BHHRG

About BHHRG

The British Helsinki Human Rights Group monitors human rights and democracy in the 57 OSCE member states from the United States to Central Asia.
* Monitoring the conduct of elections in OSCE member states.
* Examining issues relating to press freedom and freedom of speech
* Reporting on conditions in prisons and psychiatric institutions

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Ireland Votes Again
HITS: 2036 | 5-06-2003, 07:37 | Commentaire(s): (0) |
 (Votes #: 0)

The ground having been laid, the way was open for a campaign to take place in which the Yes campaign had massive predominance over the No. Literally the whole of establishment Ireland weighed in to support the Yes campaign against the No. The No camp, by contrast, was run essentially by citizens’ groups.
The imbalance was clearest in the funding given to each side. The Yes probably spent 20 times more than the No: its total expenditure was reportedly at least €1.68 million.[1] Against this, the No campaign spent approximately €170,500. The Yes figure included the following expenditure: Fianna Fáil, the governing party, spent €500,000[2]; IBEC, the Irish Business and Employers Confederation, €500,000; Fine Gael, the opposition party, spent €150,000, also for a Yes; the Progressive Democrats, a governing party, spent €125,000; The Irish Alliance for Europe, €100,000; the Irish Farmers’ Association, €150,000; the International Financial Services Centre, €25,000; the Labour Party €25,000; the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, €100,000. On top of this, the Government of Ireland spent €750,000 and Irish Euro MP, Pat Cox, president of the European Parliament, spent c. €80,000 on a Yes campaign bus. By contrast, the “No to Nice” campaign spent no more than € 120,000.
This massive imbalance did not prevent one government minister casting severe aspersions on the funding sources of the No to Nice campaign: Environment Minister Martin Cullen (the Department of the Environment runs referenda in Ireland) was reported as saying that the issue of campaign funding was under review. It was made very clear that these new strictures were intended as a shot across the bow of the No camp. By contrast, indulgence was shown to the European Movement, even though it seems to have ignored the rules on receiving individual donations of more than £5,000 (€6,348). Indeed, the European Movement did not even bother to register with the Public Offices Commission, despite seeking donations of up to €10,000. Perhaps the fact that the European Movement’s president in Ireland is none other than the Taoiseach (Prime Minister), Bertie Ahern, had something to do with this.[3]
It also seems likely that some Irish companies contravened the law on state spending. State-owned bodies gave large contributions to the Yes to Nice campaign, including An Post, Bord Gais and Aer Rianta. They gave €5,000 each in subs demanded of them by the Irish business association, IBEC. Patricia McKenna, the Green party MEP who brought the original constitutional court case on this issue, announced she was seeking legal advice on the matter.[4] Other forms of covert state funding included the use of state workers (e.g. from the national health service) who were sent out into the street on referendum day to distribute Yes leaflets.[5]
Employees at several of Ireland’s big companies received round-robin e-mails on the day before the referendum encouraging them to vote and warning of job losses if the result was No. One example of such an e-mail was communicated to BHHRG. “I am satisfied,” wrote Hugh Governey, Chief Executive of Coyle Hamilton, one of Ireland’s biggest insurance and pensions brokers, to all his company employees, “that Irish society and business will benefit enormously if we demonstrate to our friends in Europe that we have confidence in our future in an enlarged Europe.” Mr. Governey inadvertently admitted that big business had been co-opted for the Yes campaign when he said that he had attended a dinner given by the Dublin Chamber of Commerce the previous evening, at which the speaker was Pat Cox, the president of the European Parliament. “To say that his speech was inspirational,” he wrote, “would be understating it.”
Other business groups which campaigned for a Yes included the American Chamber of Commerce, which told the Irish that American investors would move out of the country if the Irish voted No.[6] The Irish Congress of Trade Unions campaigned vigorously for a Yes – even though it did not ballot its own members before doing so. Its general secretary, David Begg, published articles with headlines like “Vote Yes for prosperity with freedom and social justice”.[7]
The Catholic Church campaigned overtly in favour of a Yes. The Bishops’ Conference issued a statement saying that it supported continued European integration, including a Yes to Nice. The Chairman of the Irish Bishop’s Conference, Bishop Joseph Duffy, Bishop of Clogher, even entered the nitty-gritty of the debate when he announced that fears of a European superstate “flies in the face of everything the EU stands for, and has stood for since the beginning”.[8] A conference organized by the newspaper, Irish Catholic, on 8th October 2002 was addressed by the bishop. At this meeting, the bishop said, “The principle of European solidarity … is a basic principle of the Christian gospel. Church people from applicant countries whom I have met during the past year are puzzled by the result of the last referendum, which failed to meet their view of Ireland as a Christian country.” The Bishop also quoted the Pope in support of his view that all Christians had to support the European Union.
A Jesuit priest, Fr. John Brady, went so far as to address a letter on European Movement notepaper to all the priests in Ireland. It emphasized that the European Union’s values were Christian values and that the EU was committed to peace in the world, and made a clear plug for a Yes to Nice. While pretending that the European Movement’s role was “not one of advocacy”, he ended, “I believe it is vital that we maintain a positive approach by supporting the Treaty of Nice. Any encouragement you can give to those you meet and work with to take this positive approach would be greatly appreciated.”[9]
