Lisbon – The Plot Thickens

September 15, 2009

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The campaign for Lisbon ii is now well and truly on. Activity has hotted up in the last week as the protagonists on both the ‘Yes' and ‘No' sides focus on the prize. Posters, media attention and personalities are emerging and while the serious side of the campaign has so far been dominated by claims and counterclaims from both sides about the meaning and likely consequences of the outcome, the fireworks have been generated by some dodgy messages on posters clearly designed to scare people in certain hotspot areas.  Lots of excitement this weekend with the surprise re-entry of Declan Ganley – the businessman, founder of Libertas and most prominent ‘No' campaigner from Lisbon i last year- into the fray. Ganley is a big personality and a very combative and feisty debater..  He promised he wouldn't get involved in a second campaign if he failed to be elected to the European Parliament – he didn't, but here he is back in the campaign with three weeks to go! He polarises so his re-entry may well be a mixed blessing.

This weekend saw a second Opinion Poll – according to the Poll the ‘Yes' side have 62% and the ‘No' side have 23% with 15% undecided. This Poll, undertaken by pollsters Red C for Ireland's Sunday Business Post newspaper, reaffirms the findings of a poll in The Irish Times two weeks ago.  Last time out, the ‘Yes' side was ahead going into the campaign too, but ended having their lead frittered away. This time the ‘Yes' does seem stronger and stickier but its still there to be fought for.

Permeating the debate though is significant dissatisfaction with the Government and the establishment and supporters of the Treaty are concerned the electorate will again use the referendum as a means to punish the Government. This issues is being seized upon by some ‘No' campaigners- and notably by Declan Ganley in his initial utterances.

For the uninitiated, the Lisbon Treaty is an amending treaty designed to tidy up a multitude of previously established treaties around the management and operations of the European Union (EU) – which is an association of independent and sovereign states. This Treaty replaced an attempt to establish a European Union Constitution after that proposal was rejected by a number of European states. The Lisbon Treaty has been accepted by 26 of the 27 member states of the EU. Ireland is obliged, by its own Constitution, to put any European Treaty changes to a referendum of the people whereas all of the other states have been able to ratify the Treaty by way of Parliamentary votes.  For the record- all of the other States have considered the matter- 24 of the other EU States have ratified the Treaty, two are awaiting Ireland's vote to formalise their decision and some  7400 public representatives voted with 85% of them voting in favour.

The referendum debate in Ireland so far has, somewhat and only sometimes, focused on the content of the Treaty – which by the way is not an easy read. It has clearly been prepared by legal draftsmen and women. The debate in the media has too often focused on the posters and adverts designed by partisan interests taking a provocative position on a given issue thus drawing out the other side to contradict it or dispute it.   Some of the messaging has been deliberately misleading and inaccurate and as ever in a campaign, often more heat than light has been generated. The effect is that certain segments of the electorate are confused. So the cocktail of confusion with the issues and anger at the government make up a less than ideal combination of feelings for an issue as important as membership of the EU, for a small country and economy like Ireland. Let the games continue and we'll keep you posted.