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PAMELA DUNCAN in Letterkenny
2 June 2012
DONEGAL: LUNCH HAD just been served up to the count staff in the Bonagee Sports Hall in Letterkenny when returning officer for Donegal North-East Geraldine O’Connor made the announcement that the country’s most northern constituency had voted No.
In the end it was 55.63 per cent against, 44.37 per cent for the treaty. The result came within a half hour of the announcement that Donegal South-West had also returned a No vote, with 54.95 per cent voting against the treaty versus 45.05 per cent voting Yes.
Sinn Féin’s spokesman on finance, Pearse Doherty, said the two Donegal No votes were “not surprising given the fact that austerity budgets of this Government and previous governments have impacted on Donegal more so than any other county”.
He pointed to high unemployment, high emigration and fears for local services and rural schools as some of the issues which had led the people of Donegal to vote No.
“This isn’t any huge victory for the Government. Hundreds of thousands of people came out against the treaty because the austerity that underpins this treaty has failed and will continue to fail,” he said. “There needs to be a new direction taken by this Government if we are to provide the future that the people of Ireland deserve.”
Mr Doherty said that while the treaty debate was now over, the debate about how best to reach economic stability was very much ongoing, adding that, in the wake of a Yes vote, Sinn Féin would be holding the Government to the promises it had made about stability, jobs and investment.
The Donegal No vote was described by Independent TD for Donegal South-West Thomas Pringle as the county’s voters standing up to the Government’s fear tactics.
“I think Donegal has been the most marginalised part of the country for many years and think Donegal people have decided they’re not going to be frightened anymore,” Mr Pringle said.
“Nationally it’s a victory for fear. The Government set out to frighten people throughout this campaign and they’ve succeeded.”
He said his High Court action – in which he is challenging the constitutionality of the establishment of the ESM and the amendment of article 136 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union – would be heard later this month.
“The issues of concern for me are now before the courts and the Irish courts will adjudicate on them,” he said.
Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, Sinn Féin TD for Donegal North-East, said there was a “deliberate fear factor” contained in the Government’s campaign and that many people, both in Donegal and nationally, had voted Yes “with a heavy heart”.
“The Government need to be very worried as many people voted Yes with a heavy heart and and if they don’t see a turnaround in the near future the Government are going to see a heavy political hit,” he said.
Fine Gael TD for Donegal North-East Joe McHugh said that, while Donegal had registered a No overall, locally the party had taken heart that the vote was closer than it had been in the first Lisbon referendum.
“We pulled out all the stops this time in Donegal North-East … we really really drove it hard. The Lisbon I referendum was 65/35 [against], so – if you look to the margins – we can take solace that the margins have narrowed significantly this time around.”
“I am delighted that it passed nationally because it was important from both a national and local perspective,” he said.
Fianna Fáil TD Charlie McConalogue said the Donegal vote was reflective of the fact that the county was unhappy with its current employment and financial position.
“It’s not specifically related to what’s contained in the treaty, but it’s a reaction to the fact that the county is suffering economically,” he said.
However, he said that a Yes vote nationally was in the best interests of both the country and Donegal.
“A Yes vote now enables the country to focus on the real issues in Europe,” he said, adding that the Government now needed to secure a write-down on Ireland’s banking debt.
“My view is that the Government have been far too weak in this area in the past and they now have to step up to the plate … and get the deal that’s due to us on that.”
2 June 2012
ANALYSIS: The treaty was largely backed by voters in rural and middle-class areas and the No vote did well in working-class areas
THE RESULTS of the EU fiscal treaty referendum show signs of a significant divide between poorer and more affluent areas.
However, opinion is mixed over whether this represents a historic shift towards social class-based politics in Ireland, as is common in European countries.
In general, the referendum was supported by voters in rural constituencies and middle-class areas in urban centres, while the No vote was much stronger in working-class areas.
The highest Yes votes were recorded in the most affluent urban constituencies of Dún Laoghaire (74 per cent voted in favour, 26 per cent against) and Dublin South East (72 per cent for and 28 per cent against).
In contrast, the highest No votes were recorded in Donegal, which has a history of bucking the national trend, and Dublin constituencies with high concentrations of working-class voters.
