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Daily Mail banner 13 June 2008

Why, today, I'm proud to be Irish

Today I'm very proud to be Irish. Although instructed by their mainstream political parties to vote Yes, and threatened with terrible consequences if they did not obey, the 'plain people of Ireland' have refused to kowtow.

Quite simply, the arrogance of those dictating to them was as stupid as it was outrageous.

Warnings of dire consequences were threatened should Ireland dissent. 'If there was a "No" in Ireland or in another country, it would have a very negative effect for the EU,' said president Jose Manuel Barroso. 'We will all pay a price for it, Ireland included.'

Reason to cheer: Ecstatic 'No' voters celebrate the Irish referendum result

'The first victims would be the Irish,' added Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister.

Sorry, but the Irish resent being bullied by foreign politicians, just as they object to being patronised by their own politicians.

And when the new prime minister, Brian Cowen, told them blithely that he hadn't even read the Treaty, they were even more offended. Why, they wondered, were they being told to agree to something no one seemed to understand - not even their own leader?

The Yes campaign was not just bland and vacuous: It dismissed as scaremongering any of the criticisms made by the No lobby.

Voters were genuinely worried about such issues as immigration, tax, abortion and sovereignty.

Just as in the UK, in many parts of Ireland public services are under great strain from the recent influx of Eastern Europeans; people are sick of being accused of racism for discussing it and they are alarmed at their country's loss of control over its own borders. Knowing that much of the success of the Celtic Tiger was built on low corporate taxation that attracted foreign investment, there was a widespread fear that Brussels would take away that competitive advantage by harmonising tax levels.

Despite reassurances, there was a real concern, too, that European judges would eventually force a secular ethos on Ireland, bringing in abortion through the backdoor.

In other words, there was a belief that the sovereignty of individual nations was being diluted by power-grabbing, unelected, unaccountable, secretive bureaucrats.

That there would also be a permanent EU President and Foreign Minister chosen through horse-trading behind closed doors, as well as a European army and a common defence and military policy, were further causes of unease.

What makes the victory for the No vote all the more surprising - and encouraging - is that it represents a victory for the common man over the political elite. While the prosperous and the political classes supported the Lisbon Treaty, and dismissed the opposition as cranks, the working class and the country folk voted No in large numbers.

They have made their voice heard, loud and clear, over the patronising platitudes of the bien pensants.

Although the Irish are, in principle, keen Europeans, and grateful for the economic help they received at a crucial time in their history, they are also fiercely proud of their little country.

Like most people in the EU, they want to keep the best of their culture and hold on to their national individuality.

And they simply didn't believe the so-called guarantees they were offered to sign up to the new Treaty.

That's why all of us who are not slavishly devoted to an ever-expanding, ill-defined 'European project' should be toasting the Irish electorate today.

They spoke for all of us.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards