Lisbon: Take Two...

At this moment, count centres all over this fair country are busy sorting ballot papers into three piles - Yes, No and Spoiled (for those who spell 'X' with a Y), to determine the result of Ireland's latest Constitutional Referendum, whether to approve the proposed 28th Amendment and allow ratification of the Lisbon Treaty.

It is a feature of our society that any potential change to our Constitution has to be put to the Electorate in the form of a Referendum. There is no bar (as far as I know) to how many times a particular amendment may be proposed, as has been shown in matters involving divorce, abortion and EU affairs.

The Treaty of Lisbon (as it is also known) is designed to 'streamline' the workings of the European Union, now with 27 member states and expected to grow. Among the provisions of the Treaty (according to a pamphlet from the Dept. of Foreign Affairs) is the incorporation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights into EU law, the appointment of a full-time President of the European Council; and a High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, to speak for the Union on the international stage.

This is our second time to vote on this amendment - it was defeated the first time out (just like the Treaty of Nice, which we also got right the second time around), thanks to a lack of information from our Government on what it meant to us as a nation, and also to a concerted 'No' campaign by parties opposed to the Treaty.

Granted, information was available to those who chose to seek it out, but in carefully-worded legalese, and one can only read 'The party of the first part shall hereinafter be referred to as the party of the first part' before giving up and looking for the sanity clause which, as everyone knows, doesn't exist...

The Government told us it was good for the country and urged us to vote Yes, because if we didn't it would go against us in Europe. They didn't say how, but political cartoons suggested that we might have to stand in a corner wearing a pointy hat with a big D on it.

The Opposition parties urged a 'Yes' vote also, possibly on the basis that they'd one day be back in power and could either take credit or say 'It was the other fellow's fault' depending on the state of things when they got there.

But nobody would answer questions in any more detail about specific topics, such as whether Irish law could be determined from Brussels, how it would affect our constitutional position on neutrality; tax rates and ethical issues. For many the decision was made when it turned out that our own EU Commissioner claimed not to have even read the Treaty document.

With such uncertainty, and with more information coming from the
'No' side of the debate, 53% of those who voted, myself included, voted No.

Subsequent debate on the result suggested that we hadn't gotten it right, so our Taoiseach apologised to his EU colleagues and pledged to rerun the referendum, when, he felt, the Irish people would deliver a resounding

And this time, the
'Yes' campaign put a bit more effort into things, short of making a nationwide broadcast to drum up support. Information was more freely available and there was debate. Yes, we would retain a Commissioner; no, Brussels couldn't force constitutional change; no, we weren't going to be part of a common defence policy, etc.

Disingenuously, however, much was made of the Treaty being about jobs and employment, which it isn't directly, while the
'No' side pushed the idea that we would become part of a federal state, a military superpower strengthening NATO's role in Europe.

Who'd want that?

Anyhow, the Irish people went once more to the polls to exercise their franchise, and when the Xs are counted and the Ys discarded, the feeling (and indeed hope) seems to be that the majority will be about 53% in favour of

That okay, Brussels?

Can we take the pointy hat off now?