1The No side won the
The huge turnaround between the Nice II and Lisbon referendum results – on pretty much the same turnout – makes the above statement irrefutable. The old maxim says 'when you're explaining, you're losing' and for all bar the last few days of the campaign that was what the Yes side was doing – the No side controlling the agenda. The Yes side never succeeded in getting across the reasons for voting in favour. In contrast, the No side put up a multitude of reasons for voting no, even if many of them were entirely spurious.
Despite the result of the first Nice referendum, the Yes side also seemed to underestimate the opposition. What other explanation can there be for party posters that focused more on candidates for next year's election than the imminent referendum?
2 The presence of Libertas
Declan Ganley's involvement totally changed the dynamic in the No side. At previous referendums, the No side tended to be dominated by left-wing figures whose politics were unpalatable to most voters and who didn't have the funds to take on the major political parties. However, Ganley's presence shifted the balance considerably. A successful businessman, who hadn't opposed previous EU referendums, gave a credibility to the No position in the eyes of many centrist voters, who were more used to voting yes in such referendums.
Libertas, with more money to spend than the three main parties combined, also brought a huge level of professionalism to the No campaign. Its role in building on the near 20% of the electorate that always vote no in EU referendums and defeating Lisbon was absolutely critical.
3 The difficulties of selling
the Lisbon treaty
The Lisbon treaty attempted to create the more efficient running of European bureaucracy – a hard sell, to say the least, for the Yes side. There were no 'sexy' issues that could entice the voter to vote yes while the No side was able to attach its campaigns to any number of salient issues that the electorate was concerned about.
4 'If you don't know, vote no'
The actual treaty document was impenetrable for Joe Public and even Joe Politician, as it emerged during the campaign that some politicians, notably Brian Cowen, had not even read it. The treaty consisted of 270 pages of complex legal argument and it was claimed that if you wanted to understand it properly you would need copies of the Nice and Maastricht treaties with you as reference guides. The Yes side argued that the treaty needed to be that complex for 27 member states to agree on it while the No side claimed it was deliberately unclear and ambiguous.
Most people didn't understand it, felt it was not explained to them properly and therefore they would not vote for it. Then again, did people understand the Nice and Maastricht treaties?
5No pot of gold at the end
of the Lisbon rainbow
Support in Ireland for EU referenda has waned as the huge transfer of funds from Brussels has dried up. European involvement has been good for Ireland, sure, but in the eyes of many voters, it may not continue to be in the future. Ireland is more likely to be a net contributor to the EU budget, while eastern European countries take over the position we held for so long. Far from positive associations, the EU and bureaucrats in Brussels are blamed for problems in the fisheries and farming sectors. The downturn in the economy and a growing sense of pessimism may also have added to a feeling of 'what we have we hold' among voters.
6 Distrust of politicians
Five out of the six mainstream political parties in the Dáil advised the electorate to vote yes in the referendum while Sinn Féin was the only party to promote a no vote. Even Sinn Féin will not argue that its support has grown that much, so the decision of the electorate to go against the advice of 160 of the 166 TDs, whom they voted into the Dáil a year ago, has to have something to do with the Irish public losing trust in politicians. Revelations from Dublin Castle over the last 10 years have eroded public confidence in public representatives.
7 Scaremongering by
the No side
Three-year-olds will be detained. The Irish mother's most precious possession, her sons, will be conscripted into a European super army. Abortion will be legalised. Our lower corporation tax rates will be abolished. Our children will be micro-chipped before they even get into the super army. Europe will become a godless empire. Neutrality will be gone forever. Ireland's EU commissioner will be gone for five years at a time. Ireland's vote will be halved as Germany's will be doubled. Ireland's veto on the WTO talks will be abolished... Elements of the No campaign threw anything they could into the mix to create confusion and fear and it definitely swayed some voters.
8 I'm, like, totally voting no
It became fashionable and a badge of honour to vote no, particularly among young people. Voting against the treaty was a protest vote against the government, the Brussels bureaucrats, against being told what to do by the establishment, against the reintroduction of a treaty that was very similar to the defeated EU constitution, against being railroaded into voting yes.
9 Referendum rules
The 1995 McKenna judgement is theoretically based on sound principles as it found that it was unconstitutional for the Irish government to spend taxpayers' money promoting one side of the argument in referendum campaigns. It led to the setting up of the Referendum Commission. However the commission's credibility took a major blow the week before polling day when judge Iarfhlaith O'Neill was unable to answer a journalist's question about one of the provisions of the treaty. And there have been serious criticisms of its efforts to explain the treaty to voters. Broadcasting legislation which means that equal air time needs to be afforded to the Yes and No campaigns is also good in theory. The reality is that the 50-50 rule gave unelected representatives who have no mandate from the Irish people the same amount of air time as respected TDs and government ministers.
Few will admit publicly to voting no for this reason, but privately many politicians believe concerns among some voters about the huge influx of foreign workers – particularly against the backdrop of a downturn in the economy – is a factor in declining support for the EU in Ireland. To be fair to the No side, nobody even hinted at this as an issue but it was unquestionably there in the minds of some voters.