A No vote on Lisbon would damage Ireland
On Friday 2nd October, the voters in the Republic go to the polls to say Yes or No to the Lisbon Treaty. In my opinion it is crucial that the South says Yes to Lisbon, because the consequences of saying No, will be profoundly damaging to Ireland’s political and economic interests. That is why my Party has campaigned in the South for a Yes vote.
Last Wednesday in Dublin at Leinster House Mark Durkan MP, Alasdair McDonnell MP and I gave the SDLP’s full public backing to the Yes campaign. In the audience were TDs and Senators from all the major political parties in the Dail, who are at one in supporting a Yes vote. Amongst other arguments, Mark Durkan rightly stressed the need for an Irish referendum ratification, so as to bring the full ratification process to a timely formal conclusion. He argued strongly that the treaty needs to be endorsed now by the whole European Union. To delay any longer would give the British Conservatives, under David Cameron, the opportunity, if they come to power early next year, to block the Treaty by having a rerun of the vote in a Conservative dominated British Parliament. There is also the possibility of a British national referendum, which would probably reject the Treaty, given the eurosceptic mood of current British politics.
I remember well, after the defeat of the Lisbon Treaty in the Irish referendum last year, the sight of several eurosceptic British MEPs mockingly waving Irish Tricolours and wearing Leprechaun hats in the Chamber of the European Parliament, to contemptuously celebrate the defeat of the Treaty. This was a very public and very stark illustration of the extreme hostility to the European Union that lurks so keenly, and not so far from the surface in British politics. They literally hate the European Union, because in essence they are ‘Little Englanders’ with love for nothing beyond Dover.
Unfortunately in Ireland we have our own grown crop of eurosceptics and ‘Little Irelanders’ in Libertas, Eirigi, Sinn Fein, the DUP and the TUV. Ours is a strange and unique mixture of ‘Little Englanders’ and ‘Little Irelanders’, all of them suffering from a common lack of political vision. No serious politician in Ireland can be so blind as not to see the massive and beneficial transformation brought about by Ireland’s membership of the European Union. Membership has transformed Ireland, north and south, both economically and politically since we joined in 1973. Ireland is functionally much closer now than at any time since partition. We have shared, and continue to share European funding, European law, and European rights. In an understated way the island of Ireland has functionally been united within the European Union, and the European dynamic continues to bring about change and bring us as a people closer together.
The Treaty itself is a necessity as we have moved from being a Union of fifteen member states to a Union of twenty seven states. In order to make the Union function much more effectively it is right to redesign the various institutions of the Union to make them more efficient and effective. For example, the Parliament’s powers are expanded to allow for more areas of co-decision making with the Commission. Member state parliaments will also have the power of early intervention and consultation with regard to proposed EU legislation. The Charter of Fundamental Human Rights will legally protect workers and citizens in their daily lives. In addition many of the issues that worried Irish people last time have been addressed. Ireland and other countries will be able to retain their national Commissioner. There are solemn promises and understandings that address the fears that there would be a European Army and that Irish people would be conscripted into that army. There were fears that there would be abortion legislation imposed on Ireland. All of these very powerful misrepresentations and myths have been successfully addressed.
The No result last year was a monument to the success of fear and misrepresentation that can so easily grip public opinion. Let us hope this time that those fears will have been put to bed and the people can vote enthusiastically in support of a Europe which has been so beneficial to all of us here in Ireland, North and South,
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