The upcoming referendum – large majority still undecided

Timetable for ratification
 
Ireland is the only member State which will hold a referendum for the purposes of ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon. This referendum will take place in May/mid-June 2008. It is likely that the legislation preparing for the referendum will be published before Easter. Following passage of this legislation, a Referendum Commission will be established to ensure that the public receive accurate and independent information on the issues connected with the referendum.
 
Communication with citizens/wider public
 
In the context of the referendum, the widest possible information for citizens is seen as vital by government, opposition parties, NGOs and pressure groups. Extensive publicity campaigns will be launched by all these groups once the campaign begins. Before the campaign proper, information to the public is limited and often inaccurate.
 
As the Irish government is constitutionally bound to hold a referendum on European Union treaties, calls have been made by various pressure groups for the publication of a consolidated text so that voters can see clearly on what they are being asked to vote.
 
The Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA) has produced a consolidated version of the Treaties in both English and Irish and an annotated consolidated version of the Treaties, which will be launched by the Minister of State for European Affairs, Dick Roche, T.D. on February 14, 2008.
 
The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs has established a website to provide information on the Treaty. The National Forum on Europe also has a dedicated website which outlines the programme of public events and nation-wide debates which it is organising with speakers for and against the Treaty[1]. Private organisations on the yes and no side of the debate have also begun media campaigns, of which most information is currently being provided almost exclusively over the Internet. Former Labour Party Leader, Ruairi Quinn, is leading the Alliance For Europe group which is advocating a yes vote. Businessman, Declan Ganley, has founded a group called Libertas, which is campaigning for a no-vote.
 
Discourse on ratification
 
In terms of political support for the Treaty of Lisbon, Fianna Fáil (majority party in government), the Green Party and the Progressive Democrats (the other two parties in the governing coalition) and the Fine Gael and Labour parties have all called for the ratification. Sinn Féin is the only political party with representation in the Oireachtas (Irish Parliament) that will be opposing ratification.
 
The Green Party/An Comhaontas Glas, which is a constituent party in government, held an internal vote on 19 January 2008 on whether or not to support the Treaty of Lisbon as a party. Although a large majority of votes cast were in favour of the Treaty – 63% – this result did not reach the two thirds majority required in order for the party to adopt an official stance. This means that members may decide to adopt their own position on the Treaty during the referendum campaign.
 
The Leader of the Opposition Mr. Enda Kenny (Fine Gael-EPP), while calling on the electorate to support the Treaty of Lisbon, has criticised the government over the uncertainty created by the delay in naming the date of the referendum. Mr. Kenny claimed that the lack of a voting date so far, had created a void that was being filled by “anti-European groups”.
 
Eamon Gilmore, Leader of the Labour Party, addressed some of the issues already being addressed by the no-side in a major speech at the Forum on Europe. In particular, he stressed that the Lisbon Treaty is not an economist’s treaty but a citizen’s treaty, which advances the rights of citizens in the European Union and which progresses the social agenda in Europe. He countered arguments that the treaty provides for "conscription or for Ireland being forced into wars or imperialist adventures", arguing that the treaty would pave the way for a more effective implementation of the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and a new European Security and Defence Policy. He also stressed that the key decisions on security and defence matters will continue to be taken by unanimity, while Ireland's status of military neutrality is specifically protected and its domestic 'triple lock' guarantee is fully maintained.
 
Mary Lou Mc Donald, Sinn Fein, has announced that Sinn Fein is producing its guide to the Lisbon Treaty and was critical of a guide to the Treaty produced by the National Forum on Europe, which she argued, did not sufficiently reflect the views of the no-side.
 
Obstacles to ratification
 
Information
 
In terms of obstacles to ratification, the greatest fears surround uncertainty among the electorate as to what the Treaty of Lisbon actually entails. As the information campaign has yet to begin in earnest it is not surprising that two polls published in The Irish Times in late 2007 and in January 2008 show that a large majority of the electorate, uninformed about the content of the Treaty, have not yet decided how to vote.
 
Referendum Commission
 
The government is required to comply with a High Court ruling in the so-called Mc Kenna case (1995), which banned the use of State funds to promote one side in a referendum campaign.
 
Issues
 
In terms of issues, the no-side are focusing their campaign to date on issues such as the further militarisation of the EU, the creation of a common defence, the cost of defence expenditure, the threat to Irish neutrality, erosion of national control over foreign policy, the loss of the permanent EU Commissioner, and voting rights for smaller states in the Council.
 
The Group Libertas, which is opposed to the Treaty argues that article 48, which is interpreted as implying that the Treaty of Lisbon is self-amending and that the Irish people will no longer need to be consulted on future extensions of the remit of the EU, if the Lisbon Treaty is passed. Another grouping, the Immigration Control Platform is opposing the Lisbon Treaty because of the working in Article 18 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights which refers to a right to asylum[2].
The Group of the Wise
 
The European Council in December 2007 agreed the remit for the Reflection group and its initial membership. The group whose membership will be completed later this year has been asked to report at the end of 2009. The Irish government wished to ensure that the Group’s remit would exclude any reopening of the Treaty of Lisbon and was satisfied with the outcome to this effect at the December European Council.


[1] This website is: (last access: 25.03.2008).

[2] Arguments for the no-vote are posted on the following website: (last access: 25.03.2008).