Cabinet divided over date for referendum


DIVERGENT VIEWS have emerged within the Cabinet about the best date to hold the crucial referendum on the fiscal treaty with some Ministers maintaining a polling date in autumn would be preferable.

The timing of the referendum will be discussed at Cabinet today but no final decision will be made. It came as Taoiseach Enda Kenny said there will be no second referendum if the people vote against ratification.

Speaking yesterday in Castlebar, in his home constituency of Mayo, the Taoiseach said: “As this treaty does not require unanimity, therefore there is no veto involved here, so it’s a once-off.

“And when the Irish people make their choice, that’s it,” he said.

The referendum will be the Government’s top priority into the immediate future and Mr Kenny discussed it with senior Ministers on his return last Friday after signing the Treaty at the EU Summit in Brussels.

This was at a meeting of the pivotal Economic Management Council whose other members are Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin.

Mr Gilmore will bring a memo to Cabinet today on the process of ratification but this will not specify a date for holding the referendum.

Several Government sources confirmed yesterday that while the general thinking is to hold it earlier rather than later, some senior Ministers have not dismissed the merits of holding the poll after the summer break. One Minister said yesterday that Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Mr Noonan are among those who have yet to express a preference to colleagues, and have left open the option of a later poll.

One senior Minister, who spoke on the condition of not being named, said that he was one of those who had originally wanted the referendum to be held in autumn but had recently been persuaded that an earlier poll was preferable.

The Minister favoured a date in late May or early June.

“I was one of those who favoured a later poll. It would allow us to wait and see the outcome of the French presidential election and the change, if any, in its approach to the Fiscal Treaty.

“It would also have let [the treaty] be up and running with countries signed up to show how it worked.

“As against that there were considerations like coming to a referendum after the ‘silly season’ [August] and dealing with the host of extraneous issues involved,” said the Minister.

The Minister was one of three who pointed out that the second Lisbon Treaty referendum was held in the autumn*.

Minister of State for Finance Brian Hayes said his preference has always been for an earlier poll.

“My personal view is that the sooner it is held the better. You need some time for debate, a two months or three months period. But for market certainty, it is better not to put it off,” he said.

The objective is to go back to the market at the end of 2013. That is the phased basis I was talking about.

The Government spokesman said the date had not been decided. “There is no decision. There are always variables in relation to the appropriate date. Everything is being genuinely discussed in relation to the date,” he said.

The publication of two opinion polls last weekend showing clear initial support for the Treaty strengthened the case for holding the referendum in late May or early June.

Minister of State for European Affairs Lucinda Creighton has rejected Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton’s view that restructuring the €31 billion promissory notes for the former Anglo-Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide would help ensure a Yes vote.

“It’s very important that we do see progress on the issue of our promissory notes and Michael Noonan is leading that negotiation on behalf of the Government,” Ms Creighton said. “That is a work in progress, it is entirely separate to the ratification of this Treaty,” she added.

When it was put to her that Ms Burton was not treating them as separate, she said: “Well, the Government is keeping those two issues separate because they are separate by their very nature.”

Making a similar point, Minister for Health Dr James Reilly said in Cork: “The Taoiseach has made it very clear – this referendum is not about the promissory notes, it’s about a fiscal compact which allowed us to stay at the centre of Europe.”

* This article was edited on Tuesday, March 6th, 2012 to correct a factual error.