Draft report says Lisbon could be revisited

Wed, Nov 26, 2008, 00:00

THE DRAFT report of the Oireachtas Subcommittee on Ireland's Future in the European Union highlights the possibility of a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty with appropriate supplementary material such as an EU decision or declaration on issues which were the subject of controversy in this country.

The report, a copy of which has been seen by The Irish Times, also makes a series of recommendations aimed at promoting awareness of European Union affairs among politicians and the public.

It recommends the setting-up of a new panel whereby a minimum of five members of Seanad Éireann would be elected on the basis of their knowledge and practical experience of EU matters. This would have to be approved in a constitutional referendum.

The report is being debated in private session by the subcommittee. Substantial amendments are being sought by Sinn Féin Senator Pearse Doherty and Independent Senator Rónán Mullen, both of whom campaigned for a No vote in the Lisbon referendum.

The final text is to be presented to the Joint Committee on European Affairs tomorrow and is likely to remain substantially unchanged from the draft version. This generally reflects the viewpoint of the majority on the cross-party group, who campaigned for a Yes vote last June.

In relation to the issue of neutrality, the report proposes a strengthening of the existing "triple lock" arrangement whereby a United Nations mandate, Government approval and a Dáil majority are required. "The Dáil should be required to have a 'super majority', where a two-thirds majority is needed for any proposal to send Irish troops overseas on peacekeeping missions."

Explaining its proposal for five new Senators with special EU expertise, the report states: "This should be done through a list system so that Seanad voters make their decision on the basis of parties rather than candidates.

"Senators elected from this panel would then play a leading role in the Oireachtas European Committees as potential chairs, vice-chairs, rapporteurs, or sub-committee chairs."

The report also recommends that an evaluation be carried out "for a similar initiative in the Dáil". Changes to the electoral system would require changes to the Constitution: "This would obviously involve a referendum." The Oireachtas should establish its own EU information office and the Government should consider "incentivising" the posting of Irish journalists in Brussels.

The Government should also consider setting up an impartial source of public information on the EU as well as the establishment of a cross-party foundation or think-tank on EU affairs.

On the Lisbon Treaty, the report believes there is no legal obstacle to a second referendum. On the issue of whether the treaty could be supplemented with declarations, decisions or protocols, the report points to the drawback that protocols would oblige all member-states to re-ratify the treaty.

A declaration, as was done with the Nice treaty, could be used to clarify aspects of the treaty and remove misunderstandings. A declaration could also ensure the retention of each member state's right to nominate a commissioner. This presupposed a willingness on the part of our EU partners to co-operate.

A decision by the member states was used after the Danish rejection of Maastricht in 1992. These are similar to protocols but do not require re-ratification and meant that Denmark secured opt-outs which were later added to the subsequent Amsterdam Treaty in 1997. The Danes now regret their opt-outs, the report suggests.

The report suggests ratification of Lisbon by parliamentary means alone is not a realistic option and may not be constitutionally possible. Alternatively, parts of the treaty could be ratified by the Oireachtas but this "could result in its complete collapse".

The report also suggests that leaving the EU or becoming part of an outer tier would be "catastrophic" for Ireland.