These included Dublin North West (47 per cent voted in favour, 53 per cent against), Dublin South Central (49 per cent in favour, 51 per cent against) and Dublin South West (49 per cent in favour, 51 per cent against).
The social polarisation was most striking at local level. Tallymen recorded No votes of up to 85 and 90 per cent in traditionally disadvantaged areas such as Ballymun. This pattern was reversed in more privileged areas such as Sandymount, with some precincts reporting Yes votes of close to 80 per cent.
In Cork too, the social divide was clear. Cork North Central came closest to rejecting the treaty (52 per cent voted Yes, 48 per cent voted No), compared with its more affluent neighbour Cork South Central (62 per cent voted Yes, 38 per cent voted No).
As with Dublin, tallymen reported No votes of up to 85 per cent in disadvantaged parts of Cork North Central. Similarly, in Waterford city, largely working-class areas such as Ballybeg recorded No votes of close to 90 per cent.
“It’s quite socially polarised,” said United Left Alliance TD Richard Boyd Barrett. “The manual working-class areas have voted highly No because the people have been the biggest victims of austerity. They have rejected the Government’s advice.”
Fine Gael TD and Minister of State Brian Hayes, however, said talk of a class divide in Irish politics was being “over-egged”.
He said one-third of housing in his Dublin South West constituency – which narrowly rejected the referendum – consisted of local authority homes. Some of those estates, he said, returned a significant Yes vote.
Hayes said he suspected the vast majority of people who had lost their jobs in recent years had voted No. “We’ve got to heed that message and get those people back on side, persuade them we can turn the country around,” he said.
Historian Dr Donal Ó Drisceoil of UCC and co-editor of Politics and the Irish Working Class, 1830-1945, said the results appeared to form part of a historic shift in Irish politics.
“The voting in this referendum confirms a pattern that has been emerging since the collapse of 2008, as evidenced in recent surveys, in the last general election, and in the mass resistance to the household charge,” he said.
“As the class divisions in Irish society become starker in the context of austerity, they are starting to be politically articulated. This marks a fundamental, historic shift in the Irish political landscape and suggests the beginnings of a move towards a system of class politics that has been absent in the State since independence – a so-called left/right divide.”
He said this shift may be the beginning of Irish politics being “normalised”, and it would be interesting to see how this would affect the existing party system.
Sinn Féin referendum campaign director Eoin Ó Broin said he had never seen a vote play out so starkly along class lines. He said it was far too early to say whether this would be repeated in a general election.
“My own sense is that those bearing the heaviest burden of the economic crisis overwhelmingly decided to say No. In my own constituency , it was very clear: in almost every Lucan box it was a Yes vote, in Palmerstown or Clondalkin it was a No vote.”
He said it would be foolish to assume how people voted in a referendum would change how they voted in a general election.
“I know that a huge number of our votes in this referendum were from Labour supporters. Whether that will happen in two years’ time depends on the Government’s policies and what we put forward,” Ó Broin said.
Ó Drisceoil added that the results were likely to spell good news for Sinn Féin over the short to medium term. Labour, on the other hand, might need to change direction rapidly to survive, he continued.
“In that context, and generally, the role of the trade union movement will be crucial,” he said.
2 June 2012
NO CAMPAIGN: PEOPLE VOTED Yes to the fiscal treaty out of fear and “through gritted teeth”, according to the No side in the fiscal treaty.
After a 50.6 per cent turnout, with 60.3 per cent in favour and 39.7 per cent against, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said his party respected the electorate’s decision. However, he accused the Government of playing on people’s fears and said many people had voted Yes “through gritted teeth”, but hundreds of thousands also voted No.
“The problems that confronted the Irish people yesterday are still there today,” he said.
Asked if Sinn Féin would now support the Government on the European Stability Fund, Mr Adams said “we will look at the terms of reference and the conditions”.
The party’s deputy leader, Mary Lou McDonald, said there was now an onus on the Government to deliver on the “specific and clear promises” they made during the campaign on jobs, investment and banking debt. “They need to deliver on this.”
She added: “Minister for Finance Michael Noonan said a Yes vote would mean an easier budget.” The Dublin Central TD said there needed to be a “real shift in gear in the budget because the burden of cuts has been disproportionately borne by those on middle and low incomes”.
