08 September 2008

Lisbon Research - A Smoke Screen for Fools

This week the Irish government is due to receive the 'final version' of research (one has to wonder how many versions there have been before, and how much they have been manipulated until they say what the government wants to hear) carried out to assess why people voted NO to the Lisbon Treaty.

But Micheál Martin (left), our Minister for Foreign Affairs, seems to know already what the study has found. Did he see an advanced copy of the 'research' ahead of the rest of the cabinet? Or is he the one who manipulated the results? How else can he have the information?

In a public statement over the weekend Martin said that "it is already clear that the fear of conscription into a European army was a much bigger issue than previously thought".

What a load of nonsense! If it were not so serious, one could take it for a joke. I have been very much involved in the discussion and campaign before the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, taking part in many of the debates organised by the National Forum on Europe and speaking with a large number of people on the streets in various parts of Ireland. So I know a thing or two about the treaty, the national debate and the concerns people had.

Alright, there were some who expressed worries about a possible European army and the slight possibility that Irish people could be drafted into that. But they were a tiny minority and mostly people with not much knowledge about politics and the institutions of the European Union. When the matter was raised, it was predominantly by women who feared that their sons might be sent to serve in an 'EU army' (which does not even exist) against their will.

Such can and will never happen, as the Irish Constitution has a clause to prevent it. I did wonder during the campaign how well Irish people actually know our own Constitution, and if it is taught in schools at all.

Personally, as a former naval officer who served many years with NATO, including in some of its multi-national commands, I would actually welcome an integrated European army, with peace as its main aim and peacekeeping missions as a possibility. (During the four decades NATO was a peaceful but deterrent organisation, it kept and guaranteed peace in Europe. Now that the USA have turned it into their auxiliary force for the final Americanisation of the world, it has lost most of her original qualities and needs a replacement in Europe.)

I would also be in favour of a national service - including service in the armed forces - for Ireland in the near future. Such a service could solve many of our current problems and create a deeper understanding of the nation and the state among young people at the same time. Especially the young men, naturally full of testosterone, would find a meaningful way of using their surplus of energy in a national service. But in the age of equality I would have girls serve as well (as they do already in the armed forces and the Garda Siochana on a voluntary basis).

Anyone with common sense will see the benefits of such a proposal, and the only reason why we do not have a national service already is our history, in particular the traumatic experience with the British army. But that is a long time ago, and times change. In fact, there are plenty of young Irish men currently serving voluntarily in the British armed forces, because the minute size of the Irish military prevents them from serving their own country. This is a real shame, and in any other country I know it would be seen as scandalous.

This subject needs to be discussed in more detail at another time. But it is interesting and significant that the government chose it as an apparent reason for loosing the referendum. They know very well that it had no real relevance for the referendum, so they use it deliberately as a smoke screen to confuse fools.

Since making one idiotic statement at a time is seldom enough for our government, the minister felt obliged to add another, declaring the government had been "asked by a number of US companies if the vote meant Ireland might leave the EU, and whether they should continue to invest here".

This is even worse than his reference to a non-existent EU army. I doubt that such questions have been asked at all, and I challenge Micheál Martin to provide us with proof for it. (Should any US industrialist or businessman have indeed asked such a stupid question, it would only show how dumb Americans have become, and how little they know of the world as it is.)

But this is not a new tag of the government at all. It only underlines the twisted arguments used by the YES campaign (including the Labour Party and especially Fine Gael) before the Lisbon referendum. Many of the politicians who advocated a YES vote were trying to scare the people with a whole bunch of lies and made-up scenarios - such as Ireland leaving the EU, or foreign investment drying up - all through the campaign. (Fine Gael MEP Gay Mitchell went even as far as using the Second World War as an argument, obviously forgetting that Ireland was not a part of that conflict...) So all Micheál Martin is really doing here is trying to serve us a new brew-up of the same old weak tea. It won't work, since the Irish people are no fools.

Speaking at the fringe of an EU foreign ministers meeting in the French city of Avignon, Micheál Martin said that "there is a need for the government and the people of Ireland to understand where we are coming from (regarding the Lisbon vote) and to communicate that to our colleagues".

Well, the people of Ireland know very well where they are coming from, and with their votes in the referendum they have clearly shown that they also know where they want to go. Obviously such clarity does not exist in our government, and I cannot say I am surprised. And thus there is of course also the problem how to explain to other governments and EU institutions a matter one has not clarified oneself.

Trying to shift the burden of political decision onto the people is quite ridiculous. This is clearly the job of the government between elections. In case the government feels no longer able to do what is expected, they can always call an election...

There is however some hope left, as Micheál Martin also said that "it is timely for us to have a look at our membership of the EU and how we engage with it into the future".

