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Lisbon: The Irish as peasants, in a hot bath

Catherine Reilly
26 June 2008

You can read the rest of Catherine Reilly's coverage of the Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty here, here, here,here, here, here, here, here, here and here

Catherine Reilly (Dublin, Metro Éireann): Yes, you may have noticed, I haven’t been around for a while. The truth is, I couldn’t handle much more Lisbon Treaty talk. It was, to use a popular expression here, ‘wrecking my head’.

Even before the vote took place, a well-liked comedy programme on Ireland’s national radio station did a skit in which a ‘reporter’ visited a newly established ‘mental institution’ in the west of the country. The institution had opened to cater for people ‘driven crazy’ by the Lisbon Treaty (the treaty itself, and the constant arguments about it). Their screams seemed so real.

And they haven’t stopped. The deluge of national and indeed international press coverage on Ireland’s No has been constant since the result began to emerge (a fortnight-lifetime ago). It has subsided slightly on the national front, now that Ireland looks to be in its first recession since the mid-80s. National newspapers are leading with RECESSION headlines in bold black ink, but some people are wondering if we are actually talking ourselves into one. Is there such a thing as a psychiatrist who treats whole countries? Because Ireland really needs some therapy right now - some ‘me’ time, while it soaks in a relaxing, hot radox bath surrounded by scented candles. Or maybe people think we’ve had too much of that?

The amount of hysteria the Irish vote has elicited across Europe has come as quite a shock to people here. The bully-boy tactics, meanwhile, are less shocking than sickening, and I really hope Europe’s other small countries are taking note. Additionally, high-profile No campaigners are coming under tighter media scrutiny: who are they, what’s their game?

People in Ireland did what they thought was right (for various reasons), but there is a sense of waking up with a hangover, wondering what exactly went on the night before. At the weekend, one national newspaper referred to an ‘Oh sh*t, what have we done?’ vibe floating around, and apparently there are ‘Don’t blame m€, I voted Yes’ car-bumper stickers doing the rounds (haven’t actually seen them myself). Some evil voices on the continent are even calling for our removal from the EU. All this, and a survey reveals that the Irish feel overwhelmingly positive about the impact that EU membership has had on the country…

Another talking point that has entered the fray with more force is the role of immigration in Ireland’s vote. As someone who reports on diversity and immigration-related issues 24/7, I’ve definitely picked up on an increase in concerns over the level of Ireland’s recent immigration, but personally, I find it hard to believe it was a major player in the No vote. Down the line though, when Lisbon 2 inevitably surfaces, and when the Irish economy may be worthy of the ‘stricken’ tag presently being put on it, it may be a different story…

Also coming under scrutiny has been the role of Ireland’s MEPs. Aside from the No side’s Mary Lou McDonald, I don’t recall any of them (10 of the 13 belong to parties which supported the treaty) embarking on any significant dialogue with the Irish public. Ireland’s commissioner, Charlie McCreevy has also come under fire for his comment that anyone who wanted to read the treaty text in full was ‘insane’. Of course, McCreevy was essentially correct, but did he offer alternatives?

The recent spectacle of Eurosceptic MEPs in the European Parliament, led by the UK Independence Party (UKIP), wearing green jumpers bearing the slogan ‘I respect the Irish Vote’ (one donning with a ‘funny’ hat, which was a bit too Punch magazine for my liking), was another strange Polaroid for Ireland’s Lisbon picturebook.

Avril Doyle, on of Ireland’s MEPS, slammed the UKIP members as the “type (s) who never got over the fall of the British Empire” and argued that some of the Eurosceptics behind the antics in the European Parliament had adopted an opinion that other countries were “afraid to let the peasants have their say”.

“Peasants,” she told an Irish newspaper. “That’s what they think the Irish people are.”

Fair enough Avril.

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