Declan Ganley of Libertas said the result should not be interpreted in Europe as satisfaction here with the status quo. That was not the electorate’s view and the EU needed to “do the right thing by Ireland”, particularly on bank debt.
He also said that the Government had for the first time acknowledged that Ireland would probably need a second bailout.
People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said he believed fear had won the day. People most affected by austerity “voted very strongly No and others voted Yes out of fear and the hope that things wouldn’t get worse”.
Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins said fear had an effect in the campaign but “the phoney war is over and the political and economic war will return to the ground and trenches”.
Government would now “target the 50 per cent of people who haven’t paid the house tax”.
Socialist Party MEP Paul Murphy said he respected the result but believed it would be a “Pyrrhic victory” for the Government because the euro crisis would continue and there would not be stability.
During the campaign he said a lot of people spoke of the second Lisbon campaign in 2009, when Fianna Fáil won the referendum “on the promise of jobs, but there were no jobs”.
He said the Socialist Party spent €54,000-€55,000 on their campaign, with funding from the Left group in the European parliament, who were part of the campaign against austerity.
Mr Murphy, who succeeded Mr Higgins as MEP when he won a Dáil seat, acknowledged that the referendum campaign had raised his profile ahead of the European elections in two years’ time.
People Before Profit TD Joan Collins congratulated voters in her Dublin South Central constituency, one of five where a majority voted No.
She said the No vote was “no surprise as the people in South Central have been at the brunt of the austerity policies of this Government”.
The Communist Party of Ireland said in a statement: “What the result shows is not the will of the people but the fear of the people.”
STEPHEN COLLINS, Political Editor
2 June 2012
ANALYSIS: The outcome is an important step for the country and a decisive victory for the Government and its allies on the Yes side
THE TASK of persuading the voters to back the treaty represented a huge challenge for the Coalition and it could very easily have gone horribly wrong.
The failure to carry the first Lisbon treaty referendum marked the beginning of the end for Brian Cowen and his government and Enda Kenny could have been under no illusions that defeat would have been a political disaster for his administration.
Only last autumn an Irish Times poll showed a two-to-one majority of the electorate prepared to vote No if asked to approve a treaty incorporating fiscal disciplines.
Persuading people to put aside their resentment at the aspects of the EU/IMF bailout, particularly public spending cuts and taxpayer liability for bank debt, did not look like an easy task.
The key to turning the public mood around was a strong committed campaign allied to a clear and simple message.
On the campaign front Fine Gael rose to Kenny’s challenge to campaign as if it was a general election. There was much more door-to-door canvassing than normal in an EU referendum, with the party focusing on areas where it is strong.
Director of elections Simon Coveney and Minister for European Affairs Lucinda Creighton ran an effective campaign that got the Fine Gael vote out.
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore also campaigned hard and while Labour did not have the same visible presence on the ground as Fine Gael, the task facing him and his party was much more difficult.
From the beginning opinion polls showed that while there was strong middle class backing for the fiscal treaty, there was considerable opposition in working class areas. Labour TDs found the going tough on the ground but those who followed the example of director of elections Joan Burton and campaigned hard were able to swing things around a little.
The nature of the fiscal treaty gave the Government a clear message to sell. Red herrings like conscription, abortion, nuclear power and neutrality could not be dragged into the campaign.
The Government also managed, by and large, to keep some of its own controversial policies like property tax and water charges that arise directly from the bailout, out of the debate.
A key element in the Yes argument was that access to future funding from the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) would be cut off in the event of a No vote. That unambiguous fact helped to concentrate the minds of voters who might have been tempted to vote No in protest at Government policy or EU-wide austerity measures.
Almost 150 years ago that great novelist and student of politics Anthony Trollope, who lived in Ireland for over a decade, said that, contrary to the stereotype, Irish people had a better grasp of economic realities than their English counterparts.
“We hear much of their spendthrift nature but extravagance is not in the nature of an Irishman. He will count the shillings in a pound much more accurately than an Englishman and will with much more certainty get 12 pennyworth from each.”
