Cross-border cooperators say ‘YES’ to Europe

[This is taken from A Note from the Next Door Neighbours, the monthly e-bulletin of Andy Pollak, Director of the Centre for Cross Border Studies in Armagh and Dublin]

So the people of the Republic of Ireland have voted ‘No’ to the Lisbon Treaty. They listened to the siren voices of right wing mavericks like Declan Ganley and Coir (Youth Defence under another name) and left wing mavericks like Sinn Fein and Joe Higgins rather than to the 95% of their elected representatives who – along with business, trade union and farmers leaders – had urged them to vote in favour.

Sitting here in Armagh, it is not for me to comment on this extraordinary popular decision, although the tone of my opening paragraph indicates where my sympathies lie. All I want to say is that we in the Centre for Cross Border Studies continue to believe strongly that the future of both parts of Ireland lies with the extraordinary invention that is the European Union: the most consensual, most peaceful, most democratic alliance of nations history has even seen, an oasis of political, economic and financial stability in an increasingly uncertain world. That world needs to hear the EU’s voice of sanity and dialogue in vital areas like climate change, fuel and food security and the Middle East. It would be a real tragedy if Ireland, having been helped by hugely generous EU partners to free its people from a narrow, inward-looking and poverty stricken past, were now to be marginalised and excluded as Europe faces up to the challenges of the future. In Northern Ireland, we have particular reason to be grateful to the EU for the €1.5 billion European taxpayers have pumped in over the past decade to help turn this violent boondock into a peaceful and prosperous region.

I was reminded forcefully of how much Ireland, North and South, owes to Europe during a conference the Centre organised in Dundalk on 12 and 13 June (coincidentally referendum polling and counting day in the Republic) under the title: ‘Cross-Border Cooperation as part of the Northern Irish peace process: Some Lessons for Europe’. People attended from 11 European countries – from Spain to Poland, from Scotland to Kosovo – to discuss how the development of border regions in Ireland and elsewhere in Europe has been assisted by support from the EU’s PEACE and INTERREG programmes, often after decades of neglect by their national governments. The conference was opened by Irish Justice Minister (until last month Foreign Minister) Dermot Ahern, who as a deputy for County Louth has worked manfully to help bring EU cross-border funding to Ireland in recent years.

It heard some fascinating statistics from Special EU Programmes Body chief executive Pat Colgan. He said that no fewer than 446,000 people in Northern Ireland and the Irish Border Region have benefited from EU funded projects in the past decade, with over 130,000 of them participating in cross-border activities, nearly 90,000 gaining qualifications and over 22,000 engaging in reconciliation activities.

The prominent Dublin social researcher Brian Harvey told the conference that 85% of community, voluntary and other ‘civil society’ organisations in the Irish Border Region are now involved in cross-border cooperation – largely as a consequence of EU funding – as are 65% of such organisations in Northern Ireland. He pointed out that such organisations were now much more comfortable working across the border than were government agencies, and cited examples of cross-border transfer of good practice (mainly from north to south) in areas like the environment, mental health and volunteering. And he expressed surprise that in the Republic in particular there was still no significant governmental funding stream for this vital practical peacebuilding work more than 10 years after the Belfast Agreement.

The chairman of the North’s industrial promotion agency, Invest Northern Ireland, Stephen Kingon, told the story of the success of cross-border cooperation in the field of trade and business. He described the plethora of North/South business bodies and initiatives that have sprung up to help make the island of Ireland more competitive internationally. These include InterTradeIreland, the IBEC-CBI Joint Business Council (funded by INTERREG), the North/South Roundtable Group, the North/South Business Enterprise Group, joint North-South trade missions and the cross-border financial services initiative announced in April by Peter Robinson and Brian Cowen.

There were responses by speakers from the Association of European Border Regions, the French government’s cross-border cooperation agency Mission Opérationelle Transfrontalière (MOT), the Basque Government, BUSINESS EUROPE and the Gronau-Enschede ‘Euroregion’ on the German-Dutch border (the original and exemplary European cross-border region, which is celebrating 50 years of cooperation between 130 local authorities on both sides of that border this year). One common strand through their contributions was that while they had been surprised to be invited to Dundalk to learn lessons in cross-border cooperation from Ireland, what they had heard here was both instructive and inspiring (presentations from this conference are available on www.crossborder.ie/cbnews/lessons.php).

On the conference’s second day, as part of an innovative electronic voting exercise to gauge participants’ opinions on the achievements of and challenges facing cross-border cooperation in Ireland, they were also asked for their views on the Lisbon Treaty. This group of people who had benefited so much from European solidarity with their marginal, often forgotten border regions had few doubts: they voted by 76% to 24% in favour.

