June 13, 2008 / 7:43 PM / 9 years ago

Irish "no" vote shows alienation of working class

4 Min Read

DUBLIN (Reuters) - The victorious "No" campaign in Ireland's referendum on the EU reform treaty tapped into a growing disaffection among working-class voters who feel alienated from political elites in Dublin and Brussels.

Just as in 2005, when French and Dutch voters rejected a European constitution, the skepticism voiced in working class districts played a pivotal role, election results showed.

"In Dublin most of the Northside working class areas seem very much to be 'No' votes," Joan Burton, deputy leader of the pro-treaty Labor Party, said as she watched counting.

The constituency of Dublin South, which includes some of the Irish capital's most salubrious neighborhoods, voted overwhelmingly in favor of the treaty but many poorer parts of the city's north and west showed high levels of opposition.

Mary, a 45-year-old housewife from the tough district of Ballyfermot in west Dublin, said she felt the government's "Yes" campaign had been misleading.

"In working class areas people are already getting trampled by people in authority," she said outside the referendum results centre. "People are already very much governed and the last thing they want is another power on top of that."

Most of Ireland's political establishment had backed the pact, designed to give the bloc more international clout and streamline how it is run after expanding to 27 member states.

But the treaty, which must be approved by all countries, was rejected in Ireland by a margin of 53.4 percent to 46.6 percent.

"It is a huge rebuff to the Irish political establishment," said Joe Higgins, a member of Ireland's Socialist Party.

Higgins, whose party is not represented in parliament but was part of a loose coalition of groups opposed to the treaty, said people around the world were worried by a "race to the bottom" that was undermining wages and working conditions.

"This vote does tally with what the millions of French workers, millions of Dutch people did (in 2005)," Higgins said.

"Throughout Europe I believe many working people and activists in the labor movement will see this as an opportunity to fight back against the neo-liberal economic juggernaut that's being pushed down their throats."

A Hard Sell

Both sides agreed that Irish people felt increasingly removed from a European Union that once did so much to underpin the country's economic success.

"We will obviously have to engage in some analysis of the campaign and the underlying issues in relation to the people's engagement with Europe and Europe's engagement with the people," said Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheal Martin.

"That's the fundamental, underlying issue that I will take from this campaign," Martin said.

Declan Ganley of anti-treaty group Libertas, said the "No" vote was a resounding message and a great day for democracy.

"The Irish people have shown enormous courage and wisdom in analyzing this debate and the facts presented to them and making the decision they have," Ganley said.

Richard Bruton, deputy leader of Ireland's main opposition Fine Gael party, which supported the treaty, said voters lashed out without necessarily understanding the issues at stake.

"The treaty's benefits were very cerebral and a hard sell," Bruton said. "You had some chance maybe with the middle classes who would have been reading the broadsheets (newspapers) and listening carefully to the debate," he said.

(Editing by Catherine Evans)

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