When it came to the poll a clear majority of the Irish electorate looked at their personal circumstances, counted the euros in their pockets and made the decision to play it safe and vote Yes. The fact that nine out of 10 academic economists backed a Yes vote reinforced the message.
If the result helped the Government parties it was also a significant boost for Fianna Fáil and particularly party leader Micheál Martin. He had a difficult call to make as the campaign started when his former deputy leader Eamon Ó Cuív came out in favour of a No vote.
Martin cracked the whip and ordered Ó Cuív to hold his tongue for the campaign. After an initial protest the Galway West TD did as he was told and Fianna Fáil gave unambiguous backing to the Yes campaign. In narrow political terms Martin had as much to lose as Kenny from a No vote but he campaigned with conviction and delivered the bulk of Fianna Fail supporters.
As for the No campaign, there will be serious disappointment at the outcome. The combination of Sinn Féin, the United Left Alliance and most of the technical group in the Dáil meant there were around 30 TDs on the No side, the biggest anti-treaty bloc since 1972. Yet by contrast with the last two occasions a European referendum has been carried at the first attempt. Sinn Féin led the No campaign and while it got a lot of airtime and made big inroads in opinion polls, it ultimately failed to achieve what it accomplished from a much lower base in 2008.
A variety of left-wing TDs probably did themselves no harm with their No campaign, attracting huge publicity and broadly staying in tune with their supporters. Shane Ross, though, took a risk by coming on for a No vote in Dublin South, which had the State’s highest Yes vote.
With the referendum tucked away, the real challenge now for the Government is to try and play a positive role in the ongoing attempt to save the euro, while getting a better deal for Ireland on bank debt in the process.
Ireland has done its bit to save the euro but the big decisions will now be made in Brussels and Berlin.
1 June 2012
**LIVE BLOG up and running here
Counting of votes in the Fiscal Treaty referendum gets underway in 26 count centres at 9am today.
A result is expected this afternoon, with an official declaration in the afternoon at the central count centre in Dublin Castle.
However, if the result is not a close one, an indication of the outcome should be known by late morning.
More than 3.1 million people were entitled to vote on the proposed 30th amendment to the constitution, but only around 50% did so.
Turnout was low in many areas of Dublin, with the highest in the North Central constituency, where turnout was about 56%.
Some polling stations around the capital and the country had turnouts as low as in the 30s , but it hit above 60% in parts of Limerick.
Last night Government sources were confident that many undecided’s had stayed that way and not voted, and said therefore the referendum was likely to pass.
However, many in No campaign were also confident of success because of the lower turnout.
By Tom Stokes – Republic Day Ireland
30 May 2012
From British Empire to EU Empire
–There are fools who decry history as if it was irrelevant to the present or the future. Here is an extract from a piece my late father wrote in 1969 on the subject of the drive towards membership of the EEC, now the EU. Relevant? I certainly think it is, in the context of the vote we are going to cast, or not cast, or cast unwisely, on May 31st.
“In the Ireland of the sixties, things matter more than people. Christian and human values are uneconomic, and may as well be scrapped. The heroes now are the cranes, bulldozers and automated production lines. They enable labour forces to be reduced dramatically, cutting costs to the minimum. Those displaced may emigrate, or just stagnate – it’s not important. We are in with the big boys now, and they are playing for keeps.
To get into the Common Market we are willing to barter our sovereignty. We hadn’t got it long enough to get used to it anyway, but the fools who won it for us would have expected us to put a bit more value on it. They could have saved their lives if only they had a working knowledge of economics. We have put a price-tag on everything, now.
The French, who resist our entry into Europe must be mad. Our country is ripe for exploitation – our Government ready to stand down as an effective authority, so that big business can take over, or so it seems. Our mobile labour force is ready to be sent, as they’ve always been sent, wherever there’s hewing of wood, or drawing of water to be done. The common bond is dissolved to prove how European we are. If we had any pride left, we’d swallow it, and yet the French still don’t want us. What are we to do?
We must push harder. Tell them this is the Ireland of the soft sell, land of the evergreen sucker, The Misty Isle where fools are born one-a-minute ready to trade with all comers on any terms. We love glass beads, mirrors and cheap gold bricks, south-sea bubbles, bubble-car factories, aeroplane shadow-factories, Singer stamps, trading stamps, Free Trade Agreements, the lot.
