Ireland's Nice Treaty Referendum

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A Dark Day for Democracy

Just too late to be added before the Irish referendum of last weekend, we received a letter from Danish reader which warned against “politicians that claim that all kinds of trouble will happen if Ireland votes NO” going on to explain that “when the Danes voted about the Euro we were first promised all kind of things if we would say yes,” but  “when the polls still said it would be NO to the euro, they started to threaten us very bad.”

Unfortunately, the familiar combination of lies, threats, pie-in-the-sky promises and total nonsense which characterises most federalist propaganda won the day. Anthony Coughlan of Ireland’s EU-critical National Platform, explains what happened.


"Now that the Irish have voted for jobs and growth, for EU enlargement, and for neutrality, can they have another vote on the Nice Treaty?"



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On a dark day for democracy in Ireland and in Europe, Irish voters have succumbed to threats, pressure and bamboozlement by their political class and agreed by 63% to 37% of those voting to ratify the identical Nice Treaty that they rejected last year by 54% to 46%. The voter turnout was 48% of the electorate, as compared with 35 % last year.



The Republic's Yes voters have thereby shown that in Ireland at this time, it is the Government, not the people, who are the masters. Variously pressurised and deceived, the Republic's Yes-side majority has agreed to reduce Irish democracy further, surrender more of their country's political independence, abolish their national veto in 35 policy areas, open the way to the division of the EU into two classes or two tiers, and turn the EU Commission and Commission President into something like an EU Government and Prime Minister, under the effective political control of the Big Member States - as provided for in the Nice Treaty.



Many of Ireland's Yes-voters have done this unknowingly or with doubts in their minds, deceived by the mendacious referendum campaign of the Government and its allies into thinking that they were voting for "jobs and growth" or for EU enlargement, or for neutrality, when none of these desirable things depends on the Nice Treaty. All of Ireland's No-side parties and groups were either in favour of EU enlargement or not against it, if the 10 Applicant countries agreed to it in their individual Accession Treaties, and these proved acceptable to their peoples in fair and free referendums.



The solid vote for Ireland's No-side campaigners is quite an achievement in face of the 20 to 1 imbalance of campaign expenditure in favour of Yes, in face of a trick referendum question that required one answer to two different joined propositions, and in face of the gutting by the Government of the statutory Referendum Commission as compared with Nice One, which meant that the Nice Treaty Re-run was conducted under radically different campaign rules from Nice One.



The lessons and experience of Nice One and Nice Two put Ireland's No-side campaigners in a strong position to defeat the European Union State Constitution Treaty that is now being prepared for 2004. Ironically, on Thursday last the Praesidium of the EU Convention discussed whether this treaty should include a proposal that Member States that refused to ratify it should be required to leave the EU, something that is legally impossible at present, but which Ireland's Yes-side voters have now permitted in principle to happen by approving Nice's "enhanced cooperation" provisions.



Yesterday's referendum was the David of Irish democracy against the Goliath of the Irish and EU elites, second time around. David slew Goliath in Nice One. He did not expect to have to face a second bout. In Nice Two Goliath was forewarned against David, was much better armed, and had several other Goliaths to help out from amongst Goliath's brothers and friends: Ireland's

business, trade union and farming elites, who decided to back the overthrow of last year's referendum result with minimal or no consultation with their own members; East European Prime Ministers, ambassadors, Vaclav Havel and Lech Walensa, orchestrated by Iveagh House into pleading for a Yes; the EU Commission and Commissioners intervening on the Yes-side, in almost certain breach of EU and Irish constitutional law; a print media leaning heavily to the Yes side etc. For the No side on Nice to get the vote they did get in the circumstances was very good.

 

The single most important factor in the success of the Irish Government and its allies in overturning last year's democratic vote of the Irish people on the Nice Treaty, has been the change in function of the formerly neutral, statutory Referendum Commission. In the Nice One referendum the Commission had the job of informing citizens on a fair and equal basis what the Yes-side and No-side arguments were. It was given substantial public money for that purpose. The Government deprived the Commission of this function on 14 December last in a Bill that was put through all its parliamentary readings in one day, with one day's notice to the Opposition, on the eve of the Dail (the Irish Parliament – ed.) rising for the Christmas holidays, when media and public attention was elsewhere.



