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The Irish government over the past 10 years has been a disaster. I hate their arrogance. I hate the fact that we are all going to have to pay through the nose because of their blithe mismanagement of the economy. I wish some of them could see jail time, convicted of the felony of driving a country while hopelessly drunk on power. I hope they are obliterated in the next election. There. I’m glad I got that off my chest.

Nevertheless, I will vote Yes in the Lisbon Referendum. One of the many reasons why I will be voting Yes is precisely because our government were so incompetent.

If we have learned anything in the past two years, it is that government arrogance can lead to extraordinarily bad decisions. During the ‘good times’ it was incapable of listening to good advice, of taking the foot off the pedal, of acting in the best interest of its citizens.  It paid lip service to the longer term needs of its people while it cosied up to the property developers and bankers. Cautionary warnings from the EU were treated with disdain. The perceived “deadweight” of the EU resulted in a lack of urgency defending the first Lisbon referendum against its critics. These chickens came home to roost when this referendum was comprehensively defeated in 2008. Perhaps we need to take take the views of our European partners a bit more seriously in future.

There is an assumption that an Ireland, free from EU interference, could make better decisions, but where is the evidence for this? Before the EU came into being, Ireland was a bloody awful place – conservative, illiberal and pandering to the needs of the well-heeled few. When we did eventually join, these same self-interested forces within our own country fought tooth and nail to prevent even the most basic social and environmental reforms to take place. Without European influence, there would be no such thing as a minimum wage. Our environmental record would be disastrous. Homosexuality and condoms might still be on the banned list. If there is one big achievement of Europe, it is that it dragged this country kicking and screaming into the modern world. I am proud of my country but I don’t think I would be quite so proud of the place if the basic reforms that came with EU membership had not happened during my lifetime.

Another reason I am voting Yes is because I don’t see how giving our government a bloody nose will benefit any of us in the long term. It’s one thing to hurt the government if you see a benefit in doing so, but it is quite another thing if the outcome is a vote for economic meltdown. The outcome of Lisbon is long-term and will transcend many governments in the coming decades. If you have a problem with the government, the place to make that dissatisfaction clear is in the polling booth at the next General Election, not in the referendum, where a negative result will have lasting impacts on our economy.

So for those still thinking of voting No just to give the government a kicking, here’s a handy chart..

Lisbon Flowchart

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I can think of 5 reasons.

1) A slow start. While the government was busy changing its leaders, the NO campaign had plenty of time to prepare. The YES side appeared to be blind-sided by the intensity and focus of the NO people, and subsequently spent the rest of the campaign on the back-foot.

2) Simple Messages. The Yes side failed to create simple reasons why a YES vote would be advisable. They had no equivalent to “Keep our commissioner”, “Tell Mandelson where to go”, “If you don’t know, vote NO”. On the YES side it was just blandishments: “A stronger voice in Europe”, yadda, yadda.

3) Populism: The NO campaign was much more populist, much more likely to appeal to the man on the street, whereas the YES campaign conveyed a perception that “we know better than you”. The NO side capitalised on this, and particularly benefited from support by the highly effective communication skills of popular contrarians such as Eamonn Dunphy and Shane Ross.  

4) Fear: The YES side didn’t do enough to allay people’s fears. One woman on the radio voted No yesterday because she didn’t want her son to be conscripted! Others feared unrestricted abortions and goodness knows what else. A secretive French plan to assault the Irish taxation system was mentioned. Thousands of people were scared into voting no.

5) Confusion. This was one seriously complicated piece of legislation. Few would have the time or inclination to tease out the minutiae. Even if you wanted to vote YES, you might still have niggling doubts. Better the devil you know, then. 

Whatever your views on the matter, it has to be admitted that the NO side ran an extremely smart campaign. The YES campaign didn’t do enough to anticipate what they might do, and now they will reap the whirlwind. 

Utter confusion

In a few days the Irish people vote on one of the most inscrutable, inpenetrable and incomprehensible pieces of legislation that has ever been put in front of any populace, anywhere: the Lisbon Treaty.

24 out of the 25 other member states of the EU shied off putting Lisbon to a referendum for good reason. It’s impossible to read. Most of our politicians haven’t read it either.

It’s a complete mess. On the “No” side are the usual suspects: the anti-abortionists, the pro-neutrality crowd, the “Ourselves Alone” bloc, the anti-immigrant league and various conspiracy theorists and assorted weirdos. On the “Yes” side is the establishment – the politicians, the trade unions, the church, the farmers and the main lobby groups.

Both compaigns have employed very different strategies to gain electoral support. The No Camp have gone for the jugular with direct, easily digestible messages such as “They won’t see you, they won’t hear you, they won’t speak to you”, or “If you don’t know, vote No”.The Yes Camp have decided to use bland messages and to appeal to authority. A happy shiny face of some politician accompanies each poster with the implication that because X is voting Yes, you should too. They appeal to negative consequenses, telling us that all sorts of bad things will happen if we vote No.

In the end, it’s a battle between the Red Herring on one side and Darth Vader on the other.

Me? I’m probably going to vote yes, but I’m open to convincing. I am pro-European and I don’t think there is anything in this treaty that will herald the end of the world. Europe has been a hugely positive force in Ireland, has done a good job in bringing Ireland out of the Stone Age over the last 40 years. Personally, I don’t think that Ireland as a part of an integrated European Union is a bad thing.

My sense is that the referendum will be rejected, but we’ll see how it turns out.

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