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The Lisbon campaign falters ever onwards. May 27, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
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Reading the information in the Irish Times yesterday about the campaign I’m struck by how sharp the comments of the Taoiseach and Minister for Finance are about Fine Gael.

In a comment believed to be mainly aimed at Fine Gael, he said he wanted to see the same level of support for the treaty in other parties who have “the same vocation to the European idea as we have”. Mr Cowen was speaking after newly-released poll results yesterday showed Fine Gael voters evenly divided between the Yes and No side, while an absolute majority of Fianna Fáil voters were supporting the treaty.

Now the poll results are interesting, not least because they point to the undecideds breaking to the No side in greater numbers than to the Yes side.

A poll on the treaty in the Sunday Business Post yesterday showed the Yes vote at 41 per cent, up three points, the No vote at 33, up five, and the don’t knows down eight points at 26 per cent.

Cowen, et al, must be desperately hoping that such figures don’t translate into a loss in two weeks. That said, my rudimentary grasp of maths seems to indicate that the Yes side would still just shade it on the day.

But interesting is it not the division within Fine Gael between Yes and No. How very unusual for a party that has hitherto seen itself not merely as a bastion of europhilia, but indeed the bastion of same. And the possible answer?

Why step forward Deputy Leo Varadkar, never far from the thoughts of the CLR when they turn to Fine Gael.

For in his response we see perhaps something of the dynamic which would lead to such a split.

…enterprise, trade and employment spokesman Leo Varadkar accused Fianna Fáil of having prepared a “cowardly” strategy of blaming the main Opposition party in the event of a referendum defeat. “It is very obvious that in the event of a referendum defeat, Fianna Fáil’s cowardly PR strategy will be to blame Fine Gael. They are putting out this ‘spin’ for a few weeks now.

Well, that’s fine, and there must be more than one person, myself included, who had precisely the same thought when I read Cowen’s comments. Whether cowardly, or astute, no doubt the electorate will judge. It certainly plays well in terms of maintaining party unity. But it is his next comment which is in a sense the giveaway.

“A lot of our supporters are voting No because they are angry with the conceit and arrogance of the Taoiseach and the Government.”

Hmmm… a spin on the spin – to protect Fine Gael should the event lead to wailing and gnashing of teeth in the wake of a referendum lost? Or the mask slipping just a little to reveal the entirely genuine visceral loathing of nuFine Gael for Fianna Fáil and the sense that this is as good a time as any to give them a lash. Because there is something just a little risible about discussing the conceit and arrogance of Cowen – whatever the truth of the matter – when he has been in power hardly a wet weekend. Nor, and this is crucial, is there any effort to call back those supporters voting No… odd, one might think. Or perhaps not.

Another thought strikes. Is Libertas providing some cover for right of centre voters who either are fed up with Europe, antagonistic to its interventionist ways or once more willing to get the boot into the government? The Progressive Democrats may have gone, but their demographic remains, and may not be entirely comfortable with no place to go but Fianna Fáil. And does the example of Nice 1 and 2 give them some grounds for – well, perhaps not optimism, but the sense that they’ll be given the opportunity to be sure to be sure.

And what of the prodigal sons and daughters of the left? No, not Labour, who Cowen was distinctly soft on in his comments, but rather the Green Party.

Quite a turn around for those of us who have followed such things to hear the following from Eamon Ryan,

We are utterly dependent on our fellow EU member states for energy security,” he told The Irish Times . “Ninety per cent of our gas comes from other EU countries.”

Stressing the need to ensure a supply of gas, oil and electricity for Ireland’s basic needs, he said: “We have no ability to provide such security for our people in the absence of co-operation from Europe.”

Or what of this, which I actually agree with, but nonetheless…

His experience at EU level showed that “it is the only progressive forum in which the issues of energy security and climate change are being tackled”.

Hows about John Gormley who has decided that:

“A key reason for my decision to support the Lisbon Treaty is that it takes important steps towards remedying [being a top-down organisation]. These include more direct lawmaking powers for the European Parliament and more supervisory powers for the Dáil and other national parliaments,” he said.

