Wednesday 21 February 2018

Cowen's 'remarkable failure'

US envoy said our leaders 'dropped the ball'

Shane Phelan Investigative Correspondent

AMERICA'S top diplomat in Ireland described as "remarkable" former Taoiseach Brian Cowen's botched attempt to get the first Lisbon Treaty referendum passed, leaked US embassy cables reveal.

The then US ambassador, Thomas Foley, told Washington "the leaders of the nation dropped the ball" in failing to get the Treaty ratified.

In an assessment of the Yes camp's defeat, Mr Foley said "Cowen's remarkable failure" had given rise to a perception his authority and credibility were slipping away.

The diplomat made the comments in a series of cables sent to the US State Department in the months after the June 2008 poll. Ambassador Foley briefed Washington that the Yes camp -- comprising all the political parties apart from Sinn Fein -- failed to get their message across.

"They were not able to adequately explain a complex, hard-to-understand document, counter snazzy sound-bites, or overcome complacency among those inclined to support the Treaty but who stayed at home," Ambassador Foley wrote.

The ambassador remarked the "war chest of €1.5m" enjoyed by No vote campaigners Libertas was also an important factor in the result.

In a separate cable, Mr Foley reported Mr Cowen "genuinely appeared to be unsure of the way forward" following the referendum defeat.

US officials were somewhat surprised by the result. In two cables in the months prior to the poll, Ambassador Foley said he expected a Yes vote.

After the referendum, the ambassador wrote: "Ireland has probably lost a significant amount of the political good-will, credibility, and clout built up since it joined the EU 35 years ago. As the poor man of Europe who has received more than €83bn in EU subsidies, Ireland is now seen in some parts of the EU as ungrateful."

Other cables detail how after the No vote Ireland came under sustained pressure from other EU states to come up with a solution to the Lisbon "crisis".

Although EU leaders were publicly saying Ireland needed time to deal with the fall-out from the Treaty rejection, a "harder line" was being taken behind the scenes, one cable said.

As Ireland was the only EU state requiring a national referendum to approve the treaty, some EU leaders were looking for a quick re-run of the poll before the June 2009 European Parliament elections.

However, Irish politicians told the American embassy this would not be possible.

In October 2008, then European Affairs Minister Dick Roche spoke to embassy officials of his fears Ireland could end up with "some sort of periphery status in a 'two-tier' EU, if France and Germany decide to drive EU reform forward in spite of Ireland."

A second poll would eventually be passed in October 2009 after assurances were secured on taxation, social and ethical issues, including respect for Ireland's military neutrality.

Irish Independent

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