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5 September 2002 Edition

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Nice II - Groundhog Day

BY JOANNE CORCORAN


Aengus ó Snodaigh likens the second referendum on the Treaty of Nice to the movie 'Groundhog Day', in that the people of Ireland are being forced again to debate the Nice Treaty, after having already defeated the first referendum on it.

On Saturday last, he opened a day-long conference in Dublin aimed at informing Sinn Féin members from throughout Ireland of the arguments involved and equipping them to go out and inform the electorate.

"The government is trying to play on confusion, and this confusion will lead to people not voting," said ó Snodaigh. "We are going to be fully informed about this issue so we can answer all the questions we will be asked on the doorsteps."

Speaking about the government's refusal to recognise the people's democratic rights, he said: "We are having a debate again. If this government had accepted democracy we wouldn't be having this debate. When Bertie Ahern was planning the first referendum, he said 'we'll have a referendum, and we'll abide by it'. He hasn't. This all basically comes down to an issue of trust."


Neutrality


Roger Cole from the Peace and Neutrality Alliance (PANA) spoke about the issue of neutrality and sovereignty. He also dealt with the fact that when other referendums had been repeated, it was always with different wording, and noted that this referendum is being worded exactly the same.

"In a fair, free and democratic referendum, the people of Ireland voted against Nice," he said. "We've been part of an empire before. During the 19th century, 30% of the British Army was made up of Irish people. People in Ireland don't want to end up fighting other people's wars again."

Cole addressed the main issue for many people opposed to the Nice Treaty, that of a European army. "The Rapid Reaction Force was set up by the Amsterdam Treaty. The Nice Treaty will just be tidying up some of the loose ends attached to it," he said. "The Force has already been referred to as a means by which to impose Europe's will by some members of the European Council.

"This army will not be an equal army. It will be dominated by France, which has a long record of imperialism and imposing its will on smaller nations. If Ireland joins, it will seriously damage its reputation as an international peacekeeping force of the UN."

Questions were asked from the floor as to whether a strong European block countering an increasingly dominant US could be seen as a good thing.

Cole answered that indeed, a European Army could turn Europe into a world power to be reckoned with. "In 2001, Romano Prodi asked the EU Parliament, 'Are we all clear that we want to build something that can aspire to be a world power?' If Europe creates an army we will be a world power, we will be an empire. We will be a part of an empire that only gives us a vote if we vote yes. That's all very well if you like empires, but this country has already been a part of an empire and it fought very hard, in fact is still fighting, to extricate itself from it."


The institutions


Proinsias ó Maolchalain spoke about the different institutions in the EU and how the 26 Counties would be affected in each by the Nice Treaty. He explained that Ireland would be losing its right to a permanent commissioner, as well as three of its MEP seats. In addition to this, he covered concerns about Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) and Enhanced Cooperation.

"The introduction of QMV and Enhanced Cooperation will see a Europe moving away from democracy," he said. "We have already seen this in action, aided by our own government, in its inability to accept the people of Ireland's refusal of the Treaty. QMV and Enhanced Cooperation will allow a two-tier Europe to develop, where larger nations are able to move ahead of the rest in their own interests.

"It will bring to an end the idea of a Europe where we all move together at the speed of the slowest member. Instead, we will have what Jacques Delors called 'a union for the enlarged EU and a federation for the avant-garde'. We will also lose our right to national veto in over 30 policy areas."


The arguments



Robbie Smyth dealt with the arguments being presented by the 'Yes' camp and gave Sinn Féin's responses to them.

"The first argument being levelled at us in the 'No' camp is that we are opposed to enlargement. This argument is rubbish. We are not opposed to enlargement. We are opposed to states being brought into the EU after decisions have already been made to offer them less than original states were offered. We are opposed to them entering a two-tier system, where the levels of democracy, if they had them, would prevent them from applying for entry.

"Enlargement will proceed anyway, Prodi has already said Nice is not necessary for it."

Smyth also addressed the stand being taken by the government that we are at the heart of Europe and if we don't accept Nice, we will lose the respect of the EU.

"This is just wrong. The government has ensured that Ireland already looks ridiculous in the eyes of Europe. We turned down the Nice Treaty and instead of approaching the EU and using our refusal as political leverage to get a protocol for ensuring neutrality, Bertie Ahern went back to the EU and told them to begin ratifying the Treaty, promising that he would get a favourable result in the 'next' referendum. What message does the government think that is sending to Europe?"

The allegations being made by the government regarding the loss of jobs and money if we vote no, were also dealt with. "There will be no Armageddon for the Irish economy if we turn down the Treaty," said Smyth. "Denmark established a legally binding protocal ensuring its neutrality. Britain obtained a protocol to abstain from the euro. In previous treaties, we have always obtained protocols regarding the issue of abortion."

"A 'no' to Nice doesn't mean a 'no' to Europe. If Europe is democratic at all, it must accept our stand on the Nice Treaty, and amend it to make it appealing to all its members."


Seville Declaration


Concerns were raised by members of the audience about the Seville Declaration and how it would effect voters' opinions this time round. Roger Cole confirmed that the Seville Declaration has in fact no legal standing and would not ensure Irish neutrality.

"The government refuses to make an explicit reference to neutrality in Bunreacht na héireann," he said. "If it were to do this it could no longer allow US Air Force planes to have training facilities in this jurisdiction, while they actively engage in an ongoing war.

"Seville does not guarantee neutrality for Ireland, it has no legal binding whatsoever. The Seville Declaration is a verbal agreement between EU heads of state recognising that the government of Ireland made a statement saying that they would not be a part of a common defence policy as mentioned in the Treaty of Nice.

"In a warped way, this means that the government can join NATO if it likes, as long as it isn't mentioned under common defence in the Nice Treaty. We are already part of the Rapid Reaction Force, and Nato's Partnership for Peace; the government is not withdrawing from any of these. The Seville Declaration is mere lip-service to neutrality."


Defying democracy


Also discussed were the issues of the democratic deficit in the EU, the unaccountability of the Commission and the European Council, the creation of further unaccountable bodies, and the failure of the EU to incorporate the European Convention of Human Rights.

The point was pressed home at the conference by Robbie Smyth that the government is afraid people will begin asking about the Treaty in detail and this is where the No camp has its biggest advantage. "The government is afraid to go into detail about the Treaty. They would rather stand there hand on heart and talk about the importance of being loyal to Europe. It's the details that will win this referendum for us."

Caoimhghín ó Caoláin gave the closing address. The Cavan/Monaghan TD said: "The government defied democracy in the wake of the last Nice referendum. They totally disregarded the trust placed in them by the electorate and they did so once again in the wake of this year's general election.

"A second No vote will teach the Fianna Fáil/ Progressive Democrats government a badly needed lesson. The public will see through this shroud of deceit and lies. They are being asked to keep voting until they come up with the right result from the government's point of view. This devalues the whole referendum process."

"The question must be asked of those advocating a 'yes' vote: if the Irish people once again decide to reject the Treaty of Nice, will that decision be accepted by the political elites at home and abroad?"

Although yet to be announced, the expected date for the repeat referendum is 18 October and Sinn Féin, along with its political allies, will be working hard to ensure a second 'no' vote is achieved.

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