Andy Pollak

  • Greenflag

    ‘All I want to say is that we in the Centre for Cross Border Studies continue to believe strongly that the future of both parts of Ireland lies with the extraordinary invention that is the European Union: the most consensual, most peaceful, most democratic alliance of nations history has even seen, an oasis of political, economic and financial stability in an increasingly uncertain world. That world needs to hear the EU’s voice of sanity and dialogue in vital areas like climate change, fuel and food security and the Middle East.’

    Well said Mr Pollock 🙂

  • Paddy

    Hear hear.

  • Hell hath no fury like a Europhile scorned. Ha, ha.

    “In Northern Ireland, we have particular reason to be grateful to the EU for the €1.5 billion European taxpayers have pumped in over the past decade to help turn this violent boondock into a peaceful and prosperous region.”

    But how much does the UK pay to be part of this rotten fraudulent undemocratic monster, where the auditors haven’t signed off the accounts for a decade? Still, isn’t it nice to get some of our own money back.

  • Robbie

    ‘But how much does the UK pay’
    Is someone retarded? As much as anyone else.

    ‘rotten fraudulent undemocratic monster’

    As spurious and pretentious as the worst kind of religious dogma.

    ‘where the auditors haven’t signed off the accounts for a decade?’

    No evidence for any assertion, as inept and ludicrous as so many of the Europhobes’ charges. Congratulations to Andy Pollak for denouncing the idiosy and ignorance of the unknowing and myopic.

  • Garibaldy

    So the people are at fault for being out of step with the politicians. I see.

  • al

    The UK are net contributors to the EU so it’s a bit shady with the facts to point to the money we get from it as if it’s for “free”.

    Extending the logic in the post, one wonders how much money might have potentially came our way if we weren’t associated with the EU at all. Obviously thats another hypothetical debate entirely.

  • al

    ‘where the auditors haven’t signed off the accounts for a decade?’

    No evidence for any assertion, as inept and ludicrous as so many of the Europhobes’ charges.
    Posted by Robbie on Jun 20, 2008 @ 01:14 PM

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/7092102.stm

  • Robbie

    Yes those democratic majorities are so wise, like in the current Northern Ireland statelet, where the two most extreme parties get the carve up of the votes, and in 1933 in Germany when it is conveniently forgotten that fascist ideology was supported by the majority and through the ballot box. They are so smart everyone should just take their blessing as the final word…how could they ever be at fault?

  • Robbie

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/7092102.stm
    Why does this have the 2006 report? The article is dated November 2007 yet this is the 2006 report: why is that? Does it take 2 years for the ECA to investigate?
    And in the piece: ‘The European Commission has blamed member states for audit failings, and says it has suspended £1.2bn in payments to English regions.’ Clearly the European Union alone, solely, without any other intervening factor, could be wrong in such a dispute.

  • perry patetic

    “So the people are at fault for being out of step with the politicians. I see.”

    Fair point.

    Andy, you have unique access to the benefits of the union and you’re right. But handing people a 500 page document (which then references other documents and treaties) and asking them to skip the detail and just sign is an insult. What were the Irish people supposed to do? Just cross their fingers, trust the salesmen and sign?

    No-one dismisses the benefits the EU has brought, but the price of a Yes vote is better drafting and more open democracy. Is that too much to ask? If the current management of the EU are too lazy, incompetent or arrogant to pay that price then we need a decent explanation why they can’t chnage the document or we need a change of management.

    The “mavericks” may be outsiders to the political mainstream but on this issue too many of people were made to feel like outsiders; not by populist scaremongering but by the contempt shown for their opinion by people telling them to just shut up and sign on the dotted line.

    Incidentally I have a business which would (and I hope will) benefit directly from a single currency on this island, mutual and automatic recognition of professional qualifications and all the other useful things that customs and economic union brings. I’m a euro-fan, but Europe deserves better than this treaty.

  • perry patetic

    Come to think of it Andy, what part of your post justifies a 500 page treaty?

  • Over Here

    Well said Perrry I to am off the same opinion. The treaty needs to be more open and less legalise.

  • El Paso

    It’s a pity that Andy has taken it upon himself to involve the CCBS in blatant politicking. It brings up a number of questions regarding the remit and financing of this particular quango.

