The Taoiseach has rejected suggestions that the forthcoming Referendum on the Lisbon Treaty might be influenced by the controversy surrounding him. Speaking after talks with Slovenia's Prime Minister Janez Janša (photo), who is currently the EU president, he told a news conference in the Slovenian capital Ljubljana that Ireland's Referendum would probably be held in June.
Asked whether it might become a vote of confidence in himself given recent events, he said he did not think that was likely.
Here Bertie Ahern might be quite wrong in thinking that no one cares. It is true that many Irish people have so far chosen to ignore his personal and financial irregularities, or to forgive him whatever he does because they see him as "one of the lads". But the longer the matter hangs over him without a satisfactory outcome, the more people in Ireland begin to wonder if he really is the best man to lead the country and the government. Even members of his own party have meanwhile raised doubts, many of them very annoyed over the use of a £ 30,000 loan from a Fianna Fáil fund-raising account by Ahern's former mistress Celia Larkin for private family matters. (for further details see my entries from 22 February)
During the press conference the Taoiseach pointed out that most of the political parties in the Dáil were in favour of a Yes vote, so he was not worried over the outcome of the Referendum.
It is correct that Ireland's largest parties - Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour (as well as the remnants of the PDs) - are supporting the Lisbon Treaty. But this alone does not guarantee an acceptance of the treaty, since the matter will be decided by the Irish people.
In this regard it is interesting to remember that in 2005 a large majority of parliamentarians in both France and the Netherlands were in favour of the European Constitution (the forerunner of the Lisbon Treaty, whose text is about 90% identical to the Constitution), but nevertheless the people of both countries voted overwhelmingly No in separate referenda.
As Ireland is the only of the 27 EU countries where the people have a direct say on the Lisbon Treaty, the Referendum will have a special momentum and many people will recognise that in this case the people of Ireland have a responsibility for the whole of the Union, including all the nations who were deprived of a direct vote by their national governments. (Only yesterday Britain's House of Commons debated again the possibility of a referendum in the UK, but an opposition motion in favour of it was rejected by the Labour majority.)
Once the Irish voters realise how much Ireland's influence will be reduced by the Lisbon Treaty, not least by losing the right to have a permanent Irish EU Commissioner, the strong confidence displayed by the Taoiseach might well be premature, despite the strong support from most of the mainstream parties.
The Emerald Islander