It can be a ballot box or a can of petrol. It’s our call.
There is a phrase used in Ireland, “codding ourselves”. I’m unsure as to whether it is used elsewhere, but it basically means that someone is knowingly deluding themselves, usually out of a dislike of the reality. It is a very common practice in Ireland, regarded, in fact, as a daily way of life, especially in Irish politics.
Now, consider the current bunfight going on over the possibility of a referendum on the EU fiscal compact. The government does not want to hold one, because it might lose, and governments don’t like uncertainty. The truth is, the government is afraid that the Irish people might make the wrong choice. But they won’t admit that they don’t want to hold one, instead making legal arguments about the constitution.
Now, when someone like me, on the pro-EU side of the aisle, makes a remark about the people being wrong, there’s normally uproar. The people can do no wrong, won’t be patronised, etc, etc. It is bollocks. Of course the people can do wrong, especially if, as always happens in Ireland, a substantial section of the electorate A) decide to vote not for what is on the ballot paper but what they think should be on the ballot paper, ie the local hospital, property taxes, bank bailouts, Uncle Tom Cobley and all, or B) refuse to believe that the rest of Europe will not save Ireland no matter how reckless we decide to be.
That’s why the government want to avoid a vote. Because we do have a choice. This is a referendum on the bailout too, and the government is afraid that the voters will pour petrol over our house, toss a match at it, and then look proudly at our neighbours as our house burns down.
The others can go on without us, and what happens then? Will the Irish people then turn to the government that agreed to the referendum and thank them for the opportunity to torch the gaff? No, they’ll start screaming at the government about the fact that our house has burnt down, and where are we going to live now? It actually makes more sense to just ignore the usual “undemocratic” jibes and carry on. After all, if Irish political history is anything to go by, they’ll be forgotten in six months. The house will still be there.
Having said that, if the Supreme Court or the Attorney General or even the Oireachtas (yeah, that band of brave heroes) decides that we have to vote, fair enough. The law’s the law. But let’s be honest about it at least, rather than denying that the government wants to avoid a vote.