Govt forced to hold EU Treaty referendum
The Attorney General has given her formal advice that, under the Irish constitution, a referendum is required on the so-called ‘fiscal compact’. She pointed out that the latest Treaty is outside that of the formal architecture of the European Union.
Her decision represents a major blow to the Dublin government and EU officials, who had worked assiduously in negotiations to ensure the Treaty was worded to avoid such a referendum in Ireland.
The newly-elected President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, indicated last week that he would convene a Council of State to study the constitutional ramifications of any decision not to hold the referendum. Sinn Féin and a number of independent TDs had also indicated their intention of pursuing a Supreme Court challenge if a referendum was not held.
In a dramatic u-turn this afternoon, Mr Kenny told the Dublin parliament that he looked forward to the debate, and declared that he believed the Treaty was “in the national interest”.
As he called for a ‘Yes’ vote, he insisted a permanent enforcement by the EU of the State’s annual budgets under new fiscal austerity rules would be good for Ireland.
Labour leader and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, speaking after Kenny’s announcement, said ratifying the Treaty would give the 26-County State access to further EU bailout loans. A ‘Yes’ vote would be “a vote for economic stability and a vote for economic recovery”, he declared.
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams welcomed the announcement and the “unusual” decision for it to be made in the Dáil chamber by Kenny and Gilmore.
“It gives us hope that you do listen to us on these matters,” he said. Their eventual acceptance of a need for a referendum represented “another failure” by the coalition government, but one which was “a good thing” for the Irish people.
He said the referendum was on an issue of “profound and long-lasting importance”. But pointing to the one-sided media debates and the refusal of previous governments to accept successive referendum outcomes on Europe, he asked:
“Will the Government accept the outcome? Or will there be a rerun replay?
“Will there be an informed debate, or the bullying tactic of the past employed?”
No date has yet been set for the referendum, but the deadline for the Treaty’s ratification is January 1, 2013.
Sinn Fein welcomes referendum announcement – Adams
Speaking in the Dáil this afternoon Teachta Adams said: “I want to welcome the announcement. It marks another failure by the government which tried to avoid a referendum. The Tanaiste has acknowledged this and you failed and that’s a good thing. Now the people will have their say.
“Since the first drafts of this Treaty were leaked to the public last December Sinn Féin has argued that there is a democratic imperative to have a referendum.And I am glad that there is also clearly a legal case.
“I think the value of a referendum is that the people will have their say on a matter that is profound and will have long lasting importance.
“The question is: will the government accept the outcome? Are we going to have the usual re-run? Will the government phrase the question in such a way so the people will be able to have an informed debate as opposed to bullying tactics that have been used in the past?
“I think it is crucially important that the campaign be informed and informative, that the details of the Treaty and its implications for the people of this state and the island be fully discussed and debated.
“Sinn Féin welcomes the announcement but let’s be clear. It’s an austerity Treaty it will not help to regenerate the economy. On the contrary it will condemn the people, particularly those in lower and middle income brackets, to this government’s terrible austerity policy.
“It’s little wonder that Fianna Fáil supports this. Fianna Fáil, Labour and Fine Gael formed the consensus for cuts and we are going to see that replay again.
“You are the Taoiseach who has declared that you want to be able to take economic power back into this state. But with this Treaty you are taking what limited fiscal power remains in this Oireachtas and giving it to unelected and undemocratic officials in Brussels.
“So let’s have a good debate. Let’s have an informed debate. Sinn Féin is against this Treaty from what we know of it – we wait to see the question that will be put. We’re against austerity. We don’t think it’s fair. We don’t think it’s right. We don’t think it’s proper that working people have to pay the penalty for bad government and that this has to happen to pay off the golden circle, the big bankers and the bondholders and developers.