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Business, political elite behind
Lisbon 'civil society'
Following their defeat in last year's
referendum, Ireland's business and political elite are mounting a much more
determined campaign to bully and manipulate the Irish electorate into voting Yes
to the Lisbon Treaty.
On top of legal 'guarantees' which do not
change either the "content or application of the Treaty" and dire warnings of
Ireland being left in "financial isolation" in Europe if we exercise our
democratic right to vote No again, the Yes side has also set up a number of
'civil society' groups to push for a Yes vote.
When we think of civil society groups we
have an image of ordinary decent citizens coming together as community groups or
charities in support of a particular cause without being 'political'. This is
the image the Yes side wants its 'civil society' groups to
Several groups have been set up, some
with the specific aim of targeting groups that voted No in the last referendum.
The Government's Millward Brown IMS research showed that young people and women
tended to vote No. The Yes side has responded by launching a group called
'Generation Yes' in April and 'Women for Europe' at the end of
Other groups include 'We Belong' and
'Ireland for Europe'. We Belong claims that it will be "driven by the workers
and the youth of Ireland," even though some of its funding came from a recent
bash in the Shelbourne Hotel, "where various fat cats ... with a European vision
were wined and dined and bled for money to support a business friendly Europe
that will be facilitated by a Yes vote."
Ireland for Europe seems to be targeted
at the wider public. Just as the French establishment tried to use celebrities
like actor Gerard Depardieu to persuade the French to vote for the EU
Constitution in 2005, Ireland for Europe had Seamus Heaney reciting a poem at
its launch meeting in The Button Factory in Temple Bar in June. Heaney, Robbie
Keane and other celebrities will no doubt be wheeled out during the
But because such celebrities are unlikely
to know very much about the detail of the Treaty, there are a number key
establishment figures behind the celebrity facade. These are the ones who are
likely to participate in any real media debate around the Treaty.
They are: Brigid Laffan, Jean Monnet
Professor of European Politics at UCD; Pat Cox, former PD and former President
of the European Parliament; and Brendan Halligan, chair of the Institute of
International and European Affairs (IIEA). Former Fianna Fail general secretary
Martin Mackin (now with Public Relations company Q4) is also involved.
There is substantial overlap between the
membership of the IIEA and Ireland for Europe. In addition to Laffan and Cox,
IIEA members include figures like former Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald; Labour TD
Ruari Quinn; former president Mary Robinson; Taoiseach Brian Cowen; Director of
the European Commission Representation in Ireland, Martin Territ; and chairman
of British Petroleum, Peter Sutherland.
As a former EU Commissioner, a former
director of the World Trade Organisation, and member of the European Round Table
of Industrialists, Peter Sutherland has been at the heart of the neoliberal
transformation of the European Union since the early 1980s.
In spite of these links to the
establishment, Green Party member and 'chief of operations' of Ireland for
Europe, Andrew Byrne, has no difficultly maintaining the pretence that these
groups represent civil society. As he said recently in reference to the Yes
side's failed campaign last year, "I'm not prepared to let politicians mess this
up again... [it is] important that the campaign [is] led by civil
This is the deeply dishonest mantra of
these so-called civil society groups. In reality, they represent the same
political and business elite that is bent on implementing the savage cutbacks in
the Bord Snip report and setting up NAMA to bail out the
The Lisbon Treaty is the third element of
the neoliberal onslaught they intend to unleash in the autumn. Another strong No
vote on 2nd October could deliver a major blow to that
From the print edition of Socialist
Worker No. 303