With 43 days to the second Irish referendum on Lisbon, and with the government with almost unlimited public funds already campaigning heavily for a Yes, No campaigners on both sides of the political divide have launched a strong counter-offensive.
Campaign Against the EU Constitution (CAEUC) started with a public meeting in Dublin today addressed by MEPs and union leaders. CAEUC contends that the Lisbon Treaty, despite promises of special "guarantees" for Ireland, is precisely the same document that has already been soundly defeated by referendum three times, by the French and Dutch in 2005 and by Ireland last year.
Mary Lou McDonald, a Member of the European Parliament for Sinn Fein, told the CAEUC meeting, "The guarantees received by the government are camouflage, a decoy for public opinion to say that the government took heed and acted on the mandate the people gave them.
"On October 2nd we will be voting on exactly the same treaty, with exactly the same consequences for Ireland … as we did last year."
McDonald said she expected opponents to Lisbon would be accused of being "isolationist and backward" and of "having their heads in the sand."
"They will say by voting No we are going to cause an even greater recession and depression," she said. "This is dishonest and cynical. We need to be united enough as a campaign to see it off and give people the facts."
According to EU rules, the Treaty must be ratified by all 27 member states. Under heavy pressure from EU leadership, the Irish government agreed to hold a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty on October 2nd this year. Pro-life and pro-democracy campaigners have warned that acceptance of Lisbon will strip EU member states of the right to retain or pass laws on abortion and a host of other widely disparate issues. Political critics of Lisbon have accused the EU leadership of ignoring the will of the people to force into existence a European superstate.
Groups opposed to Lisbon include the Peace and Neutrality Alliance, the National Platform, the People’s Movement, People before Profit, Voteno.ie and the pro-life group Cóir. Opposition to Lisbon spans the divide between left and right among politicians, with Socialist Party MEP Joe Higgins urging Irish voters to reject Lisbon. The left-leaning Sinn Fein, the party of Irish republicanism, has also launched its No campaign today.
The various No campaign groups are focusing on an array of issues, from Ireland’s control over foreign policy regarding Palestine, to criminal justice policy, taxation, health care, employment and military neutrality. In all of this the one unifying issue is Ireland’s ability to make decisions and pass laws independently of EU institutions such as the Court of Justice.
In an article on the group’s weblog, Open Europe asks, "Do you want EU governments to be able to change the text of the treaties in future without the kind of public debate we are currently having? Do you want the European Court of Justice to have the final say over decisions relating to criminal justice? Do you want to give the green light to a system of government which ignores its own rules and discourages direct democracy?"
Danish MEP Jens-Peter Bonde told an audience in Ireland last year at the time of the first referendum that the European Union’s leadership has blatantly manipulated the Lisbon Treaty process from the start to avoid any input from the public.
At an information meeting organised by pro-life MEP Kathy Sinnott in Dublin, Bonde said, "It’s not a very sympathetic way the European Council have worked. In this case, they took a political decision, they made a political agreement among Prime Ministers that this text [of the Lisbon Treaty] should not be put for referendum anywhere. Then they tried to avoid it in Ireland but realised it was not possible because your courts in this country are still too independent."
Bonde pointed out that even those EU leaders who have voted for and supported Lisbon have never read the text. "Why? Because it can’t be read." Lisbon, he said, is not a treaty but "300 pages of amendments to 3000 other pages of treaties" which can only be read by painstakingly referencing each article in existing treaties.
"They have decided in the Council that it’s not allowed for any institution in the European Union to print a consolidated version which can be read before it has been approved in all 27 member states," Bonde said.
A report on the voting behavior in Ireland prepared for the Department of Foreign Affairs in March this year found that "low levels of overall knowledge of what was in the treaty had a very powerful effect on increasing the No vote." Recent polling for the Referendum Commission suggests 60 percent of voters say they have at least some understanding of the Treaty compared with 44 percent just before last year’s vote.
In July, in a speech in the EU Parliament, Nigel Farage, an English MEP, blasted the EU Parliament for "lying and cheating" its way into creating a European superstate. Farage, an MEP with the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), pledged his party’s support for the Europe of Freedom and Democracy group, a non-partisan group formed to oppose the Lisbon Treaty to assist the Irish No campaigners.
"The future of European democracy rests very heavily on Irish shoulders," he said.
Last month, the European Parliament elected Jerzy Buzek of Poland as its new president. Farage addressed the president directly saying, to an extended round of applause from fellow MEPs, "You fought, Mr. President, against the Soviet Union."
"You fought for democracy. You fought for national self-determination. If you continue to ignore the democratic voice of countries like France, the Netherlands and Ireland, then you will turn the European Union back into that very union that you fought so hard against. Listen to the people, please."