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Karen Coleman: Cynical SF suffered from putting Mary Lou in charge

This referendum campaign was predictably hijacked by a posse of campaigners and politicians who cynically exploited it for their own vested interests and agendas.

Sinn Fein, in particular, used the campaign to push their Eurosceptic wishy-washy economic policies that, if implemented, would catapult us into a financial abyss and force high earners out of the country in their droves.

Sinn Fein's failure to convince the voters was a humiliating lesson for them in modern Irish politics and another indication of the long journey they still face if they want to be taken seriously. Their cynical use of selective quotes from Irish economists was misleading and foolish and it cost them valuable credibility early in the campaign.

The party's High Court challenge to the Referendum Commission was a strong-arm tactic that also backfired. While it may have resonated with its working-class supporters, it did not go down well in middle-class Ireland.

I suspect there were plenty of voters who were unenthusiastic about supporting the treaty but their reservations were outweighed by a greater reluctance to side with a party they fear still has a strong whiff of sulphur about it.

The substitution of Mary Lou McDonald for Gerry Adams as the treaty's main spokesperson was a double-edged sword and arguably a strategic error. While Mr Adams is a poor public performer, Ms McDonald's strident approach is equally damaging. Her preachy, finger-wagging 'let me tell' you style irritates like a sanctimonious schoolteacher chastising a rebellious child.

Ms McDonald would have better served her cause had she exploited her feminine side and projected a softer public image. She is a savvy politician who has done well within Sinn Fein but she comes across as uncompromising and she fails to provide credible alternative ideas when engaged in her relentless criticisms of Government policies.

Sinn Fein's engagement in politics on both sides of the Border means it has a kind of schizophrenic personality that's hampering its ability to properly modernise in the Republic and to shed its dodgy paramilitary background.

The Independent Senator Shane Ross was another anti-treaty campaigner who exploited his high profile to maximum effect. His pompous announcement last weekend that he was calling for a No vote, after much hand-wringing, smacked of vain, arrogant grandstanding.

Last week's 'Sunday Independent's' deferential coverage of the senator's stance was a pitiable reflection of the lovey-dovey community the Irish media indulges in. On the same day, RTE also gave the senator what seemed like substantial airtime to let him engage in some sanctimonious lecturing.

Now, Mr Ross certainly had some good points to make but you'd wonder about the timing of his announcement and the justification for the headline coverage he received.

So here we are post referendum, weary and worn out from all the huffing and puffing over the last few weeks. And will the Irish passing of the fiscal treaty have any meaningful impact on the European financial crisis?

The short answer is probably not. The future of the euro now seems more uncertain than ever with Spain likely to require a bailout very soon and Greece potentially heading for a euro exit after next month's elections.

On Thursday, over in Brussels, the EU's economics commissioner, Olli Rehn, warned that the eurozone was in danger of "disintegration" and further "depression" unless its leaders adopted more austerity measures and tough fiscal disciplines.

Mr Rehn's ominous warnings are enough to dampen any victorious celebrations the Yes campaigners might be thinking of holding this weekend.

The treaty supporters have achieved a decisive win but it's a hollow victory that requires restraint from inappropriate backslapping.

Declan Ganley was right when he declared that many Yes voters ticked the box through gritted teeth. We were faced with a Hobson's choice: vote No and be denied future bailout funds or say Yes to stringent budgetary controls that could potentially spell years of austerity.

Fear isn't a good reason to rejoice and an indulgence by the Yes side in smug self-satisfaction would be nauseating.

Instead, the Taoiseach should now focus on ensuring that Francois Hollande's demands for a growth and jobs addendum to the treaty are secured. And he should encourage our other fiscal-treaty partners to show their gratitude by giving us some leeway on our enormous banking debts.

There are plenty of other potential landmines ahead that could jeopardise Ireland's battle to regain its economic sovereignty.

As I've said before, we didn't need this fiscal treaty as we had already signed up to most of its measures in previous EU agreements. This was a German-led initiative that circumvented the EU rules of unanimity and that now paves the way for increased usage of what the eurocrats call 'enhanced co-operation'. That's a euphemism for EU countries brokering their own backroom deals and thus avoiding the requirement of unanimity on major EU policies.

Ireland will face growing challenges to its right to set its own corporate tax rate. While Francois Hollande may be on our side on growth and jobs, he's absolutely in the opposite camp when it comes to securing harmonised corporate-tax rates across the EU.

There's a strong possibility that France and other EU states will create another intergovernmental treaty on harmonised corporate-tax rates. Ireland could be threatened once again with bailout exclusion if we don't sign up to it.

Our passing of the fiscal treaty may have made things easier for other European leaders but that doesn't mean they'll put a stop to their whinging about our corporate tax rates.

That's the rollercoaster of European politics for you.

Irish Independent Supplement