Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Treaty talk needs to stop skirting sovereignty issue


HERE is why the Lisbon Treaty referendum was lost — and if the Government does not address this, the next one will likely be lost as well: people are worried about the loss of sovereignty and national identity.

After Lisbon went down in flames, its proponents angrily exclaimed that they could make neither head nor tail of why people voted ‘No’. The left had its reasons for rejecting the treaty, and the right had a totally different and contradictory set of reasons.

But whether people voted ‘No’ because of fears about neutrality or abortion, or family law, or corporate tax, they had one thing in common; namely, a fear that Ireland is losing control of its future.

This was the overriding concern of many ‘No’ voters but, instead of addressing this, the political establishment is taking a piecemeal approach.

It will address the concerns of one set of voters about neutrality, of another over abortion, and of yet another over taxation. Our politicians will then put before us Lisbon II, the patch-work quilt version, in the hope that we’ll vote for it.

But if the broader concern about sovereignty remains unaddressed, there is an excellent chance we’ll reject Lisbon second time around as well. It’s not enough for the powers-that-be to sound out concerns about this or that issue. It has to address itself to the overarching concern about sovereignty.

What each of our political parties needs to do is to come up with a policy, a philosophy, on national sovereignty and the nation state.

Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labour and all the rest of them need to tell us exactly what powers they think should remain with the nation state, and which they think can be ceded to supra-national bodies such as the EU, the UN and the Council of Europe.

So far, they haven’t told us, and that’s almost certainly because they have no philosophy. Instead, they’re making it up as they go along, signing this treaty and that, without realising that each new treaty they sign moves the nation state, and true democracy with it, that bit closer to the exit-door of history.

Just this week, for example, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) agreed to hear a complaint by three Irish women that their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights have been violated because they were unable to have an abortion in Ireland. Did we ever think this would happen when we signed the European Convention on Human Rights?

Decisions of the ECHR are not yet binding in Irish law. On the other hand, the European Court of Justice, an institution of the EU, will gain immeasurably more power over Irish law if the Lisbon treaty and the accompanying Charter of Fundamental Rights is ever passed.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the manner in which Ireland is being made ever more subject to international human rights law, and to international courts and human rights bodies. We were then appearing before the UN Human Rights Committee to give an account of ourselves.

International law should exist for one reason alone; and that is to try and prevent severe violations of fundamental human rights of the sort that are presently occurring in Zimbabwe and Darfur.

International bodies have no business telling countries like Ireland that they have too many denominational schools, or that they should change the constitutional definition of the family, which is what the UN Human Rights Committee has just told us. This is a totally unwarranted interference in the affairs of a sovereign state.

That our politicians, allied with certain Irish NGOs, should cooperate with such a process is quite simply grotesque.

We have to wake up to the fact that the more power we cede to judges, lawyers and other experts, whether they are based in Ireland or overseas, the less democratic we become. The heart of democracy in any country has to be the national legislature with its elected representatives, not the courts and the law library.

Of course, the human rights industry protests that it represents no threat to democracy because our national legislatures have signed the various international human rights conventions, but this is even more alarming.

It means that our elected representatives are complicit (probably unwittingly) in the process.

This is why it is so necessary that our political parties set out where they stand with regard to the nation state. They need to tell us what their red-lines are, what they won’t surrender.

At present, their only red-line seems to be corporate tax. They must do a whole lot more than that if the nation state is to mean anything into the future.

What we must do is drag out of the political parties some semblance of a philosophy of the nation state.

If, on the other hand, they offer no such philosophy then they, rather than the nation state, should be shown the exit-door of history.

By David Quinn
This article first appeared in the Irish Independent