The campaign has taken its first tentative steps, as the “Yes” and “No” camps make their early declarations. The narrative of the debate so far seems based largely on the issue of whether a re-negotiation of bailout terms would lead to a higher likelihood of a “Yes” vote, and if so, is this bribery? The Taoiseach seems obsessed with declaring that not being that case, but we’ll see.
Opinion polls of the weekend also indicate that a majority favour implementation of this compact. Certainly grounds for optimism if you’re in the “Yes” camp but I would be wary of thinking this will be a long term trend. The campaign hasn’t started in earnest yet.
Anyway, last week I said I would go through this issue party by party and offer some thoughts, so here I go.
For Fine Gael, this is a crucial moment, obviously. This is their baby, and they will be the driving “Yes” force. More than that, this referendum will be a barometer for public support of the government they are the senior member of and their policies of economic recovery. They’ve managed to keep support for the party a steady level, but this is the biggest fight of the term so far. Win, and they can move forward with a clear mandate for further European integration to recover the economy. Lose, and their tenure will be seen increasingly in lame-duck terms after the laughable candidacy of Gay Mitchell for the Aras. The botched Oireachtas commissions referendum has left them open for serious criticism on their ability to get this kind of stuff passed. Fine Gael is planning a lot more of these, though few will probably be as important.
For Labour, it is more of the same, but arguably more is at stake. Labour have, in my estimation, lost far more than they have gained in government, and the party has struggled to retain much of the popularity that saw it win so many seats last year. How enthusiastic Labour are about promoting a “Yes” vote will be interesting to see, a measure of how well the coalition is doing. Can these two parties get a treaty of this type passed, without a Nice/Lisbon mess? A “No” vote will simply be another nail in a coffin that Is all of Labour’s own making.
Fianna Fail is supporting a “Yes” vote, which is at least consistent with their past stances, but will do little for the party support wise. They may have gone with the “No” side, which would at least have given them the chance to be the main opposition party in action, not just name, at the risk of looking somewhat hypocritical. In fact, the attachment of Fianna Fail tothe “Yes” camp will probably be a negative more than anything and it is unlikely we will see many occasions of Kenny and Martin standing together. Fianna Fail are still in the very infancy of recovery. This campaign will be an interesting test of how far (or how little) they’ve come. Theirs will be a “Yes” campaign separate to the government parties. A win, and Fianna Fail can claim a victory in a time of defeat, an important morale boost for the party if nothing else. Defeat, and we could well wonder if Fianna Fail has any relevance in Irish politics anymore. Further, considering the signs of division within the party itself, this referendum is a litmus test of Michael Martin’s leadership. Lose, and he won’t last long.
Onto the “No” parties and this is a big moment for Sinn Fein, able to be the main opposition force to a major issue. The outlook is set of course. They’ve been getting plenty of momentum recently and a win in this vote would be gargantuan victory for them. It would be impossible to not consider them the main opposition in the Dail if that happened, regardless of Dail numbers. They’ve done all the set-up for this issue as well, being the main party standing against austerity policies. A defeat would be a bad blow, but, as is typical with Sinn Fein, they wouldn’t actually have to win to win, just make it close, as they did in the Presidential election. Any kind of result like that could be skewed as a positive for Sinn Fein.
The ULA has less of an opportunity then Sinn Fein to make it big, but this campaign should at least let them iron out some of the cracks that have appeared at times in this socialist coalition. Much the same benefits that Sinn Fein would receive in the event of a “NO” vote would also go to them, and the same with a “Yes” vote. The ULA has struggled to have an impact in the Dail equal to their frequently loud rhetoric and this referendum is a chance for them to actually do something of more value than being occasionally shouty in the Dail.
The Independents will, as you many expect, probably lean more towards “No”, but their impact in the coming debate will be limited.
And a word to the EU, to UKIP, or to anyone else outside of Ireland who may be thinking about campaigning for either side: don’t. Leave it. Your activates would only harm your argument, Few in Ireland want to hear anything UKIP has to say and this goes even more for the EU, which is not exactly popular in Ireland at the moment. Leave it to us lads.
This is only a preliminary analysis of course and much more is to come.