Still, this is hardly a surprise. We’ve seen another generation of politicians on the left move towards such positions from a stance of total antipathy – and a big hi to the usual suspects… Indeed many moons ago I worked on research for DL on aspects of the EU (or was it the EC? So many acronyms, so little time), where I amongst others was charged with ferreting out the most noxious aspects of a certain area of European policy in order to bolster the anti side. As it happened I had to report back that all things considered – and to my genuine surprise – there wasn’t much that would be of actual concern. Ireland was sufficiently protected from opt-outs and suchlike that it had no tangible effect upon us (of course that this was true of that specific material provides no guarantee that subsequent material would be the same). The news was received, shall we say, with a certain lack of enthusiasm. And curiously policy statements on same didn’t alter until later when suddenly all things EC (or was EU?) were suddenly okay. Granted, that might have been a different party by then, and I was long gone from it, but that sort of thing stays with a young(ish) lad – as I was then – and makes him a tad cynical about the centrality of the issue to political discourse, and let me hasten to add on every side of the equation.

Now I could comfort myself with the thought that that crop of politicians were uniquely susceptible to the flesh-pots of Brussels, but somehow I don’t think so.

And while I’m not quite implying that it was chosen for political USP by all concerned on left right and centre, I would suggest that the passions it inflames are transitory even amongst the staunchest defenders and greatest critics. After all, even that other great supranational entity the United Nations is hardly beloved of the world. Simply put it’s hard to have any great affection for large political projects. They’re kind of dull, and having waded through more than my share of European legislation, draft legislation, documents and such like for a fair chunk of the 1990s it’s no surprise to see how easy it is to project onto them more or less whatever hopes or fears one might wish to.

So the supposedly ardent Europhiles of FG can wobble more than a little when push comes to shove, while the supposedly agnostic FF, or even as we saw from the noises emanating from the purportedly critical SF during the last election (and got to love the charge by an FF TD about them being the most anti-EU party of the last forty years. Hmmm… I was a member of two supposedly more convinced anti-EU parties across a decade and I wonder how many of their members feel that same antagonism – precious few it seems), can offer the odd kind word, or put their shoulders to the wheel when necessary.

Indeed I’m willing to place good money on another generation or two of Irish politicians following suit.

Two weeks to go? Ten years might give us a better idea on how all this will play out.

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Comments»

1. FG Supporter - May 27, 2008

Not quite sure what nuFine Gael is, but if it is a reference to the younger members of the FG parliamentary party it is worth noting that they would be amongst the most vocal pro-Europeans in the party. The most vocal FG supporter of the Treaty has been Lucinda Creighton, whilst Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney have hardly been shy of supporting it as well.

With regard to the no-vote sentiment within FG there are three main factors at play to varying extents;

1) the WTO negotiations;
2) the abortion issue; and
3) those people who are fed up with the arrogance of Ahern & then Cowen (and threatening to shout down the opposition when his own backbenchers set the tone by heckling Richard Bruton during the Taoiseach’s nominations).

Those factors are out of the control of FG. On the WTO issue, that is a government call – and one that they have been very tardy in making. Abortion is something which has nothing to do with Lisbon, but has been very effectively pushed in rural Ireland amongst the older demographic. Finally on the last point. FG have been blue in the face for the past six months calling on supporters to wait to give the government a kicking until the Local elections next year. This was a consistent theme at the public meetings that FG organised on this subject, you can find a rake of press releases saying the same thing, and what Leo Varadkar said at the weekend. I don’t exactly see what more that FG could be doing in that regard.

At the end of the day the parliamentary party don’t control the minds of their supporters.

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2. smiffy - May 27, 2008

God, imagine being described as conceited and arrogant by Leo Varadkar. It’d be like Conor Lenihan calling you tactless.

BTW, on the EU/EC question, if the research was for DL (and it was after 1992) then it was probably both. Apologies for the sad, nerdy, pedantry.

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3. Dec - May 27, 2008

WBS – you make a good point about Libertas providing cover on the centre right.

Its a point I think many miss, without Libertas the No camp would have been effortlessly defined as an alphabet of cranks, commies and crazies.

Instead the Pro-Treaty people have had to spend huge amounts of time trying to refute arguments, orginated from The Left, made by a “respectable”, well spoken, pro business group. Libertas’s arguments, irrespective of their accuracy, all leave a residue of doubt in the minds of the electorate.

Post referendum an interesting snoop around the links (personal not political) would, I think, reveal some of the lines of communication and information from left to right that have derailed the Yes campaign to date.

I understand that many seasoned politcos are dismissive of the Libertas campaign, but its their very presence and positioning that has been so effective, not so much the accuaracy or wisdom of some of their lines of argument.