  • Shore Road Resident

    Are you being deliberately obtuse, Robbie. Don’t you know how financial years run and how long it takes to audit a continent? Of course the latest audit report if from last year and the financial year it audits is the year before.
    On top of this failure is the refusal of the European Parliament to release its report into fraudulent expenses by its own members. The report is kept in a locked room and nobody who enters the room may bring pens, paper or recording devices. No copies are available. This is exactly the sort of thing that damages the EU.
    I’m no Europhone but these people need a kick up the arse. Europe may emerge stronger from it. If the institution won’t learn lessons or heed warnings from the public then that is a deeply troubling development.

  • Shore Road Resident

    Europhobe, I meant.
    A Europhone is something else entirely!

  • Make Robbie an EU Commissioner, if he isn’t one already.

    Sorry, folks, for getting my facts wrong. The auditors haven’t signed off the accounts for 13 years, not just a decade, as I claimed.

  • bob Wilson

    I do hope Mr Pollak isnt paid out of my taxes to push his personal political opinions.

  • bob Wilson

    ‘we in the Centre for Cross Border Studies continue to believe strongly that the future of both parts of Ireland lies with the extraordinary invention that is the European Union: the most consensual, most peaceful, most democratic alliance of nations history has even seen, an oasis of political, economic and financial stability in an increasingly uncertain world. That world needs to hear the EU’s voice of sanity and dialogue in vital areas like climate change, fuel and food security and the Middle East.’

    And there was me thinking it was a centre for cross border studies!

    Of course none of the above requires the Lisbon Treaty but sorry I’ll get back in line and tug my forelock to my Euro betters!

  • circles

    Thats right Robbie – down with democracy and that sort of thing in general!
    And if the people really must have their say at least lets limit it to Big Brother and such things – after all thats what they really want. Why bother even trying to explain isues to these gelatinous mass of stupidity masquarading as popular opinion? How can ignorance have an opinion.
    Lets leave the real decision making to the wise and righteous few – preferably male, preferably white, preferably christian, preferably old – thats a nice cross section of social opinion anyway. They know whats best for us sheep out here in the field. Thats what all the other european countries are doing anyway – why did Ireland have to rock the boat?

    In general I would have been for the Lisbon Treaty but the self-satisfied smarminess of the Yes camp really gets on my wick. Too lazy to explain the thing they were selling in the first place and too lazy to try and understand why the people weren’t buying. So convinced they were right they still stare down their noses at those who don’t agree with them rather than look them in the eye.

    And then reading Andy Pollack waxing lyrical about the Utopia that is Europe! “the most consensual, most peaceful, most democratic alliance of nations history has even seen, an oasis of political, economic and financial stability in an increasingly uncertain world. That world needs to hear the EU’s voice of sanity and dialogue in vital areas like climate change, fuel and food security and the Middle East.” I mean come off it Andy. Europe is a great concept and I think so far an admirable achievement, but it does not speak with a single voice on anything of international significance. To call it the most democratic is the biggest laugh of all – only one country lets its population speak, they don’t agree and knickers are duly twisted. The remaining population of Europe aren’t even asked.

  • Sorry Andy but the drive by smears at the top don’t just mean that you’re biased, it also means that you imply guilt by association. I won’t bother reading from para 2 down.

  • Dublin voter

    I voted No. I am a European and I am pro-European. I believe the EU is a positive thing that Ireland should be at the heart of. I listened to the debate. Originally I was of a mind to vote Yes. But three things decided it for me:
    1. I understood that the Lisbon Treaty re-affirmed the direction of EU policy towards “liberalisation” of the market in health and education (i.e. privatisation).
    2. I understood that the Treaty committed all member states to increase military spending. Now call me naive (call me a Christian, call me what you like) but I don’t think that’s a good thing. I think we could be committing to increase spending in other areas instead.
    3. The attitude of the establishment Yes campaign (“Just do what your betters tell you, we don’t have to sell this to you or tell you what’s good about the Treaty, Europe’s been good for you. Now don’t be a right wing Little Irelander / Loony Leftie. Vote Yes.”)

    I know there are valid arguments against 1, 2, 3 above and my understandings/beliefs about 1 and 2 may be wrong.

    But what I’m trying to say is that, if they try to bring this to the people again, the kind of condescending crap in Andy’s post, implying that No voters are some kind of little Irelander ingrates, will ensure a No from me again.

