It’s shaping up to beÂ an important week in Ireland for the prospects of Treaty of Lisbon ratification.Â Â As EU-watchers know, Ireland is the only country planning to ratify the treaty by popular referendum (although events in Poland could add a referendum there too).Â While the treaty should in theory have little problem passing, there’s a history of hiccups going back to the initial rejection of the Maastricht treaty by the public before they were persuaded to reconsider.Â But the backdrop is getting more ominous for this one.
There are several problems.Â First and foremost is the air of scandal around Taoiseach (PM) Bertie Ahern.Â Â Bertie has been obliquely touting his own candidacy for the position of permanent EU Council President (as opposed to the 6 month country rotations) that will be created by the treaty.Â But that ambition seems a long way off now as he fights a rearguard action against the persistent lawyers of the Planning Tribunal.Â The Tribunal — whose mandate is finding of facts and not indictment or prosecution — has found considerable circumstantial evidence that Bertie was in receipt of undocumented foreign currency transfers in the early 1990s, contrary to his own denials and raising an obvious question about the source of the transfers and what was expected in return.
Despite the growing evidence trail, Bertie shows no signs of resigning and has faced no calls from his Cabinet to do so, his coalition partners confining themselves to requests for public statements from him to clarify the apparent contradictions — with a further statement expected on Wednesday.Â But the public perception is one of a growing farce, in which Bertie’s carefully measured updates in response to emerging facts generate new catchphrases (e.g. “political donation for personal use”) but do nothing to settle the question of where the financial flows through his bank accounts were coming from.Â He can hang on because there is as yet no major break in the case (unlike that for the Brian Mulroney scandal in Canada, which bears a significant resemblance to the Irish case).
That’s where Lisbon comes in.Â The government will be going to the country sometime this summer asking for a Yes vote — with the Celtic Tiger wheezing, the head of government mired in rumour and legal complications, and with perhaps the prospect of personal gain (the Council position) should the referendum pass.Â Â This might explain why the government has yet to actually fix a date, thinking that theÂ result could be so tight that every advantage could be critical.Â
Hence the signs of growing unease in the pro-Lisbon camp.Â In a few hours, John Bruton who served as Taoiseach 1994-1997 and who is now the EU Commission representative to the USA will give what is being billed as a major pro-Lisbon speech in his former home constituency of Meath.Â Here is the text of speech as prepared for delivery.Â Of interest is the emphasis on the advantages for small states of the EU and the gains in legislative transparency that the Lisbon treaty will bring in.Â But the underlying motivation for the speech is a fear that the government is too focused on the tactics of getting the referendum through and losing sight of the public drift away from its usual presumptive pro EU position.
It’s tough to know how effective the No campaign will be.Â It will have no political party support other than Sinn Fein.Â TheÂ mostÂ high profileÂ No group is Libertas, which has been the subject ofÂ media scrutiny about its funding.Â It seems that theÂ would be No campaigners have persuaded the likes ofÂ Jean-Marie Le Pen to stay away, fearing the backlash against their participation in a No campaign.
But at this point, with Bertie inÂ full “I did not have Sterling relations with that developer, Mr X”, he could pulling theÂ fate of Lisbon into his own political problems.Â If there is a mess, it will be into hands ofÂ France,Â which takes over the EU CouncilÂ for the 2nd half ofÂ 2008.Â Nicolas Sarkozy had at one time indicated thatÂ one item on the agenda would be getting the Council presidency forÂ Tony Blair.Â He could have a more basic salvage operation on his hands.Â
[Note: this is my first post on AFOE as a regular contributor; my thanks to the team for the invitation to join and I’m looking forward to a good interaction with the readers — P O’Neill]