Right, so. A victory for popular sovereignty, first of all.
Ireland’s constitutional “oddity” (as it was described by some commentators) means that – would you believe it – the people must be consulted on major changes in the country’s affairs.
By a narrow but significant margin, the No campaign won:
All but six constituencies have rejected the treaty.
Ireland was the only country to hold a referendum on the treaty. The campaign for a no vote won significant majorities among the urban working class and in rural areas in particular.
All the established parties in the Irish Republic backed the treaty. The Labour Party backed it as did some trade unions and the Green Party was split on the issue, with their government ministers campaigning for a yes vote. The bosses organisations spent millions campaigning in favour of the treaty.
Activists from the left and the anti-war movement have held rallies across the country and delivered leaflets to millions of homes.
Socialist Appeal describes the significance of the vote:
Thus a small nation of 4.2 million (with an electorate of just over 3 million) may decide the fate of the latest attempt to achieve some kind of EU-wide Constitution. Had the citizens of other EU countries (almost 500 million of them) been allowed to vote most likely many of them would have voted in a similar manner.
What the vote reveals is an instinctive mistrust of the European Union bureaucracy and what it stands for. We should not forget that the European Union has been used as an excuse, in all countries that make it up, for draconian anti-working policies over a period of decades. Let us not forget the Maastricht Treaty with its stringent conditions on public spending, which were used to justify cuts in pensions, social welfare and so on. Everything was done with the excuse that “this is necessary if we want to be a part of Europe”.
So long as the economy was booming workers could, to a degree, tolerate these attacks on their living standards. After all, there were jobs. Yes, jobs with worsening conditions and longer hours, but there was an outlet. Now unemployment is growing, inflation is on the up and workers across Europe are feeling the pinch. And Ireland is no exception.
In this vote we see a rejection of the policies of the present three-party Irish coalition government. Before the previous Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, resigned there was concern that the electorate might use the referendum to cast a vote of no confidence in him. With Ahern gone they though this problem had been removed. They ignore the fact that working people in Ireland can see that the new Prime Minister stands for the same things. It is against policy that the electorate has voted, not individuals.
The vote was also a rejection of the big business interests that lie behind the European Union. It is also an indication that things are going to be different in Ireland from now on. The level of strikes has gone up, with some very militant struggles in the recent period. The Trade Union leaders campaigned for a “Yes” vote but failed to convince the workers. In the coming period they will also fail to hold back the tide of militancy.
This was not just one little referendum in a small corner of Europe. It is the tip of an iceberg of a much bigger picture, one of growing instability across Europe and one of growing polarisation between the classes, where the workers and the capitalists are moving in opposite directions.
It was no surprise to hear, even before the result of the referendum had been officially declared, that Gordon Brown had assured the EU president that the UK government would ratify the constitutional treaty – despite Ireland effectively killing it.
I’ll give the final word to the RMT Gen Sec, Bob Crow:
“The Irish referendum result is a massive victory for democracy and the Constitution is now dead in the water, despite our own government’s attempt to railroad it through without the referendum the British people were promised.”