19 Jun 2008

There’s been so much debate in the past week about the sneaky underhanded reasons why 53% of the population voted no to Lisbon. First, No Voters were a bunch of unreformed republicans; yesterday it emerged they were in league with UK fascists and jailbirds.

But it’s always gone unquestioned that the Yes Voters were a happy and benign bunch of Irish Government supporters.

Last weekend, in the Guardian of London, Colm Toibín voiced an intriguing and heretofore unreported reason as to why some Irish people supported the Yes campaign. He reminded readers of how the Irish Government of the 1970s had to be forced by the European Commission to introduce equal pay for women and decriminalise homosexuality before concluding:

‘I support the European project as a way of protecting me from Irish politicians. I voted for Lisbon, not because I wanted to follow the Irish political establishment but because I despise it and need protection from it.’ 

It’s not the first time I’ve heard this pro-treaty argument used. Casually discussing Lisbon with architectural colleagues in the days before the poll, I sometimes heard it said that that a Yes vote was essential to protect the environment from an Irish Government which could never be trusted to sort out planning. And I’m sure that people in other walks of life saw logic in voting Yes for Lisbon because imposing a higher, external, authority would override the Irish government in their own particular area of concern.

Ireland in the 1970s was no picture of the Enlightenment. But we don’t have to travel far through history to discover rather more compelling evidence of social intolerance lurking in the societies of our larger European neighbours. I’m not saying that the treatment of minorities in this country is ideal, but if at this very instant you were about to be born into the world as a woman (or a homosexual, or a Moslem, or anything other than Irish-looking-heterosexual male) and you were allowed choose the country you could live in, would Ireland in 2008 really be the last country in the EU on your list?

I suspect that the Toibín Strand was a larger part of the Yes Vote than that campaign would care to admit. As an argument for voting one way or the other it ranks up there with euthanasia for invalidity. The current batch of political leaders in this country is, I’ll grant, unfortunate. But Ireland is perhaps unique in Europe in that the electoral system allows people from various sections of society a real say in how things get done (Greens, PDs). The system is wide open to any individual (Declan Ganley) or group ready to push new ideas.

Toibín and those who voted Yes for the reasons he did are shirking their responsibilities to the community by not engaging in and exploiting to its fullest the political process. People are free to not like the Irish Government but claiming a need for protection from it is using 70s rhetoric in a 00’s reality. It’s no longer valid.

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