June 18th, 2008 - Pat Breen

 I am delighted to have an opportunity to speak on the outcome of the referendum that was held last Thursday.  As a Deputy from Clare, I pay tribute to the Clare electorate as one of the few constituencies that voted in favour of the treaty.  This was due to a united approach by the four Dáil Deputies from the county, and we had a very effective campaign.  Clare people are very pro-European anyway.  We have an international airport that is very dependent on Europe and other areas for flights.

  There was a big turnout in Clare and 52% of those who voted did so in favour of the treaty.  I was disappointed with the outcome of the national vote, but the people have voted and we must respect their views.  I do not believe people want out of Europe.  They want to continue to be part of the EU because it has been very important to us since we joined in 1973.  We have done well out of it.  We received enormous sums of money and built much infrastructure over the years, including 500 km of motorway.

  Political parties will be doing their own post mortems on why the referendum was defeated.  Personally, I believe that if a referendum was held in any of the other 26 countries, it would more than likely be defeated as well.  I spoke to some of our colleagues at the Council of Europe last week and they echoed the same sentiments.  Referendums are difficult because people often use them as a protest against the Government of the day.  This referendum was quite different to previous polls as there was something in them for people.  There was no new institution created by this referendum because it was really a house-keeping exercise.  One of the founder members of the European project, Jean Monnet, stated that if he were to begin again, he would do so with education.  That is the lesson for politicians here.  We did not explain the treaty to the people sufficiently.

  There was much information and many meetings were held by the political parties and the Forum on Europe.  However, the information was quite complex.  Even the booklet presented by the Department of Foreign Affairs was quite complex; it was not very readable for the ordinary person.  There was also a late start to the “Yes” campaign.  The major Government party had its own domestic problems and we are getting to a stage where people do not believe what politicians say anymore.  All the major political parties and most of the media were backing this campaign, yet we could not get it through.

  It is important to point out that this treaty was not imposed on us.  It was negotiated by the 27 member states and each government had to compromise.  However, I believe that we got a good deal from the treaty.  While it was not perfect, it took seven years to negotiate and it was not imposed on us.  The “No” campaigners were saying that the eurocrats were telling us what to do, but who are the eurocrats?  They must be blaming the Commission because the Council of Ministers represent the different governments and the European Parliament is elected by the people.  They are blaming the Commission, but say that we will be losing a Commissioner.

  There are many questions to be answered.  Let us take some time to reflect on what has happened.  The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Martin, did well with his counterparts last Monday in Luxembourg.  Let us hope the Taoiseach gets a good reception on Thursday with his counterparts in Europe.  We may get one more chance, but that will be it.  Let us wait and see what happens on Thursday, but I was disappointed by the result last week.