Fiscal treaty designed to avoid Irish referendum, official says

Wed, Feb 1, 2012, 00:00

EUROPE’S NEW fiscal treaty was specifically crafted to minimise the prospect of a referendum in Ireland, The Irish Timeshas learned.

As Fianna Fáil joined other Opposition groups in demanding a referendum, a high-level European official said elements of the pact were written with the objective of avoiding a public vote in Ireland.

The official acknowledged that the matter was likely to end up in the hands of the Supreme Court but said the EU authorities still hoped there would be no plebiscite in Ireland.

“We drafted the text for the treaty so that he has a chance to avoid a referendum,” the official said in reference to Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

“But this is not a political decision. You know that this is a decision made by the constitutional court.”

Asked whether the authorities in Brussels believed a referendum was likely, the official said it was more a matter of hope. “It’s not in terms of likely or not likely, it is hopefully or not hopefully, so we’d hope they don’t need to go to a referendum.”

On the challenge facing the Government in any referendum, the official said it was “perfectly well” known that the answer the public gave would not be the answer to the question posed. “So it is nothing to do with democracy.”

While it is not absolutely clear which parts of the treaty were written to suit the Government, Irish officials are known to have sought scope to adopt strict new limits to debt and deficits in legislation rather than through the Constitution. This was achieved late in the negotiations when Germany dropped its insistence on constitutional measures.

Fianna Fáil yesterday joined Sinn Féin and Independent TDs in demanding that a referendum should be held on the treaty, regardless of the constitutional advice that will be given to Government by Attorney General Máire Whelan.

In a significant divergence from the bipartisan approach with Fine Gael to Europe going back to 1972 Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin maintained that the people should be consulted. He did not say whether Fianna Fáil would campaign for a Yes or a No vote in any referendum but insisted that the people had not been kept informed adequately about the content of the treaty and should be consulted.

“The fundamental point is the need to consult with the people on this specific treaty,” he told Mr Kenny during Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil.

Mr Kenny said the Cabinet yesterday made a formal request to the Attorney General for her advice on whether the treaty was in compliance with Bunreacht na hÉireann.

There were heated exchanges between Mr Kenny and Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams who accused the Taoiseach of being “buddy, buddy” with French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Mr Kenny angrily replied that Mr Adams had been “buddy, buddy with some very shadowy creatures over the past 30 years”. The Sinn Féin leader called on the Opposition parties and Independents to unite in a campaign against the treaty.

If the Attorney General advises that a referendum is not required, a Bill giving effect to the provisions of the treaty will be presented to the Dáil and Seanad.

If passed it will then go to President Higgins for signature and there is already speculation in political circles that he will refer it to the Supreme Court.

Sinn Féin and the United Left Alliance are committed to a constitutional challenge so it looks inevitable that the issue will ultimately go to the courts if a referendum is not held.