Bruce Arnold

Critic of Public Affairs, writing about art, theatre, music and politics

Fine Gael should follow the people's lead on Europe

In the course of his speech to the Wexford gathering of the Fine Gael party, Enda Kenny referred briefly to Europe. His script records his remarks as follows: "Ireland must be restored as a central and influential member of the European Union. I am committed to playing my part in ensuring that the current uncertainties about Ireland's relationship with Europe are ended". As I recall hearing it, at the time of the televised delivery, he amended the phrase, "of the European Union" to "at the heart of Europe".

The replacement words were more emotive. But the whole passage in the speech, which amounted to no more than four lines, was vague and imprecise. Europe does not have a heart. It has bureaucrats, pulsing away. And it is not blood that flows in their veins, it is rules and regulations.

The Lisbon Treaty is stuffed full of them, and they are not of our making or choosing, though they have changed our lives utterly.

What Enda Kenny needs to do is locate his solutions within the party's stated belief in answerability and accountability, greater democracy, greater use of the Dail and the eradication of the pernicious influence of Fianna Fail.

If he is to do this, specifically on Europe, he has to reconsider some fundamental facts that appear to have escaped him.

The first is that Ireland has never been at the heart of Europe, nor has it been 'a central and influential member of the European Union'. Ireland has always been peripheral, and it is part of the good emanating from the European Union that the marginal and once quite weak standing of this country has been helped and changed by European intervention in our social and economic life.

Despite all the fear-mongering, our basic position in Europe will not change if we abide by what we decided back in June. For Fine Gael and for Enda Kenny not to recognise that fact represents a fundamental denial of what the party stands for in its desire to see democracy restored.

Like Joxer, asking, 'What is the Stars?', we are just as puzzled when we ask, What is the Centre of Europe? How do we get there? What do we do when we arrive? We are as near now as we ever were or ever will be.

In his interview in the current issue of 'Hot Press', Charlie McCreevy says: "You must remember that each country had to ratify this particular treaty. If the only answer to the question is 'Yes' there was no point in putting the question to any of the other 26 countries either."

He also rubbished the idea of Ireland being somehow 'isolated' if it does not now conform. "There is no provision to throw out anybody, unless unanimously all the existing members of the club agreed to throw you out. And I doubt now, or in the future, any Irish Government is going to unanimously agree to throw themselves out."

McCreevy also pointed out that a "considerable segment" of the 53pc who voted in the referendum were those who failed to vote in last year's general election. "So, therefore, people did take the issue very seriously. That has to be respected."

Fine Gael's version of 'the Great and the Good', including John Bruton, Garret FitzGerald and Alan Dukes, are overwhelmingly in favour of the Lisbon Treaty and probably in favour of a re-run. Among those whom they overwhelmed was Enda Kenny. On the other hand they singularly failed to overwhelm voters and were faced with a piece of raw democracy that deeply shocked them.

What shocked them most was the fact -- also central to what our European Commissioner said in his 'Hot Press' interview -- that Declan Ganley decided "to front a campaign to get the Irish people to vote 'No'. He was singularly successful in that against the might of all the political parties in Ireland, against the might of practically all the established media. He won the argument because the Irish people listened to him more than anybody else."

For anyone with a Fianna Fail background to murmur these truths is extraordinary; for Ireland's commissioner to do so is far more devastating. He points the finger at the failure of his own party and the success of the people in their democratic victory last June.

Ireland has never been at the heart of Europe, nor has it been a central and influential member of the European Union

Like many other people who feel the same about the Lisbon Treaty as Declan Ganley does, McCreevy's own words embrace a recognition of the importance of Europe as seen separately from its present obsession with getting this dangerous document accepted by all.

Declan Ganley is not saying 'No' to Europe, nor urging others to do so. He just wants a better Europe, and in his book a better Europe is one that is more democratic for ordinary people. They presently have no say and they wanted to state this in strong terms last June.

It was not recognised, least of all by Brian Cowen and Micheal Martin. But Eamon Gilmore recognised it. The people had spoken, their voice needed to be respected, and needs to go on being respected.

As for Enda Kenny, he has homework to do on this. He needs to consider what Fine Gael's version of democracy embraces and how it relates to the Constitution and to the machinery of the referendum.

His fine words in Wexford buttered few parsnips. They were flowery and engaging -- he was riding the crest of an opinion poll boost -- but they did not amount to very much.