Libertas on Lisbon II – Euroscepticism in a cheap tuxedo
At the time of the first Lisbon referendum, Declan Ganley marched out on front of the cameras with three tickets for the leaders of the pro-Lisbon parties. We were, Ganley told us, to send these politicians back to Brussels to renegotiate the treaty. Many journalists mistook Ganley’s pro-social behaviour for a political stunt. After all, cheap stunts are to politicians what concrete blocks are to builders, but these commentators failed to remember that Ganley is not a politician.
Or at least, he wasn’t at the time.
Well, the government lost the referendum, so after a few months of soul searching and sulking in the Dail bar, Cowen and company headed for Brussels to see what the governments of other EU states would agree to in order to soothe the fears of the Irish voter. I don’t know if they used Ganley’s tickets, but here’s hoping they did. At a time when the government refuses to give cancer vaccines to children, you’d hope they’d take up any chance to save the tax payer a few quid.
Last week, Minister Michael Martin offered the following summary of the consequences of the Brussels talks.
Last week’s agreement means that, if Lisbon is ratified, we will retain the right to nominate an Irish person to future European Commissions. This is a major concession on the part of the other member states. Our people’s clear desire to retain a permanent Irish presence at the commission table in Brussels will be respected, but only if we ratify Lisbon.
Our second aim last week was to get a satisfactory response to concerns that surfaced about the possible implications of the treaty for a range of issues such as taxation, defence, social and ethical issues and workers’ rights.
On Friday, EU leaders gave us a commitment that Ireland will have its concerns satisfactorily addressed. Specifically, they have undertaken to provide full legal guarantees with regard to taxation, Ireland’s traditional policy of neutrality and the provisions of our Constitution concerning the right to life, education and the family. This represents a very significant achievement.
The bottom line is that the Irish people have spoken and EU leaders have listened. Those who were expecting mere declarations in response to Irish concerns have been proven wrong. What is being offered are firm legal guarantees with treaty status. In addition, the summit confirmed the high importance attached by the union to workers’ rights, one of the issues included in the Government’s statement of the Irish people’s concerns.
Personally, I’m not impressed by the new arrangement regarding commissioners. It’s not as though you can see many benefits from having Charlie McCreevy over in Brussels, but given that Libertas made the commissioner issue the linchpin of their campaign, you’d have thought that Ganley and his minions would have been happy about this. After all, Ganley ended the press conference where he produced the tickets that he bought the pro-Lisbon party leaders by offering to pay their taxi fare to the airport and declaring
Our message to voters is very clear. On Thursday, send Brian back to Brussels, and tell him not to come back without a commissioner. On Friday, he will have both the mandate, and the means, to get a better deal.
Ganley reacted in the following way:
The Irish government and the powerful elite in Brussels are showing utter contempt for the democratic decision of the Irish people in rejecting the Lisbon Treaty. Not one sentence will change in a “new version”. Some non-legally binding texts will be added in an attempt to fool the people. They tried this with the French, they tried with the Dutch, they are trying with the Irish. It’s time to put a stop to this bullying.
Now what needs to be understood at this point in time is that Ganley knows no more than any of us. The government will announce the details of the legally binding guarantees only after the technical details have been finalised, most likely in June of next year. It is probable that these guarantees will take the form of an international treaty, which is about as legally binding as they come. Ganley seems to be claiming that he knows the details of a treaty that doesn’t exist yet. It seems that not only is Ganley a wonderful businessman but he’s part-time psychic as well.
Let’s face it, Ganley and Libertas lack any resembling credibility. Their history is short but complicated and their message is ever-changing.
Ganley claims to be pro-European. He claims to have supported the government on all of the other referendums held relating to Europe over the years. This would include treaties like the Mastricht and Nice. Previously, I offered the following summary of the contradictions in Ganley’s position.
- He never read the Nice Treaty, but supported it, apparently thinking it wasn’t really necessary to do so, yet when it came to the Lisbon Treaty, he condemned others for not having read the document.
- He supported the Nice Treaty even though other countries did not get to vote on it, yet when it comes to Lisbon, it’s wrong that other countries don’t get to vote.
- The Nice Treaty that he supported created the situation whereby membership of the Commission would be reduced, yet he urged voters to reject the Lisbon Treaty because it would mean we would not have a commissioner.
- Ganley supported Nice in spite of the fact that it removed our veto on matters relating to ‘enhanced cooperation’ but asked the public to oppose Lisbon because ‘enhanced cooperation’ threatened our tax system when the only real change the Lisbon treaty made to matters regarding ‘enhanced cooperation’ was to make it slightly more difficult to achieve.
- He supported the government’s approach to the defeat of the Nice Treaty referendum, but opposes the government when they use the same approach to the defeat of the Lisbon Treaty.
It’d take a professional conspiracy theorist or an excellent psychoanalyst to figure out just what happened to Declan to make him change his mind between Nice and Lisbon, but since I’m neither, I”ll leave it to readers to come up with their own theories. What I will say though is that Ganley’s apparent change of opinion in regard to the matters discussed above was glacial in its speed when compared to the rapidly changing arguments presented by Libertas during the Lisbon referendum campaign.
Libertas posters were reported as claiming that Lisbon affected Ireland’s ability to set its own corporation tax rates. Ganley now accepts this, but during the campaign he generally moved on to vague chatter about enhanced co-operation. After the treaty, he admitted that the absence of the Lisbon treaty really didn’t eliminate the supposed threat to Ireland from enhanced co-operation.
Other Libertas bill boards focused on personalities like Lucinda Creighton and Peter Mandelson, who had nothing to do with the campaign. Lisbon had nothing to do with Mandelson’s dealings with the WTO and Lucinda Creighton’s views on European military policy shouldn’t have been an issue. The Libertas campaign also suggested that by voting No we would save our commissioner. This was also false. There were reports that Libertas were also making unfounded claims about the impact of Lisbon on Ireland’s abortion laws. Every time that Libertas was caught out spreading a falsehood they modified their position.
Now with a new referendum in sight, Libertas’s priorities and arguments have changed yet again. Gone (for now) is the talk of corporate tax rates, European armies, Peter Mandelson, commissioners and all the other nonsense of the past. This time, we must vote ‘No’ because of democratic deficits and for other reasons not considered important enough to paste across billboards last time out. The only constant in the Libertas campaign is their commitment to oppose the treaty using any argument available to them. It’s not the government that seeks to “fool the people”, but Libertas. They’re no more pro-Europe than UKIP. Libertas was never about Lisbon. It’s all just been a stepping stone for Ganley on his quest to re-model the EU after his own design.