The decision of the Irish people to reverse their decision and vote yes to the Treaty of Nice was a defeat for the advocates of Irish Independence, democracy and neutrality. A defeat, but not a crushing blow from which we cannot recover. Just over 37% of the people voted no, and if the political parties in Dail Eireann,The Green Party,Sinn Fein and the Socialist party together with independent socialist Deputies such as Gregory, Healy and McGrath could build up their existing support of 10% they achieved in the general election to 37% they would be more than happy.
While real differences exist between the Green Party, Sinn Fein and the Independent Socialists, their co-operation on the Nice Treaty and now in the Technical Group in the Dail could mean real and substantial growth in support for the values of Irish Independence, democracy and neutrality in the next few years.
Neither should be underestimate the concessions achieved prior to the referendum, which were largely designed to win over a section of the electorate concerned about Irish neutrality, which is an indication of the central nature of the issue. It was recognition of the role of the Peace & Neutrality Alliance to which the Green Party, Sinn Fein and nearly 40 other groups are affiliated.
The concession included the establishment of the National Forum on Europe, which allows for representation but also gives a role to groups such as PANA in the Observer Pillar. The government has agreed to maintain the Forum despite their victory, which would not have happened if the No vote had declined. In fact we kept the vote the same and only retreated in percentage terms to the level we achieved at the Amsterdam Treaty Referendum.
Another major concession was the addition of clause to the Irish Constitution, which ensured that Ireland would not join a EU, based mutual defence pact without a referendum. This changed the terms of the Amsterdam Treaty, which had given that right to the Irish government. An indication of its importance was that immediately after the referendum, John Bruton and Garret Fitzgerald attacked it.
The government also made a Declaration on Neutrality central to the yes campaign, and while such a Declaration has no legal status, it had a major political impact which together with the constitutional change has meant that the government have given hostages to fortune, and will make it very difficult for them to agree to an EU mutual defence in the proposed new EU Constitution.
If PANA and the other groups advocating Irish democracy are to win the next referendum which could be as soon as 2004 we need to start developing our strategy now. We need to accelerate our efforts to build up our international links with other groups in the other EU and applicant states. PANA is affiliated to TEAM and the European Peace & Human Rights Network, both of which oppose the militarisation of the EU. We need to expand and develop on our advocacy of a transformed United Nations as outlined in our transforming the United Nations Conference. In short, the Irish people, have a right to be concerned about their security and PANA needs to promote a vision of a reformed United Nations, not one just dominated by the US as the institution through which we should pursue our security concerns. Such a United Nations, rather than a militarized EU, or even the current situation where the states of the EU are largely vassal states of the US provides a better and more realistic alternative than the perpetual peace through perpetual war now advocated by Bush. Those advocating Irish democracy have to show the Irish people that we are Internationalists.
Another major task is to show the Irish people that we are inclusive. If the central message of the United Irishmen was to unite Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter then we have to unite Christian, Muslim, Jew and atheist in common loyalty to Ireland.
PANA had no association with the No to Nice Campaign whose leader attended a neo-fascist rally, but it was a decision that effected all no campaigners and lost us about 6-7% of the vote. If we are to win it back and increase the vote in favor of Irish Democracy, then it must be based on and inspired by the inclusive ideology of the United Irishmen. In short, the political force that seek to build a NO vote on playing on the fears of "floods" of immigrants such as Justin Barrett and the No to Nice campaign are the political opponents of the Peace and Neutrality Alliance, the political opponents of Republicans and Socialists. Irish immigrants in Britain, the readers of Irish Democrat would be more aware than most of the backward and reactionary nature of anti-immigrant Powellites.
Such a new strategy based on an inclusive definition of Irish Democracy and a commitment to international solidarity provides the basis for victory in the next referendum.
Roger Cole (Chair)
Peace & Neutrality Alliance.