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ALONG with much else, the Lisbon Treaty vote was surely an affirmation of the right of the individual to think and decide for him or herself whatever the intensity of the urgings from the institutions of State.
The Ireland of my youth in the 1950s strongly discouraged this dissenting voice. The individual was expected to conform to the collective and thinking in any real sense of the word was largely seen as either irreligious or almost anti-national (Both nationalism and religion did contribute much to our lives, too, but that’s en passant for now).
But basically, as WH Auden put it, “the weight and force of this world, all that carries weight and always weighs the same, lay in the hands of others…”
Now the spirit of “beata dhuine a thoil” (a person’s free will is his life-blood) shines forth as voters disregard all the main political parties, all the employer/business groups, the trade union movements, the (tacit support of) the Catholic bishops and the advice of independent economists.
The theory is that having been oppressed for long, dark centuries, the Irish voter was simply not going to be bossed into conceding more power to Brussels — whatever the strength of our broad pro-EU stance.
Many of us are still rebels at heart. Rebels have principles and this was surely a brave and a principled decision. But was it a good, pragmatic decision? Will it lead to a more or less prosperous Ireland for ourselves or our children?
I fear we may have gone seriously wrong here, that the cussed streak that splinters sometimes from the rebel spirit has led us astray. I fear this is something much more serious than the Nice Treaty rejection, that (like the Cork County GAA Board last autumn) we’ve changed something that was working very well for us overall, that with recession clouds ahead it really would have been much safer to vote ‘yes’.
I fear that — downturn or not — there was a feeling of complacency about this treaty, a feeling that prosperity (more or a bit less) will follow us any which way.
Surveys show that young people voted 2:1 no. They didn’t experience the chill of the 1980s here.
I fear we should have heeded the urgent and well-reasoned and simple (not simplistic, as the accusations went) pleas of Brian Cowen and Micheál Martin for a yes vote. We can’t say we weren’t warned about leaping headlong into a second-tier EU.
An unexpected but possible scenario now: should the other 26 countries proceed with this treaty without Ireland, we could well end up with exactly what the no vote didn’t want: an enlarged EU with serious influence on our lives, but somewhat unresponsive to our needs. In which case the rebel will have served inadvertently to subjugate himself. Timorous I may be, but I believe also that legitimate fear could be as good or better a predictor of outcomes as courage or principle, or anything else.
What now? The yes side is uncertain about the future, our most senior government figures are palpably very worried. The no groups can’t be sure either, despite all their passionate intensity.
People imbued with all this certainty are certainly to be distrusted. And certain they sure were about renegotiation; nobody is sure of that now.
I have a sinking feeling about all this. I hope to God I’m wrong.
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