This is a fair land, flowing with milk, and milk products. It’s a con-man’s paradise – we’re dying to be taken in. This land was our land, it’s going cheap.
Our economists are sporting types who go their way, casting our salmon to catch someone else’s sprat, not without some little success. Our chaps land a big one sometimes, providing an occasion for backslapping and bouquet-tossing. Bouquet-tossing is becoming something of a national art-form, and it takes the harm out of long trips to distant sunny seminars where economists go to lecture and recuperate.” Etc…
–Pearse Stokes 1918-1987
30 May 2012
Irish voters are preparing to head to the polls to vote on whether to ratify the European Fiscal Treaty.
Rejecting it would prevent the country accessing any more emergency EU funding when its existing bailout package expires next year.
Ireland is the only one of 25 nations which is putting the fiscal pact to a national vote.
Opinion polls suggest a majority will vote Yes – though many where expected to decide at the last minute.
The BBC’s Mark Simpson, in Dublin, says the Yes camp fears people, angry with continuing austerity measures, will vote against the treaty to punish the government.
The pact, signed by all EU members except the Czech Republic and the UK, allows EU member states to co-ordinate their budget policies and impose penalties on rule-breakers.
Signed in February, it commits all ratifying members to achieve budget deficits of less than 0.5% of economic output.
Last year, Ireland’s deficit reached 13.1% percent.
The country’s 3.1m voters have twice rejected European Union treaties – in referendums in 2001 and 2008 – though both votes were then overturned in subsequent polls.
Because of the treaty’s complexity, a high turn-out is not expected.
Those against the treaty argue that austerity is not working and suggest that the country should instead default on debts at five nationalised banks.
In a nationwide television address before campaigning ended, the Irish Prime Minister, Enda Kenny, urged people to vote in favour of the treaty.
“I ask you to make a further contribution by coming out to vote ‘yes’ on Thursday. Yes to stability. Yes to investment. Yes to recovery. Yes to a working Ireland,” he said.
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, who is campaigning against the treaty, told voters not to be fooled.
“Be wise. Join with the millions across Europe who are demanding an end to austerity. On Thursday, vote no.”
The party’s stance on the treaty has seen its support surge in recent weeks, making it the second-most popular party in the Republic of Ireland for the first time.
Results are not expected until late on Friday.
3 Apr 2012
ACCEPTANCE OF the fiscal treaty will mean “permanent” and “shocking austerity” for Ireland, academic and political activist Kieran Allen said.
Speaking at the launch of his booklet The Fiscal Treaty and the Euro Crisis, Dr Allen, senior lecturer at the UCD school of sociology, said the treaty would “lock down” public spending and ensure the people of Europe are squeezed for years to come in order to pay back bonds to the banks.
To meet the targets included in the treaty, cutbacks of between €5 billion and €6 billion a year would be required, he said, which was the equivalent of closing down all primary and secondary schools for a year.
“Presumably we are not going to do that, so it has to be raised elsewhere by cutting social welfare, public sector wages and hospital services; it means really quite shocking austerity,” he said.
The referendum on the treaty will be held on May 31st. The treaty includes requirements that governments run balanced budgets, with “structural deficits” that do not exceed 0.5 per cent.
In his booklet, which analyses the treaty and the economic circumstances that gave rise to it, Dr Allen says the structural deficit was measured differently depending on the economist who was measuring it. The German Bundesbank had described the calculation of the structural deficit as “relatively complex, opaque and elastic on account of the numerous discretionary modelling options”.
The country already had “one mysterious entity in our Constitution called the Holy Trinity. I don’t know why we are putting another mysterious entity called the structural deficit in, which they cannot define,” Mr Allen said.
He also highlighted article 3.2 of the treaty which states if targets are not met, the EU Commission can put guidelines in place to determine the nature, size and timeframe of the corrective action.
“Once you don’t get your targets, the EU Commission decides what type of cuts will happen, how deep they will be and how quickly they will take place. It would mean terrible hardship,” he said.
Launching the booklet, Richard Boyd Barrett TD, of People Before Profit, said it engaged with the detail of the treaty and what it might mean.
