Voting Yes to Lisbon is a vote for jobs, investment, and a more social and worker friendly EU, according to Labour leader Eamon Gilmore, who also believes that NAMA is not the ‘only game in town’ when it comes to repairing the damaged Irish economy.
Dep Gilmore was back in his native Galway on Tuesday as part of his party’s drive for a Yes vote in tomorrow’s Lisbon Treaty referendum. So why does he think Lisbon is good for Ireland?
“It’s important to vote Yes in the interest of jobs,” he said during his press briefing at the Meyrick Hotel. “90 per cent of CEOs say that No would damage investment and employment in Ireland. For the people who make investment decisions it’s important they feel Ireland is not becoming semi-detached from the EU.
“The imperative of these times is economic recovery. We can’t do it all on our own and have to do it in co-operation with our neighbours. That’s why the EU needs this treaty to reform its institutions. When you have 27 countries trying to make decisions you have to devise a way to make decision-making easier.
“I also believe in a Yes vote as Lisbon is a good treaty. Labour would point to the Charter Of Fundamental Rights and the protection of worker’s rights, social services, the right to join a trade union, and the right to collective bargaining in the treaty, which strengthen the rights of individuals.”
In campaigning for a Yes vote, Labour finds itself on the same side as Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, IBEC, and business leaders. It is the only Left party and grouping in Ireland that supports the treaty. Sinn Féin, The Socialist Party, The Workers Party (of which Dep Gilmore was once a member ), as well as the People Before Profit Alliance, are all on the No side.
Labour could feel itself to be ‘odd man out’ of the Irish Left but Dep Gilmore is adamant that voting No would be a major setback to the very issues the Left most want to see becoming part and parcel of EU law.
“The extreme right has always opposed things like workers’ rights and greater civil liberties so I can understand why they are opposed to Lisbon but I cannot understand opposition from those who profess to be on the Left,” he said.
“There is a view among some people that it is anti-establishment and radical to vote No but Lisbon puts into an EU treaty the right to employment and social services. It’s very much a people orientated treaty.
“If Lisbon is not ratified, in time people will turn around and say we had an opportunity to write in to a European treaty the rights to a job, the right to join a trade union, and we threw it away. They will look at Sinn Féin and The Socialist Party, and say ‘You claimed to be on the side of working people, why did you lead us up this cul-de-sac?’”
Dep Gilmore’s critics on the Left have reminded him of what he said after the defeat of the first Lisbon Treaty Referendum: “I think the Lisbon Treaty is dead...The Irish people have now decided in a referendum that they do not wish to have it ratified ...therefore the Lisbon Treaty falls.”
“I was right,” Dep Gilmore now declares. “The treaty cannot be ratified without all 27 member states ratifying it. It won’t be ratified if it’s voted down again. If that happens there won’t be a third referendum. There is no Plan C.”
A Millward Brown Lansdowne survey in mid-September shows the Yes side at 53 per cent, No at 26 per cent, and Don’t Knows at 21 per cent. The Yes vote seems comfortable but Dep Gilmore believes that on the ground “margin is much closer” and that “complacency is the enemy”.
While he also appreciates that there is “understandable anger out there about the way the country is run” he urged voters not to use the Lisbon referendum vote “to vent their anger” against the Government.
“This vote won’t be their only chance,” he said. “We will deal with Fianna Fáil in the General Election. Lisbon is important for the country and there is no point in making things worse.”
A General Election could well come before the official date of 2012 given Fianna Fáil’s dramatic slide in the polls to third place with Labour jumping into second. Labour is certainly growing in confidence, but it surely cannot become the State’s largest party?
“I have no idea when an election will be,” said Dep Gilmore, “but the polls show that politics in Ireland is now a three-way contest. What interests me is that the latest Irish Times/MRBI poll shows only six points between Fine Gael and Labour.”
Once Lisbon is over, the public and political focus will return to the economy and NAMA. Fianna Fáil is intent on persuading the public and media that NAMA is ‘the only show in town’ and the sole way to repair Ireland’s economy.
However Dep Gilmore says NAMA is not “a fait accompli” as the bill still has many stages to go through.
“Labour will be trying to make as many amendments to it as possible and bring our concerns to bear,” he said. “NAMA is too much of a gamble. You have to estimate the value of property and loans and what they will be worth and that is guesswork. That is the basis on which the Minister for Finance is making his assessment. If the guesstimate is wrong it is the taxpayer who will end up paying for it. Our proposal is that temporary nationalisation of the banks would take the element of gambling and risk out of the equation.”
Finally, amidst all the campaigning has Dep Gilmore found time to read Brain Hanley and Scott Millar’s The Lost Revolution - the story of the Official IRA and The Worker’s Party and recall his days in UCG as a student radical?
“I haven’t read it,” he laughs. “I don’t get much time for reminiscing these days.”