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Daragh McDowell: Europe blunder shows Kenny still intent on sidelining Irish people

When it comes to EU referendums, Irish governments seem to have a remarkably slow learning curve.

Enda Kenny's has been no different. Despite the many lessons of Nice and Lisbon, one and two, Kenny seems determined to repeat every mistake made by his predecessors as well as make some new ones. An observer could be forgiven for thinking that, panicked by the opinion polls showing a remarkable and unexpected level of support for the fiscal compact, he is doing everything in his power to scupper its passage.

Firstly, and most obviously, the Government is offering this vote in the most begrudging of fashions. Spending weeks loudly insisting that there is no need for the people to vote their approval for something, only to be contradicted by the Attorney General, is not the best way to engender trust and convince those same people that your proposals are beneficial to their interests. Yet this is exactly what Kenny and a stream of ministers did; instead of consulting with the AG first, or better yet sticking to the principle that this is how Ireland approves changes in its relationship with Europe and will continue to do.

However, the bigger problem is that once again an Irish government has allowed the impression to take hold, fairly or unfairly, that we are merely being asked to rubber stamp a German-French proposal on whose composition we had no meaningful input. Can the Government point to areas of this new compact where Irish concerns were raised and addressed? Can it claim that it had a meaningful and demonstrated influence in the process of (much needed) eurozone reform? It cannot.

And this is the main problem -- the Irish people have no buy-in on this compact. People are much more receptive to ideas and proposals when it appears that they have helped shape them, even if this isn't the case. Instead the Government actively lobbied against treaty changes, and for a centrally imposed compact that they hoped they could sneak in the back door. By abandoning even the pretence of constructive influence, Kenny and Gilmore have already lost half the argument.

And the critics who will assail the Government on this lack of influence have a good point. Eamon O Cuiv is right to say that we should have attempted to use this as a lever to get a better deal from the troika. Abandoning self-interest in foreign policy isn't altruism, its stupidity, and a betrayal of the people a government is elected to serve. It's also yet another missed opportunity to exercise the collective bargaining strength of the so-called Pigs to address the ongoing, economically and politically crippling debt crisis, which surely should be a prerequisite for serious fiscal reform of the eurozone.

Kenny himself sent a terrible message by signing the compact prior to popular ratification, reinforcing the impression that actual input by the Irish people was thoroughly unwelcome.

Having said that, the tortuous process of creating the fiscal compact and the volatility of the markets means that those who argue that we cannot afford not to approve this referendum may be right. Like it or not we live in a globalised world. Spooking the European bond markets with further political instability will do nothing to help growth and encourage recovery.

And without that growth and recovery, there is little to suggest that euro-elites will abandon the present course of punitive austerity -- so the cycle of bailouts and riots will continue.

Alas, Kenny and Gilmore, like their predecessors, seem to be hell-bent on making a Yes vote as difficult as possible, whatever the polls say now.

The Government is even publicly arguing over the date, wilfully putting its own internal divisions on display when a united front is necessary. This may soon be a moot point -- Spain's new government has just declared that it is simply ignoring EU deficit reduction targets, putting the whole project in jeopardy.

But if we want to chart a new course in our relations with Europe, apart from both the docile servility of the Fianna Fail past and the knee-jerk rejectionism of the Sinn Fein future, future Irish governments have to show that they are capable of securing a real stake for Ireland at the top tables of euro-politics and actively involve the people in the process. This Government has not only shown it is incapable of doing either of these things but also, sadly, that it is unwilling.

Daragh McDowell holds a DPhil in International Relations from the University of Oxford

Sunday Independent