Eamonn McCann: So, what will Europe do if Irish voters reject Lisbon ... again?
Published 03/09/2009 | 12:25
There's a palpable nervousness in the BaNama Republic. The thought is beginning to dawn that the voters could say No to Lisbon again. If that happens, it's goodnight Irene.
Or not, as the case may be.
They told us last year that if the electorate were so disobedient as to reject a treaty that had already been endorsed on their behalf by the sort of people who understand this sort of thing, then, well, it just wouldn't do, that's all. And the sky would fall in.
Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labour, the chiefs of the ICTU, the bankers, every business and farming organisation and every national newspaper in the Republic instructed the people to understand that they'd be cutting their own throats if they rejected the treaty.
The bosses across in Brussels might retaliate by siphoning back out all the money Europe had poured in, endangering the habitat of the Tiger and reducing the fecund land to a weed-choked wilderness. A majority of the people shrugged and voted 'No' anyway.
Within minutes of the declaration - literally, on an RTE results programme - some on the losing side were suggesting that the decision was simply unacceptable, the people would have to think - and vote - again. Many were reminded of the reported remark of Bertolt Brecht that if the people of East Germany (RIP) failed to comply with an edict from their Stalinist supremo, why, the long-suffering Walter Ulbricht would have to dissolve them and elect another people altogether.
The stridency of the chagrin of the Yes crowd last year has set the scene for the current campaign on the referendum re-run next month. Junior Minister Martin Mansergh wondered aloud whether the time hadn't come to get rid of referenda "on complex matters ... if we are not continually to be hampered in the future."
Irish Times columnist John Waters lamented "the most disgraceful episode in the history of Irish democratic procedures" - more disgraceful, seemingly, than elections to Londonderry Corporation 1922-1972 - and denounced younger voters as "the most pampered, narcissistic and vacuous generation ever to enter an Irish polling booth."
I dread to think what John will say if the people sashay down to the polling booths on October 2 and disgrace themselves again, which I wouldn't put past them.
It should be acknowledged that Labour leader Eamonn Gilmore said last year that the wishes of the majority must prevail: "I don't think there's any question of this treaty being put a second time ... the decision that has been made by the Irish people has got to be respected by the Taoiseach, by the Government, by the other Member States, by the political leadership in Brussels."
Since then, Eamonn has been persuaded that respecting the outcome of the poll is the wrong way to go. He's now putting on his stern face for the cameras and telling the electorate to catch themselves on and do what they're told. It's believed that the argument which persuaded him to execute a U-turn that would do credit to Lewis Hamilton contained the words coalition, Tanaiste, maybe, even, top and job. Not that Mr Gilmore is tramping the boulevards and boreens to get the vote out.
Probably the most eloquent commentary on the state of southern democracy is that, apart from occasionally piping up - lest they be forgotten entirely - politicians of the main parties are shuffling hither and yon in the background, leaving a multi-hued mixum-gatherum of poets, pensioned-off politicos and famous personalities to take up vanguard positions - bald musician the Edge, Garret FitzGerald, Maeve Binchy, Robbie 'Miss-kick' Keane, rugby pundit George Hook, Michelle O'Donnell Keating (no, me neither), Sticky-patch Harris, Bellaghy writer Seamus Heaney and so on - 'the celebrity messenger boys', as ever-dependable maverick Eamon Dunphy would have it.
The reason it's thought politic to keep the politicians as far as possible out of sight is that hardly anybody believes a syllable they utter any more. And not just in the Republic. Irish EU commissioner Charlie McCreevy let the truth escape to romp around the countryside when he confided: "I think all of the politicians of Europe would have known quite well that if a similar question had been put to their electorate in a referendum, the answer in 95% of countries would have been 'No' as well."
So, it isn't just the repeat referendum down south which spits in the eye of democracy. It's the EU itself. The choice before the people of the Republic lies between kowtowing to the edicts of a European elite and joining with plain citizens across member states to resist the imposition of measures designed to shore up the crumbing system at the expense of the people.
That's reason enough to vote No. An additional and surely conclusive consideration is that the loudmouth Michael O'Leary has now entered the fray, pledging to spend half a million euro of Ryanair's profits to persuade the electorate that Lisbon is a dirt-cheap destination and a doddle to reach, whereas, of course, we'd be suckered for every penny in our possession before landing in the Lurch (a picturesque airstrip in the high Pyrenees no more than 200 miles away).
We don't have any of these tribulations in the North - not being allowed one vote, never mind however many it takes.