Are you listening, Jose Manuel Barroso, Javier Solana, Peter Mandelson? Your boys took one hell of a beating!

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.

As ever, good commentary on this from WorldbyStorm, and Gray Falcon has an East European perspective.


  1. Madam Miaow said,

    June 14, 2008 at 11:36 am

    Thank Kerr-rist for that!

    Actually, thank you people of Ireland. I’d like to buy you all a drink but will have to suffice by saying, “Ta very much!”.

  2. ejh said,

    June 14, 2008 at 11:38 am

    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 disagree with them.


    I’m pretty agnostic about the EU and I’m quite aware (as any English person is bound to be) about the hysterical and reactionary nature of a lot of anti-EU comment, but it’s the sheer bloody arrogance of these people that gets on my nerves. They deserve to lose for that alone.

    I wonder whether the referendum wasn’t actually all but lost after they re-ran the referendum before, as they had done the Danish one. I can just imagine people thinking – consciously or otherwise – all right, we’ll give you your vote just to make you go away, but next time….

    I made a comment at Crooked Timber including this, which I’d stand by and repeat:

    No voters – ignorant. Yes voters – no such suggestion.

    I’m sure that a fair number of Yes voters don’t much like this attitude either. But it’s really widespread and I’m afraid I think it largely consists of a lot of well-off metropolitan people with good education and promising careers supporting things that suit their interest and assuming it’s axiomatic that everybody else should do the same.

    Another commenter then said:

    This beautifully describes much of the debate around the evolution of the economic, social and political system in a globalized world.

    Which was kind of them, but even though I say so myself, this is the whole thing in a nutshell, isn’t it?

  3. WorldbyStorm said,

    June 14, 2008 at 3:02 pm

    Nothing much I’d disagree with there, despite taking the Yes side, but some small points, I would say that having campaigned for divorce and during the abortion referendums it is clear that the sense that we were – rightly or wrongly – moving closer to European norms on those issues certainly assisted during the campaigns. So while I don’t at all disagree that ultimately divorce would have been won, as was contraception before it and perhaps abortion to a degree some time in the future, the link to the EEC or was it EC was useful. Granted that’s a tactical rather than a strategic thing. Secondly one major psychological bonus of EEC/EC/EU membership was the way in which suddenly we didn’t have to contrast ourselves (I’m talking obviously of the RoI here) with the British but could now look to other smaller and not so small countries as our partners and equals. That was no mean dynamic in and of itself for a state which had been hollowed out culturally, socially and economically by partition and the shadow of the UK even well into the 1970s and perhaps even 1980s. I’m entertained looking at now how people are talking about how the EU flag on car numberplates should be banned, they won’t of course be, but I remember how they were almost flaunted (particularly when driven through the UK!) in the late 1980s/early 1990s when they appeared. So Europe is interesting even in the sense that it acted as a proxy for a renewed national identity and confidence.

    I’m not entirely sure the commentariat are absolutely enraged. GFG had a reasonably good piece in the IT today which made some very pertinent points about the lack of trust between politicians and electorate developing through a sort of bureacratisation of political life through Dáil committees, etc, etc leading to less contact with the electorate. It’s deeper than that, but if he gets it I’d have a bit of hope some good may come of all this.

    ejh, I agree that the ignorance thing is overplayed, but… a major component of the No vote, at least if we take last weeks IT poll at face value was a lack of knowledge about the Treaty. That’s actually not the responsibility of the electorate, or that sector bemused by it, but comes back to Splintered and I think some of your points made as regards the inability of the political classes (a phrase I prefer more than elites, since knowing more than my share of TDs and Senators and lobbyists and activists they sure ain’t an elite) to make any sort of proper case.

    I tend to the perhaps more cynical view that elite – if one will – beliefs as you rightly describe above about ignorance aren’t in any sense restricted to metropolitans, but actually permeate most socio-political groups of whatever stripe. It’s one reason I don’t belong to any party now. How to tackle that? I don’t know.

  4. charliethechulo said,

    June 14, 2008 at 8:01 pm

    Happy in your popular front with anti-immigration racists, anti-abortion fanatics, De Valeraite isolationists, businessmen (like Ganley) opposed to “regulation” and “interference” and every other possible brand of reactionary?

  5. Craig said,

    June 15, 2008 at 1:39 am

    “Happy in your popular front with anti-immigration racists, anti-abortion fanatics, De Valeraite isolationists, businessmen (like Ganley) opposed to “regulation” and “interference” and every other possible brand of reactionary?”

    A common front that convinced more people to vote No than to vote Yes. Smearing the opponent doesn’t make your argument any stronger.

  6. Renegade Eye said,

    June 15, 2008 at 3:33 am

    Atleast in Ireland you were allowed to vote.

