Public opinion and the setting (or unsetting) of Irish foreign policy…

Nice letter in the Irish Times today on the wisdom of dictating foreign policy by referenda:

Sir, – The use of referendums in the formulation of public policy-making is a well established feature of Irish politics. But is this wise?

Public opinion is fickle, ill-informed, contradictory and mainly responsive to the ephemeral issues prevailing at the time. Are the chattering classes in the village square really up to the job of separating the wheat from the chaff in complex issues? As the late American comedian George Burns once remarked, it was such a pity that those who knew how to run the country were too busy cutting hair or driving cabs. – Yours, etc,

FRANK GREANEY, Lonsdale Road, Formby, Liverpool, England.

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  • In summary “You can’t trust the people to make decisions.” Really?

  • Aren’t those people who are fickle, ill-informed etc the same as those cutting hair, or driving cabs….?

  • Of course Mick, this isn’t about foreign policy. It is about the capacity of the Irish state to manage its own economic affairs, and to keep the option of social democracy – never mind socialism – being made unconstitutional through spending rules designed by the German not-so-centre right.

  • Mick Fealty

    Denmark can live with it Gari… And their centre right registers somewhere between Labour and the ULA.These in turn map to the right in comparison to the Nordic left.

    The problem for Ireland is the degree of institutional drift it’s suffered during the Tiger years. It’s getting hammered for letting markets drift, AND poor attention to the need for strong democratic oversight.


    That was intended lightly. But I do think the invocation of referenda at every chink and turn of the law is ludicrous. Aonghus’ piece in Irish does not render well in Google translate, but he’s complaining about the growing numbers of back doors the current mess of a constitution provides to subvert the legislature. and I think he has a point.

  • Alias

    Given the eurogombeens consistently elected to parliament, it’s probably fair to say that the public can’t be trusted to make important decisions.
    As the public can’t be trusted to make important decisions, it follows that those they incompetents they incompetently elect can’t be trusted to make important decisions either. Unless, of course, the letter writer lives in a parallel universe where morons consistently elect non-morons.

    The contempt for democracy in the letter is pure EU in origin where democracy is dismissed as populism and the will of the collective dismissed as mere ignorance that is to be circumvented by a self-appointed elite. This is the insidious way in which erodes away fundamental democratic values for its own end.

    In both Crotty and this referendum, the public are not being asked to determine policy. That is simply a falsehood that is propagated. What the public are being asked to do is agree that they have no right to determine the applicable policy and that the sovereignty to determine it should be transferred to a foreign elite.

    That is a fundamental difference, and one that is deliberately ignored by those who spew such propaganda in service of the EU and other elites.

  • Mick Fealty

    Well, he lives in Merseyside… Just beyond Waterloo and the docks… Not sure if that constitutes parallel universe or not… But the reason you send deputies to the legislature is precisely to take detailed decisions that require some expertise and precise knowledge…

  • Alias

    And which referendum did this occur in? The public have never been asked to vote in referena on matters of economic policy, complex or simple.

    They are only asked to give the sovereignty away to a supranational authority, so that it can no longer be determined by the legislature or by them. Instead, it will be determined by foreign powers in their interest, not the interests of those who are led to give their sovereignty away.

    There isn’t a single policy in this treaty that the public are being asked to determine. Not one. And if they give the sovereignty away, they can never again determine it by electing a legislature since it will be post-sovereign.

    Have you ever read a party manifesto? If you have, you’re one of a minority. The public are asked to vote a vast array of issues. It follows that these matters are too complex for the people, and theefore elections for government should not be held at all.

    By the way, Brian Cowen admitted that he never read the Lisbon Treaty. Exactly how are these people more competent to make decisions on it?

  • This has been covered on posts elsewhere. The nature of the Irish State is such that any Treaty that has fundamental implications for Irish Sovereignty (and this most certainly does) must be agreed by referenda. The sense that this occurs at ‘every chink and turn ‘ only relates to the number of times European leaders have been back to the table – and of course the fact that some people just don’t take no for an answer.

  • Alias

    Exactly. The core issue is who owns the sovereignty: the people or some legal construct called the state.

    As I quoted on the thread linked in the main topic:

    “The State’s organs cannot contract…in any way to fetter powers bestowed unfettered by the Constitution. They are the guardians of these powers – not the disposers of them.” -Justice J. Hederman, Crotty v. An Taoiseach

    The Constitution clearly states that the people are sovereign. As the government do not own the sovereignty and therefore cannot give it away to the EU, they must hoodwink its rightful owners into giving it away.

  • Mick Fealty

    That certainly applied to DK and Maastricht. And to Ireland with Lisbon and Nice. But the was the constitution is now bound by certain interpretations of Crotty, every second hole in a legally binding hedge is out to the sovereign for fear of losing a leal challenge.

    That speaks in part to te weakness of the party system in te Republic, which is in turn in part a product of the constitution.

  • Alias

    Well, if you don’t beleive in a written constitution – a deliberate restraint on the power of government – then you’re more dangerous than you probably think you are.

  • Alias

    Incidentally, there is not a thing in the Constitution that prevents the government from acting to impose so-called austerity or any form of budget it wants so that isn’t the issue here. The government simply wants to give the sovereignty away so that the people or the government can democratically dtermine it, and that is what the Constitution prevents.

  • Alias

    “so that neither the people nor the government can democratically determine it”

  • DC

    It isn’t foreign policy but a chance for the Irish people to buy into misery (for want of a better phrase).

    Hopefully they will vote No – just to see how the leaders handle that and to see if they can do anything about it.

    The banks have looted the country and now it’s time for those in productive work to pay it all back on that sector’s behalf.

    What a choice to have to make.

  • Mister Joe

    Of course it’s not realistic to run a country by referenda. That’s why we elect representatives (not delegates). And if they stray away too far from public opinion they will not last.
    It’s pretty crass at the same time to imply that the general public are stupid and that only a small elite know best.

  • Mick Fealty


    Not at all. See the “Ba cheart do bhunreacht a bheith glé, grinn soiléir soléite…” There are advantages either way.

    But as it stands what we have under Crotty is not the exertion of power by the sovereign, but a ‘neverendum’ mechanism that has the advantage of airing the complex issues of the treaty concerned, but has no record of actually making a difference to the intention of the legislature.

  • Greenflag

    ‘The banks have looted the country and now it’s time for those in productive work to pay it all back on that sector’s behalf.’

    Indeed they have with the assistance of the established political reps of the current and previous government and NOT just in Ireland

    Those who have seen Charles Ferguson’s ‘Inside Job’ of a few years back might want to update his latest assessment of what has ‘changed’ in the banking world since 2008
    starts at 38 mins in


    Nothing has changed since 2008 -The banks which were too big to fail in 2008 are now bigger than ever and theres no politician left or right In the USA or UK or Ireland or Germany or France who is calling for them to be broken up into units such that none is too big to fail !

  • cynic2

    When I go in for surgery I choose my surgeon. I don’t then tell him which scalpel or bandage to use.