Why Ireland voted NO to Lisbon

Friday 13 June 2008 16:01

People like Margaret Wallstrom have been saying that the EU and the Irish Government must now set about an analysis of why Ireland voted no. Look no further. Herewith attached are the ten reasons. They are in numerical order of people who hold them. Of course most people hold many of these views, and almost everybody, even many who voted Yes, hold more than one. Of course, if the analysis is intended to discover how to make the smallest number of changes to please the necessary number of people to extract a yes vote, only a few points are important. However, for the good of Europe as a whole, where all of these concerns are shared by our fellow citizens of the EU, they should try to solve all the problems.

Some of the dafter ideas floating around among disgruntled yes-men are figments of their imagination. I never heard anybody, either in person, on radio or on television, or in the pub, mention conscription, for example.


The list is organised so as to reflect the numbers who hold each opinion (1, being the highest number), bearing in mind that most people hold several at once.

1. Nobody understood the Treaty in total, including the President of the High Court who chaired a commission charged with explaining it to citizens.

2. Everybody is worried that despite reforms in the Treaty, the EU is still fundamentally un-democratic. This is compounded by the fact that many people see the electoral process within countries as only sporadically democratic in its own right. It is further compounded by the seemingly underhand behaviour of EU leaders in circumventing previous No votes, for example, in the second Nice referendum and the fact that neither France nor The Netherlands is prepared to risk the Treaty at a second referendum there.

3. Many people were worried about the EU army and specifically that the Treaty would allow the executive to order military action without consulting parliament. This issue does not affect Ireland directly since our neutrality is guaranteed, but it reflects the concerns of our citizenry for the direction of Europe as a whole.

4. Workers were worried that they had fewer protections under Lisbon than they have under existing treaties. The refusal to guarantee rights of collective bargaining as well as the privileging of business interests over workers interests by recent ECJ decisions copper-fastened this in workers'' minds.

5. A lot of people were worried that no real strides had been made towards the inclusion of social rights such as health and education.

6.  People  were also worried that Ireland would no longer have a full-time commissioner, a worry held in many other countries.

7.  The middle classes and businessmen were worried that tax harmonisation would disadvantage them.

8. Fishermen and members of coastal communities voted against it because the Irish fishing industry has been ruined by the quota system, with fishermen dumping fish at sea.

9. Farmers objected to the trend in the WTO talks, in particular to the stance of Peter Mandlestam. They wanted the government to agree to veto an unfavourable outcome. The government reluctantly agreed a few days before the referendum, but it was too late by then.

10. The religious Right (now a tiny minority) were worried that the EU would force us all to have abortions. I have never met anybody who cited this as a possibility, though I believe I was at a wedding that was also attended by two people who held that opinion.

In addition to the above, minor irritations were created by EU leaders (i) telling Irish people how to vote (ii) threatening Irish people that if they voted No they would suffer (iii) arguing that we should accept a powerful and far-reaching treaty that we couldn''t understand out of gratitude (iv)  suggesting that people who intended to vote no were insane, stupid, cynical, malicious or eurosceptic (there is virtually no euroscepticism in Ireland, despite the vote). Sarkozy, in particular, did a lot of damage (see below for his remarks).

Most, if not all of these concerns could be addressed without too much fuss. But the reality is they are not likely to be addressed by a neo-liberal, free-market orientated, mainly right-wing set of leaders. What we are more likely to see is another fudge.


26 Countries, we are told, will ratify the Lisbon Treaty, while Ireland alone will return a no vote. However there is a significant difference between the quality and force of Ireland''s No and, say, France''s Yes. In Ireland THE PEOPLE VOTED NO. In France only the political elite will have a chance to vote.

Had the French government asked its people they would have got the same answer. After all, both the French and the Dutch voted no to the original constitution, of which this is merely a new version. Conversely, had it not been a constitutional necessity for Ireland to hold a referendum the Dáil (Parliament) would have passed the bill with a majority of 161 in favour and only 6 against. They would not have been reflecting the will of their electors.

The fact is, only the political elites want this treaty, but they want it very badly.

Here in Ireland the No vote was strongest in working class areas, among the fishing communities, among the farmers, among left-wing and unionised people. The middle classes were only unenthusiastically in favour. The turnout was the highest for a referendum in years.

And who are the political elites? They are as unsavoury a group as you could chance to meet. Sarkozy in France, for example, who informed us just a few days before we voted that ''the Irish would be the first victims (sic) of a no vote''; Berlusconi and his fascist supporters; Angela Merkel; Gordon Brown, inheritor of Blair''s New Right, and so on.

And why do they want a yes vote? Because this treaty is in fact a neo-liberal constitution by another name.

The Irish Left is fiercely pro-European. But it does not want a USA here. We have only one request of the political elites: Dare to ask the citizens.

Now it is time for the Left in all the other countries to wake up. Ratification in the remaining states must be stopped. The Irish Left calls on its comrades for solidarity and unity to make the EU a Europe of peoples not power-brokers.