Lisbon Essay (19): A No vote will stop the drift to ‘undemocracy’…

Jason Walsh argues that when you strip away the contralto hyperbole of some of the more extreme claims of No campaigners like Coir, there is more than a grain of truth to their case that Irish sovereignty is under attack, primarily because multilateral institutions do not take national sovereignty seriously any more. The default assumption is that primary field of play is now on the multilateral plane… Worse than that, he argues, that all manner of powers (fiscal control has already been ceded to the ECB) have already been given away by the national parliament. Opposing Lisbon is less about the detail of the document, and more to do with calling an end to a wider drift to a kind of undemocracy

By Jason Walsh

They died for my freedom? One of the key arguments emanating from the No camp in the Lisbon debate is that Ireland’s sovereignty is under threat from the European Union. It sounds like alarmist nonsense ?and it is. Or at least it would be, if it weren’t for the fact that sovereignty is under attack, just not in the way we normally understand these things.

In fact, Ireland’s ?and other countries’ ?sovereignty is under threat from both within and without and you don’t need to invoke the ghosts of Irish republicanism to understand how.

Let’s be clear: Cóir‘s emotive nationalism is a diversion. The armies of the major European powers are not going to colonise Ireland. The threats to sovereignty today are not the same as those of the past and revisiting 1916, 1918, 1919, 1920 or even 1969 will not provide any useful answers.

As David Chandler, professor of international relations at the University of Westminster, has argued at length, national sovereignty is not taken seriously today ?it is, in fact, a two tier system.

The Iraq war was an obvious example ?the United States and its (much-reduced) group of allies clearly violated a sovereign nation. Unfortunately, under the chorus of complaints about American exceptionalism and a return to old-fashioned imperialism, a great many more subtle attacks on sovereignty were ignored. Threats that, truth be told, are a lot more dangerous than any war. After all, the overwhelming force of American military might is not a direct threat to many people in western Europe ?who really thinks that the US would invade France, Denmark or Ireland?

Supra-nation institutions like the International War Crimes Tribunal, the European Court of Human Rights and others exercise powers that overrule decisions made in national parliaments. Yes, these bodies have made decisions that are progressive and easy to agree with. But that is not the point. We are supposed to be democrats and our countries are meant to be composed of thinking, self-governing, sovereign subjects.

Forget the cuddly rhetoric ?it is absurd. People in Europe have been murdered by the marauding armies of Nato in the name of human rights. Similarly, the failed project that is the state-building mission in Kosovo, a pet project of the EU, not only violates Serbian sovereignty, it fails to give the new country of Kosovo meaningful sovereignty at all. Kosovo is, and will remain, an EU protectorate, not a real country.

Worse, though, is Ireland’s willing abdication of its sovereignty. Of course, joining the Euro saw Irish fiscal policy dictated by Germany (which was fine in good times, but could turn out to be a problem now) so there is a clear precedent for abrogating their duties. It also follows the global trend for politicians retreating from economics and instead regulating individual behaviour.

Yes campaigners have made the argument that the EU is responsible for much of the legislation that has brought Ireland into line with the rest of the developed world. Does this not strike anyone as a problem?

Let’s take one simple example in the area of social policy: The fact that homosexuality in Ireland was legalised in an EU court is a disgrace. David Norris did what one man could do ?he sued. But suing is not how social change is brought about. The people of Ireland should be adult enough to make these decisions for itself, to campaign for greater freedoms, to get the state out of its bedrooms and generally behave like a modern nation. And if conservative opposition materialised it should have been fought in the court of public opinion, not by overpaid barristers in the rarefied atmosphere of courtrooms.

Complaining about the graft and cowardice of politicians is easy, but politicians remain our deputies. If we fail to stand up and let our voices be heard what motivation is there for them to serve us? The failure of Ireland’s politicians is our failure and only we can remedy it.

Increasingly we hear the astonishingly illiberal voices of Irish liberals who defer more and more authority to un-elected and unrepresentative bodies, be they the courts, quangos or the EU itself. The not so hidden message is that the Irish are too stupid, too greedy and too much like the clichés of old to be trusted with governing themselves. Conor Cruise O’Brien may have thought the Irish were a nation of hare-brained urbanised peasants but that’s no excuse for the rest of us thinking it.

Voting No to Lisbon won’t fix the problems of either the EU or Ireland ?but it will put down a marker for self-determination. If we really want to modernise Irish politics or democratise the EU, it’s going to take a lot of hard work ?and it’s up to us to do it.

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