Bruce Arnold

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

Lisbon re-run is not 'brave', it is dishonest and doomed

Declan Ganley's campaign, with Libertas, in preparation for the first referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, began in 2007. From the start he showed he meant business, taking on issues that were of central importance in people's lives and in respect of their futures.

By the end of the year he was challenging the Government over the decision to stop the Referendum Commission from issuing a booklet telling voters what the arguments were for and against the Lisbon Treaty. The commission never did deal with this satisfactorily, in a fair and balanced way, but the Government gave them no help or encouragement to do so.

Ganley then attacked the use of State and Government resources in promoting a 'Yes' vote. Ganley was then sharply critical of Dick Roche when his strong attack on "bringing in people from outside to influence the referendum campaign" was turned on its head by Brian Cowen inviting President Sarkozy and Chancellor Angela Merkel to come and help out the 'Yes' campaign.

Ganley went on, in the early months of 2008 to deal with the subjugation of the Irish Constitution to the Lisbon Treaty -- itself a new and supreme 'constitution' for Europe -- and raised repeatedly unanswered questions on tax reforms that would damage investment here, and also questioning the loss of Ireland's World Trade Organisation veto. The first of these issues was subsequently reinforced by the French finance minister, who confirmed France would push for equalisation of European tax positions.

By April the early salvoes on the EU democratic deficit -- the simple fact that the Lisbon Treaty confirmed the creation of a European Federal State without democratic authority -- was receiving unintentional support from Barroso and Vice-President of EU Commission Margot Wallstrom.

Then came the leaked Department of Foreign Affairs email. It was evident that concealment was going on, that the Referendum Commission was not being even-handed and that the Government -- whose members were reeling at the fate of their leader, Bertie Ahern -- was playing tricks over Lisbon.

Among other things, it became clear --thanks to a gaffe by Dick Roche -- that this referendum would certainly be Ireland's last on Europe. That is, so long as the vote was 'Yes', in favour. Of course, Roche and the Government got the wrong result.

At the beginning of May, with six weeks to go and Cowen taking over as Taoiseach in what was seen as a wise replacement of Bertie Ahern -- seen at this stage, because of the Mahon Tribunal, as a likely loser of the 'Yes' vote -- the campaign was distorted into one about how much we owed to membership of the European Union, with the implicit and dishonest message that we would lose out.

Here was a treaty no-one understood, here were taxation threats, a WTO veto that the Forum on Europe confirmed was removed, farmers and workers getting jittery and the new and untried Taoiseach -- how far away it seems! -- taking up the cry that a 'No' vote would be disastrous. We would learn, soon enough, that it is politicians who are disastrous.

Two senior Government ministers, Mary Coughlan and Mary Hannafin, revealed their ignorance of basic issues, like the number of commissioners different countries had. Eamon Gilmore made comparable mistakes, so did John Gormley.

The Referendum Commission was a travesty of balance and fairness on 'Yes' and 'No' voting. Increasingly the 'Yes' campaign was filled with crazy promises on jobs, the economy, investment and security -- every one of which has been shown as false, undermined by forces quite outside our EU membership. Nevertheless, the vote itself was held in those pure, pre-crisis days and was resoundingly lost.

In the European Summit performance of Micheal Martin and Brian Cowen, whom Martin described as "heroic" in negotiating the commissioner issue, Martin revealed a Government strategy that completely ignored all the issues outlined above.

Instead he sought to persuade the relatively small group of voters who had fears over neutrality, abortion and other social or moral issues, as well as quite unfounded fears about the commissionership, that the two brave men at the Brussels summit had solved them all.

He called the second day of the summit 'a landmark day for Ireland'. He claimed that he and Cowen had achieved, 'after intense negotiation', the securing of Ireland's position in the European Union (which was never in doubt); our commissioner (already agreed in principle, and confirmed by our own Attorney General at the time of the second Nice vote); the taxation issue (not possible for comprehensive reassurance), defence -- meaning neutrality -- issues (this was a sole issue for only two per cent of voters) and fundamental rights (which he did not explore because their constitutional purity will be irrevocably impaired with a 'Yes' vote).

He ignored, comprehensively, the issues raised by the main 'No' vote campaign organisation, Libertas. The new campaign, incidentally, for next year's Lisbon Treaty re-run vote, has been pursued relentlessly since June, but to little effect. In other words, the main issues, which produced such a convincing 'No' vote six months ago, were set aside in an adroit and entirely meretricious way.

It reflects a contemplated and deliberate distortion that has been present in arenas other than the EU Summit during the post-referendum period. It is my considered view that Micheal Martin has buried a hatchet in his own head on the Lisbon Treaty, since he has not addressed any of the major issues. One of the reasons is that they cannot be addressed.

It is therefore hardly surprising that Nicolas Sarkozy has praised the 'courage' of Brian Cowen and Martin for taking the only possible course, which is to concentrate on entirely marginal matters. By vaunting the minor and trivial issues they display a belief that the Irish electorate can be duped, this time round, into ignoring the major problems. These are that we do not understand the Lisbon Treaty and we think rightly it deprives us of sovereignty. Almost a million people think it will inevitably lead to less national power, less voter say and a more undemocratic, central control by a power-structure no better at solving crises than our own Government.

Micheal Martin will be making a serious political and personal mistake if, under any circumstances, he leads the 'Soldiers of the Rearguard' into another referendum campaign. If he does so on the frail arguments he brought back from Brussels, he will be annihilated.