Nice EU referendum must be fair
BY ROBBIE MacGABHANN
``A good deal for the union, and a good deal for Ireland'' was the analysis of Fianna Fáil leader Bertie Ahern this week after the late conclusion of the EU summit in Nice. Ahern was putting the first of what will no doubt be many government spins on a new EU treaty that will require the approval of the 26-County voters in a referendum sometime next year.
Not that the Dublin Government have actually concluded the need for a referendum, they haven't. Voters will be told ``within a month'' about whether or not we face the prospect of referendum five on EU membership.
The Nice Treaty that has to be considered by voters is a radical restructuring of the EU's institutions to allow enlargement of the union. Unfortunately, this is not an enlargement that might hold the seed to creating a Europe of the people but rather a Europe built on the agenda of the larger wealthier states.
The 26 Counties will lose three MEPs, have no guarantee of a long term EU Commissioner and will cede the right to veto on 40 policy areas. The EU has also agreed to take the first steps towards creating an EU army. Ahern's only real concession was retention of control over 26-County taxation policy.
It is unclear what way these new EU structures will stack up. What is clear though is that more power has been taken from member states and given to the larger states and unelected bureaucrats.
So on to the prospective referendum campaign. Though it is unlikely that after four votes the electorate will vote no this time, they must be offered the choice to make a fair and honest assessment of the facts of this referendum.
The record of Dublin Governments in allowing fair referenda on the EU is not good. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil both ran campaigns in favour of the EEC in 1972. Massive government money was poured into securing a yes vote. In 1987 the Dublin Government had to be taken to court to actually a have a referendum on the Single European Act and again public funds were poured into the Yes Campaign.
In 1992, the carrot of EU billions was shamelessly waived by Albert Reynolds as Fianna Fáil, their coalition partners the PDs as well as Fine Gael and Labour all campaigned for a yes vote.
In 1998, there was little room for a fair hearing on the pros and cons of the Amsterdam Treaty as it was run on the same day as the Good Friday Agreement. Now we have one more chance to have a fair referendum on crucially important issues.
thony Coughlan of the National Platform for Democracy and Neutrality has called on the government to send a summary of the Nice Treaty to every household and ``make sure the people have plenty time to digest it and comprehend it, and when the Government decides the referendum date, give the Referendum Commission sufficient resources to inform the Irish people what they are being asked to do, and enable it to set out the arguments fairly for and against their doing it''.
There has been a lot of talk about what is good for Ireland. Are Bertie Ahern and his coalition partners saying that a fair referendum is not a good thing? Time will tell.