Lisbon referendum: Was St Patrick for or against the EU?

21 September 2009 – Presseurop Notebook

Less than two weeks to go before Ireland votes on the Lisbon Treaty, the Irish press is awash with Yes editorials. With little left to be said beyond sleep-inducing reassurances as how the fraught text will not compromise national taxation, anti-abortion laws and the continued presence of an “Irish” commissioner in Brussels, the tone is inevitably taking a shrill turn, if not an irrational one. Not without some light entertainment value though. Leading the attack is columnist Kevin Myers, who declares that he would rather be governed “by a parcel of fork-tongued Euro-reptiles” than our home-grown “inept and unrepentant thieves”. Given the state of the Irish economy, Myers might be right in condemning the narrow assumption that Irishmen best serve Irish interests, but until reptiles have faces, people will always prefer to be led by their own species, even if it means ruin.

On the No side, Vincent Browne’s GBH job on the treaty has been a gift to those who continue to claim that it will compromise our neutrality. Browne points out that a single European foreign policy would have had Ireland involved “up to the gills” in the 2003 Gulf War. This sounds fair enough, until you remember that Ireland in all its little fishness was complicit in the Gulf War anyway. Our so-called neutrality never prevented US warplanes from refuelling at Shannon airport, nor, as it’s suspected, extraordinary rendition stopovers from making stopovers. Until we live in a society that isn’t dominated by war and spoliation, Ireland will always be swimming alongside great sharks. Its neutrality has always been a fiction.

The debate on both sides tends to a narrow, provincial focus. However, first prize for boozy loftiness must go to Eoghan Harris and his “302,000 reasons why I’m voting Yes” in the Sunday Independent. Harris, formerly a Marxist Republican and latterly an advisor to the Ulster Unionists, a depressingly predictable metamorphosis from idealistic Red to a deep neo-con blue, has penned a piece that in its transports recalls the glory days of Irish journalism when articles were knocked out in the back lounge at Mulligans after lock-up. Harris weaves in Gaelic sports, Israel and Molly Bloom’s soliloquy in Joyce’s Ulysses to conclude, with a gushing Yes, that Europe’s for him. Then he’s on about Gaelic games again.

It’s a singularly great piece of guff which yet again manhandles Irish culture and history to serve in the interests of Lisbon. A few weeks back the leaders of the 1916 rebellion and Ireland’s war of Independence were visionaries fighting for Barroso’s EU. Now it’s James Joyce’s turn to be wheeled out. However, a more appropriate text to quote in relation to the Lisbon Treaty is not his Ulysses but, in its incomprehensibility for the common reader, Finnegans Wake. No doubt in the fortnight to come, we’ll discover that Oscar Wilde, Jonathan Swift and the author of Dracula all wished to play their part in “streamlining” EU institutions towards a more “integrated” foreign policy. All this before St Patrick himself walks amongst us to give his blessing on the whole affair.

Gerry Feehily

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