A whole month before the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty I wrote some thoughts on some of the issues at stake, so I thought I would look back to review my musing in light of the subsequent outcome. Therefore, I deemed it a worthwhile exercise to bring you just some of those comments as a background to the public and political debate that has ensued both here in Ireland and across Europe itself:

“Surveys reveal that a high percentage of the nation’s citizens don’t understand the issues at stake in the Lisbon Treaty – there is a fundamental information deficit in this regard. Those advocating a No vote have been doing most of the running so far though our new Taoiseach Brian Cowen has promised to bestir his Government into action this very week following recent efforts by Fine Gael and Labour to raise the profile of the treaty debate (no, not that treaty!) on the Yes side also.

“Sinn Fein has been vocal on the No side along with Libertas. We await the advising document of the Referendum Commission which was set up following the McKenna judgement whereby an impartial body would study the issues being proposed on a pro and contra basis and offer the key arguments on both sides in plain language to assist the citizenry in understanding the issues and come to a reasonably informed decision. But as of yet much puzzlement abounds as to what it really is all about. (A post poll survey revealed that as many as 40% gave this as a reason for voting No).

“But one thing is for sure it’s not about our membership of the EU being at stake – most of the No side are keen to stress this and I agree. But the Yes side will need to do some straight talking in getting their message across rather than relying on somewhat dubious scare-tactics which hint strongly that a No vote will un-yoke us from Europe. It will do no such thing. (Well that’s a huge issue now).

“This debate/treaty is all about an improved efficacy in the governance of the newly enlarged European Union of 27 nations. There are concerns here as to the extent and nature of these measures and their likely impact on us, be it taxation policy, employment legislation, neutrality or democratic weighting/representation issues. So let’s have information, in plain English agus Gaeilge, so as that we can have an open and frank debate on the Lisbon Treaty and not allow it be hi-jacked by other lobby groups pushing other agenda”.

And Again

Here is the concluding excerpt from our piece on neutrality and its history here in Ireland, going back to the Boer War through to conscription during the Great War and then to WWII:

“In the 1938 Anglo-Irish Agreement the British withdrew from the ports Bereheaven, Cobh and Lough Swilly – and Eamonn De Valera thus achieved the sovereignty that allowed him maintain successfully a policy of neutrality throughout World War II, or ‘The Emergency’ as we quaintly called it. Many claim that we were in fact ‘neutral in favour’ of the Allies – de facto as opposed to de jure, ach sin sceal eile!

“Ireland has maintained its neutrality ever since. It is not a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). Its neutral status has allowed it to play an active peacekeeping role in the United Nations which Ireland joined in 1955. But a document I read on the subject recently, written 12 years ago or so, stated that membership of the European Community (sic) does not involve Ireland in any military commitments, but is this statement still valid?

“Some argue that our neutrality status has been compromised over the years, now being part of the European Defence Agency. Others say we are in a much re-aligned world and that we have responsibilities to the Union to which we belong. Then there are those who say this was to be an Economic Union and not a Political one and thus argue that latter proposition is the real agenda behind the Lisbon Treaty. Recently I heard a discussion which spoke of the US being opposed/feeling threatened by the rise of the new Superpower of the European Union. In that new world can we remain neutral or semi-detached? Well the debate rages on and at this point, I believe that a second vote seems inevitable but others strongly demur.

The Rock of Ages

And upon this rock.. I will build my Waterford! Dear reader I have just come across a wonderful book on the Wildlife of Waterford City by Declan McGrath. It was first published two years ago and it’s a quality production with first class graphics and superb photography. It’s certainly a credit to its printers – Intacta Print. I’m obviously impressed and deservedly so!

Over the next few weeks I intend bringing you a few ‘taster’ excerpts from this book which may prompt you to go out and acquire a copy either by purchase or by borrowing a copy from your local library. It will certainly prove a valued addition to your book shelves.

Ab Initio

So let’s start at the very beginning with an introduction to the geology of our city – the very basis of our existence here. But let’s first put it into an Ireland context. The oldest rocks in Ireland are Precambrian in age or around 1,700 million years old and are found on the small Islands of Inishtrahull off the Donegal coast. The oldest rocks in Britain are over 2,000 million years old. The underlying rocks around Waterford City are way younger at 300 to 500 millions years old and were laid down mainly in the Lower Palaeozoic Eras, though Upper Palaeozoic are represented within the north western corner of the Waterford City limits (That sounds like Mount Misery to me).

During the Palaeozoic eras Ireland existed as two separate landmasses on different continents and the landmass roughly north of the Shannon Estuary was as far apart from the southern landmass as the island of Ireland is now from North America. A vast ocean, the Iapetus Ocean, which existed for several hundred million years, lay between the two continents and the two halves of fledgling Ireland. It reached its widest extent during the early Ordovician Period and then began to shrink.

The closure of the Iapetus Ocean resulted in the two parts of Ireland coming together, not in their present position but way off south, some 30 degrees below the Equator. It subsequently took around 400 million years and north easterly movements of around 9,000 kilometres for Ireland to reach its present position. And there’s more!

Rocking All Over the World

Keep the faith readers, we are getting there in discovering the reasons for the shape we’re in! The rocks from the Ordovician Period (510-4338 million years ago) comprise rhyolitic volcanics, grey, green and brown slates, dark grey slates with thin siltstones and balsatic and andesitic volcanics…….. metamorphic rocks. Sedimentary rocks of the Devonian Period in the north west of the city are red brown conglomerates, yellow and red sandstone and green mudstones, formed from being deposited in riverine environments. Following the Devonian Period the land was invaded by the sea, leading initially to accumulation of sandstone and mudstones and eventually to calcerous muds and limestones.

Subsequent tectonic activity accompanied by folding and faulting shaped the present distribution of rocks around Waterford City -now you know! A bit technical but you enjoy that too and we will look forward to bringing you more recognisable commentary as we move towards more recent times – geologically speaking! In the mean time I’m off to Hyde Park in pursuit of my youth and an other sort of rock altogether – mar Oisin I ndiaidh a Oige.

Go seachtain eile, slan.