    I understand where Charlie is coming from. There are contradictions in the No Vote. Still it was the lesser evil.

  7. Wednesday said,

    June 15, 2008 at 7:00 am

    As I just said over at the Cedar Lounge, the Yes side was equally diverse, yet that was portrayed as proof of the Treaty’s goodness. Go figure.

  8. WorldbyStorm said,

    June 15, 2008 at 11:49 am

    Wednesday, just thinking about it. Was the Yes side ‘equally’ diverse? Not sure that it was to be honest. For a start it didn’t comprise any explicitly far right elements. The PDs (a pale shadow of themselves) don’t quite fit the bill, and from there on in it was fairly mainstream centre right centre left with civic society, some union formations, employers groups. Nothing terribly scarifying if far from attractive. By contrast the No side encompassed furthest left to furthest right. I think on any reading of the political scale that was much more diverse.

  9. Ciarán said,

    June 15, 2008 at 12:08 pm

    WbS: ejh, I agree that the ignorance thing is overplayed, but… a major component of the No vote, at least if we take last weeks IT poll at face value was a lack of knowledge about the Treaty.

    True enough, but as Splintered stated above most of the No side actually tried to have a dialogue over what the Treaty meant, whereas the Yes side were having none of it. The establishment just didn’t sell it to the people, and their arrogant assumption that the ‘stupid paddies’ would act simply as a rubber stamp for the European project backfired on them, big time.

  10. Ciarán said,

    June 15, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    Wbs: By contrast the No side encompassed furthest left to furthest right. I think on any reading of the political scale that was much more diverse.

    Who were the furthest right on the No side? Cóir? I mentioned on Cedar Lounge that they were minute and would have been irrelevant had they not got the disproportionate coverage, again probably to portray the No side as backward-thinking loonies. Seriously, what did they actually do during the campaign – put up a handful of posters and hand out a few leaflets to farmers. Then you had Libertas, whose campaign was run more on the issues of democracy and sovereignty than anything else. And after that, you’ve got the left.

    You’re probably right though to state that the Yes side wasn’t particularly diverse. Afterall, where was the left on the Yes side? ‘Neo-liberal socialists‘ like Michael D?

  11. Ciarán said,

    June 15, 2008 at 12:18 pm

    ‘Neo-liberal socialists’ was meant to be a link going here.

  12. Wednesday said,

    June 15, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    First of all WBS there aren’t really any “explicitly far right” elements in Ireland, unless you’re thinking of the nordie Combat 18ers or the Celtic Wolves, neither of whom made an appearance in the campaign.

    Second, diversity is more than a matter of connecting points on either side of the political spectrum. The sheer number of Yes organisations and the vastly different (and often contradictory) reasons for their support of the treaty justifies describing them as diverse. If you want to argue that they aren’t quite “equally” as diverse, fine, that’s not really the point. The point is that the Yes camp’s contradictions were ignored while the Nos’ were replayed over and over like a broken record.

  13. charliethechulo said,

    June 15, 2008 at 1:22 pm

    What about the anti abortion and anti immigration forces? They’re suddenly *not* “far right” anymore? Get a grip, comrades!

  14. June 15, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    We the Szeklers from Transylvania, Romania are veru greatfull to the Irish people for saying no

    Thank you

  15. Cian said,

    June 15, 2008 at 3:53 pm

    I’m not convinced that the “Yes” voters understood what they were voting for. Voting No because its incomprehensible seems perfectly logical to me. I still don’t understand what this constitution is supposed to achieve, or what its about.

  16. charliethechulo said,

    June 15, 2008 at 9:48 pm

    But, Cian, you surely understand what hostility to immigration and / or abortion means, eh? So why did you vote with the extreme right?

  17. Ciarán said,

    June 16, 2008 at 12:56 am

    Charlie’s another idiot. Trying to demonise the No campaign because there were some right-wingers calling for a No vote.

    Cian is absolutely correct, why would someone vote Yes to something they couldn’t comprehend?

  18. WorldbyStorm said,

    June 16, 2008 at 6:57 am

    Ciarán, I have to, as I did on the CLR disagree about the impact of Coir. Their public promotion was far and away the most visible and successful, particularly in terms of supporting messages re taxation, etc, etc. I have to ask, with all respect, were in you in Dublin for the last two months and did you see their presence there? It was much much more than a handful of posters and leaflets handed out to farmers. Nor am I trying to demonise the No campaign, or at least that sector of it that was left oriented, just pointing out that the nature of the campaign vote brought in strands which were contradictory and complex.

    I’m seriously uncomfortable with the purist idea that the ‘left’ whatever that may mean in an Irish context was somehow an undifferentiated bloc entirely behind the No side. Most of the Labour party for all its flaws was there, and more than enough leftists that I know were also there. The reality was that it straddled formations, ideologies and so on. I guess one could make a case that the social democratic left was much more strongly pro than agin, but even that is too definitive. And I’d certainly be very dubious that this represents a ‘win’ for the left, attractive as that idea may seem.

