It was never going to be a gamechanger. But remarks by Jobs Minister Richard Bruton that there could be a re-run of the referendum if rejected on May 31 came at a bad time for the yes side.
It was just days after no campaigner Declan Ganley entered the debate with the argument that if the treaty is rejected, the Government can go back and seek a reduction for the country’s bank debt before voting a second time.
The comments also came when the momentum was building behind the yes side. Three polls in one week showed the treaty was on course to be passed, but 20% of voters have yet to make up their minds.
The no side has so far failed to make significant political capital from Mr Bruton’s gaffe.
In fact, from the Government’s point of view, the damage appears to have been contained.
Its quick response helped. Mr Bruton corrected the remarks during the course of the debate and a Government spokesperson issued a statement to clarify the position within minutes of the remarks being made.
The Taoiseach even tried to make the best of a bad situation, saying Mr Bruton was “man enough” to own up to making a mistake.
“It will be very good if some of the people on the other side were to own up in a similar fashion to some of the same mistakes they’ve made,” said Enda Kenny.
Sources said the Coalition was trying to use the slip-up as an opportunity to drive home its message about how damaging a no vote would be.
In other EU referendum campaigns, such a gaffe might have been potentially disastrous. But the rules are different this time round.
The referendum is being held at a time when people’s main concerns are about their financial well-being, jobs, and opportunities for their families and a better future.
It’s also at a time of unprecedented uncertainty in the eurozone, with a contingency plan being put in place for a Greek exit.
Against such a backdrop, political point-scoring appears petty.
People are weary of uncertainty and Mr Bruton’s comments, if anything, might convince them to vote yes to avoid having to go through another tiresome campaign.
The Government sees this weekend as a critical juncture in the campaign.
Usually when a minister makes such a slip they tend to be hidden away from all public commentary.
But Mr Bruton will appear on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics tomorrow night when he is expected to put across a robust argument about the consequences of a no vote on future funding.
The Taoiseach will engage in a vigorous round of canvassing over the weekend before heading to Brussels on Wednesday where leaders will set out a growth agenda they hope will make the treaty easier to swallow for Irish voters.
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