Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Will Ireland say Yes to Mr No?

I've been spending a lot of time in Ireland of late. Roz is still in hospital over there. Cross fingers, she'll be out this week.

I must admit I've found the current referendum campaign on the Lisbon Treaty absolutely fascinating. To a man, no-one I've spoken to really understands it. But it's not as if you can escape it - posters and boards festoon the roadsides in every town and village.

What I find really remarkable is that ALL the major parties - that would normally represent more than 80% of the electorate - are all campaigning for a Yes vote but facing defeat.

Unless there's a high turnout on Thursday, there's a very real possibility that the No lobby, led by "Irish" businessman Declan Ganley could win.

From nowhere, "Mr No" and his Libertas group have managed to boost the anti Lisbon Treaty campaign by more than 17 percentage points putting them within three points of the Yes camp with a further 30% still undecided.

While Ganley, who has a very strong English accent after spending his first 13 years in the UK, might not be as convincingly Irish as Biffo Brian Cowen, his campaign has been faultless. Cowen had admitted he hasn't read the whole treaty and Ireland's EU Commissioner Charlie McCreavy claimed ''only a lunatic would."

But Ganley has made a virtue of the fact he has. Even handing out copies to sports fans at Croke Park. In fact he's become known as "The Man Who's Read the Lisbon Treaty."

He hammers away that the Treaty would affect Ireland on abortion, tax, neutrality and their entitlement to a European Commissioner. All are strenuously denied by Pro-Treaty parties but time and again I hear Irish my friends - all pro-European - say they're going to vote No for one or more of his claims.

The stunts have been amusing too - he's booked three one way tickets to Brussels on Friday morning for the three main party leaders so they can renegotiate the Treaty as soon as possible!

It's clear the Yes camp has struggled to give people a real reason to vote for the Lisbon Treaty. Five simple benefits would have sufficed. Just saying Ireland's done well out of being at the heart of Europe has only re-enforced the waverers' view that it's all the more reason not to lose their Commissioner in Brussels.

This lack of a narriative was typified when I heard a Yes campaigner on a radio talk show claim "not understanding how the internal combustion engine works doesn't stop you from driving your car, does it?"

Whether or not you agree or disagree with Ganley, you've got to applaud his campaign. He's taken on the Irish establishment and is close to beating it, by praying on the fears and doubts of the Irish public. I hate the tactics but admire his clinical effectiveness.

On the strength of what I've seen in Ireland, if the UK does hold a referendum, I now have absolutely no doubt that the Lisbon Treaty would be soundly defeated.

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