Sunday 25 August 2019

It's time to give Lisbon lies the red card

The cynicism of the establishment's media campaign has been truly remarkable, writes Gene Kerrigan

Michael O'Leary might be an obnoxious prat, but you have to give him credit for his hard neck. When Michael is trying to put one over he just looks you right in the eye and delivers his baloney with a wink and a smile. Perhaps experience has taught him that few are immune to his brand of leprechaun charm.

"Hey, begob, sure 'tis only me, Mickey O -- pulling another fast one on ye, so I am!"

If we're going to be smothered in bullshit in the weeks to come (and we are, dear reader, we bloody are), at least O'Leary's variety provides a degree of entertainment -- and we'll get to Mick's bullshit in a moment.

There's a blizzard of the stuff headed our way, the intent being to leave us overwhelmed, jaded and ready to obediently swallow not one but two bitter pills prescribed by Mr Cowen's government.

Nama is the bigger of the bitter pills -- it's approximately the size of a grand piano -- a massive transfer of wealth from the citizens to the bank bondholders and shareholders who backed the wrong horse.

The second bitter pill is the re-run of the Lisbon Treaty. (It seems that when we voted last year we didn't understand that the 'No' box was on the voting paper purely for decorative purposes.)

We'll give Nama a rest here this week -- and the substance of the Lisbon Treaty debate is another day's work.

What's remarkable is the cynical nature of the establishment campaigns to get us to swallow both. Basically, the strategy is to tell us that Serious People have decided what's best for us and the world will fall down around our ears unless we do as we're told.

It would be more impressive if the establishment hadn't so recently made such a pig's mickey of the country. Not just politicians, but the senior civil service, bankers, speculators, big bonus business chiefs, regulators, economists and those who style themselves the leaders of "civic society". They were all equally dismissive, and abusive, of anyone who questioned the Celtic Tiger nonsense.

Today, for some reason, we must accept that they are Serious People, qualified to tell us what's best for us.

The Government assumed they'd get Nama through very easily because it involves complex financial concepts. Luckily, some academic economists took seriously their duty to examine and explain the process to civilians.

The politicians have so far stood back from the Lisbon campaign. Instead, the "leaders of civic society" have taken the burden.

There's been an allegedly spontaneous eruption of pro-Lisbon outfits. Ireland for Europe, Generation Yes, We Belong, Women for Europe and Lawyers for Europe. These are liberally sprinkled with distant-from-Cowen type politicians (Pat Cox and the like), would-be politicians and the handmaidens of the establishment.

They have a case to make for the treaty, but they don't make it. Instead, the Serious People tell us what they see as unquestionable truths. 1: This is a changed treaty. 2: This is about whether or not Ireland stays in the EU. And 3: The 'No' side are liars.

In fact, the treaty remains precisely the same, though it has been festooned with colourful pledges by politicians, the significance of which could be (but won't be) argued.

The tactic of claiming that this is about being pro or anti EU is tricky. Membership of the EU is clearly not an issue. The 'Yes' side swerves around this by inventing something called "the heart of Europe". Vote 'No' and we'll be ejected from "the heart of Europe".

More subtly, the issue is posed as whether we're "for" Europe. All but one of the "civic society" outfits has that deception in its title. They either want us to "belong" in Europe or vote "for Europe". The manipulative deceit is in the notion that to oppose the treaty is to be against Europe.

The perpetually uncivil Michael O'Leary is one of the civic leaders calling for a 'Yes' vote.

Last week, he decried the "headbangers" who oppose the treaty, and promised to spend half a million euro of Ryanair money on a 'Yes' campaign.

Why? Well, perhaps because Michael is a man who has clashed with EU bureaucrats (something similar could be said of Intel, also spending hundreds of thousands on a 'Yes' campaign). If, for instance, the issue of a Ryanair takeover of Aer Lingus was to -- ah, but Mick would never be so calculating.

Oddly enough, last October O'Leary told the Sunday Business Post that there should be no re-run of the referendum.

''It seems that only in the European Union, Ireland and Zimbabwe are you forced to vote twice," O'Leary said. ''The vote should be respected. It is the only democratic thing to do," he said.

So, O'Leary is now spending half a million to overturn a vote he said should be respected -- knowing that the re-run is an undemocratic contrivance.

Why? Well, I believe what he told Matt Cooper last week: "Everything we do is in the interests of Ryanair."

Much of the media is onside. And the Broadcasting Commission has decided that both sides of the issue don't have to be given equal time. This was never before applied to a campaign -- and the Commission says it will not be a precedent for future votes. It's just for Lisbon 2. Imagine that.

While an objective analysis would say there was at least exaggeration on both sides last time, the 'Yes' campaign states it as a fact that it stands for truth and the 'No' campaign stands for lies.

The Generation Yes website has a section entitled "Fight The Lies". Brigid Laffan, chair of Ireland for Europe, wants a "yellow and red card system" to stop lies.

It's scatty (who would be the ref, what would be the sanction?) but it boosts the fiction of truth tellers versus liars, Serious People versus headbangers.

Good marketing doesn't argue why you should buy a product -- it creates the impression that cool people favour the product, while only the uncool reject it.

How does Ms Laffan's outfit report the Michael O'Leary half million euro campaign? It takes its wording from an Irish Times report.

"Meanwhile", the original newspaper report said, legitimately adding on three paragraphs reporting that some trade union leaders see Lisbon as "a major advance for workers".

On its website, Ireland for Europe replaced the "Meanwhile" with "In response", and changed the report to make it appear the trade union leaders were saying that O'Leary's "announcement represented a major advance for workers".

All in this together, you see, union and fanatically anti-union, except for the "headbangers". (I'm not sure if this qualifies for a yellow card or a red.)

There's lots of low-quality bullshit on offer. Former Fianna Fail minister Frank Fahey was wheeled out on Friday to defend Nama. He claimed to be frightened that the Irish banks will "fall into foreign ownership" without Nama.

"And", said an outraged Frank, "look at what the foreign banks have done to this country!"

I'm still trying to figure that one out. The economic collapse was caused by foreign banks, apparently.

By contrast, last week, Michael O'Leary cleverly refused to tell Matt Cooper how he voted in the first Lisbon referendum. "Next question,'' he said, as though reluctant to admit something.

"Are you going to be one of those people who switched sides to the 'Yes' side?" Cooper asked.

Despite Cooper's pressure, O'Leary repeatedly insisted on his right to keep his 2008 vote private, creating an impression that he had studied the issue and changed his mind from 'No' to 'Yes'.

In fact, O'Leary voted 'Yes' last time -- at least, that's what he told the Business Post last October, when he had no qualms at all about revealing how he voted.

Now, that's quality bullshit.

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