Irish Say No Way to Lisbon

AS predicted in pre-referendum opinion polls in the final week before voting, Ireland rejected the Lisbon Treaty which would change the way the EU is governed and which, the government said, would make the community stronger.The margin in favor of rejection was considerably above what the polls forecast, with 53.4% of those who voted saying an emphatic No to Lisbon and 43.6% in favor of ratifying the treaty.It was a resounding defeat for the Yes campaign which had confidently predicted a turnout above 45% of the electorate would be sufficient for ratification. More than 53% of the electorate, an exceptional turnout for a referendum, balloted in a vote that stunned not only the government but also the main opposition parties as well as business and trade union leaders.Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen goes this Thursday and Friday to a two-day summit of European government heads in Brussels with, according to Sinn Fein and others who led the No campaign, a clear mandate from the Irish people to demand an amended treaty that will be more favorable to Ireland's interests.Under EU rules the treaty falls unless all 27 states ratify it. Ireland was the only country obliged by its constitution to hold a referendum on the issue.Cowen, still reeling from the result, implied early this week that his immediate task is likely to be to fight to attempt to prevent Ireland being reduced to second-class status within the EU. He made it clear his priority was to stop Ireland being shunted into the slow lane of a two-speed Europe.He warned that there was "no obvious solution" to the turmoil the Republic's rejection of the treaty had caused."I have to use my position now to try and make sure that our interests are not compromised and not undermined," he said.France and Germany were insisting that, despite the constraints of the rules, the Lisbon agenda should power ahead. One option being pushed in EU capitals was for the other 26 members to ratify the document and then find a way to implement its key clauses among themselves without Ireland, or press the Republic to hold a second referendum.The most outspoken criticism of the vote came from German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier. He suggested that Ireland should "take a break" from the EU to allow other member states continue with integration.One of Ireland's best allies in the crisis was Britain, which said the Republic must not be "bulldozed" and it was up to Cowen to say the last rites over the treaty.British Foreign Minister David Miliband said, "There is no question of bulldozing, or bamboozling or ignoring the Irish vote."The issue dominated a meeting between Cowen and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in Belfast on Monday during a quick visit to the North by President George W. Bush.After their meeting, Cowen said Brown's comments had been "measured and constructive," and that he had recognized the need for the EU member states to work together calmly and constructively to find a way to deal with the undoubted difficulties which arose from the referendum result.Labor Party leader Eamon Gilmore, who backed the Yes campaign, warned that talk of a two-tier Europe would be "disastrous" for Ireland.Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, who also campaigned for ratification, said the treaty cannot be put to another vote again in Ireland without changes.Kenny insisted there should be no "knee-jerk" reaction to the No vote, and that Europe had to respect Ireland's position but Ireland also had to respect the right of other countries continuing the ratification process.There was much soul-searching in the Yes camp over why the people rejected the entreaties of such a high-powered coalition as the government parties, and Fine Gael and Labor as well as the Catholic Church and business and union hierarchies.Tanaiste (deputy prime minister) Mary Coughlan adamantly declined to play the blame game. "It would be very easy at this moment in time to have recriminations but that's not the way to go," she said.But others in her Fianna Fail party said they believed people used the referendum as an opportunity to protest against a number of unrelated issues such as rising fuel and other prices.Many critics believed there was a substantial No vote in protest against official failure to explain in simple terms what the referendum was about. Others believed Cowen's own admission that he hadn't read the full treaty document contributed to dissatisfaction with the Yes campaign.But Sinn Fein, only major party to advocate rejection of Lisbon, insisted the people were well aware of the issues and rejected the treaty because it would lessen Ireland's influence in the EU.Sinn Fein leaders said people knew ratification would mean Ireland losing its commissioner, that additional powers would be transferred to the EU bureaucracy, that vetoes would be lost and that Ireland's traditional stance on neutrality was under threat.But Fine Gael TD (member of Parliament) Dinny McGinley succinctly summarized what many believe were the main reasons for rejection.He said it was a vote inspired by "confusion and protest."He added that No campaigners introduced "every red herring from here to Timbuktu."

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