Monday, October 05, 2009

Lisbon Dialogue of the Deaf is over - now it's time to change the rules

Well the Lisbon Treaty is passed, at least as far as Ireland is concerned and, whether you voted Yes or No, you must be somewhat relieved that the media noise on this topic has subsided considerably.

The arguments for and against could not possibly be described as “debate”. If anything ever qualified as “the dialogue of the deaf”, this was surely it - both times around. I’ve had a headache from Lisbon II for the past three months, thank God it’s all over. Now we just have NAMA and the budgetary crisis to live through. Pass the anadin, please!

I heard a good quote this morning from Mark Twain on the subject of newspapers – “if you don’t read a newspaper you’re uninformed, and if you do read a newspaper you’re mis-informed.” That piece of wisdom could have been very aptly applied to the Lisbon Treaty “debate”.

On the subject of referendums (or referenda), we seem to be completely hamstrung by a couple of Supreme Court judgements. The Crotty Judgement means that every major change in the EU cannot be passed by our elected Oireachtas but must instead be put to a national referendum. Allied to this is the McKenna Judgement which prohibits the Government from spending public money to promote one particular side of the argument in such a referendum. Then you have the national broadcaster, RTE, which is deemed to be obliged to provide equal exposure to the Pro- and Anti- sides in any such referendum.

The result is that you can get massive over-exposure for all sorts of cranks, whingers and unelected demagogues and every referendum is a perfect opportunity for these to get some media exposure – despite most of them having no mandate whatsoever from the public to speak on their behalf.

In the Lisbon campaign we’ve had Declan Ganley/Libertas given huge exposure – despite the annihilation of that party at the polls in the recent European elections. Then you get cranks like Richard Greene (the wrinkly wing of Youth Defence) representing Coir, Roger Cole of the anti-war anti-US alliance, ex-Green Patricia McKenna who’d start a row in an empty room, Tax-free republican socialist Bobby Ballagh – who always wants more taxpayers money spent on the needy etc etc..

Every referendum must be like Christmas for all these fringe groups who can’t get elected to anything.

I can’t wait for the “children’s rights” referendum we’ve been long promised. This, apparently, will include a revision of the legal age for sex – essentially the minimum age at which young girls can have sex with older men – without the latter incurring a charge of statutory rape. I can’t wait for that to be debated on RTE. To achieve balance, they’ll need some dodgy old men to represent the “No” side – spelling out the joys of underage sex and the benefits it brings to young girls. You can see what a nonsense the McKenna Judgement and RTE “balance” rule can result in.

So we need some sort of weighted majority mechanism – just like that proposed in the Lisbon Treaty – to allow our own elected Government to promote appropriate constitutional change and also to allow RTE to represent the views of the majority in an appropriate way.

A proven electoral mandate would have to be at least one constituent of such a formula – note that I didn’t include MEP Joe Higgins or Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou in my earlier line-up of cranks.

No comments: