Ireland South: Referendum – How the bosses got their Yes vote

Ireland’s referendum

How the bosses got their ‘Yes’ vote

Voters in southern Ireland have passed the Nice treaty by a significant majority of 63% to 37%.

This reverse comes just over a year after the Irish voters had rejected the same treaty by 54%to 46%. The change this time was a result of a significantly higher turn out of voters up from 34% last year to 49% this time out. However the ‘No’ vote actually increased slightly which is incredible given the weight of the establishment campaign in favour of Nice. This indicates that a significant percentage of the Irish population are against Nice but also very suspicious of the European project.

There was an incredible bias towards the ‘Yes’ side particularly in the print media. In the last week most newspapers carried editorials and front-page leaders calling on people to vote ‘Yes’. Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins estimated that up to 80% of newspaper coverage was given to the Yes side. The ‘Yes’ side also outspent the ‘No’ side by 9:1 on campaign literature, posters and advertising.

Irish establishment

Lined up on the ‘Yes’ side were all vestiges of the Irish establishment, the government, the main opposition parties Fine Gael and Labour, the trade union bureaucracy, the church, and big business groups. This was a must win for the government and the Irish ruling class. Their standing among the EU bureaucrats had taken a battering after last years rejection of the treaty. There has also been a very significant drop in support for the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern and his government over the spate of cut backs they have begun to engage in since the election and also about new corruption allegations that remain unanswered. Indeed if Nice had been rejected it is plausible that Ahern’s days were numbered. So the stakes were very high for the government and they were leaving nothing to chance.

Doom laden messages were used to frighten people into voting ‘Yes’: "Ireland will lose jobs, foreign investment will dry up, Ireland will be isolated in Europe". However the dominant argument which the ‘Yes’ side was successful in getting across was that Nice was about enlargement of the EU. They used the fact that Ireland by voting ‘No’ was blocking the entry of up to ten Eastern Europe state in the EU and it would be "selfish" not to give these states the same "opportunities" that Ireland had once had. This was the key reason why so many people voted ‘Yes’.

The other issue was that the government was actually successful in turning the developing economic slow down to their advantage. Irish working class people know that the so-called "good times" are over and the economic future looks bleak. Many people were worried that a ‘No’ vote would hasten this process.

Socialist Party campaign

The ‘No’ campaign was made up of two very different sides. The majority side was made up of the "Alliance Against Nice" initiated by the Socialist Party but also comprising of Sinn Fein, the Green Party and a number of Independent TD’s.

The Socialist Party through Joe Higgins TD had a much higher profile during this referendum than the last one. We organised up to 20 public meetings around the country and participated in many more organised by the "Alliance Against Nice". Through the Alliance Against Nice we put Article 133 of the Nice Treaty on the agenda. This article deals with liberalisation and privatisation of water, postal services, education and other essential services. Indeed many other political forces only raised this issue after we had put it on the agenda. If it were not for the Socialist Party this issue may not have been on the agenda during the campaign at all!

Other ‘No’ campaign

The other ‘No’ campaign was made of mainly right-wing catholic fundamentalists from the anti-abortion campaigns and also some right wing academics. These people who represent nothing in Irish society formed the umbrella "No to Nice" campaign. They were from day one pushed considerably by the media as somehow speaking for every one on the ‘No’ side. This was a deliberate tactic to try and split the ‘No’ vote as many people who would like to vote ‘No’ would be turned off by these reactionaries.

They focused on issues such as immigration but were unable to make this an important question in the campaign. It emerged during the campaign that Justin Barrett – their so-called leader – had spoken at a number of extreme right rallies in Germany. This had a certain impact on the vote. The media assisted this by playing a disgusting role effectively holding Barrett up as the leader of the ‘No’ side in the debate despite the fact that the "Alliance Against Nice" had 15 TD’s (Members of the irish Parliament) in their ranks. However it is important to point ou that the ‘No’ vote in Ireland is far from reactionary and these people had relatively little impact on the overall vote.

The ‘Yes’ victory may temporarily lift the pressure on the government and Bertie Ahern. However the budget is due in early December where huge cuts in public spending are planned and the issue of corruption hasn’t gone away with a number of Fianna Fail politicians in the dock over their links with businessmen and developers.

Even though the Irish people have voted ‘Yes’ to Nice the battle is only starting. Many Irish people in the coming years will realise that they have been duped by the establishment.

Issues such as the push towards a common EU defense force with an EU army will be on the agenda despite the lies of the ‘Yes’ campaign. Attacks on public services and privatisation as is already happening in many parts of Europe will highlight the lies of the ‘Yes’ side. The Socialist Party will be the main force which will lead a battle against these attacks on Irish workers.

An edited version of this article will appear in The Socialist (newspaper of the Socialist Party in England and Wales) on 24 October 2002

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October 2002