Ireland’s No to Lisbon: Learning the Lessons from the failure of the Yes and the Success of the No Side

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Series Details No.21, September 2009
Publication Date 2009
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The Irish electorate voted No to the Lisbon Treaty on the 12th of June 2008. In the run-up to the second referendum on ratifying the Treaty on the 2nd of October 2009, a series of legally binding gurantees in relation to Irish competency over tax rates, abortion, workers rights, neutrality, and a guaranteed European Commissioner for each Member State, were added to the referendum. The Irish government secured these agreements from the other Member States in the belief that addressing these concerns would lead to a Yes result for the second Lisbon referendum.

This paper, while not challenging the validity of these specific issues, highlights two factors, related to the structure of the EU debate in Ireland, which show that more long term issues were at play in the outcome of the first Lisbon referendum.

Firstly, the No side was dominated by civil society groups. The appearance of these groups is not simply connected to specific European issues but is related to more profound divisions within Irish civil society.

Secondly, despite a broad ‘Yes to Europe Alliance’ the majority of supporters of mainstream parties ignored their parties cues and voted No. This paper argues that this happened because of fundamental issues of party competition that prevented a unified and effective Yes campaign. The analysis of these two factors of the first Irish Lisbon Treaty referendum campaign, not only adds to the comprehension of the outcome of the vote and that of the second vote, but also draws wider comparisons to the EU debate in other member states.

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