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7 June 2001 Edition

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What kind of Ireland?


What type of Ireland and what type of Europe do you want to live in? These are the two questions that the Nice Treaty referendum campaign has uncovered as being on the minds of the Irish public.

A series of MRBI opinion polls in the Irish Times over the last week have shown that while there are serious divisions between voters in the 26 Counties on important EU and domestic issues, there is also a remarkable consensus on the need for a social justice agenda in government policy.

A clear majority of voters want to live in a fairer society, want to play a role in deciding how that society should work and are prepared to make sacrifices to have a more just Ireland
The narrowing gap between Yes and No voters in the Nice Treaty was the highlight of the first poll reports. The Yes vote share fell by 7% and the No vote increased by 7% to 28%. Excluding those who had no opinion, the proportion of Yes to No votes is a 62:38, exactly the same division between Yes and No in the 1998 Amsterdam referendum.

More damning was the finding that with a week to go to polling day only 15% of voters said they had a good understanding of the issues involved in the Nice Treaty.

The Dublin government believe that they will win today's poll, albeit by a narrow margin. That aside, how do they interpret the other findings of the poll on the public's attitude to the EU?

Excluding don't knows, a majority of voters believe that ``Ireland should do all it can to protect its independence from the EU''. A slightly smaller majority believes that it is unacceptable that the 26 Counties voting share in the council of ministers will be reduced. On the issue of losing the automatic right to nominate a commissioner, a majority believe it is unacceptable.

The only chink of light for the government was the 49% of who believed Irish personnel should participate in the EU's Rapid Reaction Force (RRF). 32% were against participation and 19% had no opinion.

The question itself might have been confusing to voters, as they were not asked the simple `participate or not participate' in the RRF. They were asked should Ireland negotiate to opt out of the RRF which is not quite the same thing.

Perhaps also it would have been beneficial to ask voters if there were any of the St Petersburg tasks of humanitarian, peacekeeping and peace making missions that they were opposed to. It is the `peace making' tasks of the RRF force that are opposed by most No voters.

Whatever the deficiencies of the poll, they show an Irish public not just at odds with government policy on Europe but also opposed to some of the core elements of the Nice Treaty. It also shows an Irish public divided on what type of Europe they want to live in.

The state of party support in the poll showed little change, but questions on the type of Ireland they wanted to live in produced remarkable findings

72% of voters want social partnership to continue and 62% think it has succeeded in making Ireland a fairer society. Whatever your misgivings about the inadequacies of social partnership, it shows a clear majority of voters want a fairer society and want to formulate agreement on how that society should work.

This aspect of public feeling and social solidarity was amplified by the last series of poll results published. They showed that 74% of voters would sacrifice tax cuts for a better-funded health service. The results showed that outside the expected law and order issues, health, education and corruption in politics were the three issues that are most influencing voters.

So as the coalition cabinet mull over the Nice Treaty referendum results this weekend, no matter what the result is they have an even bigger problem on their hands. There is a clear majority of voters who want to live in a fairer society, who want to play a role in deciding how that society should work and are prepared to make sacrifices to have a more just Ireland. The question is what will they do to act and take the steps needed to make a more socially just Ireland a reality.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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