Strange bedfellows join from margins

The no side merges those at either end of the political spectrum, says Theresa Reidy

WITH just days to go to polling, both sides of the fiscal treaty debate have taken shape.

There was a prominent late addition 10 days ago, with Declan Ganley declaring for the no side. He has been joined by a number of Independent TDs, including Shane Ross and Finian McGrath. All had been expected to advocate for a no, so their entry into the race is unlikely to have a significant impact. In fact, there have been few surprises with the shape and faces on either side of this campaign. Most of the groups have taken part in EU campaigns in the past.

Starting with the yes campaign, the usual suspects are all present. Ireland has a pro-European cartel among its largest political parties. Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil are all pro-European and have campaigned in favour of all recent EU referendum proposals.

They are joined once more by a collection of interest groups, including the main farming organisations, some trade unions, the business associations and some high-profile individual business people, along with pro-EU groups such as the European Movement.

The no campaign is far more interesting. The political party participants involved range from the far right to the far left. Indeed, one of the remarkable features of the campaign against the treaty is that it has brought together the groups at either end of the political spectrum, who are united in their opposition.

There are very few centrist politicians involved on the no side. Nigel Farage and his UK Independence Party are probably furthest to the right of the mix, with Declan Ganley not far away, based on the policy platform of his Libertas movement.

On the far left, there is an interesting competition for profile and campaign prominence between the constituent parties of the United Left Alliance and Sinn Féin. Sinn Féin are ahead in the battle to lead the no side of the debate.

The Sinn Féin campaign has been very well organised. They have a central ideological objection to elements of the EU, which they have honed over previous referendum campaigns.

The party is building on its opposition to the current economic policies of the Government. Reneging on bank debt, or burning the bondholders, has returned as a central tenet of their opposition to the treaty and, finally, party spokespersons are well versed on alternative funding mechanisms which might be available for the State should the treaty not pass.

Consequently, Sinn Féin have got most of the top slots at the treaty debates, edging out their ULA competitors. Gerry Adams was on the no side in the Week in Politics debate against Eamon Gilmore, while Mary Lou McDonald took the slot on The Frontline.

Added to these two major spots, Peadar Tóibín, Pearse Doherty, and Pádraig MacLochlainn have all been very effective in local and national radio debates. Of course, the pièce de résistance was the party ard fheis at the weekend, which placed Sinn Féin at the centre of the no debate.

In contrast, the ULA camp is more fragmented. Paul Murphy of the Socialist Party has made some impact, supported by Joe Higgins and Clare Daly. Kieran Allen is leading the charge for People before Profit. The groups seem to be campaigning separately and there are some small differences in policy noticeable with regard to funding the State, with Allen offering the closest thing to North Korean economic policy. The Sinn Féin line is more nuanced than the alternatives being offered by the ULA and this will benefit the party in the long-term locating them as the core plank of the opposition to the current economic orthodoxy supported by Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, and Labour.

There a number of non-political party groups on the no side as well. Some of the trade unions have decided to recommend a no vote and they have been joined by a newly formed farming group.

However, there are a few of the usual suspects absent on the no side. The neutrality campaigners and anti-abortion groups have not taken a high-profile stance this time.

The terms of the treaty are fairly clear and the main parties on both sides have focused on a set of very narrow economic issues which would have made it quite difficult for them to get a foothold in the debate, so perhaps they decided against employing their scarce resources in a campaign where they were unlikely to make a big impact.

Their absence is contributing to the very tightly framed debate on the treaty and may be making the debates a little less interesting than at previous campaigns. Nevertheless, it is an unusual contest. Could we have foreseen a campaign which would bring Irish republicans and British nationalists, as well as hard left and hard right together on the same platform?

* Dr Theresa Reidy is a lecturer in the Department of Government at University College Cork


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