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26th Feb 2024

Irish No side rejects additional protocols as 'trinkets'

  • The Irish Examiner's Saturday headline after a majority (53.4%) of the Irish rejected the Lisbon Treaty in a referendum on 12 June 2008 (Photo: EUobserver)

The various and often conflicting groups that made up the multi-headed No campaign in Ireland want any European institutional interpretation of why Irish people voted the way they did to take on board their key demands.

The groups, particularly those on the left, are worried that European leaders are already cooking up protocols on "non-institutional issues" that can be bolted on to the treaty to ensure its passage in a possible second referendum.

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Following the defeat of the Lisbon Treaty in the Irish referendum on Thursday (12 June), EU officials have said that the country will likely be offered additional guarantees of its sovereignty, most likely in areas such as taxation, military policy and family law.

"A couple of protocols, whether on neutrality or taxes is not enough because the very heart of the Lisbon Treaty will not have been changed in any way," said Patricia McKenna, a former Green MEP for Ireland and leader of the People's Movement, one of the main No campaign groups.

"The European leaders are ignoring the real reasons why people voted No," she told the EUobserver, "while at the same time engaging in a concerted effort to make the Irish people feel guilty for saying No on the one hand and isolated on the other as they forge ahead anyway. They think that if we feel sufficiently guilty, these messages softens us up for a second referendum."

There is a long list of policy issues that EU leaders must pay attention to, including institutional ones, she argued, in particular "fair trade not free trade", bringing an end to the privatisation agenda and "the whole question of workers' rights in the wake of recent [European Court of Justice] decisions".

On the weekend, the European commission organised a 'flash' poll of 2000 Irish voters to find out the reasons behind their vote.

According to the Irish Independent, more than 70 percent of those who voted No did so because they thought the treaty could be renegotiated.

The unreleased survey also found that many people who do not normally vote in elections turned out this time, that people who said they did not understand the treaty tended to vote No; and that increased immigration played a role in the No vote.

Campaign groups are arguing that the No vote is more profound.

"They can't come back a second time with a few trinkets attached and expect us to change our minds. It just won't work," said Ms McKenna "The danger for them is that this will blow back in their faces and will probably result in an even higher No vote next time around."

No side to debrief before deciding next moves

Michael Youlton, a campaigner with the Campaign Against the EU Constitution, CAEUC – the umbrella group that brought together all the No campaign groups apart from Libertas and the conservative Catholic Coir, said his alliance will wait a while before deciding how to respond to proposals on opt-outs.

"We'll have to see what the EU leaders come up with and then we'll react fully. The government is completely confused and backbiting, so we don't know yet completely what they're going to propose."

The group will bring together its 15 constituent members next Saturday (21 June), immediately after the European summit to debrief on the campaign and decide their next steps.

"At the moment, we are not keen to fight another referendum, although having said that, we may have to face that, and it'll probably come sooner rather than later if it does – September or October, as the EU leaders will still want to stick to their schedule."

Ten to eleven groups in the alliance are particularly opposed to the idea of a second referendum, he said.

Nonetheless, Sinn Fein, a member of CAEUC, has laid out a series of demands for opt-outs and protocols that should be contained in a new document following any additional negotiations.

The republican party wants each member state to retain its commissioner and the maintenance of existing voting strength in the Council of Ministers. Alongside this, Sinn Fein wants vetoes on public services, international trade and taxation, as well as opt-outs on nuclear power and enhancement of military capability and a specific article on neutrality.

Additionally, the party wants greater protection for workers' rights and the promotion of fair trade rather than free trade.

Declan Ganley, the multi-millionaire founder of Libertas, the No campaign group that campaigned on more libertarian grounds, insisted the vote was "not a Eurosceptic message, but a pro-European message".

Immediately after the vote, he stressed the democratic deficit in Brussels as the heart of his group's message, despite the prominence of tax harmonisation and concerns about the effects of regulation on businesses the group's campaign literature.

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