Letter from Ireland

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Ireland's rejection of the Lisbon Reform Treaty went against the wishes and deceptions of the ruling elite, writes Richard Boyd Barrett

Irish voters delivered a major blow to the plans of Europe's rulers and the Irish political establishment by voting against the Lisbon Reform Treaty on 12 June. Supporters of Lisbon have been quick to try and frighten the Irish public with the consequences of their No vote - a continuation of the strategy of the Yes side during the campaign.

The broad thrust of the Yes campaign was to avoid real discussion of the treaty itself and instead argue that Europe had been good for Ireland and that a No vote would be a sign of ingratitude, creating a crisis for the European Union (EU) and resulting in Ireland becoming a "pariah" in Europe.

The combination of bullying and patronising tactics by the Yes side found some of their highest expression when Ireland's Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, and Ireland's EU commissioner, Charlie McCreevy, admitted publicly that they had not even read the treaty, while saying that a No vote would be a "catastrophe".

The cynical strategy of the Yes campaign in turn flowed from the deliberate deceit that was at the heart of the Treaty itself. The French and Dutch rejected the EU constitution two years ago because of its failure to address the growing democratic deficit in EU institutions and the priority it gave to big business. As a result, the EU elite decided to deny citizens any say in the matter, re-writing the constitution into the deliberately unreadable Lisbon Treaty.

In an interview with Le Monde in June 2007, former French president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, an author of both the EU constitution and the Lisbon Treaty, made a remarkable admission: "Public opinion will be led to adopt, without knowing it, all the proposals we dare not present to them directly. All the earlier proposals will be in the text but hidden and disguised in some way."

The No side in Ireland publicised these and similar comments from EU leaders. The government and some EU leaders are now realising how this approach confirmed the worst suspicions of voters and have started to talk about "respecting" the vote. But it is becoming clear they want to re-run the referendum, if they can.

The vote suggests an enormous, growing rift between ordinary workers and citizens who want a social and democratic Europe, and a political establishment that wants a corporate and militarist Europe. The supporters of Lisbon included the government coalition of Fianna Fail, the Green Party, the Progressive Democrats, Fine Gael and the Labour Party. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the Irish Farmers Association, the employers' organisation IBEC, and almost all mainstream media also called for a Yes vote. They tried to frighten people by suggesting that the No vote was backward and right wing.

It is true that Catholic anti-abortion groups and an organisation called Libertas gained considerable prominence during the campaign with their arguments of protecting low corporate tax rates. But this prominence had more to do with media bias and tactics of the Yes side wishing to discredit the No side.

Opinion polls showed only 5 percent of No voters were concerned with the issues of abortion and corporate tax, while the most important issues were democracy, accountability, neutrality, militarisation, workers' rights and public services. These were the issues emphasised by the main body of the No campaign - a left alliance including Sinn Fein, the People Before Profit Alliance, the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party alongside the anti-war movement and some left trade unions.

Ireland saw enormous protests against the Iraq war and huge anger against the facilitation of US troops travelling to Iraq, and this anger over the Irish government's betrayal of neutrality fed easily into the No campaign. Crucially, as the ballot boxes opened, media commentators had to admit that working class areas were voting overwhelmingly against Lisbon by a margin of up to seven to one.

The No vote has also brought the radical left in Ireland to a much higher level of national prominence. There is now huge potential to establish a viable new left formation to challenge the political establishment and parties like Labour and the Greens who sided with it.