Ireland soccer captain Robbie Keane and U2’s The Edge are among high-profile celebrity names who will be campaigning for a yes vote in the new Lisbon Treaty referendum set for this October in Ireland.
Nobel laureate poet Seamus Heaney and author Deirdre Purcell are also involved in the new campaign group, Ireland for Europe, which insists it will not allow politicians to mess up the yes campaign.
> In the first referendum last year Ireland rejected the treaty -- designed to streamline government of the EU -- and that meant it had to be put on hold since ratification requires the approval of all member states of the EU.
Concerns about abortion and Ireland’s neutrality were among factors cited for the rejection of the treaty, but thousands also voted no in protest at what was perceived as government smugness that the electorate would accept at face value official assurances that a Yes was in the nation’s best interests.
Analysts later agreed that the process of educating the people about the intricacies of the treaty was less than wholehearted. Even Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen admitted at the time that he hadn’t read the full document.
That has changed. He says he has now read the extensive and complicated document in its entirety.
He vowed this week to personally take charge of the campaign for a yes vote on the treaty despite his government’s record unpopularity.
Cowen said he was “entitled” as taoiseach and as Fianna Fail leader to lead the yes campaign -- a clear rejection of Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny’s proposal that he is the best person to head such a campaign in case there is an anti-government backlash from voters.
The government, and the Fianna Fail Party in particular, suffered the most humiliating defeat in decades at the recent local government and EU elections.
But Cowen has urged people not to make the Lisbon vote -- due in early October -- a referendum on him or his government, saying that his name was “not on the ballot paper.”
He declared, “Everyone of us, as citizens, has a responsibility in a referendum to participate and to inform ourselves of the issues, and to make the choices which are in the national interest, broader than partisan party political politics.”
Cowen said the referendum will go ahead in October after he secured a deal last week with EU leaders. He got agreement on legal guarantees for the treaty in the strongest possible format when British Prime Minister Gordon Brown dropped his objections.
Cowen and Brown reached agreement in Brussels on a protocol to be attached to the treaty that will guarantee it does not affect Ireland’s right to control its own taxes or its policy of neutrality. There is agreement, too, that Ireland’s constitutional position on abortion, education and the family will also not be affected.
Cowen refused to put his neck on the line by committing to stepping down if the second referendum is not passed.
“This is not a party political issue … it is important that we work together on this,” Cowen said.