Ratification of the Lisbon Treaty: All Eyes on Ireland

, by Mette Moerk Andersen

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

Ratification of the Lisbon Treaty: All Eyes on Ireland

Monday 12 May marked the end of the long unofficial campaign and the beginning of the short official battle between two opposing sides on the Lisbon Treaty. Monday morning, it was confirmed: All eyes will be on Ireland 12 June.

In the 11th hour, Minister John Gormley made an order for a referendum to be held on the Lisbon Treaty on 12 June. According to Irish legislation, an order has to be made between 30 and 90 days before the actual date of a referendum.

A creative campaign

Campaign posters had been put up for last Monday morning’s rush hour – some more creative than others. The yes-side sticks to posters claiming that a Yes will be ’good for Ireland’ and ’good for Europe’. The no-side posters run in several directions. One version of a no-side campaign poster shows three chimpanzees representing an EU that ’won’t see you, won’t hear you and won’t speak for you’. Another version of no-posters has created controversy as the background showing the Irish Proclamation argues that ’people died for your freedom, don’t throw it all away’.

Coír, a group connected to right-wing, pro-life, religious organisations, has confirmed its responsibility for the two mentioned no-posters. The group stood behind a poster reading ’Hello Divorce – Goodbye Daddy’ during the 1996 referendum on legalising divorce in Ireland. Coír might seem harmless, relatively quiet in this campaign and amusing in a modern Ireland at first sight. Nonetheless the group’s presence says a great deal about how prejudice thrives in this campaign, and how all hidden agendas find a room for manoeuvre in Ireland at the moment, regardless of whether or not the hidden agenda is a national matter or a European matter.

The past week has seen campaigns being launched and re-launched; especially Sinn Féin seems to regard it as an art to hold one press conference after the other. The main government party, Fianna Fáil, launched its long-awaited campaign on Monday, 12 May. The newly elected Taoiseach Brian Cowen was praised for eloquently renewing the party’s support for and the confidence in the Lisbon Treaty. As a schoolmaster, he promised to expel any rebels not backing the party line on the Lisbon Treaty.

Optimism of the exit polls

Brian Cowen could not have planned a better day to launch Fianna Fáil’s campaign in the light of the optimistic poll released on Sunday 11 May. The Sunday Business Post’s latest poll shows that 38 % of the Irish say they will vote Yes, 28 % will vote No and 34 % still remain undecided. This is a change from the last poll, which was showing only a 4 % gap between the yes- and the no-side.

the high number of voters still contemplating whether the Lisbon Treaty is ‘good for Ireland’ or a ‘bad deal’ is cause for concern

A week later, the Irish Times took optimism to a new level releasing a poll that indicated that 35 % of Irish voters intended to vote Yes and 18 % No. However, 47 % are still undecided. Despite undecided voters having decreased from 62 % in the last Irish Times’s poll in January, the high number of voters still contemplating whether the Lisbon Treaty is ‘good for Ireland’ or a ‘bad deal’ is cause for concern.

The two latest polls show that it was about high time when the Referendum Commission also launched its information campaign on Monday 12 May. Commentators and political actors have been waiting for the Commission to begin its work in order to rebuttal some of the myths in the campaign and to combat the excuse that people will vote No as a result of being uninformed.

Democracy is not a spoon-fed experience, but a commitment to engage. Never before, have citizens of Ireland had access to more information in a referendum; never before have the citizens of Ireland had a better chance of debating and engaging in the European integration. Not surprisingly, the Referendum Commission’s conclusions come close to the yes-side’s interpretation of the Treaty, which has obviously resulted in the no-side criticising and questioning the objectivity of the Referendum Commission.

Conclusion

The main conclusion to be drawn after the first week of the official campaign is the same as before: there is no room for complacency. Neither of the two latest polls was as optimistic as the poll released before the first Nice referendum in 2001, which indicated that 52 % of the voters intended to vote Yes.

The result of the referendum is completely dependent on the turn out on 12 June. Perhaps, more modest polls will bring out the yes-voters at the moment when all eyes will be on Ireland.

Image: Campaign poster of the yes-side; source: www.thelisbontreaty.ie

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