Cowen says Ireland 'faces uncertainty'

Wed, Jun 18, 2008, 01:00

Taoiseach Brian Cowen has warned that Ireland faces a period of uncertainty in the wake of last week’s No vote in the Lisbon Treaty referendum.

The Taoiseach said he would not be calling on other EU states to scrap their ratification of the treaty
The Taoiseach said he would not be calling on other EU states to scrap their ratification of the treaty

In a Dáil debate today on the outcome of last week’s referendum, Mr Cowen said he did not believe the result constituted a rejection of Europe or of the need to change how the union works.

But he said the Government fully accepted the verdict of the people and that the “will of the people was sovereign in our democracy”.

“It is for the Government now to manage the political situation that develops as a result, both at home and internationally."

The Taoiseach said he had no doubt that Ireland’s partners in Europe had a preference for finding a shared solution to the current impasse.

The referendum result dominated the Dáil business today ahead of tomorrow's EU summit in Brussels, where Mr Cowen will outline the Government's view of the referendum.

Mr Cowen said he hoped other states would “accord us the time we need to play our part in understanding last week’s vote" and not to prejudice the process which Ireland must undertake.

In his assessment of the referendum result, the Taoiseach conceded the core message of the need for the EU to function more efficiently did not sufficiently register with the public.

He also said that the format of the treaty, with its countless series of detailed amendments to existing treaties, became a frustration with the electorate.

Mr Cowen said many people were uneasy “about an apparent diminution in Ireland’s representation and influence in the institutions of the Union” in particular the loss of a commissioner for five out of every 15 years.

“Despite the fact that this was already agreed under the Nice Treaty which the Irish people accepted and which Ireland ratified.”

He said there was also concern expressed about Ireland’s right to maintain its tax sovereignty, its military neutrality and how the European Court of Justice would affect domestic laws such as those pertaining to abortion.

This was compounded, he believed, by other factors including a deep unease within the Irish farming community regarding the current strategy being adopted in negotiations at the World Trade Organisation.

Mr Cowen said he also held the belief that the current economic conditions may have affected the disposition of people as they approached the act of voting in the referendum.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said several of the No campaigns were based on lies repeated again and again, “even when these lies had been discredited by independent sources”.

“This was done with the clear intent to confuse people and create doubts in their minds,” Mr Kenny said.

Some of the claims, relating to tax, defence, abortion and euthanasia were simply groundless “while others, like 'vote Yes to keep our Commissioner' or our voting strength will be halved' were based on gross distortions of the treaty,” he said.

Mr Kenny said the result meant the treaty could not come into force as planned on January 1st next.

He also contended that the long delay in setting a date for the referendum created a vacuum in which false information was disseminated.

Explaining the failure of the Yes campaign, Labour leader Eamon Gilmore said the treaty was not an easy document to communicate.

Mr Gilmore said: “It was not based on one particular big idea, but rather contained a series of reforms, intended to make the European Union more effective and democratic.”

The absence of a unified theme, that could be related to the everyday lives of our people, meant that from day one, we were explaining. And in politics, when you’re explaining, you’re losing,” he said.

Sinn Fein, however, said the vote was a “positive assertion” by the Irish electorate of their power to decide vital national issues.

The party’s Dail leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said: “The people reached their verdict despite the hectoring of most of the political and media establishment.”

Mr Ó Caoláin said the vote was not about whether or not Ireland should remain in the EU.

“It was a vote about what type of EU we want to be part of developing. Will it be an EU of political elites and bureaucrats? Or will it be a democratic Europe of the people?”

The high turnout and the substantial margin of victory for the No side meant the Lisbon Treaty was dead, Labour’s spokesman on European Affairs Joe Costello said.

He suggested former taoiseach Bertie Ahern’s appearances at the Mahon tribunal and his subsequent resignation posisoned the campaign.