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Page last updated at 09:35 GMT, Tuesday, 15 September 2009 10:35 UK

New Irish test looms for Lisbon

By Jonny Dymond
BBC News, Dublin

Sinn Fein supporters advocating a No vote, as Taoiseach Brian Cowen and colleagues launch Yes campaign
Sinn Fein MPs oppose the Irish government's "Yes" to Lisbon

On a wet and windy evening in early autumn, there must be better ways to spend your time than going to door-to-door in south-central Dublin.

But that is what 15 or so volunteers from Coir (which means "Right" in Gaelic) are doing, trying to persuade voters that the Lisbon Treaty should be given the boot a second time when the Irish vote again on 2 October.

Coir was hard at work during the last referendum too, but then was overshadowed by the publicity-friendly Declan Ganley, the millionaire businessman, and the party he set up to defeat the Lisbon Treaty, Libertas.

Libertas has come and gone however, and now it is Coir leading the charge with inflammatory posters about, amongst other things, how the Lisbon Treaty might send the minimum wage plummeting.

Coir's spokesman Richard Greene explains how he thinks the campaign has changed.

"The politicians are taking a back seat," he says, "because they are so frightened to go to doors, they are so discredited with having led the country into the worst economic crisis in Ireland's history".

"Big business is coming out for a 'Yes' because they know that if it is passed wages will drop and they will get cheap labour."

Bleak outlook

It is not a good time to be a member of the Irish political establishment. The country is in terrible economic pain and no one can see anything but grim times for the foreseeable future.

Intel worker making computer chips
Computer chip maker Intel is backing the Irish "Yes" campaign

Most of the blame is being placed at the feet of the governing Fianna Fail. If the opposition Fine Gael made this referendum a proxy vote on the government's performance then the Lisbon Treaty would be going down in flames.

But neither Fine Gael nor the Labour party, nor the Greens, are willing to toss the treaty onto the pyre of the Irish economy. Of those parties represented in the Dail (parliament), only Sinn Fein is campaigning for a "No" vote.

Much of the party political campaign links a "Yes" vote to the economy. But some business leaders clearly think that this referendum is just too important to be left to the politicians.

Intel - the computer chip maker with a huge plant in Ireland - and Ryanair, the discount airline, have announced that they will drop a cool half million euros each into the "Yes" campaign.

That fits neatly into Richard Greene's idea about why business backs the treaty. Such theories elicit a long sigh from Jim O'Hara, managing director of Intel Ireland.

"I'm an Irish citizen," he counters. "I've worked in Ireland for forty years, my kids are in Ireland, my grandkids are in Ireland. So, this notion that big business has a big agenda which is scary for ordinary people… it's a great example of the misrepresentation that's been going on."

Campaign makeover

Stepping into the breach alongside businesses like Intel and Ryanair are new campaign groups like Ireland for Europe and its little brother, Generation Yes. Again, the focus is away from politicians who invite little but scorn and onto a mix of media-savvy professional campaigners, celebrities and volunteers.

Declan Ganley of Libertas
Media-savvy Declan Ganley is battling for a "No" vote again

Generation Yes members spend their lunch breaks dodging the rain and pressing brightly coloured leaflets into shoppers' hands in central Dublin. Then they troop back to the office to target young voters - a group which voted disproportionately against the treaty last time around.

They run up repeatedly against the central problem of such a campaign - selling a dull treaty that deals with such topics as the weighting of votes in the council and the extension of qualified majority voting to an electorate more likely to have their attention caught by the scare stories of the opposition.

But at least this time the "Yes" campaign does not have Libertas to contend with. With pots of cash, and a telegenic leader, Libertas is widely credited with having pushed the "No" vote beyond the usual suspects - nationalists, deeply conservative Catholics and those who would vote against anything the main parties supported.

"What Libertas brought to the last 'No' campaign was respectability," says Stephen Collins, political editor of the Irish Times.

As the campaign swung into the final three weeks there was good news and bad for supporters of the treaty. After a rocky few days when support appeared to be slipping away, two polls gave the "Yes" campaign an enormous 30-point lead.

But just as that was sinking in, Declan Ganley announced that he was rejoining the "No" campaign - without, it seems, the money he brought along last time, but still with the ear for a quote and eye for publicity that makes him an interviewer's dream.

Mr Ganley may not be the game-changer that he once was. Ireland is in a very different state than a year and a half ago.

But the campaign has almost three weeks to run - and whatever the opinion polls are saying, no one on either side will be relaxing until the last vote is cast.



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