The Government had presented a dishonest, “Orwellian” analysis of the treaty, he said, but the booklet would make a positive contribution to the debate.
It will be available from voteno.ie.
If a Yes vote is our only option, let’s make the most of the only thing we’ve got left: haggling about the price
DURING THE Northern Ireland conflict, the IRA trained its members to withstand heavy interrogation. Pick a spot on the wall, stare at it and keep your mouth shut.
For Irish and European leaders, the spot on the wall is the fiscal treaty. Insistent questions – about democracy and justice, society and sustainability – are screaming out for answers.
But the eyes are fixed on a single spot and the mouths are firmly shut to everything but empty blandishments. The point is the same: to resist all efforts at the interrogation of current strategies and their consequences.
The rest of us, however, should be asking the questions. Let’s begin with what should be the simplest: who is to vote on the treaty? Answer: the sovereign Irish people.
But no such people exists. Scarcely a week goes by without one Minister or another on the radio, explaining the cut du jour, usually to something that makes the lives of vulnerable children or adults a little more bearable, by saying that he/she has no choice, that we have lost our sovereignty.
And they’re not lying. Ireland is no longer a self-governing nation – the most important economic and fiscal decisions are taken elsewhere.
The notion of a “sovereign people” exercising that sovereignty in a referendum is a fiction. Our feet have been cut off but we’re told to perform Riverdance for Nicolas and Angela’s euro-vision show.
Which brings us to the second question: do we actually have a choice?
If there is no choice, the act of voting is a charade. If they take the exercise at all seriously, both the Taoiseach and our rulers in Frankfurt and Brussels have an obligation to spell out for us what the consequences of a No vote will be.
Will the ECB pull the plug on its financing of the Irish banks? Will we be barred from further recourse to the European rescue funds?
Would the International Monetary Fund, which is outside of the treaty’s frame of reference, help us if our gallant allies in Europe will not?
To even begin to debate the treaty, we need this information and it’s the Government’s job to supply it.
Is there a gun to our heads or is there not? If we are facing the economic equivalent of “immediate and terrible war”, there’s nothing to debate. The vote is not Yes but Yes, Sir.
Or, if in fact there are no dire consequences to flow from a rejection of the treaty, we need to know that, too, because we could then discuss the treaty on its (in my view rather meagre) merits.
But the line from both our domestic and European leaders is that they don’t have to talk about the consequences of a No, because a No vote is unthinkable – literally.
European Central Bank boss Mario Draghi said last week that “I just don’t want to think” about the possibility of a No vote. The corollary is that the only “thinkable” vote is Yes.
In which case, why bother to hold a referendum at all? Because the Constitution requires it.
But which Constitution would that be? The one that states unequivocally that the only body allowed to make governmental decisions is the Cabinet acting collectively? That Constitution is in silent suspension.
It is a simple matter of fact that one of the most momentous decisions in the history of the State, the bank guarantee, was not made by the Cabinet collectively.
It is also a matter of fact that the 2012 budget was sent for scrutiny and approval to the Bundestag in Berlin before it was presented to the Cabinet in Dublin.
Coming over all precious now about our sacred Constitution is like having everybody rush to fix a minor technical fault in the steering mechanism while ignoring the fact the ship has just been holed below the waterline.
So, if we’re not a sovereign people, we don’t have a choice, and piety about the Constitution is just another exercise in denial, what are we left with?
If this is all really just a ritual dance we have to perform for our masters, we may as well let it be known that the enthusiasm with which we perform the necessary gyrations will be determined by the colour of the client’s money.
Perhaps the most fatuous thing Enda Kenny has ever said was his claim, “The Irish people will not be bribed.”
The image it conjured was of a proud, haughty Cathleen Ní Houlihan contemptuously dismissing the offer of a bung from a shower of vulgar foreign parvenus.
The idea that Cathleen wouldn’t find a proposition immensely more attractive if it were accompanied by a fistful of euros tucked into her threadbare garter scores high on black comedy. But abysmally low on realism.
If we’re supposed to be a free people, we should act like one and insist on our right to be fully informed about the consequences of our choices.
And if we’re not, we should make the most of the only thing we’ve got left: the whore’s prerogative of haggling about the price.