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Kieran Allen is the author of the Booklet Reasons to VOTE NO to the Lisbon Treaty and a number of other books, including The Corporate Take Over of Ireland (2007) and The Celtic Tiger: The Myth of Social Partnership (2000)

Sinead Kennedy has written on culture and politics, women and the Celtic Tiger.
She is a long standing campaigner against war and for women’s rights.

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Business, political elite behind Lisbon 'civil society'

By Mark Walshe

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 project.

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 July.

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 campaign.

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 society..."

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 banks.

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 project.

From the print edition of Socialist Worker No. 303

Booklet cover: Reasons to Vote No to the Lisbon Treaty
  • Booklet: 'Reasons to Vote No to the Lisbon Treaty' - Kieran Allen
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