Analysis of the Nice referendum result

Roger Cole of the Peace and Neutrality Alliance argues that a strategy based on inclusivity and internationalism is central to increasing support for Irish democracy

THE DECISION of the Irish people to reverse their decision and vote yes to the Treaty of Nice was a defeat for the advocates of Irish independence, democracy and neutrality. A defeat, but not a crushing blow from which we cannot recover.

Just over 37 per cent of the people voted no, and if the political parties in D·il Eireann,the Green Party, Sinn Féin and the Socialist Party together with independent socialist TDs such as Tony Gregory, Seamus Healy and Finian McGrath could build up their existing support of 10 per cent they achieved in the general election to 37 per cent they would be more than happy.

While real differences exist between the Green Party, Sinn Féin and the independent socialists, their co-operation over the Nice treaty, and now in the Dáil technical group, could mean real and substantial growth in support for the values of Irish independence, democracy and neutrality in the next few years.

Neither should be underestimate the concessions achieved prior to the referendum, which were largely designed to win over a section of the electorate concerned about Irish neutrality, which is an indication of the central nature of the issue.

The concessions included the establishment of the National Forum on Europe, which allows for representation and gives a role to groups such as PANA.

The government has agreed to maintain the forum despite their victory, which would not have happened if the No vote had declined.

Another major concession was the addition of a clause to the Irish constitution ensuring that Ireland would not join an EU-based mutual defence pact without a referendum. This changes the terms of the Amsterdam treaty, which had given that right to the Irish government ó a change attacked after the referendum by John Bruton and Garret Fitzgerald.

The government also made a declaration on neutrality central to the Yes campaign. While such a declaration has no legal status, it had a major political impact which, together with the constitutional change, has meant that the government has given hostages to fortune, and made it difficult for them to agree to an EU mutual defence in the proposed new EU constitution.

If PANA and the other groups advocating Irish democracy are to win the next referendum which could be as soon as 2004 we need to start developing our strategy now. We need to accelerate our efforts to build up our international links with other groups in the other EU and applicant states.

PANA is affiliated to TEAM and the European Peace and Human Rights Network, both of which oppose the militarisation of the EU. We need to expand and develop on our advocacy of a transformed United Nations .

In short, Irish people, have a right to be concerned about their security and PANA needs to promote a vision of a reformed United Nations, not one just dominated by the US as the institution through which we should pursue our security concerns.

Such a United Nations, rather than a militarized EU, or even the current situation where the states of the EU are largely vassal states of the US, provides a better and more realistic alternative than the perpetual peace through perpetual war now advocated by Bush. Those advocating Irish democracy have to show the Irish people that we are internationalists.

Another major task is to show the Irish people that we are inclusive. If the central message of the United Irishmen was to unite Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter then we have to unite Christian, Muslim, Jew and atheist in common loyalty to Ireland. Those who sought to build a No vote by playing on the fears of 'floods' of immigrants, damaged the No campaign .

While PANA had no association with the No to Nice Campaign, whose leader Justin Barrett attended a neo-fascist rally, its leader’s actions affected all of us.

The ability to win back and increase the vote in favour of Irish democracy will depend on developing a strategy based on an inclusive definition of Irish democracy and a commitment to internationality solidarity.

Anthony Coughlan of the National Platform look back on the defeat of the No campaign and points to some of the key issues which influenced the Nice II referendum outcome

THERE WERE two big differences between Ireland’s Nice II referendum in October and its Nice I referendum last year,when the No side won.

The first change was that this year there was no public money behind the No-side arguments, because of the removal of that function from Ireland’s neutral statutory Referendum Commission a year ago.

The body had been given large sums of public money in Nice One to put the Yes-side and No-side cases -- of particularly help to the No-side, which had no private monied interests behing them. As a result, private interests did not bother advertising.

This year, by contrast, the removal of its Yes/No-argument function from the Referendum Commission cleared the field for private advertising. This was in a ratio of approximately 15 to 1 for the Yes side. Thus, for example, the Yes-side posters were put up by private companies that were paid an average of five euros per poster to do so, whereas the No-side depended on volunteer postering.

The second big change was that the October referendun question included a ‘trick’ extra clause, stating that Ireland could not join an EU defence pact without a referendum. This had nothing to do with Nice and was quite irrelevant to the treaty’s ratification, but it was stuck in with the main clauses ratifying Nice and could not be voted on separately.

So there were two separate but joined proposals, one ratifying Nice and the other protecting against an EU defence pact. However, voters had only one vote -- to say Yes or No to both together.

This trick question in Nice II meant that the Referendum Commission’s remaining function, to inform citizens what the referendum was about -- for which it was given four million euros to spend, double last year’s budget -- was inherently confusing and biased to the Yes side.

These changes to the referendum rules enabled the Irish government and its allies to impose their campaign agenda in Nice II. They succeeded in representing Nice II as a vote for ‘jobs and growth’, ‘EU enlargement’, and ‘putting Neutrality into the Irish constitution’ -- all desirable things, but in no way dependent on the Treaty of Nice.

The Yes-side’s success in imposing its agenda in the last two weeks of the referendum campaign was helped by appeals for a Yes vote from the ten prime ministers of the applicant countries, by the likes of Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa making similar appeals, by the ambassadors of the applicant coutries writing a Yes-side letter to the Irish Times, by the Czech and Polish ambassadors actively campaigning for a Yes, and by the Irish Catholic hierarchy positively supporting the Yes side, which they had not done in previous EU-related referenda.

Were it not for these changes to the referendum rules, the No side could have won the Nice II referendum. As it was, the 37 per cent No vote -- slightly up in absolute figures on last year’s No -- was very creditable.

The Yes side won because the higher turnout favoured the Yes, but on the whole it was a weak Yes. The strong No vote remains as a strong block to oppose the EU state constitution that is now being prepared for 2004/2005.

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2002-12-28 17:26:08.
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