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Wednesday 22 May 2019

Stars come out to put shine on new campaign for Lisbon 'Yes'

Ireland's former EU Commissioner David Byrne meets a young supporter, Seamus Whelan, at yesterday's event in Dublin's Templebar
Ireland's former EU Commissioner David Byrne meets a young supporter, Seamus Whelan, at yesterday's event in Dublin's Templebar
Robbie Keane is on board
U2 guitarist The Edge
Denis Hickey is also on board

Michael Brennan Political Correspondent

A NEW group is planning to use home-grown celebrities to boost the 'Yes' vote in the forthcoming Lisbon Treaty referendum.

Those backing the 'Ireland for Europe' group include Irish soccer captain Robbie Keane, U2 guitarist The Edge, film director Jim Sheridan and Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney.

The group is vowing "not to let the politicians mess it up again" -- although its director is a politician, former European Parliament president and ex-Progressive Democrat Pat Cox.

Mr Cox said he had temporarily stepped aside from his unpaid role as president of the International European Movement umbrella group -- which receives some EU Commission funding.

"I've not been a member of an Irish political party since 1994 so I think it gives me a certain arms-length capacity to claim I have some rights as a citizen also," he said.

Backing

Mr Cox pledged that the well-known figures backing the 'Yes' campaign would be playing an active role.

"I think there's a strong determination not to be a name on a sheet of paper. I think this is going to be an activity-based and action-driven campaign," he said.

UCD professor Brigid Laffan said there was no question of the new group getting funding from the Department of Foreign Affairs or the European Commission.

"Our website is set up so it can only can accept donations up to the limit under Irish electoral law -- that's €6,348," she said.

Its other backers include former Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald, U2 manager Paul McGuinness, former EU Commissioner David Byrne, and former rugby international Denis Hickey.

Mr Hickey told a crowd of more than 150 people at the group's launch yesterday at the Button Factory club in Dublin's Templebar, that he wanted a 'Yes' vote to restore confidence in the country.

"It's all well and good to blame politicians, but doing something about it yourself is more important. Irish people are capable of great things and a 'Yes' vote would be a start towards that," he said.

It comes as several key opponents of the first Lisbon Referendum are poised to switch sides.

They include Independent Dublin North Central TD Finian McGrath, Independent Senator Ronan Mullen, broadcaster Eamon Dunphy and businessman Ben Dunne.

But former Green MEP Patricia McKenna said she would still be opposing the Lisbon Treaty.

She said the guarantees obtained by Taoiseach Brian Cowen last week on military neutrality, taxation and abortion were merely "political agreements".

"What we have is an illusion that somehow we achieved something. The treaty does not change one single iota," she said.

Invisible

The group's launch featured filmed messages of support from poet Seamus Heaney and Special Olympics Ireland founder Mary Davis.

Intel Ireland chief executive Jim O'Hara said the business community had been invisible during the first referendum, despite the importance of EU membership for attracting foreign investment.

"People don't understand the economic catastrophe that could unfold if we don't get a 'Yes' vote," he said.

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