Irish fly from Brussels to push through EU treaty

October 2, 2009

If this morning’s flight from Brussels to Dublin is an indication of how Irish people will vote in Friday’s referendum on the EU’s Lisbon reform treaty, then the result will be an emphatic Yes on Saturday afternoon when the final results are expected to be known.

The majority of the Aer Lingus flight packed with Irish diaspora from Brussels – some of who hold office in the EU capital – seemed set to vote Yes to the Lisbon treaty, which aims to give the 27-nation bloc greater sway in world affairs and streamline its decision-making.

Irish MEP (member of the European Parliament) Liam Aylward said he was “quietly confident” of a positive vote in favour for the treaty.

The Fianna Fail politician from Ireland’s eastern region was accompanied on the flight by his British Liberal colleague Andrew Duff, who was among the lawmakers who helped shape the new Lisbon treaty after French and Dutch voters rejected the EU’s doomed constitution in 2005.

“I am travelling to Dublin because I want to hear from the people themselves, whether they vote Yes or they vote No. I am not going to make any predictions,” Duff said.

Irish voters rejected the Lisbon treaty in a referendum in June 2008, plunging the bloc into crisis and halting its expansion.

Polls ahead of Friday’s plebiscite pointed towards a victory for the Yes camp this time around after the Irish government received guarantees from its EU partners in the sensitive areas of military neutrality, taxation, abortion and the right to retain an Irish commissioner in Brussels.

Many of those on board the flight are employed by the European Commission, European Parliament or Ireland’s representation to the EU and so had personal reasons for making the trip to the Emerald Isle to vote.

“My career could take a turn for the worst this weekend if we don’t vote Yes,” a Commission official said, but asked not to be named.

“How could you apply for a promotion, take home a decent salary from the EU after voting No. It would be really embarrassing and hypocritical.”

But not all had ulterior motives for voting Yes.

Carol McGinley, who runs the Brussels office for Ireland’s main dairy organisation, and Anne-Marie McCourt, assistant to independent MEP Marian Harkin, both faced at least a three-hour journey by bus on landing in Dublin, before casting their vote in their respective constituencies.

“I just had to vote. Every vote counts. I felt a real duty to vote, especially after last time,” Carol said referring to Ireland’s first referendum on the treaty in June 2008 which resulted in victory for the No camp.

Even the few nay-sayers I could find among the 130-plus on board the flight, seemed resigned to defeat.

“I am a staunch opposer of the treaty, but it looks like the tide is against us,” said Brian Carty, who works for Sinn Fein — the only mainstream political party opposing the treaty.

“You can never say never, but it looks like a Yes vote this time around.”

(Picture: A man adjusts an Irish flag as it flies next to a European Union flag near the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels. Reuters/Francois Lenoir.)

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