Seamus Heaney launches fierce attack on Irish opponents of Lisbon Treaty

Poet and Nobel laureate Heaney says if Ireland votes 'no' again the loss of status would be 'inestimable'

Ireland's Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney has launched a blistering attack on Irish opponents of the EU Lisbon Treaty, accusing them of manufacturing fear in the referendum campaign. The poet said that if Ireland votes "no" again, the Republic and its people "will have lost ourselves in the modern world".

In an exclusive interview with the Observer on his views on Europe and the referendum on 2 October, Heaney said the loss for Ireland from a "no" vote was "inestimable". He said: "I was in Italy when the first referendum came in, and I was distressed for Ireland in Europe because of the kind of refusal of commitment after decades of benefit. It is inestimable, the loss of influence, status and trust that occurred with a 'no' vote: it is palpable and real."

A heterogeneous coalition of forces opposes the Lisbon Treaty, ranging from the hard left across to the Catholic far right. Sinn Fein, the Socialist Party, the People Before Profit group and other leftist parties claim Lisbon will dilute Ireland's neutrality and lead to an erosion of workers' rights. The Catholic right claim the treaty will open up the possibility for European law to overturn Ireland's ban on abortion.

A poll published in the Sunday Business Post today shows that 62% of those asked said they would vote "yes", 23% would vote "no" and 15% were undecided.

Heaney, in throwing his weight behind the "yes" camp, said: "The reasons for voting 'no' are manufactured, on the whole. And if it's 'no' again, I think we have lost ourselves in the modern world."

Europe was "more than a bureaucracy, it's an ideal," he said. "The word 'Europe' is one of the first cultural underpinnings to our lives in this part of the globe. It's for Greece, Italy, Rome, England, France that I feel it." He also dismissed claims that the Lisbon Treaty would end Irish sovereignty and see the republic absorbed into a European super-state.

Asked if Europe was as important for him culturally as it was economically, Heaney said: "I think it's slightly more important, not only in terms of culture but in terms of credit, in terms of meaning."

His intervention in the campaign, which is entering its final few weeks, will be seen as a boost for the "yes" camp. Although the two governing parties, Fianna Fail and the Greens, and the two main opposition parties, Fine Gael and Labour, back a "yes" vote, support for Lisbon has been falling in recent weeks. The last opinion poll found an 8% drop in the "yes" vote and a significant rise in those still undecided. It was the "don't know" voters in the first referendum in June 2008 who played a decisive role in victory for the "no" camp. Most undecided voters switched over to the "no" side in the final days of the campaign.

The pro-Lisbon camp received another boost at the weekend when just under 91% of 66 non-government and academic economists said a "yes" vote was in the best economic interests of the state. The finding was contained in a study, Assessment of the Impact of the Lisbon Treaty.

Meanwhile, the Irish businessman and Libertas leader Declan Ganley said yesterday that he will spearhead a campaign for a "no" vote on the grounds that European bureaucrats should not be permitted to take power away from the Irish people.

After his failure to get elected as an MEP during the European elections in June, Ganley had said he would not get involved in another Lisbon Treaty referendum campaign. He said yesterday he had changed his mind because he had been "provoked" by the behaviour of campaigners for the Lisbon Treaty, adding: "What is at stake here is a power play within certain elites in Europe. This has got very little to do with Ireland.

"They want power in unelected and unaccountable ways, and they call that efficiency. It is efficiency for them, in that it removes the democratic process within countries." He said Lisbon would transfer 60 areas of Irish sovereignty to Europe.

The Irish government insists that its negotiations have helped safeguard assurances such as Ireland's place on the European Commission.


Henry McDonald, Ireland editor

The GuardianTramp

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