Irish Daily Mail (Front page headline on printed newspaper)
by John Lee and Michael Lea
The Government has hatched an elaborate plan to deceive voters over the forthcoming EU treaty referendum, the Irish Daily Mail can today reveal. A leaked email shows that ministers are planning a deliberate campaign of misinformation to ensure that the Lisbon Treaty vote is passed when it is put to the public as required by the Constitution.
Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern has even been personally assured that the European Commission will “tone down or delay”’ any announcements from Brussels “that might be unhelpful”.
Alarmingly, the email says that ministers ruled out an October referendum, which would have been better procedurally, because they feared “unhelpful developments during the French presidency – particularly related to EU defence”.
This suggestion will raise grave fears that the State’s constitutional commitment to military neutrality could be undermined by the treaty – a rehashed version of the failed EU constitution.
The memo was sent to the British government by Elizabeth Green, a senior UK diplomat in Dublin, following a briefing from Dan Mulhall, a top official in the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Ireland is the only EU state which is allowing voters a say on the treaty, and European heads of state are terrified that they will reject it.
Campaigners have warned that the new treaty could remove Ireland’s powers to decide its own tax rates and social policies.
However, the most controversial aspect is the likelihood that it will be used to advance the concept of a “European army”’ which would violate the principle of neutrality that has long been a foundation-stone of the State.
France is particularly keen to advance the notion of an EU force, which critics fear could be ordered into action over Irish objections by a majority vote of EU heads of state.
Already concerns have been raised that soldiers who are part of the Irish peacekeeping force being sent to Chad could be compromised by French political and military objectives in the area.
The leaked email admits that this is one of the issues which needs to be kept from voters, saying that the possibility of the French speaking out on this issue meant that the referendum could not be delayed until the autumn. It states: “Mulhall said a date in October would have been easier from a procedural point of view.
“But the risk of unhelpful developments during the French presidency – particularly related to EU defence – were just too great. (Nicola) Sarkozy was completely unpredictable.”
The Irish official was also worried that the latest World Trade Organisation talks, which have already aroused the fury of farmers, could turn the voters against the new treaty. Farmers and suppliers are planning a one-day shut down this week to protest at the tack being taken by EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson. The email said that Mulhall was concerned about “a WTO deal based on agricultural concessions that could lead the powerful farming association to withdraw its support”. However, Government ministers appear to be basing their hopes on the fact that the treaty cannot be read or understood by most voters – and that launching a quick referendum would stop them from doing so. “Most people would not have time to study the text and would go with the politicians they trusted,” it said.
And it poionted out that the Government plans to keep people from analysing the details, saying the “aim is to focus the campaign on overall benefits of the EU rather than the treaty itself”.
It goes on to explain the details of the Referendum Bill, which it says, was “agreed following lengthy consultation with Government lawyers and with the political parties”.
However, it admits that the bill is “largely incomprehensible to the lay reader”.
The memo refers to plans to fool campaingers over the date and states: “Irish have picked 29 May for voting but will delay an announcement to keep the No camp guessing. “The Taoiseach and (Dermot) Ahern saw a slight advantage in keeping the No camp guessing.”
It has since been stated that the referendum will be held on June 12 – although it is not clear from the email whether this is the correct date or whether the May 29 option is still being considered as a possibility in order to destabilise the “No”campaign.
The email adds that the EC was doing its best to keep any bad news from the Irish voters and that Mr Mulhall had maintained that other partners – including the commission – were playing a helpful low-profile role.
It added that during a trip to Dublin, Vice-President Margot Wallstrom “had told Dermot Ahern that the commission was willing to tone down or delay messages that might be unhelpful:.
The leaked message also points out that most Irish media have been supine on the issue, saying “Mulhall remarked that the media had been relatively quiet on the ratification process so far. We would need to remain in close touch, given the media crossover”
A Government spokesman refused to comment on the leaked email last night- merely saying: “The date is as set by the Taoiseach, there is no change in that.”
Editorial Comment (page 14)
LISBON CAMPAIGN IS ANOTHER BITTER BETRAYAL
Whether the Lisbon Treaty is accepted by the Irish public or not, one thing is clear – the Government campaign in its favour is already one of the most deeply dishonest in Irish history.
The revelation that the Government has conspired with foreign politicians to deceive its own electorate speaks of profound betrayal. For months, ministers have been calling for a fair campaign based on the facts of the treaty itself.
Now we know that all the while the very same ministers have been colluding in a campaign of deliberate misinformation. That the Irish people should be the victims of a dishonest alliance between their own government and outside powers is something many will find very hard to forgive quickly.
As for the Lisbon Treaty itself, voters will now find it very difficult to trust a single word the Government says in its defence. At each stage, the aim has not been to inform the electorate but to deceive it.
Instead of scheduling polling day for October,which would allow the country to come to grips with the treaty’s byzantine complexity, the Government has specifically chosen a date to capitalise on the artificial uncertainty this premature vote creates. Even the precise timing has been cynically manipulated to catch the other side off-guard. This is not just poor form; it is a thoroughly undemocratic way to conduct what is supposed to be a free and fair vote.
These low tricks are not just a case of using dark arts for narrow tactical advantage, they are deliberate lies about crucial matters of the Irish national interest.
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One reason there is so much understandable uncertainty in the electorate over the Lisbon Treaty is that it might mean we lose control over our military commitments and that our low corporate tax rate might be abolished by Brussels. Now we know that on both counts the Government’s conspiracy has specifically sought to conceal the truth.
We are voting earlier than would ordinarily be expected so that voters will not have a chance to see new defence developments in the EU that officials expect from the French EU presidency later this year. Opinion divides on the merits and demerits of Irish neutrality, but that question should be decided by Irish voters, not slipped through on false premises. Today’s revelations also prove that neither our Government nor the French Government can be trusted when they say that well-known plans to introduce tax harmonisation have been sidelined.
This all amounts to a shocking culture of lying in the highest echelons of Irish politics. Deliberate lying about vital matters of Irish national interest should be unreservedly condemned by those in favour of Lisbon as much as by those against. The political culture in which this is possible is the proof, also, of just how corrosive the departing Taoiseach’s lying has been for public life.
Many people have not yet reached an opinion about the Lisbon Treaty. That decision must be taken on the full facts and not on a shimmering mirage of dishonesty.
Nor should we be afraid to consider our relationship with the EU anew. We have been well served by EU membership in the past. We are under no obligation, though, to vote blindly for whatever is put before us simply for that reason.
If there is a case for the Lisbon Treaty on the merits of the actual document, the Government should make it – and should be able to make it easily and persuasively. That they have not will lead many to wonder why a campaign based on proven dishonesty should be given the benefit of the doubt when such crucial issues are at stake.