Imperative that will of Irish people is accepted

From this morning’s Order of Business in the Seanad:

It is not a matter of discretion or opinion as to whether the view of the Irish people should be respected or accepted, it is a constitutional imperative that it be so. I regard it as almost something that goes without saying, but I will say it just in case there is any doubt. Of course, one must respect and accept the result of the referendum last week. If it requires to be said, I am happy to do so. It does not end there because there is no question that the Lisbon treaty is finished and is dead in the eyes of the Irish people. The treaty that was put to them last week is dead, but by voting as we did we have not necessarily rendered it dead in the eyes of our European partners.

While we cannot ratify it that does not mean that our decision does not have implications and consequences throughout Europe and with our partners in Europe. We can feel good about the fact that the treaty is finished and is dead in our eyes but we cannot make it finished and dead in the eyes of others. These are the consequences we and the Government, in particular, have to face. I do not underestimate the task and the seriousness and the depth of the challenge that faces the Government in the context of the economic challenges to which Senators Fitzgerald and O’Toole have referred.

I am glad we have ordered an initial debate this afternoon on this issue. I support that call. Sometimes eyes glaze over when this point is made but it is important to make it at this juncture. What is the nature of the debate we need to have? It cannot be just a squabble over who did what when, where there were posters and where there were none, who was out on the street and who was not. By all means, let us have that debate if people feel it is necessary but a much more fundamental debate is needed which has to do with the question of trust in democratic institutions and trust in the very practice of politics in this country. By that I do not mean I am frustrated that the people would not do what the politicians suggested they do.

Senator de Búrca made the point in the newspapers at some stage during the campaign that it must be asked why, in such serious issues, we should expect people to handle a complex issue presented to them for decision four weeks before a referendum, in circumstances where we do not have a real continuing debate about these issues. We have such debates here but we do not have them in the community. That is the level at which the debate has to be had. The question of trust and the question of democratic institutions are all bound up in the result last week. Some of the innovations contained in the Broadcasting Bill might assist in that regard.

There should be a public forum on television and in the media where people can have an opportunity to tease out these issues in great detail rather than simply presenting them with a complex document a few weeks before the referendum. As Senator Fitzgerald and others have said it will be difficult, although necessary, to analyse the reasons people voted “No”. In many cases they are directly contradictory. There are people who thought the charter of fundamental rights did not go far enough and there are those who thought we should not have it. There are directly conflicting views.

It is all very well for people to come forward with a wish list, whether it is Sinn Féin, Libertas or anybody else. I have a wish list. We can all have one. The question is whether we can deliver it. By all means, let us have a debate about the aftermath but let us have a more fundamental debate about what it means and how we can improve the quality of our public discourse on issues such as this.

The Seanad will discuss the outcome of the Lisbon Treaty referendum this afternoon.