Once again, Irish people are heading to the polls to vote on the Nice Treaty.
They will be asked this autumn to vote in favor of the Treaty which will bring in EU enlargement, having already said No to Nice just a year ago.
There is growing pessimism in government circles that the people could reject the Treaty again. The way the government has handled the debate has also earned considerable resentment even in the Yes camp.
Many had hoped that the Cabinet would agree to a referendum on neutrality, as concern about Ireland’s role in any future military alliance was one of the main reasons for the last defeat. But the government believed that such an amendment to the Constitution would tie its hands on foreign policy, and would end up with the courts and not the Dáil, deciding crucial policy issues. Instead, the government included a prohibition on Ireland entering into a European Union common defense policy without holding another referendum on the issue.
The debate so far has been marred by some rather unparliamentary language. The Taoiseach Bertie Ahem accused the No campaigners of whingeing, which led to bitter arguments between both sides. Fine Gael leader, Enda Kenny, who supports the Treaty has warned the Taoiseach to get his house in order. “He must inform, not insult. He must lead, not drag. He must persuade, not pillory,” he said.
There are many reasons why voters might say No to Nice. The Green Party and Sinn Féin believe it will seriously affect Ireland’s neutrality, and have rejected a declaration from other EU leaders, saying it isn’t worth the paper it is written on.
Others believe that the EU is already undemocratic and that enlargement will make its institutions even less accountable. Many farmers fear that the inclusion of Eastern states into the EU will inevitably lead to less financial support for them. Last year farmers received 1.4 billion in direct payments from the EU and many believe that this income would be dramatically cut if countries like Poland, which has a large agricultural sector, joined the Union.
Some of the electorate are confused about the issue, while others resent the fact that they are being asked to support a treaty they rejected just over a year ago.
All the main political parties support the Nice Treaty, as do employers groups and the trade unions. They say that Ireland will be isolated within Europe if it rejects the Treaty but they face an uphill battle convincing the electorate. ♦