Irish Government defeated on Nice Treaty

Socialist Voice Summer 2001

The dust still hasn't settled after the Irish government's defeat on the Nice Treaty referendum. Within the government, there are divisions on the issue of Europe. Statements from the finance minister, McCreevy, and the Attorney General, Michael McDowell, have been an embarrassment to the government. Clearly some individuals want to distance themselves from the whole fiasco, if not for ideological reasons then to safeguard their votes in the next election.

By Robert Connolly

The government's plans for a September election now look less likely to come to fruition. They are justifiably nervous once again. After a relatively quiet period, compared to the corruption sagas of recent years, the government has been made brutally aware that they are not as popular as they would like to think.

The approach of the government to the referendum was seen by many as arrogant. In the early part of the campaign they seemed to have no conception of the idea that people might not support them. Their over-confidence turned to panic when it was becoming clear that the vote would be close.

Ill-informed and clumsy accusations against the wide range of different political parties and other organisations campaigning for a no vote of being bedfellows of 'Tory euro-sceptics' etc. backfired badly, another bad case of 'foot-in-mouth disease'.

Reports from the EU leaders and institutions that enlargement would go ahead anyway have clearly exposed the undemocratic nature of the whole Nice Treaty process. Romano Prodi's statements that enlargement cannot go ahead without a yes vote in a second referendum in Ireland will be viewed with suspicion.

The government's plans for this rerun of the referendum are seen as undemocratic as well. A second referendum would probably be after a general election next year. A rehashed version of the constitutional amendment including some protocol about neutrality could be put to the people.

There is a combination of reasons why the referendum was defeated. A historically low turnout and a ham-fisted yes campaign by the political establishment were important factors. Fianna Fail was unable to mobilise their electoral base particularly in rural areas.

Some of the highest no votes were recorded in large working class areas of Dublin were the arguments of Sinn Fein, the Greens and the Socialist Party would have been a factor.

Most importantly the no vote was an anti-establishment vote and a vote against the government. The referendum was seen as an opportunity to send a message that people don't trust the main parties and feel that the government is out of touch.

Ireland, of course, is not the only EU country where there is mistrust of the direction of the EU among large sections of the population. Over the next period of time a mood could develop in some other countries for the people to have their say.

Many feel that if some a referendum was held in Germany or France on the Nice Treaty it would be defeated also. This is not likely to happen at this stage but over a period of time the institutions of the EU can become more and more unpopular and become a focal point for discontent.

The Socialist Party ran a good campaign for a no vote. We organised public stalls, protests, press conferences and public meetings in the weeks running up to the vote.

Despite all this work, most of the media coverage of the no side of the debate was focused in the Green Party and to a lesser extent, Sinn Fein.

The 'No to Nice Campaign' was a temporary alliance of smaller but affluent right wing groups. The large posters they produced did have some effect because of the sheer number that were put up in every corner of the country.

But despite the statements of some media commentators, it is clear that there is not an anti-European mood among any significant sections of the population.

The second referendum will give another opportunity to the Socialist Party to focus in on the issues of privatisation, cuts and militarisation. We can outline the alternative to the bosses' Europe and spell out what we mean by a democratic socialist Europe.

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