The Irish president, Mary McAleese, also seemed to stray outside her role of strict constitutional neutrality when she announced in Greece that the Nice treaty was “pivotal” for EU enlargement and that the majority of Irish voters supported a Yes. The question of whether or not Nice was necessary for enlargement was one of the main bones of contention between the two sides. Mrs. McAleese subsequently claimed that her remarks had been misinterpreted, but it was obvious to anyone what she had meant.[[10]
The entire press campaigned overtly for a Yes. This was one of the most outrageous aspects of the campaign. Headlines included things like “Yes: What we all must say to a New Europe,”[11] “Nice is a moral issue and our answer should be Yes”[12], and some newspapers campaigned openly for a Yes vote, for instance by putting “10 reasons for voting Yes.”[13] Other ways of communicating the same message included giving great prominence to pro-yes commentators, such as with the headline “A Yes vote will secure our future in Europe”, which announced an article by the prime minister in The Star? Reports from Poland were given highly charged headlines like “Hero Walesa pleads for a Yes vote.”[14] Other more covert ways of campaigning for a Yes included printing a series of reports from Eastern European countries, which many newspapers did: this played straight into the hands of the pro-Nice campaign which falsely claimed that the Nice Treaty was necessary for the Eastward enlargement of the EU.[15] Columnists poured forth pro-Nice propaganda, especially the former Taoiseach, Garret Fitzgerald, who has a column in the Irish Times. Other examples include John Waters, a former opponent of Maastricht, who explained that the terrorist attacks in New York rendered Irish neutrality meaningless and that therefore the Irish should vote Yes to Nice.[16]
Faced with such concerted effort and opposition, the No campaign – an ad hoc group, mainly composed of citizens’ groups – could not compete. Their daily press statements were simply ignored. Although they organized, at considerable expense and effort, a red double-decker bus to travel around Ireland with No campaigners (especially young ones) from candidate countries, this media stunt was effectively ignored. Although campaigners on the bus were interviewed, for instance on RTE (national television) the interviews were never broadcast. Evidently the image of good-looking youngsters from the Continent who were against the Nice Treaty did not correspond to the image, peddled furiously by the pro-Nice establishment, that “the young” were all in favour of “Europe”. In contrast to this silence, the press would give prominence to obviously staged occurrences which were favourable to the Yes camp, such as when a Hungarian women interrupted a Green Party press conference. This woman made very serious protests against the No camp, calling it a “betrayal”, all of which was duly given huge prominence in the press.
A series of foreign leaders visited Ireland during the run-up to the poll. These included the prime minister of Slovenia, Janez Drnovsek and the prime minister of Poland, Leszek Miller. An open letter was sent by the heads of state of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland. They all, naturally, campaigned for a Yes vote, saying that their countries would not be let in unless the Treaty was approved. This means that the second Irish referendum on Nice was characterised by a quite unprecedented foreign interference in a national election. European Commissioners from Ireland and other countries also put in their pennyworth, campaigning for a Yes.
The Yes campaign was also notable for the widespread use of front organizations and state bodies to campaign for a Yes. Examples of the latter included the Irish Development Authority, the Irish Farmers’ Association, the Irish Business and Employers’ Confederation, the Trade Union Congress and so on. Examples of the former include bogus non-governmental organizations which were created to campaign for a Yes, such as the “Women for a Yes vote” whose founders include a candidate for Fianna Fail at the 1994 European elections, a woman who works for the government in her capacity as film censor and a former member of the European Economic and Social Committee. Another example of the same use of front organizations is the body called "Disability Alliance for Europe", whose Chairperson works for a government-funded, non-governmental organization and for a government agency. On 7th October, moreover, Dublin City Council passed a motion calling on citizens to vote Yes to Nice.[17]
Then there was the obligatory demonisation of the No camp as fascist. It was revealed at the end of September that Justin Barrett, the head of the No to Nice campaign, had addressed two neo-fascist meetings on the Continent. The No to Nice campaign lodged a libel suit against the Sunday Mirror which falsely accused him of having published an anti-Semitic book. When BHHRG interviewed the No to Nice campaign, our observer was quite satisfied that the No to Nice campaign was simply naïve. Its officers had no idea who the various people were with whom they were involved, or with whom involvement was falsely alleged. For instance, they had never even heard of Nick Griffin, the head of the British National Party, whom none of them had ever met or had any dealing with, even though his face was juxtaposed with a montage of Barrett in one article.[18] Unfortunately, however, accusations have a way of acquiring their own force even when they are baseless, and this was certainly the effect in this case. It is a sad reflection on the state of modern political ethics that addressing a speech to a political party deemed undesirable is considered to be a worse sin than supporting paramilitary terrorism: Sinn Féin also campaigned for a No, but no one seemed to mind that its bookshop openly offers for sale books and memorabilia which glorify the paramilitary acts of the IRA and other terrorist groups.[19]
If there was ever a contest between the establishment and the people, the Second Irish Referendum on Nice was it – and the people lost.


