Tuesday 26 March 2019

Lisbon II -- this time read the bloody treaty, Brian

Lisbon II was born last night. Going into the crucial talks yesterday, Taoiseach Brian Cowen must have been aware of the potential 'two strikes and you're out' rule for political leaders.

Arguably, Mr Cowen could have had mixed emotions as he got agreement on the steps necessary for Ireland to make a second attempt to pass the Treaty via a referendum.

But he may end up staking his own future as Taoiseach on winning a rerun of the Lisbon Treaty referendum. Lose again and his position could become unsustainable.

The worst kept secret in town -- there will be a second referendum and it will be held in October 2009 -- is about to become official.

The starting bell in the Lisbon II campaign rang pretty much as soon as the votes came in from the last referendum in June.

Now the action will intensify and pretty soon it will be apparent precisely what format and strength the legal guarantees on abortion, tax and neutrality will take.

To win the second referendum, Mr Cowen and his Government are going to have to seriously up their game. The opposition parties and lobby groups also have an important role to play, but the bulk of the responsibility falls on the Government.

Considering the economic climate has deteriorated dramatically since the first referendum and is likely to get worse by next autumn, it isn't going to be easy. Careful planning and hard work though should generate a return.

Here's 13 steps the Yes camp need to take to pass the vote:

1 Do your homework: Read the bloody document, Brian. The main players need to show they have a depth of knowledge about the Lisbon Treaty and European affairs, in general. For a start, the Taoiseach could actually show he's read it and the Tanaiste could show she knows how many Commissioners there are from each country. That's just basics.

2 Goodbye to the Weakest Links: The Green Party, the IFA and SIPTU all adopted astonishing positions in failing to immediately row in behind the Treaty from the off or at all. Mr Cowen needs to remind these groups which side their bread is buttered on. And the Greens need to remember they are actually in this Government.

3 Carry your weight: TDs campaigning for votes for themselves would never think about simply doing a few canvasses outside a shopping centre on a Saturday. Yet this was the extent of the effort in some cases in Lisbon I. The same blood, sweat and tears put into a general election is needed to canvass for votes in this referendum.

4 Give people a reason to vote Yes: What are the actual reasons for the ordinary person in the street to vote for the Lisbon Treaty? If the Yes camp can't cite specific reasons how life will be enhanced by the passing of the Treaty, then they're on to a loser.

5 It's the economy, stupid: The economic downturn is a twin-edged sword. The cuts in spending and tax hikes make the Government unpopular. But the necessity to be part of the EU's common market and under the protective umbrella of the Eurozone ought to be used to convince people their economic fortunes are greater in an enhanced EU.

6 Plough your own furrow: Run your own campaign has to be the message for the political parties. The idea of leaders of rival parties, who beat each other up on a daily basis, coming together to hold hands and call for a Yes vote just doesn't wash with the public.

If Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore want to call for a Yes vote together, then fine, but leave Brian Cowen and John Gormley to do their own appeal. Besides, the acrimony between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael arising out the last campaign ought to ensure there is little or no cooperation next time.

7 Tighten up funding laws: The notion that a group can come on to the pitch from nowhere and spend nearly €1m without having to say where this came from is ludicrous. But, in all fairness to Libertas, that effectively is the law and nobody has yet to put forward a tangible case that the group broke the regulations.

8 No own goals:Whatever about managing the economy through the present turmoil, the Government simply can't afford any more major own goals like the medical cards fiasco. A bit of common sense and cop on wouldn't go astray over the coming months.

9 Challenge the No camp claims: If the claims about abortion, tax and conscription were so far fetched, then how come so many people believed it? It's because a convincing enough argument was put forward. Declan Ganley's consistent effort to distance himself from the claim he made about three-year-olds being locked up if Lisbon was passed just shows what was let away last time out.

10 Organisation: A coherent Yes campaign wouldn't actually go astray. There doesn't have to be cooperation on a public level, just make sure there's not crossover. The involvement of non-political social groups is also vital, but not a substitute for the political parties to take the lead on the groundwork.

11 Reach out to reassure specific groups: Clearly young people and woman were concerned about aspects of Lisbon, so there needs to be an effort to reach out. Here's a radical idea: try fronting the Yes campaign with some woman and young people.

12 Stop patronising people: Democracy means you're allowed to vote No. If people voted No last time out, for whatever their personal or particular reasons, they were right to do so. The task now is to convince them to vote Yes, not to tell them they were wrong or ill-informed.

13 Speak plain language: The easily understandable information vacuum was filled by rumour and claims. That mistake simply can't be repeated. If people want a copy of the treaty, give it to them. But what people really want is a legible guide.

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