    Wednesday, I have to be honest, I think that Coir comes as close as I’d care to with the explicitly far right in terms of social/cultural values and arguably their political tactics. That they have a different spin to say the French far right or the BNP doesn’t make them any less so.

    I think that’s a tad semantic. I never argued that the Yes wasn’t diverse, I argued very specifically that on the political scale the NO was more diverse. The numbers involved of individual components might have been greater on the Yes side, (although arguable, very arguable, when I see for example Ailbhe Smith fronting No organisations it seems to me that the proliferation of small groups on that side was remarkable).

  19. June 16, 2008 at 7:16 am

    […] that seems to exercise federalists, or the more starry eyed on the No side). On the other, Splintered Sunrise: The Lisbon Treaty may not be quite definitively sunk – these Euro-treaties have a habit of […]

  20. splinteredsunrise said,

    June 16, 2008 at 7:53 am

    Hmm, I noticed Fintan in the Guardian saying that the diversity of the No was such that you couldn’t argue with it. Well, actually he said irrationality, but…

    It’s something that does have to be recognised. From what I saw, the most prominent political representatives on the No side were McKenna, Higgins and Mary Lou. But whether the rural No vote takes its lead from the Dublin left is another matter… I suspect it has more to do with fishing and the WTO.

  21. June 16, 2008 at 10:57 am

    […] Everything) hingewiesen; zum irischen EU-Referendum findet mensch interessante Stellungnahmen auf Splintered Sunrise und auf Shiraz […]

  22. Mark P said,

    June 16, 2008 at 11:39 am

    WbS, with all due respect you are “uncomfortable” with the idea that “the left” was uniformly anti-Lisbon for two, equally poor reasons. Firstly your self-image as a leftist. Secondly your far too generous estimation of the “left” credentials of the Labour Party.

    Every single grouping or organisation to the left of the not-left Labour Party that I can think of was pushing for a No vote. As was every single high profile left of Labour individual that I can think of, from Tony Gregory to Seamus Healy. The only way you can argue that the left was at all divided is to talk about how a few mates of yours voted Yes, or by extending the definition of “left” so far to the right that it includes Pat Rabbitte and John Gormley. The stupidity of such an analysis is self-evident. That the Labour Party leadership presents itself as being a little more socially concerned and a little more liberal than Fianna Fail does not mean that they are part of “the left” in any meaningful way. They are standard issue neo-liberal politicians and as Vincent Browne showed to devestating effect in his interview with Rabbitte before the last elections, there is nothing of substance that would prevent any of them from being in the PDs.

    On the Coir campaign: It was small, had few people on the ground and no public figures but did have a fair number of posters. They were not a significant force in the campaign. Libertas was the non-left No campaign that had some impact, but interestingly they campaigned much more strongly on what might be called democratic deficit issues than they did on what seems to be the Thatcherite economic policies of its leading figures. However, with the solitary exception of the unaffiliated Kathy Sinnott, every single TD, former TD, MEP, former MEP or councillor on the No side was affiliated to the CAEUC and came from SF, the People’s Movement or the SP. A huge majority of the activists on the ground were from CAEUC affiliates too. By contrast neither of the right wing No campaigns had anything on the ground.

  23. ejh said,

    June 16, 2008 at 3:46 pm

    Firstly your self-image as a leftist.

    What does this mean?

  24. sonofstan said,

    June 16, 2008 at 3:50 pm

    Every single grouping or organisation to the left of the not-left Labour Party that I can think of was pushing for a No vote

    Do you include SF in that category? (i.e. as to the left of labour)

  25. Garibaldy said,

    June 16, 2008 at 4:47 pm

    On mark’s point, I should point out that The WP ,including one current and several ex-representatives, including an ex-TD, were affiliated to CAEUC.

    As for his point about Labour and the left. I’d be sympathetic to the thrust of what he’s saying but at the same time if we consider that the left includes organised labour, a good deal of which supports Labour and the Treaty, then things become a lot more complicated. Of course, he may not wish to consider many of the trade unions as left, but I think any objective analysis that tries to exclude them from the left is in some difficulty. I’d happily write off a lot of the labour leadership and membership, but far from all of it when we discuss the left.

    Given the behaviour of PSF in the north, Son of Stan may also have a point.

  26. Mark P said,

    June 16, 2008 at 5:15 pm


    It means that it would obviously be uncomfortable for a Yes voting leftist to accept that the left was, bar a handful of individuals, united behind a No vote. So we get WbS’ stuff about knowing other leftists who voted Yes presented as rather feeble evidence for a split left. I have rarely in my political life seen the Irish left as united on something. Neither the fact that a small number of leftist individuals supported the treaty nor the fact that the far from leftist Labour Party supported it changes that in the slightest.