[1]“Big money and big names spread Yes message,” by Deaglán de Bréadún, The Irish Times, 8th October 2002,

[2] “FF to spend €500,000 in bid to pass Nice,” by Fionnán Sheahan, The Examiner, 23rd September 2002,

[3] “Campaign funding laws are to be examined,” by Fionnán Sheahan, The Examiner, 17th October 2002,

[4] “MEP in move to stop Nice funds,” by Shane Ross, Sunday Independent, 22nd September 2002,

[5] Information provided to BHHRG by No to Nice campaign: an employee of the Eastern Health Board (equivalent of the British National Health Service) was seen distributing Yes leaflets during working hours in Grafton Street, Central Dublin, on Friday, 17th October,

[6] “Companies say Ireland will suffer if Nice is rejected,” by Michael Brennan, Sunday Business Post, 14th July 2002,

[7] Irish Times, early October,

[8] “Fear of EU superstate is unfounded – Bishop,” by Patsy McGarry, The Irish Times, 9th December 2002,

[9] Document in BHHRG’s possession,

[10] “I would never advise voters on Nice, says President in bid to calm storm,” by Grainne Cunningham and Chris Glennon, Irish Times, 29th July 2002,

[11] Editorial comment, Sunday World, 13th October 2002,

[12] Front page headline of Irish Independent, 18th October 2002,

[13] Herald, 18th October 2002,

[14] By John Downing, The Examiner, 17th October 2002,

[15] See, for instance, “Aspirant members of EU ask Ireland to vote Yes,” by Deaglán de Bréadún, Irish Times, 26th September 2002,

[16] “Why Republic should vote Yes to Nice,” John Waters, The Irish Times, 22nd September 2002,

[17] Irish Times, 8th October 2002,

[18] “Fascist Link of ‘No to Nice’ chief,” by Francis O’Donnell, Sunday Mirror, 29th September 2002,

[19] For an example of the things on sale at Sinn Féin’s offices in Parnell Square, central Dublin, see www.sinnfeinbookshop.com.

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