Thursday, December 04, 2008

Where Mary Lou McDonald gets it wrong on Lisbon.

In an article in the Irish Times, SF’s MEP for Dublin Mary Lou McDonald makes the case that the Lisbon referendum must not be rerun but that the Treaty must be renegotiated. The thing is she then goes on to make the same mistakes of overreach and presumption that the government did when campaigning for the treaty to be approved. What was rejected was the proposal to allow the Oireachtas sign up to Lisbon, not the content of the Treaty per se especially when so many citizens said they didn't understand it. Their response to vote No was in the circumstances quite sensible.

However, renegotiation requires that both parties are interested or able to do it. Mary Lou MacDonald argues that SF wanted the committee to look at “the future direction of the EU itself and how Ireland could shape that future”. I’m not sure how such an undertaking could possibly have reported back in any sort of realistic time frame and perhaps that was SF’s intent.

She states “There were also repeated attempts to scaremonger the public about the implications for the economy following the Irish people's rejection of the treaty. No evidence was presented to the committee to back up their claims.” The idea that the people’s rejection of the treaty has no implications for the economy is nonsense. If Brian Cowen had a bad flu, it would have implications for the economy for good or bad. That somehow our rejection of a EU treaty would have no consequences is complete overstatement of the position. Something she has rightly criticised elements of the Yes side for.

I do wonder at her suggestion about all the members of the public being given the chance to contribute in open session. It is unclear what ideas were not considered by the committee and what would have been the real value of every Tom, Dick and Harry having a chance to rant and rave at politicians on whatever their particular hobby horse, often only tangentially related to the EU is. “Sinn Féin also argued that the subcommittee should proactively engage as broad a section of the public as possible, that it should meet in open session, in and outside of Dublin, and listen to the opinions of ordinary citizens.” A halfway house idea that might have been worthwhile would have been to facilitate more engagement via the web, but the travelling road show idea as evidence by the Forum on Europe is past its best.

In talking about what needs to be addressed Mary Lou McDonald makes further missteps in saying about the report that it “sets out in detail the challenges facing Ireland and the EU and the mechanism for addressing the concerns of the Irish electorate on key issues such as maintaining our political strength, protecting neutrality, workers' rights, public services and taxation. It is clear that these issues can only be addressed in a new treaty which includes legally-binding protocols and not declarations of clarification which are not worth the paper they are written on.” There is nothing to suggest that all of the above must be addressed in order to win the support of the majority of the electorate. In a referendum all the government is required to do is gain the support of 50% plus 1 of the voters on the day. If they had adequately addressed the concerns of any one of the above issues they would probably have tipped the verdict from the vote last summer. The board scope of her argument that “...opinion polls,...demonstrate that people's concerns over neutrality, workers' rights, public services, democracy and Ireland's influence must be addressed in any future EU treaty” is also wholly incorrect.

She finishes by referring to our political goodwill with the EU while leaving aside the fact that much of this goodwill has dissipated in the aftermath of Lisbon. “It is time that the Government stood up for the interests of the Irish people and used the political goodwill which we have built up over many decades.” In essence the campaign strategy of SF and indeed Libertas was one giant blackjack hit, ignoring the possibility that we might be just as easily be bust as to hit 21.

As is her wont, she makes her point well, but doing it well does not in and of itself not make her point correct. Lastly, and of course, it is to be expected of me, given my own political leanings, to be saying this. It is quite poignant for a representative of SF to constantly refer to the democratic will of the people. It was the democratically expressed will of the people which they chose to ignore, election after election for 75 years, when it came to the republican movement’s campaign of violence which was supposedly in the name of the Irish people.

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