Ireland's voters have rejected the Lisbon Treaty.
It is with some joy and satisfaction that I write this, since I have been actively involved in the campaign for quite some time. The result, which has surprised many people on both sides of the debate, is by far the clearest and most positive expression of true Irish democracy since the (even more unexpected) election of President Mary Robinson in 1990.
With the results from all 43 constituencies in the republic declared, the Lisbon Treaty has been defeated by a margin of 53.4% to 46.6%. In plain numbers a total of 752,451 people voted in favour of the treaty, while 862,415 rejected it. This means that the margin of victory for the NO side is similar to that of the first referendum on the Nice Treaty, but on a much higher turnout.
In fact the turnout of about 53% was the highest in any Irish referendum for more than a decade. This also indicates that many people saw the Lisbon Treaty as an important matter, despite a widely spread assumption that most voters did not understand it.
Of the 43 Dail constituencies only ten - Carlow/Kilkenny, Clare, Dublin North, Dublin North Central, Dublin South, Dublin South East, Dún Laoghaire, Kildare North, Laois/Offaly and Meath East - had a majority of votes in favour of the Treaty. In some of these constituencies the margin was very narrow, and in the case of Carlow/Kilkenny the difference between YES and NO was not more than four votes. (Which shows once again that in a truly democratic system every single votes counts and can make a big difference.)
The result means that prominent politicians like the new Tánaiste Mary Coughlan, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny failed to carry the vote in their own constituencies, while the new Taoiseach Brian Cowen (above) has at least the cold comfort that his own constituency (Laois/Offaly) went with him into the YES camp.
During the last days of the campaign people on both sides felt that the YES side had made up some ground, after an opinion poll in the Irish Times, published a week ago, showed a slight lead for the NO vote. This poll has turned out to be correct after all, while the impression of strength in the YES camp turned out to be wrong.
The general picture of the referendum shows a clear divide in Irish society. Working class and rural constituencies voted against the treaty, while the wealthy middle class areas, mostly in Dublin and its surrounding commuter belt, were in favour.
In regional terms, the result was closest in Dublin, where the NO side won by 51% to 49%. But the capital also had the widest margins: The constituency with the highest NO vote (Dublin South West with over 65%) and the constituency with the highest YES vote (Dun Laoghaire with 63.5%). The region with the highest NO vote was Connacht/Ulster, where the NO vote reached an average of 57%.
The fastest counting took place in my own city, Waterford, which was the first constituency to declare an official result. It was unequivocal, rejecting the Lisbon Treaty by 54% to 46%.
This is slightly above the national result, and with over 54% Waterford had also the highest turnout in the whole country. There might be various reasons for that, but it is likely that a well-organised local NO campaign, which brought together Sinn Fein, the Workers' Party, SWP, the UNITE trade union and a good number of independent people, has played a significant part in the argument over the treaty.
It is also worth mentioning that Waterford City Councillor David Cullinane (Sinn Fein) has been one of the most clear and outspoken critics of the Lisbon Treaty in Munster. In a public debate in Clonmel, Co. Tipperary, organised by the National Forum on Europe, he was the main speaker for the NO side and clear winner of the debate against local Fianna Fail TD Dr. Martin Mansergh (recently appointed Minister of State for the OPW and the Arts), who represented the YES camp that evening.
As much as the result has surprised and even stunned a lot of politicians and commentators, it is not so unexpected for me. Back in March I already wrote that the Lisbon Treaty can be defeated if the NO campaign is organised and conducted in the right way. This has happened, and besides the rejection of the treaty the result of the referendum has done a lot more:
1) It has exposed the great rift between the majority of the Irish people and the Dublin-based ruling elite, made up of politicians, media personalities and wealthy businessmen.
2) It has further exposed the obvious incompetence of leading Irish politicians, especially in the field of foreign and European politics. (The fact that neither Taoiseach Brian Cowen nor our EU Commissioner Charlie McCreevy had read the treaty they asked the people to accept says more than enough about the attitude of our leaders...)
3) It has mobilised the ordinary citizens in defence of true democracy and national interests, against a massive phalanx of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labour Party, Progressive Democrats and (the more powerful) two thirds of the Green Party, with support from IBEC, IFA and other rich organisations.
4) It has established a new political force in Ireland, whose strength, dimensions and potential is yet unknown. But this could well lead to the formation of a new party, or at least to a clear shift of political power.
5) It also has made many Irish people more aware of Europe, the EU institutions and the great importance they have in the way we are governed in the 21st century.
While the Lisbon Treaty is now dead in the water and many see this as the end of a process, I am certain that quite the opposite is the case. The clear decision to say NO to Lisbon is in my opinion the beginning of a whole new process, which could reform or even revolutionise the EU. After decades during which the progress of the united Europe was exclusively in the hands of the politicians and bureaucrats, the Irish referendum of June 12th, 2008 could be the begin of a new Europe of the people, a democratic and liberal Europe which is loved, shaped and built by its free citizens.
The Emerald Islander