Bruce Arnold

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

Government strategy on Lisbon deserves red card

Three senior campaigners for a 'Yes' vote on the Lisbon Treaty, who will all play a part in the coming debate, have made strong interventions about how the actual debate should be conducted. They are Noel Dorr, Alan Dukes and Pat Cox, well-known for their espousal of the 'Yes' vote side.

The most reasonable is Noel Dorr, whose advice on the RTE's handling of debate is valuable. The good things he referred to, speaking at the Merriman Summer School on the EU, are ours by right and do not need the reinforcement of Lisbon. Obviously, honesty is needed in debating that. But his real point was about quality of exchange.

The second person, Alan Dukes, was more alarmist, emphasising the lies that have surrounded this debate in the past, and laying, it must be said, more blame for this on the 'No' side than on the 'Yes' side. This, too, needs careful analysis.

The third person, Pat Cox, campaign director for the Ireland for Europe group, has been most aggressive, helping to introduce a 'Yellow Card' and then a 'Red Card' as a means of targeting what are called 'Treaty Liars'.

Side by side with Professor Brigid Laffan, who is the chairwoman, he waved giant yellow and red placards on the steps of the Referendum Commission's offices. Who else may use that setting for publicity?

One thing was for sure: the two key 'Ireland for Europe' people were not concerned with 'Yes' vote mendacity. Their declared target was the supposed lying by the 'No' vote side. This was a mistake. They should have been concerned with the 'Yes' vote side as well.

The biggest misrepresentation of facts about Lisbon is contained in the Government White Paper, on which I first published criticism on Monday. Unless Mr Cox and Prof Laffan, together with Alan Dukes and Noel Dorr, are prepared to address this issue, they will have to let go of the idea of nailing lies during the campaign.

On Wednesday, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheal Martin, attempted a reply to my criticisms. He used phrases like 'I believe' about the document, when it is a question of fact, not belief.

And he repeated White Paper claims that are simply not true. The most misleading are government claims that the double-voting system proposed by Lisbon is new. Mr Martin repeated this claim on Wednesday.

What I said was: "The most serious and deliberate misrepresentation concerns the allegedly 'new' double majority voting system, consisting of a simple majority vote by the individual EU states backed by a qualified, or weighted, voting system based on population."

And I went on to point out that this is not new. It already exists. The minister suggested that I overlooked that it is a double-majority system. I could not have said it more plainly than I did.

I went further, pointing out that the existing system is better than what Lisbon proposes. The new proposal diminishes Ireland's weighted voting significantly. And if we want to be 'at the heart of Europe', this single proposal reduces that possibility significantly by reducing our voting strength.

The proposed distortion is massively in favour of the Big Four -- Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom -- and just plain bad for us. I gave the facts. At present we have seven votes and the big states have 29. Under Lisbon's strict population criterion we would have four million people, Germany 80 million and France, Britain and Italy 60 million each -- a ratio of 20 or 15 to one.

Whichever way you look at it, the 'new' double-weighted voting system, which is not new at all, reduces Ireland's vote, on a population count, from 2pc to 0.8pc. I made this point. Mr Martin ignored it.

I also made the point that it is now a matter for comment by Frank Clarke and his Referendum Commission and should be examined, openly and thoroughly, by the enemies of lies and prevarication, Alan Dukes, Noel Dorr, Pat Cox, Peter Sutherland, as well as by others, such as Dick Roche and Micheal Martin himself.

A second significant misrepresentation concerns the constitutional changes that derive from the Lisbon Treaty.

These changes are facts, not suppositions. They go beyond the good side of EU membership, those very genuine and welcome benefits dating from when we joined, in such an optimistic mood, under Jack Lynch.

Furthermore, voting by strict population size is what is appropriate to a unitary or Federal State, not an assemblage of States, a further embarrassing issue not fully debated so far.

One of the major confusions in Mr Martin's case relates to citizenship. In company with other European politicians, this approach -- which says at one point, yes you have a second citizenship, and then goes on to deny it means anything -- contributes to a major level of White Paper misrepresentation.

The post-Lisbon EU would be constitutionally separate from, and superior to, its member states. It would have its own legal personality for the first time.

At the end of his article in this newspaper last Wednesday, Mr Martin said he "looked forward to an open and factual debate". All of us, I hope, want the same, none more than myself.

But the minister goes on to invite people 'to access the many sources of information' and he includes the White Paper. The White Paper is only of value if it is withdrawn, amended and reissued.

If the idea is sustained that it is 100pc serviceable, then the debate is flawed from the outset.