Monday, September 28, 2009

Another No Vote is the Real Threat to Irish Sovereignty

An Spailpín Fánach finds the current Lisbon debate exasperating. The issues seem quite simple indeed – either we are capable as a nation of electing governments to govern, or we are not. And if we are not capable of this fundamental aspect of running a democracy, then whether or not we have one, two, or four-and-twenty EU Commissioners is really by the way. It’s the least of our worries.

There are loud voices on the No side talking about Irish sovereignty. It would interesting to find out what exactly they mean by sovereignty. Sovereignty, as An Spailpín understands it, is the ability of the Irish government to treat with other sovereign governments to form international agreements.

There is a ground-up process here – everyone in Ireland who spent long years negotiating the Lisbon treaty in the first place is either elected him or herself or else answers to those who are elected by the people to represent the people. If the Irish nation doesn’t like Lisbon, then it needs to start voting for politicians who feel the same way, and let them negotiate the international treaties instead. That’s how it works.

It’s the only way it can work. The Lisbon treaty is long and complex. Suppose you don’t like one article. Is that enough to shoot it down? Do you think, of the hundreds and hundreds of people that wrote this document, every one of them thinks it’s perfect? At what stage do you find it so objectionable that you consign all those years of work to the dustbin? And are you prepared to accept the consequences of that?

An Spailpín is sadly aware that there are those who are planning to vote No as a protest vote. This is a very misguided attitude to take. Because while that No voter may believe in good conscience that he or she is doing his best by the nation, that is not at all obvious to the exterior world.

A No vote as an anti-government protest vote makes political sense to the exterior world only in the sense of support for anti-Lisbon parties having similar support. This means that there is a credible political philosophy behind the No vote, and once something exists, it can be dealt with. But pro-Lisbon parties dominate the Dáil. Dominate it. If a majority of people keep shooting down a treaty supported by ninety per cent of the politicians they themselves elect, there is a profound and serious disconnect in the entire system.

This dualism is what makes it very difficult for other political cultures to understand how to do business with the Irish. If the Irish can’t be consistent about this, how can they be consistent in international agreements? When Europe deals with the Irish, to whom are they really talking?

To talk of European wrath in response to a second no vote is disingenuous. It would be more a question of indifference that wrath. And this is bad news.

If it were wrath, at least Europe would care. If it’s indifference, the more politically evolved European nations will simply continue along themselves and slide the Irish to the periphery, where it seems they want to be in the first place. As expressed in consecutive referenda. And if the Irish want that, fine. It’s really no skin or Europe’s nose either way.

If your son or daughter is running with a bad crowd after school you experience wrath, because you are concerned for his or her future. If it’s the neighbour’s kid, you simply expect the police to lock the brat up and be done with it. You feel sorry for the parents, of course, but no so much as you’d bother your barney getting involved yourself. That’s all heartache and no reward. Who’d be bothered with that?

Anybody who thinks Ireland can drag these negotiations out indefinitely while we mess around here needs to ask if the rest of Europe sees us as neighbours or family. It’s pints of cop-on all around for the Gael.

The miracle of Europe, the fact that so many nations have found common bonds after spending all of recorded Western history fighting wars against each other, is a little lost on us here in Ireland because we were not involved in those wars ourselves, except as a dominion of another power. And the fact that we are still tied economically in so many ways to Britain, who has not quite cottoned on to the fact she is no longer a world power on her own, creates certain tension here.

One of the reasons for independence from the United Kingdom in the first place was that we, the Irish nation, believed we had no say in the governance of the UK. Irish politicians and diplomats and have punched above their weight in Europe since we joined the EEC in 1973 and we are not viable as an independent island without alliance to greater markets. Ireland gets so much more from Europe than we put in.

Let’s try and act like grown-ups for once in our lives and acknowledge that being democrats has responsibilities as well as rights. In this case, having mandated our government to treat with other governments we should accept what they come back with, rather than simply throwing rattles from prams just because we can. Vote yes.

FOCAL SCÓIR: It is a measure of the way the No campaign has campaigned that when I discovered the poster in this post online I honestly couldn’t immediately tell if it was from Cóir themselves or one of the parodies. I really couldn’t. The People Before Profit Alliance – I think; the comrades change their name more often than Sellafield, you know – have a poster with the clever line that Lisbon is “from the same geniuses that brought you the Recession.” A bit rich from the same geniuses that brought you Tito’s Yugoslavia, Zhivkov’s Bulgaria, Hoxha’s Albania, Mao’s China, Stalin's Russia and Ceauşescu’s Romania, don't you think?

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