  • Reader

    Andy Pollack: … we in the Centre for Cross Border Studies continue to believe strongly that the future of both parts of Ireland lies with the extraordinary invention that is the European Union: the most consensual, most peaceful, most democratic alliance of nations history has even seen, an oasis of political, economic and financial stability … It would be a real tragedy if Ireland, … were now to be marginalised and excluded as Europe faces up to the challenges of the future.
    I don’t think that my ellipses have left out any relevant context.
    But if you really think that the “most consensual, most peaceful, most democratic alliance of nations” is going to leave Ireland “marginalised and excluded” – then I have to say you have just tagged the EU as a complete shower of bastards.
    My complaint with the EU is not that it is too far left, or too far right, or too international. Just that it is too far up its own backside, and it’s about time it acknowledged a bit of accountability to the people of Europe, not just to its professional political class and bureaucrats. The EU is a bloated monster not fitted for the challenges of peak oil, climate change or global recession, and I would personally choose to vote against any extension of the EU’s remit without a massive increase in accountability. But my political class doesn’t want me to have that option.
    So, Andy, since the topic appears to fall within the remit (and budget?) of the CCBS, does the CCBS think that the UK should have a referendum on the new constitution, and why not?

  • “The Centre is an independent company limited by guarantee (UK charity no. XR 31047) and is owned jointly by Queen’s University Belfast, Dublin City University and the Workers’ Educational Association (Northern Ireland). Its principal financial contributors are the EU PEACE Two programme, the Atlantic Philanthropies, the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs’ Reconciliation Fund and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. The Centre also raises a significant proportion of its income through sponsorship and selling its research and consultancy services to government and other agencies.”

    Andy, should you have declared a financial interest?

    It’s all very well for those who feed from the EU trough but who pays the ferryman?

    Meanwhile a letter issued to Minister Ó Cuiv following a meeting held by islanders on February 24th, [2007] stated there was an overwhelming majority who wanted to retain the ferry service in the public domain. This letter also expressed other concerns.

    At the conclusion of last week’s meeting, islanders pointed out that the issue was extremely personal as the ferry service was integral to sustaining island life and had an impact on each and every one of them and it was a sad day for Cape Clear. Ex-captain, Tadgh Ó Drisceoil said, “It breaks my heart to see this small island community hurt and split by this decision, a community that I have worked with and for all my life. The responsibility lies with the department for disposing of the State ferry. I have seen five changeovers in personnel and management in my time, but the public state ferry was still there even through those changes. This is the end of the line.”

    Presumably all of this was factored into the Rathlin tender evaluations …

  • Could Cross Border Studies ever arrive at the conclusion that a border is a bad idea?

  • Hugh, presumably those CCBSies who are Irish nationalists could easily have that idea indelibly ingrained 🙂

  • Time for the UK to get out of the European Union. If democratic self-government is good enough for Iraq or Zimbabwe, then it’s good enough for Britain. Those who still want to hand over untold billions to the rotten corrupt edifice of the EU can do so. Personally, I’d rather my hard earned taxes went toward something worthwhile.

  • Mark McGregor

    Andy,

    “What a shower of bastards the voters are”

    You didn’t say that?

    Yes, you bloody well did.

    Can I just say the opinions of grant chasing mavericks and their focus on protecting their own jobs is the worst reason I’ve heard for voting on a constitutional amendment.

  • Andy shares the same apparent disdain for the democratic will of the people as his former employers at the Irish Times. Yesterday’s article by John Waters took the biscuit entirely. According to him, people who didn’t know enough about the issues of Lisbon should have abstained. It’s up to those who want change – ie the EU – to sell it clearly and people are perfectly entitled to say that they don’t think it’s being sold clearly enough and to say NO as a result.
    I voted NO in the end after initially being favourable. The EU does need reform – but not the reforms of Lisbon. Less power needs to be centralised – isn’t that what the principal of subsidiarity is all about?
    And if Andy Pollack is looking for a scapegoat, he should look no further than the Eurocrats and Europhiles who tried to obscure the issues, the type typified by Giscaird D’estaing

  • abucs

    How many didn’t understand the Lisbon Treaty and voted YES ?

    Or do we assume all the Yes’s had a full understanding of the scope and future outworkings of the treaty ?

  • al

    Dont mention the lemmings abucs!!!

  • DavidD

    So – despite the fact that 95% of the elected representatives and no less than 76% of the CCBS favoured the Lisbon Treaty, the Irish electorate produced this ‘extraordinary popular decision’. This comment encapsulates the arrogance and remoteness of the Europhile establishment. It seems not to have occurred to Brian Cowen to simply go to the EU meeting and say “Sorry folks, my people just won’t have it so it’s back to the drawing board”. Instead we have an apologetic Irish leader and astonishment, hand wringing and threats from other European leaders. The voters of Ireland have seen through the scheme to destroy the sovereignty of their country by the ‘death of a thousand cuts’ technique employed by the Euro establishment and they have reacted accordingly – as indeed would the voters in many, probably most, other EU countries given the opportunity.