Perphaps the greatest effective contrast between the Yes and No campaigns on this referendum is the discipline and complimentaryness of the No campaign arguments. Given the dispartity in the wider political viewpoints of the No campaign, it is this perhaps more than anything else that has made the Yes campaign so ineffective and surprisingly predictable.

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4. Eagle - May 27, 2008

I wonder if the disingenuous nature of the ‘Yes’ platform leaves many voters cold. So often the Yes people talk about this as an ‘in or out’ vote, as if a ‘No’ will mean leaving the EU when voters can see with their own eyes that France & Holland have hardly left or been expelled after voting ‘No’ two years ago. The ‘Yes’ side has built its campaign around support for the EU generally without trying to point to any real benefit of this change to the current position.

The ‘No’ side can be equally disingenuous, but the massive majority of politicians on the ‘Yes’ side might have people wondering why they can’t come up with a few winning points for this particular treaty.

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5. Ian - May 27, 2008

I think you’re right when you say really cares about the EU in the big parties per se. Its more of a mudslinging match really. And the smooth talking of Libertas is paying dividends. I think the No’s will win, even though I’m a Yes voter!

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6. WorldbyStorm - May 27, 2008

FG, that’s true on a formal level, but on a functional level the messages seem a little more… shall we say… contradictory, or at least ambiguous.

Dec, I’d completely agree. Libertas manages to straddle a certain space giving a degree of credibility to differing arguments that otherwise would look the domain of the further left or the ultra right. Not that either of the latter have the same arguments.

Eagle, there’s more than something in what you say. That the sell has been so poor, and GFG’s piece in the IT at the weekend was somewhat typical is hugely problematic.

Ian. I’m beginning to tend to your analysis.

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7. Lisbon Round Up - Part III | Semper Idem - May 27, 2008

[...] The Cedar Loungue Revolution gets on board for a Yes vote last week, and this week sees the Yes campaign faltering. Neil Ward examines in detail the question if we are giving up our soverignity for little reward. [...]

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8. Irish Election » Lisbon Round Up - Part III - May 27, 2008

[...] The Cedar Loungue Revolution gets on board for a Yes vote last week, and this week sees the Yes campaign faltering. Neil Ward examines in detail the question if we are giving up our soverignity for little reward. [...]

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9. Robert O'Coillean - May 28, 2008

As an Irishman of the diaspora (all four of my grandparents were of Irish descent) I am vitally interested in the present and, especially, the future of my home land. This issue of the Lisbon Treaty frightens me to death! I’m afraid that too many of my brothers and sisters do not realize that the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty is in effect a decision equal to new elections in Ireland. The decision on ratifying the Lisbon Treaty is – upon transferring the current powers of the nation state of Ireland to the federal state in Brussels – it is a decision on accepting or rejecting the permanent construction of A NEW FEDERAL GOVERNMENT AND PARLIAMENT OVER IRELAND. To do so will be to utterly discard on the rubbish heap of history all the sacrifices of our ancestors, both the suffering against British oppression and the fighting for freedom in which so many lives were lost.

This is a crucial time in Irish history – a time when you/we will decide whether to march on under your/our own strength and character and leadership or to surrender your/our rights, lives, and fate to others who have, upon every past opportunity, either turned their backs on Ireland in her need or swooped in to take advantage of her riches. Which is exactly what is happening now. Ireland (God bless her forever!) has risen, by her own strength of character and moral fortitude and by God’s kind grace, far above her past of subjection and base poverty to a point where she is a jewel in the crown of Europe and the world. Ireland has earned all her scars and medals of valour and has come into her own – at last. (One might quote of Ireland as well, “Free at last, free at last! Thank God almighty, we’re free at last!”)

And now, in the time of finally enjoying the fruits of our hard-won, blood-bought freedoms and successes, Ireland considers handing over her self-mastery to yet another foreign dictator! God forbid it! Let Ireland be Ireland, not some small dot on the EU map. Let Ireland be Ireland, not another chattel within another kingdom – for such is the becoming EU/EC. Never forget the sacrifices made by our (OUR) grandparents for the possibility of self-rule for Ireland. We are Ireland! We are not Europeans – we never have been. We were at best pets, at worst slaves of Europeans. Ireland has suffered too long to throw away her freedom and self-sufficiency on yet another European master race. We are Ireland!

Look long and hard at America and learn from her mistakes. Under her own power, the United States stood together by choice. Today, we have given up the idea of mutually beneficial partnership among the member states and have become subjects to a dictatorial Federal Government who seeks to rip our choice from us – from freedom of religion to freedom of choice to freedom of speech. American is becoming what the EU would march straight into, from the beginning.

