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Misguided fears led to people voting No

Speaking of his one-time strong support for the US invasion of Iraq, No campaigner Declan Ganley recently told Eamon Dunphy in a radio interview that: "I thought that it was the right thing to do, in hindsight I was wrong."

As we wade through the uncertainty and the uncharted waters that are the direct and predictable consequences of the 'No' vote it looks certain that Mr Ganley got it just as wrong on this one.

I profoundly believe that this is a bad result for Ireland. Fear of an outcome like this motivated me and countless others to campaign positively for a Yes vote. We had no doubt that a Yes vote was in the best interests of our country and that the negative implications and repercussions of a 'No' vote could haunt us for years and decades to come.

Nonetheless, the people have clearly and unambiguously said no. The Government accepts their verdict. There is nothing to be gained from re-hashing the referendum arguments here.

The focus now moves to the huge challenges confronting us. The daunting task before us is to manage the developing political situation caused by the result, both at home and internationally. This is going to take not only all our negotiation and diplomatic skills, but also the store of goodwill we have developed over our 35 years of EU membership.

After three weeks of fraught and heated debate, we need, as a nation, to reflect and calmly establish the reasons why people voted 'No'. It is a discussion we need to undertake together, no matter how anyone of us voted on June 12. It is a discussion that should take place with minimal interference from outside negative influences, a matter I will return to later.

In the weeks leading up to the vote I campaigned and canvassed intensively, both in my own constituency and across other parts of the country. Knocking on doors, I can honestly say that I did not encounter any significantly higher level of anti-Europeanism or euro-scepticism than I found in any previous referendum.

Since my return from Chad I have met many people who have told me that they voted 'No' -- but I have yet to meet one who has told me they were voting against Europe or against the cause of European reform. The opinion I still hear most often is that Ireland's future lies in Europe.

In my judgment the people were not voting 'No' to the EU they know and understand. They voted 'No' to the prospect of an unknown and domineering Europe conjured up by Jean Marie le Pen, UKIP and the new breed of Irish eurosceptics.

Many 'No' voters, though not Kathy Sinnott, find this association with rampant euroscepticism deeply uncomfortable. It is why some think Declan Ganley's Monday night jaunt to the House of Commons to be feted and lauded by Tory eurosceptics a bit disturbing.

Ill-judged as his trip was, it was not nearly as visually disturbing as the sight of UKIP members of the European Parliament waving tricolours and draping themselves in the Irish colours. It was an orgy of disrespect to our national flag on a par with Sinn Fein's post-2004 election antics.

UKIP, Le Pen and the Tory eurosceptics could not care less about Ireland's future. They only want to use our referendum result to serve their misguided political goals, goals that never have -- and never will -- serve our interests.

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Our decision to join with Europe over three and a half decades ago was one of the defining moments in the history of modern Ireland. The Ireland which voted to join in 1972 was one of the poorest countries in Western Europe.

Back then, we made a very brave and a very wise decision. The past 35 years have seen many economic and social changes -- almost all achieved on the back of EU development and EU structural investment. The result is the new modern Ireland; confident, prosperous, at peace with itself and its neighbours, and with a strong and positive presence in the world.

This is something we cannot and should not turn our backs on.

One of the European Union's greatest strengths is its tradition of partnership. Last Thursday the Taoiseach, Brian Cowen went to Brussels to start the process of finding a shared solution with our EU partners. It will not be an easy task, but it is one we must ensure succeeds: for all our sakes.

Willie O'Dea is Minister for Defence and Fianna fail TD for Lim,erick East


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