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26 September 2002 Edition

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Voters don't understand Nice

BY ROBBIE MacGABHANN


Finally we have a date for Nice II, 19 October. We have Fianna Fáil talking tough and surpassing themselves with the range of dire scenarios that await a No vote. We still don't have any debate on the substance of the treaty and now a new survey has shown an electorate where the vast majority of voters are still in the dark about what the treaty actually deals with.


Only 16% know Nice


With less than a month to polling day a survey commissioned by the Referendum Commission and published last week showed that 84% of 26-County voters don't feel they adequately understand the subject matter of the Nice Treaty. Despite the fact that more than a year has passed since the first referendum in June 2001, there is still a massive lack of understanding among voters about the actual details of the Treaty.

40% of voters were unable to explain even one treaty related issue. There was little comfort for the government, who have been promoting Nice for the last two years, in the fact that the only positive aspect of the poll was that 78% of the voters actually knew the treaty referendum was imminent.

A Farmers Journal telephone poll of farmers found support for the Yes groups dropping from 47% to 45% while the No vote support rose from 19% to 27%

Avoid the detail


Could the problem with voter understanding be due to the Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrat led campaign, which has deliberately avoided actually discussing any of the detail of the treaty? Apart from name calling the No campaign, who this week were guilty of "muddled thinking" and being "hostile to international business and investment", Fianna Fáil have only promoted the Treaty on two cases. They are that it is a must for further enlargement of the union and that the economic consequences of a No vote will be damaging to the Irish economy.

Even last week, Bertie Ahern twice deliberately avoided dealing with the detail of the Treaty. He said on the Nice referendum was about "minor institutional arrangements" necessary to expand the EU. He also said "you can get tied up in the complexities".

Fianna Fáil have promised to knock on every door, in every county but what are they actually going to tell voters when they get there. It seems to be a classic case of 'don't read the small print'.


FF hype


Fianna Fáil are going to "campaign hard" according to one party source who told a Sunday newspaper that, "our campaign team will bring the whole range of tactics to bear. We will have a press team, a rebuttal unit, a pre-buttal unit and all the rest that goes with a full-blooded campaign". All these resources and still not one spokesperson willing to explain why it is a good idea to lose our commissioner, give up the veto in 30 new areas, and create more unelected and unaccountable committees.


Untrustable politicians


Gordan Linney, Church of Ireland archdeacon of Dublin made an interesting intervention in the Nice treaty debate this week. Linney told the congregation at Dublin's Christ Church cathedral that the Nice Treaty vote would be affected by the fact that "people no longer believe what politicians tell them". Linney also said, that

"The damage to the credibility of the political establishment is real as the cynicism of people at large deepens".


Bizarre McDowell


Justice minister Michael McDowell made one of the strangest arguments in favour of Nice last week. If we didn't ratify Nice the new small EU states like Cyprus and Malta could veto developments affecting the 26 Counties. McDowell believes that the enhanced cooperation aspects of the Treaty where one group of states could move on to further levels of integration would be beneficial to Ireland.

It seems that McDowell doesn't support the ideals of the original member states, where they all moved together and where all states, regardless of size, were equal.

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