    Correction accepted. I forgot about the WP, sorry about that. But the fact that they were affiliated to CAEUC too strengthens rather than diminishes my central point.


    I wouldn’t describe Sinn Fein as meaningfully left wing these days. However they do present themselves as being, and at least in the South they actually are, to the left of Labour. Which isn’t much of an accomplishment.

    Their particular campaign on Lisbon was an interesting beast.

    Their posters were arguably some of the worst ones put up by any group on a number of levels. Firstly, their visual appearance was absolutely terrible. A graphic designer mate of mine went, unprompted, on a half hour long rant about how just about every possible design sin had been committed by whoever put them together. They were ugly, indistinct and difficult to read. More significantly, the slogan on them was vague to the point of being nearly content free and didn’t actually make a case for a No vote. In so far as “For a Better Deal in Europe” had any meaning at all, it was preparing the ground for a possible Yes vote at a future referendum.

    They also weren’t as visible on the streets as I was expecting. Still much more so than the right wing campaigns of course, but the people thrusting leaflets into my hands on the street tended to be People’s Movement or far left more often than they were SF. Given size disparities, SF should really have had an overwhelming numerical advantage. Despite living in a heavily leafleted area of Dublin Central I didn’t get one in my door from them either, although I got ones from the PM (which may have been delivered by one of Gregory’s people?), SP, People Before Profit (SWP) and WSM as well as Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and, bizarrely, the Greens.

    On the more positive side for them, Mary Lou MacDonald was the single highest profile No campaigner and she performed a lot better than she ever has previously. And, sheer size and national spread means that they will have done, almost despite themselves, a fair bit of the heavy lifting. They are certainly the best positioned to make electoral gains from the referendum.

  27. sonofstan said,

    June 16, 2008 at 6:23 pm

    Given size disparities, SF should really have had an overwhelming numerical advantage. Despite living in a heavily leafleted area of Dublin Central I didn’t get one in my door from them either

    I was buttonholed by Mary Lou and Grizzly in Phibsboro’ SC ………

  28. WorldbyStorm said,

    June 16, 2008 at 8:31 pm

    MarkP, I’m not enamoured with drawing the circle of the ‘left’ as tightly as you and not merely because it excludes large groups (including many of those inside Labour who differ on some issues but are on any reasonable definition leftwing) and ignores others (as Garibaldy noted, what of numerous left of centre trade unionists who eschew party affiliation, or indeed leftists who do the same). The ‘self-definition’ to appropriate your phrase of the left in this state (the RoI) is considerably broader than you seem to think. It’s not all about party, or campaign. It threads through various elements in civil society, the unions, academia, rights organisation, etc, etc… many of whom would be far from SP supporters… 🙂 or indeed any organised formation.

    I’m not suggesting some concept of a split in the left, simply that many on the left straddled both camps reasonably happily, including people I’d regard as good socialists who – unlike myself – believe in a federal EU and yet on any other axis would be lined up at least in part with the groups you reference. As regards Coir, well to my mind, their public presence and their capacity to shape the message was only secondary to that of Libertas, so no mean achievement (incidentally I think its very telling that both of them were lobby groups so to speak and the more temperate language coming out of Adams today – and yes I think there is something in what you suggest about doors being left open to future events by SF – speaks of the reality that SF have to go back to justify themselves not just on the EU but a range of issues with the electorate and in contexts such as the Dáil).

  29. Garibaldy said,

    June 16, 2008 at 10:48 pm

    Coir’s posters with the monkeys were effective, as were the 1916 ones I thought. Agree that the Provo ones were dreadful. But it’s the standard poster, just that in the north it’s a tricolour background. On the other side, the DUP have their candidates and the Union Jack. It’s a great world we live in.

  30. WorldbyStorm said,

    June 17, 2008 at 7:05 am

    Ah, double sided printing, and cheap too… it’s a wonder…

  31. Wednesday said,

    June 17, 2008 at 8:02 am

    A few very quick points here.

    1) Re diversity of the Yes side – If Labour’s analysis of the treaty was correct, IBEC would never in a million years have supported it. That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about. None of those who pointed up the differences between, say, the Libertas and SF positions seemed to grasp this.

    2) Mark P – I’m not sure where in DC you live, but a lot of the places we were in probably wouldn’t have been “heavily leafletted”. I doubt some of the Yeses would have set foot in them …

    3) Re organisations being “explicitly far right”, I think some of yous need to look up the word “explicitly”.

  32. Madam Miaow said,

    June 20, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    Jim of The Corrs on the Lisbon Treaty, the New World Order and the Illuminati.

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