Ireland and the European Union

John Murphy reviews Ireland and the European Union: Nice, enlargement and the future of Europe, Michael Holmes (ed), Manchester University Press, £18 pbk

THIS BOOK was inspired by Irish voters' rejection of the Nice Treaty in the 2001 referendum. This led the editor, who is a director of European Studies at Liverpool Hope University College, to ask whether this "shocking" Irish No signalled a fundamental change in the generally positive attitude to the EU of the Republic's citizens. Hence this series of essays by academics engaged in the EU studies industry, which has been flourishing for two decades now with the help of generous cash support from the Brussels Commission.

In a chapter on the development of opposition to EU integration in Ireland the editor discusses the difference between the first and second Nice referendums. Surprisingly, he makes no mention of the way the Irish government changed the referendum rules to help turn the No of Nice One into the Yes of Nice Two.

To make sure the Yes side would overturn the first result the government changed the Referendum Act to remove from the statutory and impartial Referendum Commission the function of setting out the No-side arguments as well as the Yes-side ones the second time around. This hit the No-side people particularly, who had very little money. It cleared the way for massive private funding, which was overwhelmngly on the Yes side by a ratio of 15 to one.

The second change the government made was to alter the referendum question. In Nice One voters were asked would they agree to change the Constitution to ratify the Treaty of Nice. In Nice Two they were asked that, but they were also asked did they want to be consulted by referendum if Ireland were ever to join an EU military pact. This was a trick question. Do you want A and B? Not A and B separately, but A and B together, so that if people voted No to Nice they were also rejecting the chance of a future vote on Irish neutrality. The referendum question itself was thereby slanted to elicit a Yes answer. The Referendum Commission was then given three million euros to publicise this trick question.

It is strange how an academic study of this kind fails to draw attention to these tricks the Eurocrats resorted to to get their way.

The editor refers to the late Raymond Crotty's 1987 Supreme Court case as "contesting the constitutionality of the Single European Act". In fact Crotty challenged the constitutionality of the government's proposed mode of ratifying this treaty, by majority Dail vote rather than by referendum of the people, which is a rather different matter. Crotty contended that the Single European Act surrendered sovereignty to Brussels, which only the people themselves, and not the Dail, could do, as the people were the repositories of sovereignty. The Supreme Court agreed with him. That is why Ireland has referendums on successive EU treaties.

Leaving mistakes like this aside, the book contains much useful information on Ireland and the EU. For example Dr Brigid Laffan describes the work of the Joint Oireachtas Committee for European Affairs which sifts through all EU-related documents to decide what ones should be discussed in the Dail or Seanad. There are around 10,000 EU documents each year, which means nearly 40 per working day. Some scrutiny this avalanche of EU laws must get!

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2006-01-10 11:26:22.
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