Well done, Minister! You seem to have finally understood what the referendum was all about and why the majority of our people rejected the Lisbon Treaty. Now it would be nice if you would act accordingly. Listen to what they have said. They did it clear enough.
There is no need for any 'research' to understand one's population. Governments who need that are so far removed from reality and from their electorate that they won't last very long.

So, Minister, be so kind and stop trying to fool us with smoke screens. Accept the people's vote and decision, and do what you are paid for: govern the country!

The Emerald Islander


Damian Hockney said...

...well they wouldn't be doing this 'research' if the Yes side had won by 50.01% to 49.99%. The 'research' is designed to enable the Government to circumvent the No vote in some way. It has to be got round because the Irish politicians (together with their 'partners' in other EU countries) have decided in advance that the outcome must be Yes whatever the vote. When the Swiss and Norwegian politicians were desperately campaigning to jam their people into the EU, they talked about record economic collapses following failure to join,, and all the things you mention (and more)...but at the end of the day the countries did better by staying out than going in. The whole thing is great for politicians but not so good for the people.

The Irish Liberal said...

just you wait and see, the government will give us a tight budget then annouce a lisbon 2 and splash out millions trying to change our minds.


Thank you for your comment, Damian. It is quite obvious, indeed, that our government is pretty clueless, not only with regards to the referendum. During the 'Celtic Tiger' years they have grown fat and complacent, and have removed themselves from normal life and ordinary people.
They managed to win the last election narrowly because many people thought the boom would go on forever, and also because Fine Gael fought an American style campaign (organised by their US consultants who did not know any other way) which prevented Labour to pick up the few extra seats they would have needed to form the FG-Lab coalition they both wanted.

The Green Party then betrayed their voters by changing sides, so Bertie got away with it again. But after it got too hot for him in the political kitchen because of his personal affairs, things changed.
Brian Cowen lacks the charm of his predecessor and thinks that he can bully anyone around as he pleases.

Together, though with different actions, both Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen have dismantled the people's trust in the government. The referendum was the first time the people could express their real views.
But the interesting thing is that in case of the Lisbon Treaty it was not just the government that got beaten, but also most of the parliamentary opposition (with the sole exception of Sinn Fein, who were in the NO camp). The vote in the referendum exposed a large gap between Ireland's political establishment and the majority of Irish people. This is new, and the government has no idea what to make of it.
This led to the 'research', and in general I have no problem with it. I would even be in favour of more social research to determine needs and develop new policies. But what I object to is a study that is not fair and open, that has a 'final version', which means that earlier versions have been discarded or at least manipulated. This is not an exercise in social research, it is another attempt to lead the Irish people up the political garden path of FF. And isn't it telling that a minister knows the results already before the report is handed to the government?

With regards to Switzerland and Norway you are quite right. Their governments (the Norwegian a lot more than the Swiss) tried to join the EU, but the people refused that overwhelmingly in referenda. There was one in Switzerland, and Norway actually had two. And indeed, they have done better outside the EU, although they do have quite special circumstances. Norway's massive oil and gas reserves created great and unexpected wealth for the country, which is used very wisely by their government for the benefit of the whole country and the people.
Switzerland, the ultimate example of a really neutral country (since 1291) makes its main money from the banking and tourist industries. It has actually plenty of internal and social problems one does not hear about much here, but there are still enough super-rich people in the world who are willing to pay the Swiss a fee for hiding their money. How long this will continue to work is debatable. (Before WW-II Switzerland was a poor agricultural country few people took notice of. It was their unique position in the middle of Nazi-occupied Europe that made the Swiss what they are now.)

Ireland could make her way outside the EU as a truly neutral country, but only if we had a proper concept that would give us unique features to attract large amounts of foreign money. Having witnessed the crude and bumbling incompetence of Irish governments over the years, I have my doubts if we could make it work like the Norwegians do. (To begin with, we have already handed over our natural gas reserves to Shell, while the Norwegians kept theirs to good use for themselves...)

Over the past 35 years Ireland has profited more from the EU than any other country. So we have reason to be grateful to the EU. This doesn't mean we have no longer a free will, or have to do whatever the EU says.
The referendum was a good signal to the powerful, a signal for change. It remains to be seen if those we have elected to govern us are able and willing to act properly on our behalf, or if we have to replace them with others who will.


Hello again, Irish Liberal, and thanks for looking in and leaving a comment.

I would not be surprised if your prediction is correct. For many years Irish governments (of all colours) have used taxes to cajole people into doing one thing or another, or not doing certain things. So given the desperate situation the two Brians (Cowen & Lenihan) find themselves in now, anything is possible.

However, I have my doubts that a second referendum would turn things around, regardless how much money is thrown at the people. Having been very involved in the campaign, I encountered many people whose anger and concerns were real and not just political. They would vote NO again, no matter what.

Personally I think it is time for a new left-of-centre party in Ireland to accommodate all those who voted NO in the referendum and are therefore no longer represented by the parties who make up 95% of Dail Eireann.

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