Socialist Worker

Irish voters reject plans for a neoliberal Europe

by Sinead Kennedy
Issue No. 2106

Irish voters have dealt a decisive blow to attempts to create a corporate, militarised European Union (EU) superstate by voting to reject the Lisbon treaty.

The treaty is substantially the same as the EU constitution that was rejected in referendums in France and Holland in 2005.

The Irish were the only people in Europe who got to vote on the Lisbon treaty.

The No vote in Ireland was achieved in the face of over six months of threats and intimidation as the media and politicians attempted to browbeat people into submission.

The corporate and state media not only refused to allow those opposed to the treaty fair representation, they also set the tone of the campaign and narrowed the terms of the debate.

For example, one of the most worrying aspects of the treaty is the provisions it introduces for privatisation of public services.

Yet every attempt by the left campaign to raise these fundamental questions was either ignored or suppressed.

The corporate right wing group Libertas – led and funded by a multi-millionaire businessman- was heralded by the media as the face of the campaign for a No vote. The media conveniently ignored the fact that Libertas had little, if any, grassroots support.

On the pro-treaty side, the bosses’ organisation, Ibec, supported the treaty because it facilitates increased “liberalisation”. It spent huge sums in order to get its message across.

The actual vote was sharply divided along class lines. An opinion poll conducted for the Irish Times in the last days of the campaign found that the Yes vote registered a majority only with better-off voters, while there was a big majority against the treaty among the working class.

The poll also found that one of the main issues raised by business groups- preserving low corporation tax- only featured in the concerns of 5 percent of those who voted against the treaty.


The media and politicians attempted to characterise the No vote as a narrow inward-looking debate on sovereignty.But activists campaigning on the streets found that people were concerned with a variety of issues including neutrality, militarisation, lack of democracy and defence of public services.

The real faultline in the campaign was between those who favour a neoliberal

pro-business model and those who want to fight to achieve a more social, just and peaceful Europe.

The Labour Party – along with some trade union leaders who acted under its influence – mistakenly argued to vote for the treaty and balance the neoliberal policies with a charter of rights.

In effect it gave cover to groups like Ibec that were completely upfront about supporting the treaty in order to achieve more privatisation.

Labour’s enthusiasm to put itself in the service of corporate Ireland raises important questions about the need for a new radical left.

Despite campaigning for a No vote, the republican Sinn Fein cannot offer that alternative because it vacillates between opposing neoliberal measures in the South and implementing them in the North.

The victory of the campaign for a No vote is a powerful signal to workers across Europe to step up the fight against corporate rule.

It is also a gesture of solidarity with the 200,000 trade unionists who marched against the treaty in Lisbon on the eve of it being signed in 2007.

Those protesters rightly predicted that if ratified, the treaty would “lead to an intensification of attacks against the rights of working people” and that a different type of Europe is necessary.

Sinead Kennedy is an editor of the campaign website »

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