Expert Opinion: Irish EU Referendum VoteFriday 1 June 2012
Dr Bryce Evans, Lecturer in Modern History at Liverpool Hope, looks at the implications of Ireland's EU Referendum 'Yes' vote.
The Republic of Ireland is currently entering what has been dubbed the ‘decade of commemorations’: the centenary of several formative moments in modern Irish history, from the introduction of the third Home Rule Bill (1912), through the Easter Rising (1916) and War of Independence (1919-21), culminating in the founding of the Free State and the outbreak of civil war (1922).
Celebrating a cluster of national milestones like these is essentially an internal affair, but Ireland has recently been in the news because of a referendum with potentially international implications. Thanks to the strength of the Irish constitution, Ireland was the only country out of 25 to put the EU fiscal treaty signed in February to a public vote.
The treaty reinforces Angela Merkel’s austerity agenda by committing Europe’s ratifying nations to tighter budgetary control. Amongst those who hold the levers of European power there was a fear that Ireland would vote ‘No’ – as has happened previously – as a protest. With Greece in economic turmoil and Spain looking increasingly fragile, this time round the consequences for the Eurozone ensured the stakes were higher than ever.
Ireland’s ‘Yes’ vote silences what would have been heard as a clarion call to those opposing austerity measures across Europe, not least those in an increasingly isolated Greece. In ratifying this intergovernmental agreement, it seems that the Irish public have now consigned it to the dustbin of history.
Yet the real significance of the referendum lies closer to home. The only large party to oppose the treaty was Sinn Féin. Gerry Adams’ party has capitalised on popular disaffection at unemployment and cuts, channelling this into the ‘No’ campaign on the fiscal treaty. A recent poll suggests Sinn Féin is now the second most popular political party in the Republic, on a sensational 24 per cent.
And with a decade of popular republican anniversaries underway, Sinn Féin – old hands at playing the green card – will seek to exploit heightened radical nationalist sentiment in Ireland. The upsurge in support the party have garnered through opposing the fiscal agreement means that this quickly-forgotten EU treaty may yet have broader implications.