DUBLIN: The rainbow coalition of groups which helped secure Ireland’s shock EU “no” vote is savouring a famous victory — and working out how to ensure the Lisbon Treaty really is dead in its current form.
The “no” side brought together an unlikely assortment of campaigners notably including Libertas, a slick lobby group run by businessman Declan Ganley who is now considering taking the anti-Lisbon message to mainland Europe.
Also rallying opposition were Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the anti-abortion pressure group Coir, which raised concerns — unfounded according to opponents — that the treaty could threaten Ireland’s ban on abortion.
Together they helped the “no’ vote surge to a 53.4 to 46.6 per cent victory in results announced Friday, a much wider margin than had been expected after opinion polls suggested the race would go to right down to the line.
But with European leaders indicating that the treaty will not be killed off by the “no” vote, commentators are wondering what shape the Irish fight against it will take in the coming months.
This would be particularly crucial if there was a second referendum, which Prime Minister Brian Cowen has not ruled out and French European Affairs Minister Jean-Pierre Jouyet has said is unavoidable.
In an interview hours after the result was announced, Ganley was asked whether he would now move into politics full-time following the success of the campaign which he spearheaded.
“I’m not ducking the question, I genuinely don’t know the answer so I wouldn’t rule it in and I wouldn’t rule it out,” he told national broadcaster RTE on Saturday in a high-spirited appearance.
Whether or not he makes the leap into politics full-time, a Libertas spokesman said that Ganley was set to visit Europe “and see if he can build some sort of pan-European organisation”, without giving further details.
Sinn Fein, led by Gerry Adams, was the only major political party to back the “no” campaign and now says it wants to “support and assist” Cowen in the coming weeks.
“We will be seeking a meeting with the Taoiseach (prime minister) in the coming days to discuss with him the issues, which we believe can be addressed in a renegotiated treaty,” said Mary Lou McDonald, the party’s European lawmaker and face of its campaign.
She told RTE on Saturday that the party’s key concerns were the weakening of Irish voting strength in Europe and the threat to its 80-year policy of military neutrality.
Sinn Fein is also expected to use its success to try and build support on the national stage.
It only has four seats out of 166 in the Dail (Irish parliament) but is reportedly keen to present itself as a serious contender for power both north and south of the border. Sinn Fein is in a coalition government with the Democratic Unionists in British-controlled Northern Ireland.
Its success in the referendum campaign will “invigorate a membership that had become unsure of itself and its future and widened its attractiveness to a new, previously untapped electorate,” the Irish Times said.
Traditionally, their support in Ireland comes from working-class voters in Dublin.
Some still question how clear opponents’ objectives are beyond saying “no” to the treaty.
The pro-treaty Irish Times accused parts of the opposition of “gross and dishonest misrepresentation of some of the issues at stake.”
“It would be helpful if Sinn Fein and Libertas, both of whom claim that they are not anti-EU, could say how Ireland could get a better deal. There is a cloud with no silver lining in sight,” it said in an editorial on Saturday.