The Referendum Commission's publicly funded advertisements, while evenly balanced between Yes and No in last year's Nice referendum, were in practice of more advantage to the No-side interests because they have little money anyway. Moreover, private interests did not bother advertising in Nice One, when they knew that the Yes/No arguments would be put by the publicly funded Referendum Commission, and would be grounded in the facts of the Nice Treaty, not on wholesale or partial irrelevancies such as "Jobs and Growth," being "Better off in Europe," or EU enlargement, which is something that primarily depends on the Accession Treaties, not Nice. The Government's removal of this Yes/No function from the Referendum Commission last December cleared a free field for private advertising in the Nice Re-run, as the politicians responsible intended that it would. The cost of the advertising was 20/1 in favour of a Yes.



With the Referendum Commission's function of setting out the Pros and Cons of the constitutional amendment removed, its remaining function of informing citizens what the referendum was about in a manner that complied with the 1998 Referendum Act requirement to be "fair to all interests concerned," became all the more important. Scandalously, in the Nice Re-run, in contrast to last year, Mr Justice T.A. Finlay and his colleagues failed signally to carry out their statutory duty. By any objective standard their information function, for which the Government gave them 4,000,000 euros to spend, lent heavily to the Yes side. By this dereliction of duty the Referendum Commissioners have rendered an ill service to the

Irish people, Irish democracy and the peoples of Europe. This stemmed from their disastrous decision to give the advertising contract to the McConnell Advertising Agency and their failure to ensure that the character of the two booklets that were sent to every household was objective and impartial, and that their radio and TV advertising was so also.



The National Platform will issue a detailed criticism shortly of the contribution of the Referendum Commisssion to the subversion of Irish democracy in this Nice Re-run referendum, to substantiate these judgements more fully. Suffice to mention two points here. Images convey messages. The two brochures the Commission sent to every Irish household contained neutral and non-neutral images. A chair with four legs to it, each labelled with the name of one of the EU institutions, helps explain to people how the EU works. An image of the EU as an ample mother clutching the existing Member States, represented as little flag-waving children, to her bosom, and some other flag-waving children - the Applicant countries - gathered around her on the floor waiting to be similarly cuddled, is about as loaded an image of a benevolent EU as one could get. Many will think of other images that might be less benevolent but more appropriate. That kind of thing was not remotely objective or fair. The Commission's statement, which conditioned their whole presentation of a key issue of the referendum, that, "legally, it is not clear if more than five States could join" the EU without the Treaty of Nice, is quite incorrect. Legally, there is nothing that sets limits to the enlargement of the EU, apart from the condition of being a European State.

 

In the Nice Treaty Re-run referendum the Irish political class, with honourable exceptions, has acted foolishly and shamefully. It is only a matter of time before there is a political reaction amongst the Irish people at the way in which they have been codded, lied to and bullied to overthrow last year's referendum result.



Nice One and the Nice Re-run have further exposed the hollow character of Ireland's mainstream political parties - quarrelling fiercely over trivia, while united on fundamentals. New political forces, which surely have the future with them, have advanced further as a result of Nice One and Nice Two.



As for the EU, the No-side people on Nice were neither opportunistic nor mendacious in claiming to be the "good Europeans" on this occasion, attempting to hold the EU together as a partnership and to prevent an institutional coup d'etat by the Big States. Now that the Nice Treaty is on the way to being ratified, it will aggravate further the contradictions and problems of the EU, its democratic deficit, the lack of identification of citizens everywhere with an essentially elitist project, the tensions between the Big States and Small, the erosion of the EU's legitimacy and authority that is moving it at an accelerating rate towards the most profound crisis, which must lead eventually to the restoration of Europe's national democracies.



Last Saturday was a dark day for democracy in Ireland and for Europe, but it also has its bright side.