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Lisbon treaty 2009 - Irish referendum

Why are the Irish voting on the Lisbon treaty again?

by Daniel Finnan

Article published on the 2009-09-28 Latest update 2009-09-29 08:15 TU

Irish voters already rejected the Lisbon treaty once, in June 2008(Photo: Reuters)

Irish voters already rejected the Lisbon treaty once, in June 2008
(Photo: Reuters)

In the first Irish referendum 53 per cent of people voted against the Lisbon treaty in June 2008, with a turnout of 1.6 million people, despite support from the three main political parties, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party.

The reasons for their rejection of the treaty were complex and varied. Surveys from the European Commission indicate that turnout would have been better if there had been more understanding of the treaty amongst the electorate.

Meanwhile women, young people and the unemployed who did turn out generally supported the No campaign.

The No voters were concerned about Ireland's military neutrality and control of taxation. Ireland's army has about 8,500 troops; basic income tax is 20 per cent, and corporation tax rests at 12.5 per cent.

The Commission’s research also indicates that many Irish No voters thought their vote would put them in a strong position to renegotiate the treaty.

Findings from the think-tank Democracy International indicates that the EU is putting pressure on the Irish population.

“Refusal of the European Union to accept the result of the referendum and the continuing pressure put on the Irish voters and Irish government by representatives of the Union and its member countries overshadow the democratic process of the vote,” writes Markus Schmidgen, in a report.

Nevertheless, Ireland’s No vote halted the ratification process for the treaty in Europe, and the Irish constitution says that mandatory referendums are required for changes to the constitution. So the EU had to make concessions in order to try and secure a Yes vote the second time around.

In June 2009 assurances or guarantees were offered to the Irish after Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen laid out his peoples’ concerns. At a summit in Brussels statements were made on abortion, education, taxation, neutrality and workers rights. The Irish would also keep their Commissioner.

In the case of abortion and family rights, the assurances said there was no conflict between the Lisbon treaty and the Irish Constitution. An assurance was given that Ireland could veto any changes in taxation.

Defence and neutrality would be unaffected, as Lisbon does not provide for a European army. But the summit said a common defence policy does not “prejudice” the policy of Ireland. Ireland could still decide whether to participate in a European Defence Agency, and when involving Irish defence forces there would also have to be agreement from the UN Security Council, the Irish government and the Dáil (parliament).

Eventually in July this year, it was time for Cowen to ask the Irish people for another referendum, on 2 October 2009.

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