19 June 2008 Edition

Resize: A A A Print

Lisbon Treaty rejection : How the campaigns played out

We won but the hard work is just beginning


Sinn Féin Policy Director, Lisbon Treaty
Referendum Campaign

THE UNTHINKABLE has happened. With a high turn-out and a wide margin, the ‘No’ campaign has defeated the Lisbon Treaty. The responses from the Government, the ‘Yes’ campaign more generally, and their partners across the EU have ranged from the measured to the extreme.
The more fanciful exhortations of those such as Fine Gael MEP Gay Mitchell; his German EPP colleague, Elmer Brock; and Social Democrat German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier should be treated with the derision they deserve and simply ignored.
More measured comments from Fianna Fáil Minister Micheál Martin, Labour leader Eamon Gilmore and British Foreign Minister David Milliband provide a clearer indication of how things are likely to proceed. As RTÉ correspondent Micheál Lehane said on last Sunday’s RTÉ Six-One News, despite the “fighting talk across Europe”, the private mood in Brussels is that there is “no short-term solution” and that we are heading for “a long and intricate process”.
That the entire political and social establishment was defeated in this referendum is remarkable.
Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour, the PDs and Green Party ministers were supported by IBEC, the ICTU, the ICMSA and, albeit belatedly, the Irish Farmers’ Association. They were assisted by large sections of what can only be described as a partisan media.
This formidable coalition were beaten primarily by an alliance of progressive groups including Sinn Féin, the Campaign Against the EU Constitution (CAEUC) – to which Sinn Féin belongs – and trade unions Unite, TEEU and, in their own diplomatic way, SIPTU.
That Sinn Féin was the only group organised in and campaigning across every constituency in the state must be recognised. Indeed, those constituencies with the largest ‘No’ votes are those in which Sinn Féin’s organisation and campaign were strongest, whether Dublin North-East or Donegal.
However, the work of all sections of this alliance were essential to the end result. In particular, the contributions of Joe Higgins, the People’s Movement, PANA (Peace and Neutrality Alliance) and Afri were of enormous importance. That such a diverse left coalition operated without disagreement is significant and in stark contrast to the divisions within the ‘Yes’ campaign.
It is also important to acknowledge the significance of Libertas. While some on the left will want to diminish their impact, there is little doubt that they convinced a large number of voters to reject the treaty on grounds both similar to those of us on the left, such as the democratic deficit, and those more palatable to the right, such as low corporation tax.
However, other groups such as Coir were peripheral to the campaign, proffering spurious arguments and, as the opinion polls indicate, with marginal impact.
The serious players on the ‘No’ side – Sinn Féin and our allies in CAEUC and indeed Libertas – ran our campaigns focusing on the issues, explaining the text of the treaty and its implications for both Ireland and the EU.
The ‘Yes’ camp, with the exception of some in the Labour Party and Fine Gael, refused to engage with the text of the treaty. Instead, they focused on the benefits the EU has brought to Ireland. When this approach was seen to falter they divided their energies between attacking individuals and organisations on the ‘No’ side and attempting to frighten people with scare stories of Ireland becoming the pariahs of Europe, losing influence, jobs and foreign direct investment.
In the end, the public refused to be browbeaten into accepting a treaty that was so obviously not in the interests of Ireland or the European Union.
Their concerns were three-fold and bore a striking resemblance to the reasons behind the French and Dutch rejection of the EU Constitution. Concern with the deepening democratic deficit, unintelligibility of the text itself, loss of commissioner, reduction of voting strength at Council, loss or weakening of key strategic vetoes and the self-amending nature of the treaty, concern with the developing EU common foreign and military policies and their impact on our neutrality, and fears about the impact of the treaty on workers’ rights, public services and social Europe. There was also clearly concern with two aspects of the treaty’s trade agenda, namely the loss of the World Trade Organisation veto and the impact of trade policy on the developing world.
While the Irish ‘No’ renders the Lisbon Treaty effectively dead, all of these issues still need to be addressed. Brian Cowen needs to communicate these issues to his EU counterparts when he attends the European Council meeting today and tomorrow and start the process of negotiating a new treaty.
Government Chief Whip Pat Carey’s caution against “raising unrealistic expectations” ignores the fact that the people have spoken and rather than minimise or seek to avoid the consequences the Government must listen and act, irrespective of its own pre-referendum view of the situation. However, in order to ensure that Government finds the political will to act, there is a responsibility on all of us who campaigned against this treaty to ensure that the Government is either assisted or pressurised into securing the better deal that the electorate has demanded.
Turn-out and opinion polls indicate the wide demographic range of the ‘No’ vote. Predominantly working class and rural, the ‘No’ vote also included many young people, women and a small but significant increase in middle-class opposition. However, any attempt to read this broad based opposition as indicating a shift in electoral support for the major parties must be treated with extreme caution. Party support particularly for Fianna Fáil and Labour remain steady despite their position on the treaty. 
Despite claims by some, we are not in uncharted territory. As with our previous rejection of Nice and the French and Dutch rejection of the EU Constitution, our political leaders must go back to the negotiating table. However, this time they must listen to the people and return with a new treaty reflective of the demands of the people: for more democracy, less militarisation, protections for public services and workers’ rights, promotion of social Europe and support for the developing world.
We may have won last Thursday but the hard work is only beginning.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1