty stakes are rising

BY ROBBIE MacGABHANN

Profoundly unbalanced, private armies, moral duties and national embarrassments - feeling a little lost? Well don't worry it is only the muddled sound of empty vessels in the 26-County's political establishment.

The coalition parties, Fine Gael, Labour, the ICTU and the two largest farming organisations, were all wheeling out the heavy artillery during the last week to bolster up the ailing and error filled arguments of the Yes campaign in the Nice Treaty debate.

That the vast forces of the political establishment felt necessary to throw themselves into what National Platform chairperson Anthony Coughlan described as ``a smokescreen'' speaks volumes for the effects the under resourced and at times ignored No campaign is having on the ground.

Referendum Commission

The first group to feel the wrath of the Yes lobby were not even campaigning in the Nice Treaty. The Referendum Commission, whose booklet Three Proposals, Three Decisions was winging its way though letter boxes across the 26 Counties, was attacked by Fine Gael's Alan Dukes and former IFA president and Fine Gael MEP Alan Gillis.

Dukes and Gillis were miffed that the Referendum Commission's booklet made no reference to EU enlargement. This meant, according to Dukes, that there is a danger of a skewed argument in the Treaty debate. Dukes had written to the Commission complaining about the text of the booklet.

Alan Gillis said it was ``more than surprising'' that the Referendum Commission's booklet made no reference to enlargement. The fact that the independent commission had agreed with the claims of No campaigners that enlargement was not an issue in this treaty debate was overlooked entirely.

Instead, the position was that anyone who remotely disagreed with the arguments of the Yes campaign was somehow deviant, even if they were part of an independent commission headed by a senior member of the judiciary.

O'Donoghue's army

Fianna Fáil's justice minister John O'Donoghue ran with the party ball this week and like Cowen and Ahern he chose not to attack any of the arguments of the No campaign. Instead, O'Donoghue claimed that ``Sinn Féin would have the Irish people reject Nice on the basis of opposition to militarism and in defence of neutrality. Can this, we wonder, be the same Sinn Féin that also seems quite at ease with the idea that private armies should hold on to their lethal and illegal military arsenals until they themselves, in their own good time, decide otherwise''.

The fact that O'Donoghue was not rejecting the idea that Nice will lead to a military superstate only serves to prove the No campaign case.

Moral duties

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) took a different tack in their intervention in favour of a Yes vote. We have, according to ICTU, a ``moral obligation'' to ratify the Nice Treaty. Outgoing ICTU General Secretary Peter Cassells also began to talk about enlargement. Maybe he too believes the referendum commission, the Attorney General and the No campaign are completely wrong.

Addressing one of the other concerns of the No campaign, the militarisation of the EU, Cassells said this was ``scaremongering''.

Meanwhile, Progressive Democrat leader Mary Harney offered a new reason to vote Yes to Nice. She would be ``very embarrassed as an Irish person'' if we vote No to Nice, yet another compelling argument to vote Yes.

Ahern's Smear

Bertie Ahern returned to the issue of claiming that Tory Eurosceptics were funding the No campaign in Ireland. Once again, Ahern made publicity on the Nice campaign without debating the actual contents of the treaty.

However this week Ahern offered a new angle on voting Yes. Voting No would be, ``extremely damaging'' and ``a huge kick in the teeth to the applicant countries''. Foreign Affairs minister Brian Cowen also attacked the Sinn Féin campaign poster which says ``No to Nice, No to Nato''. ``We have no intention of joining NATO'', said Cowen.

Sinn Féin's Sean MacManus responded to Ahern on this issue. MacManus said that Sinn Féin is only rightly highlighting the fact that ``NATO will, whether Bertie Ahern or Brian Cowen like it or not, have considerable influence over the EU Rapid Reaction Force''.

Questions and Answers

The issue of what are the implications for Irish neutrality of the Nice Treaty were the topic of debate on RTE's Questions and Answers on Monday. Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, making his first ever appearance on the programme, Brian Cowen, Michael Noonan, John Gormley and journalist Maol Muire Tynan all debated the issues of EU enlargement and neutrality.

Adams highlighted Fianna Fáil's backtracking on this issue. He quoted Bertie Ahern arguing against possible membership of Partnership for Peace as ``a gratuitous signal that Ireland is moving away from its neutrality and towards gradual incorporation into NATO and the WEU in due course''.

Adams asked how can we now believe Fianna Fáil's commitment to neutrality when in their 1997 election manifesto they explicitly opposed PfP membership. Yet they then went on to enter PfP without a referendum. ``They cannot claim credibility now when they say Nice does not affect our neutrality,'' said Adams.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Q&A debate was that the fact that it actually happened and that all of the participants, particularly those in favour of Nice, agreed that there was too little time for the discussion on this serious issue to take place.

Gerry Adams framed this well by arguing, ``We need to be able to sit and discuss what type of Europe we want, what type of Ireland we want in that Europe''.

The fact that this much needed debate has been stifled by the Leinster House political establishment makes a No vote in next week's referendum all the more necessary.

Watch out for more Yes campaign smokescreens.
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