Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Words on Wednesday...with Kieran Allen

I said a couple of weeks ago that in the run up to this summer's referendum on the Lisbon Treaty (formerly known as the EU constitution) that I intended on drawing attention to this document which the EU and the Irish government wants to ram down our throats. I also said I hoped to interview campaigners on the issue so I'm pleased to bring back my Words on Wednesday feature here on United Irelander for an interview with author Kieran Allen, the man behind the booklet 'Reasons to VOTE NO to the Lisbon Treaty' and one of the editors of

My thanks to Mr Allen for agreeing to take my questions. So then, let's begin...

You are the author of the booklet 'Reasons to VOTE NO to the Lisbon Treaty' and one of the editors of What made you decide to take a stand against this treaty?

I have attended many mobilisations of the European anti-globalisation movement and have become familiar with its demand for a ‘social Europe’. Europe has shifted from being a zone of stability within the global order to one where millions of workers are fighting to defend gains they won in the past. They are concerned about how Europe is being re-shaped by a small elite of corporate executives and puppet politicians. The call for a ‘social Europe’ arises from these mobilisations and is helping transform politics on the continent. The call for a ‘social Europe’ contains some ambiguities because it is not clear whether the aspiration of workers can be met by a return to the Keynesian economic policies of the past or whether it requires a fundamental change that ushers in a European socialist society. Nevertheless I identify with the aspiration and see the Lisbon Treaty as an embodiment of all that poses a danger to it.

With a referendum expected in the coming months on the Treaty, what would a Yes vote mean for Ireland?

It would a mean a strengthening of the Right and their politics of fear. Notice the absurd way they have been conducting the debate so far. Bertie Ahern – the former accountant who pretends to be the plain man of Drumcondra – leads the charge by framing his opponents as ‘lunatics’ and ‘extremists’. Fianna Fail and Fine Gael hacks develop the theme by claiming that a NO vote will frighten foreign investment into fleeing the country. (They somehow forget that foreign investment actually increased in France after they voted No to the EU constitution!) The rights always tries to reduce politics to a form of managerialism – who is better able to manage the economy- and to close down real discussions about the direction that either Ireland or Europe should take by stoking up irrational fears. They have been ably assisted by a pathetic Labour Party ( and an even more worse Green Party) who dare not challenge these absurdities but instead pretend that the Charter on Fundamental Rights will give Europe a ‘soul’ . They cannot, however, name one extra, specific legal right that the people of Ireland will get, which they do not currently enjoy. So a Yes vote will give a new confidence to neo-liberals who want to privatise everything and to the couch-potato soldiers who want the EU to engage in more colonial adventure like that in Chad.

Like yourself I imagine, I've been very disappointed with the campaign of those seeking a Yes vote as it seems to me they are engaging in pure scaremongering tactics in order to achieve the result they require, warning about how a 'No' vote would damage our standing in the EU and so on. This is pure nonsense, isn't it?

Of course it is. Do you really think that if you go on holidays to Paris, people will point at your Irish passport and fall apart in laughter because we voted No. Yet this is what EU Commissioner, Charle McCreevy, implied when he claimed that a No vote would make us the ‘laughing stock’ of Europe.

Or that the morning after a NO vote, the executives of Intel or IBM will hold emergency meetings to organise the withdrawal of investment.

One of the legacies of colonialism is that local elites insist that their population must show ‘gratitude’ to their betters at regular intervals. It is really sickening to hear Yes politicians start their speeches with the same lines – the EU has brought peace to the continent after WW2; it has given us billions in grants; and so we should not grateful and voting Yes. Don’t worry what is actually written in the Treaty, just sign a blank cheque out of gratitude.

They are doing everything to avoid a discussion about what kind of Europe its peoples want – a neo-liberal Europe where more is spent on colonial adventures or a Europe that grants more social rights to its citizens.

What are the chances of such scaremongering tactics working in your view? Is a Yes vote a foregone conclusion?

There is a chance that scaremongering can work. After all, the corporate media is run by a handful of very rich people who are intimately connected to the political elite and so the same line is repeatedly trotted out. People used to complain that the USSR was a one party state but we live in a regime where there are different glove puppets but the one dominant message. You can choose among many brands of washing powder but you still end up with the same old stuff. You can choose between Fianna Fail or Fine Gael –or Labour or the Greens- but you will still get the same old EU consensus which presides over the current economic order.

