For those of you not up on European affairs, the Irish people voted yesterday not to ratify the European Reform Treaty, commonly known as the Lisbon Treaty. Since all EU nations have to ratify EU treaties for them to come into effect this is a big deal. 27 countries worked for eight years to get to this point and Ireland just rejected all their hard work and pain-staking negotiation. On reflection I should have realised that this referendum was always destined to fail in Ireland given our current state of affairs. Two simple facts doomed the treaty.

  1. It’s a long and complex document which is not designed to be read by un-qualified people. It’s an international treaty between 27 nation states that amends and compliments a handful of other treaties. Stuff like that gets complicated.
  2. The Irish people have no faith in their government or major political parties

The first point means that people have to form their opinions based on the advice of others. If they had faith in their government they would believe the government when they laid out the pros and cons. But the Irish people are very suspicious of their government and indeed all their major political parties. This made it easy for the No campaign to spread Fear Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) by the lorry-load, which they did. In a situation like this a no vote is the expected outcome. “If you don’t know, vote no”.

[tags]Lisbon, Ireland, EU, Reform Treaty, NO![/tags]

Should this ever have come to a referendum? I don’t believe it should. The idea that lay people should have to educate themselves on the intricate details of complex international treaties flies in the face of the very concept of representative democracy. We elect competent people to figure out all this complicated stuff on our behalf, in our interest, and representing our wishes. This is very similar to how we employ solicitors, lawyers, barristers, attorneys, architects, you name it. As long as our solicitor is competent, able, honest and hard-working we have no problems trusting him or her. We give them power to act on our behalf and we trust them to do right by us. That’s exactly how a democracy like Ireland’s should work. The problem is it doesn’t, because the politicians in all the major parties have lost the respect and trust of the people. We no longer trust them to do right by us, hence we don’t believe them when they correct blatant mistakes and inaccuracies spread by others.

What annoys me the most about this referendum is how badly it was run, and how many people voted based on fantasies rather than reality. When you see voters interviewed some of the reasons they give for their votes are just farcical. “I’m voting no to prevent conscription”, “I’m voting no to prevent abortion”, “I’m voting no to prevent tax harmonisation”, “I’m voting no to keep our commissioner”. These would all be valid statements IF the treaty actually affected any of these things. Lisbon does not give the EU the right to impose conscription on Ireland. Lisbon does not in any way affect our opt-out on abortion. Lisbon explicitly gives us a veto on matters of taxation. We already gave up our permanent commissioner in the Nice treaty. Voting No on Lisbon does not change that at all. There were many valid arguments against the treaty, but those didn’t get a look in because people like Libertas insisted on spreading FUD about these emotive issues instead.

The yes camp were hardly much better. Our prime minister admitted he hadn’t even bothered to read the document, and the campaign he led was a disaster. The No side set the agenda and had the Yes campaign on the back foot all the way. We had ministers trying to bully us into a yes vote by predicting doom and gloom is we dared vote no, and by insisting that only Sinn Fein supporters would ever vote yes. The Irish people respond REALLY badly to “vote yes because we say so”, and that’s what we got from government ministers and other major parties. They just assumed the people would do what they told them. How they could have been so arrogant and stupid after what happened during the first Nice referendum we’ll never know.

The supposed independent experts also put up a really poor show. They simply couldn’t live down the embarrassment of not being able to answer important questions about the treaty in a press conference they had called to help clarify the issues! From all sides we were bombarded by a litany of arrogance, deceit, misinformation, and incompetence. the whole thing was a joke and I hope Brian Cowan gets a few strips torn off him when he goes to Europe, cap-in-hand, to explain the failure of Ireland to adopt a treaty that the Irish government were instrumental in drawing up.

So what now? Where do we go from here? This is a democratic nation and the people have spoken. I’m disturbed by the level of ignorance on the realities of the topic of so many voters, but that doesn’t change the fact that the people have spoken. The government must respect that, and must go forward knowing that we have said no to Lisbon. The EU also need to respect our vote and not try to force us to vote on the same treaty again.

Lisbon is dead. Europe will have to go forward under the provisions provided by Nice for the next few years at least. I really hope this acts as a wake-up call to the powers-that-be in Europe. It doesn’t make sense to group so many changes into a single treaty. It just takes one issue to trigger a no vote. The more things you lump into your treaty the more no votes you pick up. Baby steps are the key. Europe needs to reform itself one step at a time. We need to bring in small changes one-by-one rather than trying to construct monsters like the Lisbon treaty. Had there been no military element to this treaty, and had the wording on article 48 been clearer, there is every chance that Ireland would have passed the treaty. There was a lot of very good and positive reform in it, but the big emotive issue of a militarised Europe stuck in many Irish people’s craw so they threw all of the changes out because of a strong objection to just a few.

It will be very interesting to see how Europe responds to this slap in the face by the Irish. There are interesting times ahead for the European project!