Voting yes can be the hardest thing to do

Coalition party councillors will need a lot of convincing, says Juno McEnroe

A NUMBER of Government party councillors are not only finding it hard to sell the EU fiscal compact treaty on the doorsteps but are refusing to campaign to pass the referendum, and in some cases are set to vote no.

Labour and Fine Gael local representatives have a number of serious concerns about the May 31 referendum but now face being isolated by party colleagues because of their position on the treaty.

Several councillors have told the Irish Examiner that the treaty should be scrapped, while one even says it is “anti-democratic”.

Cracks are emerging as coalition leaders begin to put their weight behind a yes campaign with just a few weeks to go before voting day. The chorus of no voters will undoubtedly welcome the councillors’ frustration with the EU treaty.

The dissenting councillors could become a thorn in the side of the Coalition, just like several did in the lead-up to the Lisbon treaty vote.

Galway Cllr Colette Connolly (Lab) says: “They [the Government] shouldn’t be putting economic issues into the Constitution. They shouldn’t put issues about the Constitution to the people and say if you don’t support this, you’ll be punished.

“It’s totally anti-democratic to tell the Irish people this. It isn’t logical to suggest that most countries in Europe will pass this and we, as a minority, if we don’t will be punished by not getting loans.”

The principal area of contention is whether the Government will be blocked from borrowing, if needed, from future bailout funds if voters do not sign up to the treaty. Under the European stability mechanism (ESM), member states refusing to sign up to the treaty will be denied future funding.

The Coalition parties say the ESM will likely not be needed but that it is a good “insurance policy” and will copperfasten investor confidence in Ireland. The no side argue that the ‘blackmail clause’ for the loans is like putting a gun to the heads of voters. Furthermore, Europe would likely bail out Ireland if more funds were needed, the no side claims.

Ms Connolly said: “There is certainly an awareness among Labour voters, a sentiment that this is not good for the country. This is a further development on from the Lisbon treaty for a federal Europe.

“We don’t even have the right to housing enshrined in the Constitution. I won’t be voting for the treaty.”

Under article 4 of the treaty, national debt will have to be eradicated over 20 years. With the debt estimated at around €120bn, the no campaign claims this will lead to an extra €5bn in cuts and savings every year.

For Dublin North West Cllr Bill Tormey (FG), this is the main concern and the reason he remains undecided about how to vote. “How is the country going to do that? It’s putting a corset around European countries they can’t wriggle out of.”

He thinks the treaty will eventually be scrapped: “Everybody is in the shits. Once the governments in France and Germany change, then this [treaty] can be changed again.”

Even Fine Gael councillors fighting for a yes vote admit they are getting it in the neck on the doorsteps. Incoming Dublin lord mayor Naoise Ó Muirí, 39, said: “The battle lines are still being drawn. The household charge is an issue for some people. Other things are being thrown at you in terms of canvassing.”

And if Fianna Fáil think there are problems with Éamon Ó Cuív backing a no vote, the coalition parties may find it tough to silence dissent among their own ranks. Labour’s Cian O’Callaghan says he has always been pro-European but that the treaty goes too far. “I have concerns about the treaty and enshrining a very tight budget policy... simply increasing targets doesn’t work.

“I haven’t met anyone in the Labour party who thinks this is the best idea ever. I hope it might be scrapped and a better model sought. There would be elected members who share my view.”

A number of other Labour councillors known to be against the treaty would not openly declare their opposition to the referendum. Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore is set to officially launch the party’s referendum campaign next Tuesday.

Some are holding on until then to declare their concerns so as not to overshadow the launch. Dermot Looney, a young party councillor in South Dublin who opposed Lisbon, says: “I will make my position clear next week. I don’t want to say if I have made a decision or not.”


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