Cablegate: Irish Political Parties Launch Vigorous Campaign

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R 201545Z MAY 08

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Classified By: DCM Robert J. Faucher; Reasons 1.4 (B) and (D).


1. (C) The Lisbon Treaty 'Yes' campaign seems to be gaining
traction as the Irish political parties launch a vigorous
campaign in favor of the treaty and a new poll indicates that
support for the treaty is running two to one (albeit with 47
percent of those polled undecided). Supporters of the Lisbon
Treaty have significant obstacles to overcome, however, in
winning a 'Yes' vote in the June 12 Lisbon Treaty referendum.
Though there are still several weeks to go until the
referendum, the 'Yes' campaign appears well on track and it
is hard to expect the 'No' forces to prevail. End summary.

The Yeas Have It

2. (U) Ireland's Lisbon Treaty referendum campaign began in
earnest during the week of May 10, with all major political
parties launching their 'Yes' campaigns in favor of the
Treaty. Overnight, thousands of 'Yes' posters popped up
throughout the country, and Treaty supporters organized 10-15
events a day to promote support for the Treaty.

3. (U) Initially, and as a result of these efforts, the
'Yes' campaign seems to be gaining ground. A poll published
on May 17 by The Irish Times Newspaper demonstrated growing
support for the Treaty. The report on the poll, headlined
"Support for Lisbon Treaty Running at Two to One," indicated
that 35 percent of the voters now plan to vote 'Yes,' an
increase of nine points over a similar poll in January; while
18 percent now say they will vote against the Treaty, an
increase of eight points in the same period. Nonetheless,
the report stated that almost half of voters (47 percent,
compared to 64 percent in January) remain undecided, or do
not intend to vote, reflecting continuing uncertainty among
the electorate.

4. (U) Reasons cited in the poll for voting 'Yes' included:

-- keeping Ireland involved in the EU;
-- ensuring Ireland's economic future;
-- enabling the EU to function more effectively;
-- protecting investment in Ireland; and
-- the belief that the EU has been good for Ireland.

5. (U) On the 'No' side, the reasons of those polled

-- the failure to understand what the treaty is about;
-- safeguarding Ireland,s neutrality;
-- the belief that bigger countries or Eastern European
countries would have too much influence in the EU;
-- maintaining Irish identity; and
-- helping farmers in the World Trade Organization talks.

6. (U) On May 16, Ireland's Minister for Defense, Willie
O'Dea, confirmed that Ireland's military neutrality would not
be compromised by the Lisbon Treaty. Speaking at a briefing
on peacekeeping and the Lisbon Treaty, O'Dea said the treaty
would help the EU play an increasing role in responding to
crisis, and in maintaining international peace and security.
But neither the Treaty's solidarity clause nor its provision
calling for Member States to increase defense capabilities
will impinge on Ireland's traditional military neutrality,
according to O'Dea.

The Nays Have It

7. (C) During a May 16 Embassy meeting, Irish Department of
Foreign Affairs Director General of the European Union
Division, Daniel Mulhall, outlined some of the obstacles
proponents of the EU Lisbon Reform Treaty need to overcome in
order to win a 'Yes' vote in the Treaty referendum on June
12. Because of the complexity of the treaty, Mulhall said,
which contains seven or more critical points, the Treaty does
not lend itself easily to quickly digestible slogans that
clamor for the attention of the voter. "Sound bites," such
as the alleged threats to Irish neutrality, low taxation
levels, farming subsidies, public services, or sovereignty,
are much more readily available to Treaty opponents, which
have been getting their negative messages out for some months
now he commented.

DUBLIN 00000282 002.2 OF 002

8. (C) Mulhall also credited Treaty opponents with being
very organized. The 'No' campaign is being led by Libertas,
which he said operates in a very business-like manner.
Mulhall mused that the shine may have gone off the EU now
that Ireland has become so economically advanced and the
immediate benefits of EU membership have become harder to
see. He also noted that the farming community -- always a
staunch supporter of the EU in the past -- was uncertain
whether to support the Treaty for fear that the Common
Agricultural Program (CAP) might be changed so as to become
less advantageous to Irish farmers. He went on to say that
the major unions had also not yet made up their minds on the
treaty, though two smaller unions had taken decisions - one
'Yes' and one 'No.' (Note: The only Irish political party to
campaign against the Treaty, Sinn Fein, unveiled its 'No'
campaign on May 19, saying the Treaty was bad because it
would "reduce (Ireland's) political strength, further
undermine neutrality, and is bad for the economy and worker
rights." End note.)

9. (C) Mulhall reiterated that the Government is required by
law to remain neutral in the Treaty campaign, providing
information equally about the 'for' and 'against' arguments
concerning the Treaty. He added, however, that unlike what
happened in the first Nice Treaty referendum (which the
government lost), the Irish government's referendum
commission is forcing the 'No' side to be accurate about its
claims of what the proposed Treaty would or would not do.
This has forced the 'No' side to climb down on three major
issues so far, embarrassing 'No' campaigners and helping the
'Yes' side gain traction.

10. (C) In a mildly disconcerting, but not surprising
admission, Mulhall said that the Government does not foresee
rejection of the Treaty referendum and has no fall-back plan
should the vote be negative. He said he believed that even
if the voters rejected the Treaty on June 12, Ireland would
eventually have to support EU reforms because the EU was an
integral part of the fabric of Ireland.

11. (C) These negatives notwithstanding, Mulhall was
cautiously optimistic about the prospects for passage of the
Treaty. He pointed out that 95 percent of the Members of
Parliament are in favor of the Treaty, as well as all the
major political parties. (Note: The only political party
represented in the Parliament that opposes the Treaty is Sinn
Fein, which holds a mere four seats out of the 166 total.
End note.) Mulhall felt that party mobilization and the
assenting voices of senior politicians would persuade many
party faithful to trust their leaders and get out to vote in
support of the Treaty. In reply to concerns about the
head-start gained by the 'No' campaign in getting their
message out earlier, Mulhall commented that the Irish party
machinery was only accustomed to sustaining a four to six
week campaign, so little ground had really been lost.


12. (C) Ireland has clearly learned the lessons from the
referendum on the Nice Treaty. Low voter turn-out in the
first Nice Treaty vote in 2001 meant the Treaty was defeated.
In this referendum campaign, the critical factor for the
political parties and other Treaty proponents remains their
ability to turn out the vote in the June 21 vote (reftel).
Based on previous referendum results, political commentators
tell us that the core population of voters inclined to reject
the Treaty runs at about 20 percent of the total electorate.
It would seem, then, that to ensure safe passage of the
referendum, at least half the electorate needs to turn out.
The political parties have in recent days launched a vigorous
'Yes' campaign. 'Yes' posters on the street outnumber 'No'
posters by a considerable margin (perhaps four or five to
one). Street-corner canvassing and hundreds of town meetings
are being held by Treaty supporters (including Ministers),
persuading voters to support the treaty one voter at a time.
Government contacts told POLOFF on May 19 that a quiet order
has gone out from the Prime Minister's Office that it is "all
hands on deck" for government employees until the referendum
is over. Leave has been canceled, as have the overseas trips
of Cabinet Ministers, including that of Deputy Prime Minister
Mary Coughlan. Though there are still several weeks to go
until the referendum, the 'Yes' campaign appears well on
track and it most observers here do not see how the 'No'
forces can prevail.

© Scoop Media

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