There was an interesting debate on the Lisbon Treaty referendum recently between Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan and veteran UK Labour politician Tony Benn (Today with Pat Kenny, 19th May).
In a concise, articulate and intelligent manner Benn made very good arguments for voting no. His biggest worry is that the EU is evolving into a federal state that will be controlled by bureaucrats. That scenario will lead to disaster according to Benn and will inevitably result in the breakup of the union and a return to violent nationalism.
Benn won the debate hands down. Lenihan could only make the pathetic, and totally untrue, claim that Irish people were real Europeans while UK citizens were anti Europe.
At all times during the debate Lenihan was respectful and reasonable during the debate. He was a completely different animal when he participated in a debate with Patricia McKenna on last week’s Saturday View.
The debate started off with Lenihan making his case without intervention from McKenna. Rodney Rice, the presenter, read out a number of calls from listeners who were very strong No voters and asked Lenihan to respond.
“It’s very, very disturbing for this country. I actually have read the treaty but of course I’m a lawyer and you wouldn’t expect people to be able to read the treaty, it’s not fair for them.”
This arrogant and patronizing statement is in itself enough reason for any self respecting citizen to vote no.
Lenihan goes on;
“We’re going to send out a very negative signal about ourselves as a people. We’re going to fold our tent and say no. Retreat into isolationism and in my view damage ourselves as a country. That’s the choice facing the people and this glib argument that ‘I don’t quite understand what’s at stake so I better vote no is a very dangerous argument’… We’re all equal in this referendum; we’re all in that driving seat. It’s not good enough to say you can’t see the road and therefore you’re going to get off it.”
Retreat into isolation and damage ourselves as a country? Is this an honest assessment of the consequences of a No vote? Lenihan’s other point is simple – voter ignorance of the issues involved should not act as a bar against a Yes vote.
Patricia McKenna got only one sentence out in reply before she was angrily and intolerantly attacked by Lenihan.
So what did McKenna say that so upset Lenihan? Did she perhaps suggest that a Yes vote would see the return of Hitler? Did she suggest that a Yes vote would see the end of European civilisation? No, she merely stated that Brian Lenihan was trying to sell the treaty to the Irish people. Here’s Lenihan’s outburst.
“Sorry, I’m not trying to sell anything. I object to that, I’m trying to explain something of fundamental importance for this country and you start off by saying I’m trying to sell something. You’re entitled to your point of view absolutely but I don’t think it should be put down I’m trying to sell something. That’s not what I’m trying to do. I’m actually trying to explain to the people the issues at stake.”
So let’s be clear about this. Brian Lenihan is not trying to sell the treaty; he’s a humble lawyer/politician who cares about his people, he’s a man who has been gifted with the intelligence to understand very complicated issues and is eager that this great intelligence should be used to relive the great mass of peasantry from having to grapple with such technical issues.
Effectively, Lenihan, a member of the most corrupt and dishonest political party in the country is asking the people to trust him.