Irish referendum on fiscal treaty: Leave them alone

It might be the best policy.

Questions:

1. What would be your prediction? Will it pass or not, and why?

2. Anything what can other member states and Brussels do about it?

Answers:

Frank Häge, Lecturer in Politics, Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Limerick

1. According to the current opinion polls, a majority of the people will support the ratification of the Treaty. All major parties except Sinn Fein are in favour of ratification. However, the mood has quickly changed during the campaign in the past, so it would be too early to be confident about the outcome. Much will depend on how well the yes-campaign mobilizes and engages with the no-campaign. The last no vote on the first Lisbon Treaty referendum had more to do with the absence of a yes campaign by the major government and opposition parties than a convincing no-campaign by the opponents of the treaty.

Regarding the reason for the support, that is difficult to say, but it might help that the treaty has a narrow scope with clearly defined objectives, so people actually understand its purpose. Given the current economic problems, people might just agree that something has to change to avoid such a situation in the future.

2. The best thing might be to not do anything at all. Threatening or even just supporting statements especially by other member states (e.g. by France in the past) are often seen as interference and bullying.

Katy Hayward, Lecturer in Sociology, Queen’s University Belfast

In sum, I think the referendum is likely to pass, but with a slim majority. The problem for the Yes group, as with Lisbon I referendum in 2008, will be getting a big enough turnout in order for the Yes voters to out number the No voters, who are probably smaller in number but more active and motivated than the former.

If there was public weariness and despondency regarding national politicians and the EU back in 2008, it is far greater now. The difference is that, as with 2009 Lisbon II, the ‘stick’ being waved by the Yes campaigners is even more intimidating – the fear of Ireland ruling itself out of the possibility of a 2nd bailout should it voted against the Fiscal Treaty is probably more powerful than any remaining sense of national pride. After all, national control over budgets has not proven successful to date. People don’t trust the EU any more than national politicians, but the undertone of the Yes campaign is really going to be that we have little choice.

Mary C. Murphy, College Lecturer, Department of Government, University College Cork

1. First of all, it is very difficult to predict the outcome of EU referendums in Ireland. Early polling data suggests that if the referendum were held tomorrow, it would pass. However, the campaign has not yet begun in earnest so a lot may change between now and 31 May. The ‘no’ campaigners have traditionally been a significant force during the referendum campaign period and it is likely they will again play an influential role. All of the major political parties are in favour of a yes vote but the extent to which they are willing and able to commit resources to the campaign will be an important factor in selling the treaty to the general public. The ‘no’ campaigners can draw on private finance to support their campaigns. Political parties however, are prevented from spending excessively. In addition, the no campaigners are assured of generous media coverage as a consequence of a court ruling in relation to giving equal coverage to both the yes and no campaigns.

The depth of the Irish economic recession is also an important factor. It appears that the threat of not having access to bailout finance if Ireland fails to ratify the treaty may focus the minds of voters and perhaps influence them to vote yes.

2. In terms of what Brussels can do – it is difficult to say. Some would interpret yesterday’s decision by the EU to permit the delayed payment of a promissory note as being the EU’s way of sweetening Irish attitudes towards the treaty. More of the same might be helpful …

In terms of other member-states, there has in the past been some resentment when other EU leaders have visited Ireland promoting a yes vote during the referendum campaign period. Their presence has antagonised voters and has given some fuel to the no campaign which often interpreted such interventions as interference in Ireland’s sovereign affairs.

In all previous EU referendums in Ireland, the issue of voter knowledge and understanding of any treaty has been a major factor. Many voters voted no or abstained in previous referendums because they did not understand its contents. It will be crucial therefore that the terms of the treaty are explained in detail to Irish voters in order that they can make informed decisions. The EU and the Irish government have a key role to play here.

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