    The more significant aspect of this is not the vote itself but the reaction to it. The EU began as a Franco-German exercise which was, quite understandably in their cases, based on a distaste of populism. This meant setting firm bounds to acceptable political opinion. The Irish have transgressed these bounds and thereby set a precedent, hence the horror emanating from Brussels and the chancelleries of Europe.

  • Oilifear

    “It seems not to have occurred to Brian Cowen to simply go to the EU meeting and say ‘Sorry folks, my people just won’t have it so it’s back to the drawing board’.”

    “Simply”? I think you underestimate the difficulty (by which I mean absurdity) of that task. None the less, I see you accept that something has to be done to reform the EU (otherwise, why the need to go back to the drawing board?).

    My suspicion is that, after the best part of a decade spent in front of the drawing board, this is the deal and that Cowen can’t so “simply” go back to 26 other states and say, “Well, I know that we said that this would be OK by us, but it’s not – now, I’m not so sure why, but you lot are just going to have to get your heads together on this because we don’t know what we want and it’s up to you lot to figure it out.”

    “Extraordinary popular decision”, it is. At no time in our history have the people of this country invested so much stock in the word of an coalitions of organizations made up of Sinn Féin/IRA (who need I remind you have spend the past 80 years trying to undermine the state), a US military-funded “think tank” and Youth Defense.

    If it we messed up sending Dustin to Eurovision then this is much worse.

  • Dave

    Oilifear, you’d be a natural as an extra in the cast of The Irish RM – particularly if there was a role for a grovelling, sneaky stable-boy who furthered his ambition to become his lordship’s personal man servant by full deployment of obsequious and servile traits, urging the other downtrodden plebs to do likewise so that they too may rise to dizzying heights of having a comfy job for life in the big house. Climb up of your knees, dupe, and don’t be afraid to challenge the will of the powers-that-be. The political class will remain as the servants of the people, and those roles must never be reversed. Irish people will do what they want to do, not what others want them to do.

  • Oilifear

    That might be the difference between us, Dave. Whatever his function, I see my fellow man as my equal and myself as his. You, I imagine, would be the sort of character that would have the staff horse whipped on account of your over-grotesque and unrealistic demands. Lazy good-for-nothings, no doubt?

    I suppose this is why I call Cowen my deputy, whereas you would call him your servant. I take responsibility. You blame others.

  • circles

    Olifear – Sinn Fein/IRA like?
    You’re off your head man.

    By the way I think you’re giving your particular group of undesirables way too much import. I think it is more likely that the people rejected it because they didn’t want to buy a cat in the bag, and nobody bothered their arses explaining the damn thing.
    Cowen is an Irish public representative – he should therefore do his job of representing the wishes of the Irish public and give over apologising to other European leaders who blether on about democracy but aren’t willing to let their own nations have a say. I’d bet anything that if other countries were put to a referendum it wouldn’t only be Ureland that says no. The only thing Cowen has to apologise for is democracy – and surely thats what Europe was supposed to be about anyway.

  • Oilifear

    Circles, I agree to a much greater extent that you might draw from my comment above (see comment 11, here). My comments above were specifically in reply to DavidD’s assertion that the result was somehow not “extraordinary” and that the task of returning to the EU Council table with a glib, ‘Sorry folks – it’s a no go!’, is a “simple” one.

    It’s a certainty that the treaty would have failed in many other countries by referenda (indeed that why we had the “Treaty of Lisbon” and not the “Constitution for Europe”), but the fact is that it is going to pass by parliament in 26 and we are the odd man out. We knew this from the start and far from putting us in the a position of strength as had been amateurishly posited by some, it exposes our weakness. We are note in a position to bully 26 other nations (even if we knew what we wanted to bully them into!!)

    The sad fact is that ‘Europe’ will respect the Irish No vote, and by the same turn we must respect their Yes votes. That means them moving on, and us being set aside. Whatever else about the failings of the Yes campaign, the condequences of a No vote were clearly laid out during the campaign (dismisses as “scaremongering”).

    Our ‘No’ will be respected, the trouble is do we want it to be? I’m thinking cakes and eating them, here.

    As for the “Sinn Fein/IRA” comment … yeah, a little OTT – but my point was if you are offered “a cat in the bag” … and …

    a) a motley crew of former terrorists, religious fundamentalists and a US military funded “think tank” advise you to say No;

    b) everyone you every you voted for in any election advise you to say Yes

    … it really should be a no-brainer. (General rule of thumb: aviod the adise of former terrorists, religious fundamentalists and US-military puppets.)

    That’s what makes the result an “extraordinary popular decision”.