However, the politics of fear can also re-bound on our rulers. There is a lot of discontent in Ireland and I expect that the trade union march to demand a decent health service on March 29th will give some indication of its depth. If the NO campaign can relate its arguments to real concerns about privatisation and the EU’s role in the run down of public services, I think we can win.

I was disgusted that our government ignored the wishes of the people by refusing to accept the original No vote to the Nice Treaty. If the people vote 'No' to the Lisbon Treaty, do you think we will be given another referendum in order for the EU to get their way?

You have to be careful about this argument. I have heard many NO people say ‘what is the point of voting when they will only ask you again to re-ballot in order to get the right answer’.

But there is always a point to resistance. The more our rulers take off their masks and are forced to engage in undemocratic tactics, the more their legitimacy is corroded in the eyes of the population.

It will also be far harder this time for them to make us re-ballot. There is a huge, latent anger throughout Europe about the fact that the other 450 million people have been denied a right to vote. If the EU leaders refuse to recognise the vote of the only country where there was a ballot, there will be a continent wide outcry. The EU elite will, I think, calculate that the danger of pushing the Irish to vote again will outweigh the advantages they might gain from the Treaty.

You've been speaking out against this treaty along with several other campaigners. What has the general response been like from the public?

Good. A debate I did in Castlebar against Jim Higgins, MEP went really well because most people left the meeting supporting the NO position. At one point, Jim Higgins even called on people to vote yes ‘for God and for their country.’ I attended another meeting in Liberty Hall where the Fine Gael MEP Gay Mitchell was debating Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald. The feeling for the No side was so strong, that Mitchell claimed that the meeting was ‘packed’. In fact, there were only two members of the Socialist Workers Party present and a handful of Sinn Fein people in the 150 strong crowd. It revealed the depth of his paranoia – and but more importantly showed that the No side wins when people get a chance to hear a real discussion about what treaty contains.

Would it be fair to say that this treaty, if passed, makes a mockery of Irish history since we spent so long trying to get out of a Union that wouldn't listen to us, only to now have Irish parties trying to sweep us into another Union which again won't listen to us?

Not sure about that. I am a strong anti-imperialist and have no time for revisionist historians who attack Ireland’s history of resistance to empire. But I do not see this primarily as a nationalist issue. I am an internationalist, a citizen of Europe and the world and want a political debate that transcends national borders. So I think the focus must be on what kind of Europe do we want.

I don’t think that Pearse or Connolly focused their argument on what kind of Britain empire they wanted. And quite right too.

There used to be discussion on the Left many years ago that Ireland had moved from being a colony of Britain to a neo-colony of either the US or Europe. I never believed it. Ireland has produced it own little capitalist class who proudly taken their place in the global networks of that class. We equally have to move beyond a nationalist horizon and join with others in movements across Europe that are resisting the same capitalist elite.

What would you say to anyone reading this right now who is unsure of where they stand on the Lisbon Treaty?

Don’t be browbeaten. Get hold of the Lisbon Treaty. Ring up the EU Office in Dublin and demand that they send you out a copy. You will be given a series of amendments which will make little sense unless you see the original treaties. So also ask for them for these as well and demand that they are made freely available to you because you need to see what you are voting on. If they do not facilitate you, then vote No. You would not buy a house or a car without the seeing the contract – so why would you decide on the future of a continent without knowing what this constitution contains.

If you do succeed in getting the documentation, sit down and study it. Consult our website and check out the Yes side as well. If there are any points you want cleared up, do not hesitate to contact us. Better still, you might consider getting a few friends of colleagues together for a discussion. will be delighted to provide you with a speaker.

In other words, act as a good citizen and remember you are voting for the whole people of Europe. The neo-liberals who think ‘there is no such thing as society’ will be very upset – but who cares.

Anything you'd like to add in closing?

The key is to organise. We are up against a massive, well funded propaganda machine. We can only win if we get NO campaigns organised in very town in Ireland and there is no mystery about how that can be done. You need to, firstly, hold briefing meetings for activists or would-be-activists. You can do this by booking a room in a pub or a community hall and advertising it in local media or with notices in local shops. will send you a speaker who will take you through a hour and a half long power point presentation. Just e mail us on Once you feel equipped to make an argument to your fellow citizens, you need to get leaflets and posters for distribution.

Energy and enthusiasm can beat the money merchants. But it needs a little organisation to get focus. So to paraphrase: educate and organise so that you might be free.

Thank you for your time Mr. Allen and I wish your campaign all the very best.


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