September 10, 2009
I spent much of last week in Dublin and helped organise yesterday a well attended Europe for Ireland press conference in the European Parliament for the eleven Irish MEPS supporting the Lisbon Treaty.
The mood is not very optimistic and there is clearly a lot of work to do for the Yes campaigners. Polls show a large but falling majority of Yes over No voters (46-29%) with 25% in the undecided or Don’t Know category. In an earlier poll, 54% of respondents were Yes voters. (There was no statistically significant increase in the percentage of No voters from one poll to the other. )
So what is happening? There are a number of possible factors. First, Ireland is in the midst of an unprecedented economic and financial crisis – an economic decline of perhaps 15%, currently the biggest of any developed nation. Government approval is at its lowest ever and there is widespread distrust of bankers, politicians, business and everyone else “who got us into this mess”. Some difficult decisions have been taking already (cuts in public service pay) and even more unpopular decisions will be taken in the coming months. So, the public mood is not exactly sunny or trusting.
The No campaign is also effective – lying in some cases but effective. Their messages are wrong but simple – Lisbon will bring down the minimum wage in Ireland. (It won’t, although the government might.) 95 % of Europeans would vote against Lisbon, if they got the chance (misquoting Commissioner McCreevy, who anyway doesn’t know what he is talking about.) Lisbon will bring in abortion in Ireland. Lisbon will raise our taxes. Lisbon means “foreign rule”. Lisbon is bad for Irish farmers, workers and the developing world etc
Some of these claims are political (sharing part of our sovereignty = foreign rule, and “giving up our veto”) but these tend to be arguments against the EU as a whole and not only the Lisbon Treaty. Many other claims seem to be outright lies – including the claim that the EU could seize elderly people’s savings and homes and can take children off people who suffer from mild forms of alcoholism or depression or who do not own a family home.”
Unfortunately big lies can be effective. As someone said, if a lie is big enough people will find it hard to believe it is an outright lie. At the press conference yesterday, Marian Harkin MEP said yesterday that she had received phone calls from worried carers asking if it was true that Lisbon would have this effect.
All MEPs yesterday agreed that we have a fight on our hands and that it was essential to reach out to as many people as possible in house to house canvassing to stress the benefits of the Lisbon Treaty for Ireland and to counteract the claims of the No side. ENDAuthor : Jim Murray