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Friday 3 July 2009

You Say You Want A Referendum (3)

Previously, I looked at the history of the Referendum in the UK, brief as it is. Later I considered the various interests working to secure another Referendum. As promised there, here are some thoughts about one country whose constitution demands a Referendum on occasion: Ireland.

The Lisbon Treaty has already been put to a Referendum in Ireland, and the electorate there voted by a majority to reject the Treaty. There were a number of issues specific to that country: the guarantee of neutrality in case of war was one such. The country’s ban on abortion – Ireland has a strong Catholic tradition – was another. Assurances on these two areas, and confirmation that Ireland would still be free to set its own tax rates, have now been given, and there will be another Referendum soon.

This situation is seen differently, depending on whether the viewer is pro or anti EU: for the pros, it demonstrates that the EU is not monolithic and unresponsive, and that it can adopt a flexibility of approach to the needs of member states. The antis see it as proof that the EU is “undemocratic”, which is an interesting way to describe two referenda.

But the fact remains that Ireland is bound to put the issue to a Referendum. So why doesn’t the UK do likewise? Well, the simple answer is this: these are two different countries. Ireland is largely Catholic in religious outlook; the UK is largely Protestant. The UK has no problem getting involved in wars; Ireland has always maintained its neutrality. And, just to remind those who might believe Ireland is some kind of brake on the progress of the EU which they should encourage, the Irish have adopted the Euro as their currency.

Here, then, is another example of the fallacy of assuming that those who share a common language are most alike. Allied to the idea of cherry picking ideas, it’s not much of a way to proceed. Ireland will, ultimately, do what is best for Ireland. The UK will do what is best for the UK. Both can still coexist within the EU.

With or without the odd Referendum.

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