A group campaigning for a ‘No’ vote in the October 2nd referendum on the Lisbon Treaty has expressed concern over guidelines issued to broadcasters that remove any requirement for them to give equal airtime to the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ sides in the debate.
‘Vote No to Lisbon’, formerly the Campaign Against the EU Constitution, opened its campaign in Dublin yesterday.
Speaking at the press conference, Socialist Party MEP Joe Higgins said there were just six weeks and three days to go in the campaign and that a lot of time was needed to clarify the issues.
He said nothing had changed in the Lisbon Treaty since the referendum in June last year, but a “fresh debate” was needed.
Mr Higgins said the treaty was a “profoundly undemocratic” document that enshrined “as the norm the running of essential public services for profit, including health and education”.
In its campaign statement, the group said the electorate was being “threatened, cajoled and lied to” in relation to the treaty.
It warned the ‘guarantees’ secured by the government in relation to issues such as abortion and neutrality did not alter the treaty in any way, and that the electorate was being asked to vote on exactly the same document it rejected in the June 2008 referendum.
Mr Higgins said he was also “very concerned” at how the debate would be conducted in the media.
He said guidelines issued to broadcasters by the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland (BCI) indicating they did not have to allocate 50:50 airtime to the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ sides were “extremely sinister”.
Mr Higgins said the guidance that “only fairness need apply” would be “interpreted, of course, as a big majority of the Yes side being given a greater weight than those in the opposition, despite the fact that, as of now, we represent a big majority of the Irish people, while the political establishment and the big business establishments which are backing Lisbon represent . . . a minority view”.
Mr Higgins said the No campaigners would watch the debate “very carefully” and would “insist that the division of representation is absolutely fair, which means on a 50:50 “. “We will engage with anybody on the Yes side, but we want to do it on a level playing field and with equal time and equal ability to engage.”
Mr Higgins was joined by Sinn Fein Vice-President Mary Lou McDonald and People Before Profit councillor Brid Smith. Other affiliated groups include the Peace and Neutrality Alliance, the Irish Republican Socialist Party, Irish Friends of Palestine Against Lisbon and socialist republican group Eirigi.
Ms McDonald has dismissed the “legal guarantees” on the Lisbon Treaty which arose from talks between the Dublin government and its European Union (EU) partners as nothing more than a series of clarifications.
Speaking in Dublin at a separate event for the launch of her party’s campaign for a ‘No’ vote in the forthcoming referendum, she said the guarantees did not alter the text of the treaty in any way, or change the impact it would have on Ireland.
“Almost 1,000,000 people, or 53 per cent of the electorate rejected the Lisbon Treaty on June 12th, 2008. People voted for a better deal for Ireland and Europe. The result presented the Irish Government with a strong mandate to go to the European Council and negotiate a better treaty for Ireland and Europe. The Government wasted that mandate,” she said.
Ms McDonald said the guarantees secured at the European Council meeting in June would not change the impact that the treaty will have on Ireland and the EU.
“Their legal status is irrelevant,” she said.
“On October 2nd we will be voting on exactly the same treaty, with exactly the same consequences for Ireland and the EU, as we did last year,” she said.
Ms McDonald said those consequences included the erosion of Irish neutrality, the weakening of Ireland’s position in Europe, the militarisation of Europe “and much, much more”.
“After the last referendum Sinn Fein presented the government with a detailed series of proposals for a better deal for Ireland and the EU. Our proposals aimed to create a more democratic, equal, just and peaceful EU with protocols on Irish neutrality and tax sovereignty, a strengthened social clause, the retention of a permanent commissioner for all member states and the removal of the self-amending clauses. The Government’s guarantees do not address any of these issues,” she said.
Ms McDonald claimed the Lisbon Treaty was a bad deal for Ireland when it was presented to the people last year and remained the same bad deal.
Sinn Fein Dail leader Caoimhghin O Caolain has also said the treaty was bad for both the Irish and the European economy.
“The Lisbon Treaty is part of the failed economy consensus of the past. It was drafted by right-wing politicians who have led the European economy into recession.
“It contains many of the right-wing economic policies that have caused the recession and that continue to prevent member state governments from responding effectively to the recession,” he said.