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Éire's Maastricht Referendum 

Under the terms of Article 236 of the Treaty of Rome which established the European Community all amendments to it must be agreed unanimously by all of its member states. The Maastricht Treaty is such an amendment. The Danish `No' vote is a kick in the teeth to those politicians, union leaders and bosses who hoped to gain at their people's expense in a European Superstate. On June 18th [1992] the people of the Irish Republic gave their own verdict on the Maastricht Treaty. Overall, some 69.1% of the votes cast decided in favour of the new European Union. After the Danish people's narrow rejection of the Treaty, an Irish 'No' vote would have finished it off for good. Unfortunately this did not happen.


There were real fears in the pro-Maastricht camp that the vote would be lost. The pro-Maastricht campaign was one of the most blatantly one-sided examples of media manipulation ever to see the light of day in Western Europe. The contrast with Denmark could not be more striking. In Denmark, copies of the Maastricht Treaty were circulated widely. Both the pro-Maastricht and anti-Maastricht campaigns were reported fairly and the Danish people had the chance to weigh up the issues before casting their votes. This was far from the case in the Irish Republic. This was one campaign where government and opposition, normally at one-another's throats, were completely united. On June 8th, a week after the Danish result, Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labour and the Progressive Democrats came together to call for a `Yes' vote. The national media, the Irish Times, the Irish Press, and the misnamed Irish Independent set aside their normal differences to crowd out or misrepresent the views of anti-Maastricht campaigners. Only a few columnists were permitted to raise any doubts about a `Yes' vote. RTé, the State broadcasting system, effectively allocated 95% of its coverage to the `Yes' side. All stops were palled out to obscure the issues and to brown beat and bribe the Irish people into voting in favour of the Maastricht Treaty.


On the face of it they ought to have had a difficult task. Éire has been traditionally jealous of its independence which was won at great cost in 1922. All its political parties regarded themselves as `nationalist', Labour excepted, as they were each splinters of the original Sinn Féin movement.. Neutrality was the cornerstone of Irish foreign policy from 1937 to the present day. Like Switzerland and Sweden, Eire managed to keep out of the Second World War. Éire is still not a member of NATO, although there were once hints that this could change if Ulster was handed over to Dublin's tender mercies. During the 1972 referendum on joining the EEC, the electorate were assured that the 'Common Market' was purely an economic community of nations and that there would be no loss of national sovereignty. In 1992 this issue was merely brushed aside as if it wasn't even worth discussing.


Instead, the media concentrated on the supposed benefits of the new European Union, in particular IR£6billion in economic aid. In fact this sum was merely a budget proposal and Albert Reynolds' chances of getting this amount seem very slim indeed. However, bribes, lies and intimidation were all part of the pro-Maastricht propaganda drive. Nevertheless, the Reynolds government was uneasy about the neutrality issue. It claimed that Maastricht protects Irish neutrality. Of course it does no such thing. Article J.4.4. states that: "The policy of the Union in

accordance with the present article shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence .policy of certain Member States and shall respect the obligations of certain Member States under the North Atlantic Treaty and be compatible with the common security and defence policy established within that framework". In other words the Republic's defence policy will be tied into NATO. The Fianna Fail government originally objected to this Article but as they were overruled by their EC partners they now claim that this means the opposite of what it says. Eire is now a permanent observer at the meetings of the Western European Union which coordinated Europe's role in the Gulf War. The `No' campaigners were virtually nowhere to be seen. In Leinster House, the five Democratic Left deputies and their former Workers' Party colleague fought bravely to raise the real issues. Reynolds used an obscure paragraph of the Broadcasting Act to put out his own line while denying the opposition any `No' broadcast. So, it's not surprising that the vote went the way it did. However, 43% of the electorate did not vote at all. Viewed in this light, this victory is not all it seems. Thanks to Denmark, the Treaty seems doomed, so its replacement will have to go to a new referendum. If Reynolds isn't careful he could yet lose a future referendum.

David Kerr

This article first appeared in Third Way magazine issue 13, Summer 1992.

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