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The Irish word for 'no'

by Perro de Jong 11-06-2008

There is no specific word for ‘no' in the Irish language. However, on Thursday the Irish could very well overlook this when - as the only of the European Union's 27 member states - they vote on the Lisbon Treaty. The opponents of the treaty could very well win in what was once a very pro-European country.  One of the most important groups lobbying against the Lisbon Treaty is Libertas. For the past few weeks members of Libertas have been touring Ireland by bus, handing out pamphlets. Since the end of last year the group has been conducting a surprisingly successful campaign.

CIA spy?
The head of Libertas is the wealthy businessman Declan Ganley. Many rumours are circulating about Mr Ganley: he made his fortune in the arms trade and he is paid by the CIA to ensure that Europe not become too strong. Mr Ganly denies the charges. He says he is pro-European and wants to help make the EC more democratic, or in any event less undemocratic. "Things are going well as is," he says. "But as is often the case attempts to make everything perfect only make matters worse."

Aircraft carrier
Libertas isn't the only organisation attempting to convince the Irish to vote ‘no'. The ‘no' posters which can be found everyone - often four or five on a lamppost - are from dozens of different groups, each with its own agenda. Roger Cole's organisation PANA is campaigning against the militarisation of Europe. The Irish were even neutral during the Second World War, but since 2003 US planes on their way to Iraq and Afghanistan have had permission to land at Shannon airport. Mr Cole says this has turned Ireland into a large US aircraft carrier. "Now what happens is that, not content with having destroyed Irish neutrality, they now want us to sign the Lisbon Treaty which includes a legal obligation to improve our military and spend more money. You can't argue that this has nothing to do with a more militarised Europe. Thanks but no thanks."

'Died for our freedom'
On the other side of the political spectrum are the concerned Catholics represented by Cóir, which means justice. Cóir caused a stir when it distributed posters alluding to the 1916 Easter Rising. The posters' dramatic and nationalistic text read: ‘They died for our freedom.' Cóir spokesman Richard Greene says that if Ireland signs the Lisbon Treaty it will again relinquish its sovereignty and find itself in a situation similar to that before the Easter Rising, when the British ruled the country. And to make matters even worse, Europe would then be able to use backdoor methods to force Ireland to accept abortion. The treaty says that national governments decide such issues, but Richard Greene says that according to Article 17 "if there's a conflict between the European Court and a national court, the European Court will overrule the national court."

The various groups seem to have little in common. One of the most well-known commentators in Ireland, Fintan O'Toole says "Put them in a room together and they'll have more objections to each other than to the ‘yes' campaign. However the lack of cohesion is also a strength. Mr O'Toole says: "It's like going into a restaurant with a huge menu and finding only one thing you like. Whereas the yes campaign has to produce one single coherent narrative." A large majority of politicians still support the Lisbon Treaty. The situation is similar to that in the Netherlands three years ago when the government and the opposition supported the referendum for the European constitution, which only made the public even more distrustful. Mr O'Toole thinks the wealth produced by the Celtic Tiger has made the Irish spoiled. Before they would thank Europe on their knees for the economic wonder. Now they are glowing with pride. "So they like nothing more than hitting out at anyone in a position of power."

Cattle farmers and fishwives
The reactions of the man on the street seem to confirm this. Few of the farmers at the Enniscorthy cattle market in southern Wexford show any enthusiasm for the Lisbon Treaty. Despite the fact that last week the Irish Farmers Association called on its members to vote ‘yes'. The fishmongers on Moore Street market in Dublin don't think much will change in their lifetime. "I'm busy enough with my day-to-day chores. I'm too old for all this bother."

Anthony Coughlan, Trinity College, Dublin 
Anthony Coughlan is  concerned with the democratic issue. "We think that handing more powers to the European Union, and indeed transforming it constitutionally, is a take-over bid by France and Germany and the big states, who will dominate European law-making in future because population-size will be the fundamental criterion for making EU-laws."  But isnt it often argued that there has been a period when Ireland has benefitted from a lot of European facilities and funds?

"Well, Ireland's benefitting from the EU has been pretty exaggerated. We've been thirty-five years in the European Union. During the 1980s, a decade after we joined, we had 16 per cent unemployment and the emigration of one sixth of our labour force. I don't think either the recession of the eighties or the boom of the nineties has much directly to do with the European Union, but much more to do with our own good or bad economic policies. So in that sense I think the picture of Ireland having a boom in the past few years because of the European Union is not factually correct."

See also
EU court battle underway
This report is summarised from Radio Netherlands.
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