Decision to end forum on Europe criticised

Fri, Apr 10, 2009, 01:00

THE GOVERNMENT’S decision to wind down the National Forum on Europe has been criticised by several campaigners for and against the Lisbon Treaty, who argue the move will stifle debate in the run-up to a second referendum.

In a statement yesterday, the Government said the decision to close the forum was taken in light of the current budgetary situation.

The forum, which is chaired by Dr Maurice Hayes, was established in 2001 to facilitate debate on Ireland’s membership of the EU following a No vote in the Nice Treaty referendum. It comprised members of the Oireachtas, non-Oireachtas political parties, and civil society representatives.

The forum was allocated a budget of €3 million last year to organise an information campaign leading up to the June referendum.

In addition to publishing a summary guide to the treaty, the forum held 23 regional meetings and 13 plenary meetings in Dublin. While acknowledging the contribution the forum had made, the Government said this did not “automatically mean it should continue indefinitely”.

It added that the forum’s role would be taken over by the Oireachtas Sub-Committee on Ireland’s Future in Europe.

Labour MEP Proinsias de Rossa said the decision was a “false economy”, arguing it would prove “disastrous and expensive” in the long run. “This is the most important year in the history of this country’s relations with the EU. Given the upcoming European elections and referendum, combined with the economic downturn and the urgent need for us to step up our engagement with the EU, the closure of the key facilitator of national discussion on Ireland’s place in Europe will have severe political and economic repercussions.”

Party colleague Joe Costello TD agreed, describing the move as “very short-sighted”.

Socialist Party leader Joe Higgins, who campaigned against the Lisbon Treaty, claimed the move was a “calculated strategy to strangle a wide-ranging and democratic debate” in advance of a second referendum.

Raymond O’Malley, who is running in the European Parliament elections for the anti-Lisbon Treaty group Libertas, also denounced the decision.

Fine Gael spokesman on foreign affairs Billy Timmins TD paid tribute to the work of the forum. “Much of their good work was carried out away from the glare of publicity, and it will only be with the closure of the forum that the extent of their work will be appreciated.”

However, his party colleague and spokeswoman on European affairs Lucinda Creighton TD welcomed the decision, saying the Oireachtas was the “appropriate” place for such debate.

“The Forum on Europe had degenerated into a talking-shop, dominated by the social partners... The forum had become a very, very expensive forum of hot air.”