Never mind the Lisbon text, feel the width of the political leader?

Iain Dale has the text of an Irish Daily Mail piece (David at P.ie has scans of the original) outing a rather embarrassing email for the Irish Government. It outlines details of of a briefing to the British Embassy in Dublin, on how the government was planning to play down difficult European issues, and spin the wrong date for the referendum:

The memo details plans to fool campaigners over the date, which has been widely touted as falling on June 12. The memo states: ‘Irish have picked 29 May for voting but will delay an announcement to keep the no camp guessing… the Taoiseach and Ahern saw a slight advantage in keeping the no camp guessing.’

That seems like an extraordinary hammer to crack an egg. Open Europe (via John) has the full draft of the leaked email:

Irish have picked May 29 for voting but will delay an announcement to keep the no camp guessing (please protect). DFA’s EU director gives us referendum timetable and details of the bill, to be published next week. Aim is to focus the campaign on overall benefits of EU rather than the treaty itself. Concern about the potential impact of a WTO deal and of
Sarkozy.

The draft, largely incomprehensible to the lay reader, had been agreed following lengthy consultation with government lawyers and with the political parties.

The bill would enter parliament in the second week of April and it would probably take two weeks to go through and be passed around 22 April. The minister for the environment would thus be entitled to set an order naming the date for the referendum between 30 to 90 days of the order being made. Technically, the Taoiseach and Ahern saw a slight advantage in keeping the no campaign guessing. 29 May was the assumed date in working plans.

Mulhall said a date in October would have been easier from a procedural point of view. But the risk of unhelpful developments during the French presidency – particularly related to EU defence – were just too great. Sarkozy was completely unpredictable. The only other unhelpful event the Irish thought might impact on the May vote would be a WTO deal based on agricultural concessions that could lead the powerful farming association to withdraw its support.

I ran through the UK parliamentary ratification timetable and noted that the refernedum vote on 5 March would be a particularly sensitive moment. Mulhall remarked that the media had been relatively quiet on the ratification process so far. We would need to remain in close touch given the media crossover.

Mulhall said other partners – including the Commission – were playing a helpful, low-profile role. Vice-president Margot Wallstrom, who had been in Dublin yesterday and today, had told Dermot Ahern that the Commission was willing to tone down or delay messages that might be unhelpful.

??? ??? ???…so Irish thought treaty was taken for granted…… David Miliband not going

Most people would not have time to study the text and would go with the politicians they trusted.

Machiavellian? Yes, no doubt. Nice is no doubt biting at the back of the Taoiseach’s mind. Lisbon is, in some ways, his baby (albeit given away for adoption as Treaty as opposed to a constitution).

But this unwillingness to honestly test the legislation with the public is not good for public confidence in government or, indeed, in the more distant institutions of the European Union. Last word to Mary Lou McDonald:

“To date there has been a lot of bluster from the yes side but little real information about the Treaty. The government has yet to set out in concrete terms why they believe the Lisbon Treaty is a good thing for Ireland. This Treaty is not about our membership of the EU. Our position in the EU is secure and will continue to be. What the electorate has to decide is whether the Lisbon Treaty is in Ireland’s interests.

Well, second last. Check out the national forum on Europe’s YouTube site

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

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