Irish vote on Europe uncertain Abortion, economy dominate debate

June 14, 1992|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,London Bureau

LONDON -- The eyes of Europe are fixed on Ireland with a steady and worried gaze, as the people on that island contemplate economic self-mutilation.

Should the Irish reject the Maastricht treaty on European union in Thursday's referendum, they would kiss goodbye to possibly $9 billion that would have flowed to them out of the European Community's coffers over the next five years or so.

To reject all that, when it is so badly needed in Ireland, would prove once again that the deepest passions of the Irish are not for money and of the flesh but, as they have always been, cerebral and religious.

Europe's progress toward federalism was slowed by the Danish rejection of the Maastricht treaty on June 2. It would be stopped abruptly if the Irish turn the treaty down. For a long time, Maastricht, signed last year by the heads of the 12 EC countries, was the path forward; it would be closed.

Even the widening of the EC, by the inclusion of Sweden, Norway, Austria and other states, would probably be delayed.

The economic superstate some diplomats thought they were bringing into being during those chilly December days in the Dutch river town of Maastricht would be spiked by the Irish obsession with abortion and all its moral implications.

Will the Irish do this? It is not certain. And what in the world does abortion have to do with the Maastricht treaty?

Polls doubted

Recent polls indicate Irish approval of the treaty. Should that happen, diplomats believe, much of the disappointment of the Danish rejection could be mitigated. The other 10 EC nations would be stimulated to ratify the treaty. And at the end the Danes could have another vote.

The treaty would lead Europe to a single currency by the end of the century and would mean more money for poorer countries (Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Greece). It would encourage the creation of a common foreign and security policy, among other things. But it can only enter into force after ratification by all 12 EC member states.

But who believes the polls in Europe these days? In Denmark they said the treaty would be approved. But they were wrong. Less than two months before, the polls said the Labor Party would win the British general elections. But they were wrong.

There is no certainty they are wrong in Ireland. But there is less certainty that, this time, they are right. Late last week 57 percent of those asked favored the treaty while 28 percent opposed. But the no vote is increasing, and the government of Prime Minister Albert Reynolds is a little rattled.

Mr. Reynolds has invoked an emergency provision of Ireland's Broadcasting Act: He has appropriated time to address the people Tuesday night, to urge them to vote yes.

There is not much similarity between Denmark and Ireland beyond the Viking origins of their capitals, and the fact they are both small countries. Denmark is rich, and Ireland is poor. Denmark has always been a reluctant member of the EC, Ireland an enthusiastic one.

"In an average year," said an Irish government official who declined to allow his name to be used, "for every pound we put in we get six out."

"Last year," he said, "Ireland put in 348 million Irish pounds, and we got back 2.2 billion."

It was a very good year.

Abortion foes

The money, of course, is persuasive. But not to everybody. Not, say, to Dr. Mary Lucey. On the contrary.

"I think a government that asks people to trade money for a principle is reprehensible," she said.

Dr. Lucey is the head of the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child, Ireland's main anti-abortion group.

She and the people who listen to her will vote against the treaty because they believe the expansion of the European Community's authority will override Ireland's Constitution and national laws, especially the one that prohibits abortion.

"The main problem," she said, "is that abortion is a service in every member state in the community. When the treaty is passed, that will mean that European law will be superior to ours in every way."

Dr. Lucey thinks Ireland never should have gone into the community, which it did by an 83 percent favorable vote in a referendum in 1972.

Europe, she says, is "not relevant to our culture, our ideals. All we've gotten out of Europe are a few roads."

Some people on the other side of the issue -- those who favor access to abortion in Ireland, or at least making information about it available to Irish women -- oppose the Maastricht treaty for another reason. They hate the protocol that was surreptitiously added by the Irish government of Charles J. Haughey while the treaty was being fashioned.

That protocol says in effect that nothing in the treaty can be construed to conflict with Ireland's constitutional amendment prohibiting abortion.

Protocol a problem

Tony O'Brien, the head of the Irish Family Planning Association, said the government made "a considerable error in negotiating the protocol. It mixes up the question of morality and state law."

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