From mass manipulation to real politcs?

I picked up this informative exchange on Twitter on the day of the Referendum count between Damien Mulley and Richard Delevan:

Damien: “The No victory is refreshing in that it shows the main parties do not have a complete stranglehold over mass manipulation.”

Richard: “No, Mass manipulation has been privatised!”

That brief exchange for me encapsulates the key problem both with the referendum and Irish politics within which it took place more widely. In Irish politics, ‘mass manipulation’ is the weapon of choice. Scape-goating Libertas for something the Republic’s political parties routinely get away with, hardly conceals the fact that on this occasion a small, highly unrepresentative micro-minority simply played the mainstream at their own game, and won.

As Irish parliamentary democracy flounders, having been so completely flipped on its back, it’s useful to note that few of the concerns which appear to have been decisive in persuading people to vote NO have anything to do with the Lisbon Treaty. The Nice Treaty for instance, which the Republic ratified at the second time of asking, already commits the EU to reducing the amount of Commissioners to below the current level. Lisbon simply put a quantity on it.

As far as defence is concerned, Lisbon states that the EU “will move” towards a common defence policy. But, Ireland already has an effective opt out under both the Nice Treaty and the provisions of the 26th Amemndment of the Constitution. The relevant text:

The State shall not adopt a decision taken by the European Council to establish a common defence pursuant to Article 1.2 of the Treaty referred to in subsection 7° of this section where that common defence would include the State.

Lisbon actually contained clauses aimed at strengthening the scrutiny role of national parliaments. According to the Irish Times (H/T Ciaran):

“Both the Daìl and the Seanad will get to see and consider all commission green and white papers, draft legislation, and the agendas and outcomes of ministerial meetings at the same time as they are sent to council members and MEPs.

“If a third of national parliaments feels proposed legislation conflicts with the principle of subsidiarity – that decisions should be taken at the level closest to the citizen – it can be “yellow carded”, requiring the commission to reconsider its proposals.”

If the particular highlights of the NO campaign were not exactly ‘sturdy’, the fear that a Constitution (Lisbon is a 90% repackage), along with a President, and a Foreign Office would one day harden into a European super state was probably the legitimate fear behind the campaign. (Well, that and the alarming thought that the Taoiseach hadn’t read from cover to cover the text of a treaty he was asking the people of the Irish Republic to accept in good faith.)

These fears are what motivated the national electorate in France and the Netherlands to reject the ‘Constitution’. Yet there was no convincing answer to those fears from a YES camp, which seemed content to rely on the somatic charms of the European project to draw in the support of the prosperous middle classes of south Dublin, whilst administering their own brand of fallacious fear-mongering over what might happen if the country said no to everyone else. Double negatives generally cancel each other out. If you are the last party to the field you tend to lose.

What was needed from the Yes camp was a clear vision of Ireland’s place in a European future: what it is and what it is not. The State’s long term neutrality means that foreign policy has never been it’s strongest public suit. And as Marc Colman argues in last week’s Sunday Independent, the PR system of voting has marginalised radical content (like Euroscepticism) from Irish politics.

Added to that is the abject position of the average TD as legislator (as opposed to community representative):

At present, the Irish parliament is characterised by a strong executive, a highly disciplined whip, a weak committee system, and domination by representatives who focus on local and regional issues to the detriment of national and international concerns. The Dáil has no real input into the government’s positions in EU negotiations, and directives are implemented with a minimum of debate and virtually no media attention.

This is one reason why the Irish media (to an extraordinary extent) are rarely interested in what the opposition has to say on anything. And it may be why an extraordinarily wide group of media interests went looking for ways to undermine small lobby groups behind the lobby groups, rather than more soberly investigate the claims they were making.

Last Thursday, the people of the Republic sent a message to the various political (and media) establishments that, amongst other things, they were not getting proper service when they enabled to a rag bag of ‘amateurs’ beat a combined 11 of the nation’s top ‘professional teams’. Questions should be asked (not just about Europe). And both Houses!