Ireland, my Ireland, whom I learned to pray for and to love from my mother’s knee and my father’s stories, remember the source of your strength in your tortured past – return to your faith and your moral sense of self. God lead you through 700 years of tribulation and abject slavery. Your/our sense of Irish identity apart from that of the rest of the world kept us unified and alive during years of deprivation and attempted genocide. Please, please, please don’t give all that up now for a new, stronger master.

We, the children of your diaspora, are counting on you to safeguard our heritage and our home. Guard and keep them from another outsider who seeks to steal and destroy our culture. We are counting on you. Please don’t let us down. Remain independent and free and self-governing. Please.

We are Ireland!

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10. Ian - May 28, 2008

I think Robert said it all really! :)

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11. CL - May 28, 2008

Whichever way the vote goes it looks like Libertas will be well positioned to be an influential pro-U.S. right-wing force.
Omega has had some problems with the EU and regulation before. This is from 1999-
“The controversy over their hush system for aircraft engines finds the McEvaddy’s caught in a bigger tussle, the commercial battle between Europe and the US over aircraft sales. The McEvaddy’s have an enormous investment in the US-built Boeings and the Europeans are trying to make the Airbus’s quiet engine the international standard.”

“Ulick’s experience in military intelligence must have been a great door-opener when he dealt with the US and the armed forces of other countries. It is now 20 years since they established Omega Air, specialising in Boeing 707s, the workhorses of the aviation industry.”

Clearly any effort to control CO2 emissions has to be trans-national.
McEvaddy’s fleet of Boeing 707s are heavy emitters of CO2.
Clearly its in McEvaddy’s interest to weaken regulatory control. Likewise with Ganley and his telecommunication interests.
Perhaps its time to follow the money and ignore the libertarian puffery.

http://www.independent.ie/national-news/brothers-with-altitude-400889.html

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12. alastair - May 28, 2008

Gawd Robert, you need to tone down that ‘We are Spartans!’ guff.

Firstly – The Irish have long been firmly established in continental european affairs and politics. Being born onto an arse-end island with precious few opportunities, and a prediliction for that great game – catholic service, led to a long standing engagement with all things euro – whether in the monastic, wild geese, or ‘gallant allies in Europe’ senses. The Irish have been europeans for a long long time (never mind the various scandanvians, normans, and spaniards who did their bit for european union on this island).

Secondly – a review of the Lisbon treaty will disappoint if creeping federalism (or anything within a million miles of the US model) is your bugbear. The treaty doesn’t commit the state to anything remotely interesting on the loss of sovereignty front, and if it’s your cup of tea the nifty new ‘We’re taking our stuff and leaving’ clause might give you pause to ponder.

Thirdly – You might have had a compliment of Irish grannies and grandfathers, and might even qualify for a passport, but I’m guessing you chose the nationality you’ve been raised in and relate best to. Move on and embrace your own society, and let the people who actually live here decide what sort of europeans they want to be.

I’m still confident of a Yes vote btw. The tepid nature of the treaty changes might keep a bunch of otherwise yes voters at home, and the yes campaign has been pretty poor, but I’m not convinced that the natural No camps and the protest voters comprise a strong enough block to see the day.

Well done to the CL folk for the quality of editorial on this and the US election campaigns btw.

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13. WorldbyStorm - May 28, 2008

Cheers Alastair. I’m intrigued that you still think it’s to play for. My natural pessimism tends to make me a bit negative about such things. I’m very unconvinced btw about any further significant changes in the mid-term. I think this is about as far as it should go for quite a while.

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14. Garibaldy - May 29, 2008

I see from a WP press release that the 1937 constitution cost less than the price of a pint, while this treaty costs 42 Euro. Power to the people in an information age.

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15. FutureTaoiseach - May 29, 2008

As a no voter I find the divisions within the yes camp encouraging.

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16. WorldbyStorm - May 29, 2008

Okay…

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17. CL - May 29, 2008

Garibaldy:
So if the Dev/McQuaid constitution is valued at less than a pint, how many pints is the Lisbon treaty worth?

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18. Garibaldy - May 29, 2008

Given the price of drink in the free state, not very many.

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19. Eagle - May 29, 2008

Garibaldy

I sent an e-mail to the European office here and they sent me a copy of the treaty. For free. Forget about that asking price, that’s only for those not voting in a referendum. Can’t have all 300m getting copies now, can we?

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