Does the No vote herald a new Ireland?

Campaigning for the No campaign, Irish Lisbon treaty referendum - Dublin, Ireland, Oct 2009 (by Daniel Finnan)

There is a theory that the Irish rejection of the Lisbon treaty marks the start of a new era in Irish relations with Europe. Formerly a very pro-European country, it will now become an ally of the British Eurosceptics. Daniel Hannan makes this case here.

As with most things that Daniel Hannan writes about Europe, one has to ask if this is really correct. Let us explore what the Irish No campaigners actually want.

First, there is Declan Ganley, self-made millionaire and founder of the Libertas organisation. Much of what he said about the Lisbon treaty – too much power in the hands of unelected bureaucrats in Brussels – was in tune with Daniel Hannan’s view, but what of his proposals for the future? He comes out with statements such as “A United States of Europe, structured properly, could benefit Europeans and the world” and “A federal Europe is a pretty good idea”. (Read him on the Quotebank here.) That doesn’t strike me as very close to the Hannan view of Europe.

Next, there is Sinn Féin. In government in the north of Ireland, they were the only party in the south to oppose the treaty. They have just published their list of demands for the future of the treaty, which include the following:

• the retention and strengthening of key strategic vetoes on tax, public services and international trade;
• a specific protocol explicitly exempting vital public services from rules of competition and state aid;
• the inclusion of a social progress clause and greater protections for workers’ rights;
• the active promotion of fair trade over free trade;

(Read the full list here.)

These are quite contrary to what the free market British opponents of the EU are looking for. Does Daniel Hannan want Irish socialists to have a veto over the next WTO deal?

And then there is the People’s Movement, which is effectively a spin-off of the Green party, itself now in government and supporting the treaty. The People’s Movement is opposed to what it sees as the militarisation of the EU – Ireland, famously, is a neutral – and its leader, former Green MEP Patricia McKenna, is quoted in the Irish Times as saying:

“A protocol [on Irish exemption from defence cooperation] is not enough. This isn’t what we want. The issue is that the EU is becoming more militarised. And we believe that there are many people in other EU countries who agree with us.”

Daniel Hannan believes that defence should be a national competence. Patricia McKenna, on the other hand, does not. She thinks that there should be an EU policy on defence, albeit a weak one. A true believer in national sovereignty would accept that it is no business of the Irish how the French and Germans choose to defend themselves. Neutrality does not mean having a pacific view of international disputes, it means having no view of them. This is not the view of Patricia McKenna.

I wrote on this blog last week, before the Irish No vote, that we cannot yet tell whether Ireland is set on a new Eurosceptic path. The reactions from the victorious No side so far suggest that, even if it is, it is on a different path from the one which Daniel Hannan and the British Eurosceptic right would like to follow.

About the Author