THE referendum campaign is barely one week old and already it seems that not all is well in the Government and the Vote ‘No’ camps. Both have displayed moments of incoherence and inconsistency that does nothing to help debate. This was in evidence on last Tuesday night’s TV3 debate.
Fine Gael’s Director of Elections, Simon Coveney, seemed less than assured or confident of his arguments.
On the other side, Joe Higgins’s arguments disappeared down long and rambling convoluted sentences that had neither a middle nor an end in sight.
The Government’s case seems to veer wildly from, ‘Vote the way we tell you, or we’ll make you pay,’ to, ‘Vote “Yes”, because everything in Europe is just fine.’
The problem is that framing a campaign based on the extremes of the ‘Yes’ case will not work. Just like the Oireachtas Investigations referendum, the government parties, both Fine Gael and Labour, have left the preparation of a campaign strategy to the very last minute.
Such is the erratic and confused nature of their campaign that you’d have to suspect they are almost wishing for a ‘No’ vote. Maybe that’s their master plan?
They run a campaign that is so disjointed and contradictory that the public suspect the Government really wants a ‘No’ and thus go out and vote ‘Yes’ to spite it. If only this crowd were capable of something even remotely approaching a strategy.
It is not as if things are much better on the ‘No’ side. The incoherence on that side is matched by the huge gaps in their arguments. Despite knowing for ages that this referendum was coming, they still have not devised an answer to the question: where will the funding come from post-2013?
Their case is not helped by the fact that the main proponents of the ‘No’ argument come from the hard Left, like Joe Higgins and Boyd Barrett, and the hard-man Left — Gerry Adams and Martin Ferris.
The irony is that the Shinners are proposing arguments and spouting anti-European phrases that would not seem out of place coming from the mouths of the most right-wing Tory eurosceptic.
The net result is that Fianna Fail and others like Ibec and the IFA are left in the middle, urging the public to put their disillusionment with this Government aside and give it the ‘Yes’ vote of which it is so completely undeserving.
It is not an easy task, and one made more difficult with each passing ministerial pronouncement.
I know there is still some considerable confusion and uncertainty out there — I have been out and about on the doors over the past few weeks and have encountered it myself.
The ‘Yes’ campaign needs direction and leadership. The Taoiseach and Tanaiste need to start offering that leadership. Sitting on the bench and sending the subs into debates is not an indication of great leadership from either.
Their absence from the TV3 debate last Tuesday may have been intended as a slight to the debate’s moderator, but the net effect was to treat the public with disdain.
Fortunately, the leadership role they failed to display that night was shown by Micheal Martin, who succeeded in directly challenging the ‘No’ side to show how they would pay for public services, and demonstrating that ratifying the Stability Treaty is the only way to access cheaper and more secure funding for public services.
There are over three weeks to go to polling day. The Fine Gael and Labour parties should take a day or two to get their messages straight and put the case for a ‘Yes’ vote to the public in a positive and coherent manner.