The Lisbon Treaty may not be quite definitively sunk – these Euro-treaties have a habit of coming back from the dead – but yes, it’s definitely holed beneath the waterline, thanks to the one EU state where the constitution requires the plebs to have their say, much to the frustration of both the Eurocrats and the Dublin political class. This is all to the good.
And quite apart from the actual merits of Lisbon, the No side deserved to win, simply because they tried to have a dialogue on what the Treaty was all about. The Yes campaign, as far as I could see, was based mainly on mobilising clientelist networks and on selling the idea that we needed a Yes to retain some influence in Brussels, or more crudely that we owed Brussels. The whole thing was symbolised by the hapless performance of Tánaiste Mary Coughlan, who is very far from being a stupid woman and who has spent her share of time in EU negotiations, but who didn’t appear to know how many commissioners Germany had.
Also a very clear class divide in the vote. The top No-voting constituency was Dublin South West (effectively Tallaght). Look down the list, and you’ll notice the other high No votes coming from working-class areas of Dublin, or from the poorer rural areas out west like Donegal, Mayo and Kerry. On the other hand, only three constituencies returned a Yes vote in excess of 60% – unsurprisingly, these were Dún Laoghaire, Dublin South and Dublin South East, the most prosperous constituencies in the state. This is relevant in terms of the media reaction, which has been most entertaining.
Yes, there was a lot of bafflement about. After all, the Treaty was backed by all parliamentary parties except the Provos. It was backed by IBEC, by ICTU and, after a little grumbling, by the IFA. It was backed by virtually the entire print media. The No campaign, on the other hand, could very easily have been portrayed as a bunch of cranks and malcontents on the political fringes. And yet the Noes won. And so there has been not only bafflement but sheer blind rage as well. We might have expected Stephen Collins to set about Mary Lou McDonald with the old verbal cudgels. It was more surprising to hear Electric Enda being bitch-slapped all over RTÉ for his failure to deliver the votes of his hillbilly constituents in Mayo.
I think the point is that, for the Irish body politic as a whole, and the D4 caste in particular, the EU has assumed the status of a cargo cult. And I mean that quite literally. The belief is that, as long as we continue to worship the Napoleonic monstrosity, and perform the necessary ritual of voting Yes in Euro-referenda, the big metal bird will fly overhead and disburse goodies to a grateful people. You get a lot of this attitude in Eastern Europe as well, by the way. I think part of the intensity of feeling in D4 and D6 is that “Europe” has replaced Britain as the source of the cultural cringe.
This, meshed in with the general elitism of liberals, is probably the explanation for why the Dublin commentariat are spitting blood. I recall Des Fennell’s observation that the tofu-eating South Dublin neo-democrats, secure in their sense of their own moral superiority and entitlement to be running the state, literally go haywire when the broad masses have the temerity to disagree with them. This then feeds into the discourse about how backward, conservative and unenlightened Ireland is, and how we need to situate ourselves in the “European mainstream”. Which would be easy, if it wasn’t for skobies and bogmen ruining the party in these damned referenda.
A lot of this is just bollocks. You can add on the tendency to ascribe every progressive move in modern Ireland – the legalisation of homosexuality, for example – to “Europe” either directly or indirectly. Now that is not just bollocks but offensive bollocks, based as it is on the idea that Irish people are incapable of enacting reforms under their own steam.
So we’ll see how this goes. Barroso and Gordon Brown have been proclaiming that the ratification process will go on, suggesting that the other 26 states will finish the process and then the 26-county electorate will be bullied into voting again, just as with Nice.
You might not be aware of the small Pacific island nation of Palau. Short version – the Palauans, who had never done anything to offend anybody, were colonised by the Spanish, then by the Germans, then by fascist Japan. After 1945, the islands became a US colony. In the 1970s there were moves towards independence, but a problem arose in that the Palauans had adopted a clause in their constitution declaring their country nuclear-free, while the Yanks (under the terms of the Compact of Free Association) wanted the right to station nukes in Palau if they ever felt the need. So the Palauans couldn’t become independent until they had removed the offending clause from their constitution. This process took twelve years, eight referenda and the assassination of two presidents until Washington got the right answer and the Palauans got their (tributary) independence.
See Palau? That’s us, the Palau of Europe. One can only hope that we show as much ornery stubbornness as the Palauans did – they may not have won in the end, but they wound up Washington big time and made a stand for the rights of small countries. All we need to do is get over the idea that there is no alternative.