“Hello, you’re through to the Lisbon Line…”

This could be the answer at the other end of the telephone in a few short weeks as the second Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty approaches.

In yesterday’s Irish Times Frank Clarke, the chairman of the Referendum Commission in the republic, reassured voters that the commission will be working to make the treaty as understandable to the electorate as possible.

The Lisbon Treaty is not a page-turner, he admits. But the commission, which is an independent and impartial body, will soon be publishing leaflets and a handbook explaining what the treaty actually means for Ireland.

Crucially, he underlines the fact that the treaty has not changed a jot since last year’s ‘No’ vote. 

“However, the European Council has made decisions giving assurances on certain issues that were of concern to Irish voters in last year’s campaign, and it has said it will include these statements as protocols to a future EU treaty, thus giving them the status of EU law,” he writes. 

And very helpfully, Clarke has summarised in broad terms the main implications the treaty would have on Ireland, and de facto on the United Kingdom:

Some decisions which currently must be taken unanimously would be taken by a qualified majority vote. These areas include energy, asylum, immigration, judicial co-operation and sport.

The European Parliament would be given more decision-making powers.

There would be a new post, that of president of the European Council.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights would be given the same legal value as the main treaties.

If the Lisbon Treaty is not a roadmap to a European federal superstate, then I will eat my national form of headdress.

But, back to the Referendum Commission’s plans. As well as leaflets and a handbook there will be a “dedicated telephone helpline” to assist weary Irish voters in accessing information and getting answers to any questions they have.

Blimey. If I felt sorry for the unfortunate people manning the NHS swine flu helpine (on the meagre wage of £5.80 per hour, according to the job ads last week), I feel even more sorry for the poor souls who will be manning this Lisbon helpline.

“Hello, Lisbon Line, how can I help?”

“Oh, hello. If I vote ‘Yes’ in the referendum and the treaty is passed, would it undermine Ireland’s influence in Europe, open the door to interference in taxation and enshrine EU law above Irish law?”

“Erm…Hold on, I’ll ask a supervisor!” 

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