Coalition urged to commit itself to EU referendum


The country’s main opposition party has insisted the Government must hold a referendum to ratify the European Union’s new plans for tighter fiscal union.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said today the Irish people should be allowed to speak on “these new arrangements” through a referendum.

The so-called fiscal compact was agreed by every country in the EU, except Britain, at a summit in Brussels last week.

EU leaders say the deal, which will impose tighter budgetary rules on member states, will not be finalised until March next year.

Consequently, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said no decision would be made before March on whether or not to hold a referendum on the proposals.

However, Mr Martin said today said today there was no reason “to wait to make a decision on this.”

He was speaking earlier today outside Government Buildings after he and other opposition leaders were briefed by the Taoiseach on the outcome of last week’s summit.

Mr Martin said he told Mr Kenny that Europe’s political leaders were failing to address the core issues at the heart of the crisis in the euro zone, and urged him to ensure that the critical issue of Ireland’s bank debt be kept front and centre in Ireland’s dealings with Europe.

“The point that I have been making for many months is that by focusing on fiscal controls rather than debt, the EU is failing to address the crisis at hand and may actually be making matters worse,” he said.

Irish citizens are entitled to vote on any major transfer of powers to Brussels, said Minister of State for European Affairs Lucinda Creighton.

However, she said a decision on whether to hold a referendum could not be made until the pact was finalised in March.

"We certainly don't want to commit to be in a position to determine whether we need a referendum or not until we have the final text agreed by all member states," she said.

"We won't be making a determination on the basis of an initial draft, we'll be making a determination of what comes out of the whole process."

EU diplomats hope the first draft of the new fiscal treaty will be ready next week and European Council president Herman Van Rompuy said today that the "fiscal compact" will be signed in early March at the latest.

The EU's aim is to have the new treaty ratified by June 2012, giving the Government in three months to convince an electorate to support the deal.

Irish voters have twice rejected European referendums before eventually passing them once concessions were offered, most recently in 2010 when in return for passing the Lisbon Treaty Ireland got assurances on its military neutrality and its ability to decide its own tax rates.

It is still unclear whether the intergovernmental treaty will require unanimous ratification but a no vote from a euro zone member would complicate the currency bloc's move to quell its debt crisis.

Additional reporting by Reuters