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Europe

Irish voters increasingly polarised ahead of key referendum

Text by Euny HONG

Latest update : 2009-12-03

Campaigning by both the "yes" and "no" camps is becoming increasingly heated as the finishing line approaches.

Ireland votes at a national referendum on October 2 to answer a question they have answered before – Lisbon Treaty: to ratify, or not to ratify? At the previous referendum, on June 12 last year, 53.4 percent of voters ticked “no.”

 

This vote is based on amendments to the Lisbon treaty, but some other EU nations already look to this Irish referendum with anticipatory annoyance, assuming Ireland will hold up the treaty again. Some Irish nationals, meanwhile, resent being told to vote for the same thing twice.

The controversial reform treaty must be ratified by all 27 EU states in order for it to come into force. Brussels has scrambled over the past year and a half to make concessions to the Irish.

Specifically, Dublin's EU partners gave assurances on Catholic Ireland's abortion ban, its military neutrality and its tax-setting right, while pledging that Ireland would keep a commissioner in Brussels.

 

FRANCE24 spoke to two Irish voters, one “yes and one “no”, to examine the key issues driving this key vote, which is not only important to the Irish, but all Europeans.

Kevin Foley, an Irish accountant who relocated to Luxembourg two months ago, told FRANCE24 that he is not particularly impressed by the amendments made to the Lisbon Treaty. “Nothing has changed,” he said. “The treaty hasn’t been altered at all. If the treaty was altered, the rest of the Union would have to ratify it again.” The changes, he said, were merely cosmetic and beside the point. The real issues, he said, are in the core of the Treaty, not the amendments on which Brussels was willing to compromise.


Foley sees the Treaty as compromising national sovereignty – for all member nations. “The Treaty gives the European Parliament too much power,” said Foley. This is not merely an Irish issue, but one that will, “affect other nations in the EU in exactly the same way.”

He strongly supports Ireland’s EU membership, but says that the Lisbon treaty is fundamentally flawed. He complains that the EU has lost sight of its economic roots, “It is not supposed to the US of Europe,” he said. “The bureaucrats in Brussels, who aren’t elected officials by the way, would have too much power.”

Experts have been saying that the financial crisis might encourage more ‘yes’ votes this time around. But the crisis is neither here nor there, according to Foley. “The EU is using Ireland’s weak economy as an excuse. They’re saying ‘you voted no, this is why your economy is going to crap.’”

The real problem, in Foley’s opinion, is that the Irish government “is weak and won’t stand up to the EU.” He is pessimistic about the referendum. “Unfortunately, more people will probably vote yes because they’ve been brainwashed (about the financial crisis issue).”

Conor Healy, who is chief executive of the Cork Chamber of Commerce in the southern city of Cork in Ireland, was quite on the other end of the spectrum. He told FRANCE24, “I haven’t heard any logical coherent argument for a ‘no’ vote. All the concerns raised the first time round have now been addressed.”

One of these issues was the question of the rotating commissioner. The original Lisbon Treaty had a rotating commissioner to represent the smaller countries, “which means that for five years Ireland would not have a commissioner.” Since this has since been amended to let Ireland keep its Brussels representative, according to Healay, nothing should stand in the way of a “yes.”

The Cork Chamber, a civic institution that devotes itself to helping local businesses, is officially pro-Lisbon Treaty. It is a bold stance for such a controversial issue, but an obvious one, said Healey. “Ireland is a small open economy; we are very dependent on international markets and exports to the EU. We are also dependent on inward investment into Ireland.” One of the reasons that other nations like the US seek Ireland as a trading partner, said Healey, is that Ireland is part of the EU.

Ireland’s economic growth over the last few decades has been so miraculous that the nation was referred to as “the Celtic Tiger.” This success, said Healey, was largely due to its involvement in the EU. “We benefitted immensely in the last 30 years. We need to be fully committed (to the EU).” he said. “The Celtic Tiger was the previous 9-12 years; everyone knows the Irish economy has suffered in the last 12 months. We need to grow our economy again.”
 

Date created : 2009-09-29

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