A leaked memo by a senior British diplomat has revealed secret cross-channel plans to convince Irish voters to support the upcoming referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.
The memo has provoked anger at the involvement of foreign governments, with Dublin’s approval, in a referendum centring on the issues of Irish sovereignty and neutrality.
It details a conversation between a Director General at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Dan Mulhall, and a senior official at the British embassy in Dublin, Elizabeth Green.
Contained in the leaked email is the outline of strategies by the two governments and European bureaucrats to ensure the 26-County electorate votes in favour of the Lisbon Treaty on June 18.
Controversially, it revealed that British officials were briefed on the referendum timetable and had seen copies of planned legislation before the 26-County electorate.
In particular, the memo outlines a strategy for combating negative publicity in the British media due to the “media crossover” from British newspapers and television channels in the 26 Counties.
The memo also reveals that European Commission vice-president Margot Wallstroem told Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern “that the commission was willing to tone down or delay messages that might be unhelpful” in advance of the referendum.
it is also stated that the referendum was being held in June rather than October because of “the risk of unhelpful developments during the French presidency - particularly related to European Union defence”.
In this context French president Nicolas Sarkozy was described by Mulhall, a high-flying Irish civil servant, as “completely unpredictable”. Sarkozy has previously outlined plans for a pan-European Army, which runs contrary to the widely supported Irish policy of neutrality.
In addition, the Dublin government was said to be dismissive of the Irish people’s interest in or ability to understand the concepts behind the referendum legislation, which was “largely incomprehensible to the lay reader”.
Mulhall was quoted as saying simply that “most people would not have time to study the text and would go with the politicians they trusted.”
As a result, the “aim is to focus the campaign on overall benefits of the EU rather than the treaty itself”.
Mr Mulhall was also reported to be concerned about a World Trade Organisation deal based on agricultural concessions that could lead the powerful farming association to withdraw its support for the treaty.
The British government, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Mr Mulhall have all refused to comment on the leaked e-mail.
Campaigners against the Lisbon Treaty reacted angrily and demanded Dublin clarify what communications had taken place with the British government about the referendum campaign.
Sinn Féin Dublin MEP Mary Lou McDonald said the development was “scandalous” that the Dublin government was engaged in “underhand tactics to try and force through the Lisbon Treaty without people having access to proper information or a real debate.
“It is also clear that the EU is colluding in this approach and is suppressing information from the electorate”, including, she said, proposals for a common EU tax base.
“To date there has been a lot of bluster from the ‘Yes’ side but little real information about the Treaty. The government has yet to set out in concrete terms why they believe the Lisbon Treaty is a good thing for Ireland.”
eirigi spokesperson on the referendum, Daithi Mac an Mhaistir said the leak was the clearest indication yet of the negative consequences for accountability if the Lisbon Treaty is ratified.
“The fact that foreign powers are being made aware of the content of a White Paper and the timetable of the referendum before the Irish People demonstrates the contempt proponents of the Lisbon Treaty have for accountable democracy and national sovereignty.
“We can be sure that the British government were not the only party to be consulted in advance of the electorate in Ireland.
“And we can be absolutely sure that this is not and isolated or one off occurrence.”