And so the electorate has spoken. It’s a resounding ‘huh?’, with misunderstanding and misinformation carrying the day by a 9% spread. The clearest message to emerge even at this early stage is that Lisbon has split along class lines, with the middle classes backing it and the working classes roundly rejecting the treaty.
The shock waves are being felt, not just across the 27 EU states, but right around the world. Ireland, with 0.8% of the EU population, has derailed a treaty that has taken the last seven years to painstakingly construct. The ‘no’ camp covered a spectrum of rejectionist positions, from abortion, homosexuality, immigration and even euthanasia.
These ‘social’ issues were seamlessly wedded to concerns about militarism, an EU army and Irish boys being drafted to fight in distant wars. On top of that a shoal of red herrings large enough to solve the EU fisheries crisis were unleashed on everything from corporate tax rates to the price of petrol.
I wrote on the eve of the poll in the Irish Times in favour of a ‘yes’ vote, on the grounds that if you’re concerned about climate change, the EU is your only man, and Lisbon simply has got to be carried. Guess I got my answer.
The army of straw men constructed by Libertas, Coir, Youth Defence, Sinn Fein and assorted others in the ‘no’ camp brilliantly befuddled the electorate and left the ranked masses of the major political parties chasing shadows and back-peddaling instead of leading the campaign from the front.
Novice Taoiseach, Brian Cowen certainly handed the ‘no’ lobby a 5-10 point head start with his bad tempered verbal assault late last month on the Opposition parties for not, in his view, doing enough to secure the treaty. Funny, that’s what I thought the government’s job was.
This left a lot of Opposition party workers in particular feeling sore and sorry for themselves, and not exactly in a mood to go that extra mile to save Cowen’s blushes in the event of his being humiliated over Lisbon.
Declan Ganley of Libertas was sounding understandably chipper as the result became clear, and absolutely refused to rule out he or his party getting involved in Irish domestic politics in some shape in the future. Should he choose this route, he may come to learn the lesson so painfully administered to Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein last summer.
The lesson is of course that thanks to our contrary nature, we Irish will vote for most anything on two legs – the more bizarre, the better – in a referendum, European or local election, but that don’t mean those same folk won’t get a whipping when people really get serious about their vote in a General Election. Just ask the omni-present Mary Lou McDonald.
Ironically, Declan Ganley may find that taking a wrecking ball to the European Union is in fact a lot simpler than taking a seat as a TD down in Limerick. For starters, demagoguery doesn’t play well domestically; it’s far easier to demonise those faceless folk in Brussels than the guy who lives in the constituency and knows people intimately.
There’s no question but that those same faceless EU types who pumped around €60 billion into this virtually failed State of ours and helped drag us off our knees are feeling just a little sore at the rank ingratitude that this slap in the gob betrays. Democracy is one thing, and in moderation, a fine thing, but the notion that the 100,000 majority against Lisbon can shut down the political evolution of a union comprising almost half a billion people smacks of hubris on our part.
No offense, we are to the European project what Dustin the turkey is to the Eurovision – a sideshow, at best. Our European neighbours used to be quite proud of how the union had taken a basket case economy attached to a socially calcified society and turned it into a modern success story. Problem is, that’s not how we saw it, or chose to see it.
Climate-wise, the EU played a blinder in the Bali negotiations late last year, leading the charge towards binding commitments on CO2 reductions. Turning this into a new post-Kyoto international deal is the job of the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in 2009. Our rejection of Lisbon diminishes the likelihood of the EU being able to continue to exercise strong leadership in this area. It creates acres of wiggle-room for the doubters, the nay-sayers and the ever-present sceptics.