Government insists there is ample time for fiscal compact debate

Tue, Apr 17, 2012, 01:00

THE GOVERNMENT has insisted there is ample time for a fully-informed debate on the EU’s fiscal compact over the next six weeks despite the commission set up for last October’s two referendums complaining that it was given a “grossly inadequate time frame”.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and Minister for Finance Michael Noonan all expressed confidence that the new Referendum Commission would be in a position to make all relevant information available to facilitate a full debate.

Speaking separately, they also drew a distinction between the fact that the poll on May 31st would be held to decide a single issue and would not be held in conjunction with another referendum and an election, as happened last October.

They were responding to an article in The Irish Times which disclosed details of the report by the Referendum Commission on votes on judges’ pay and Oireachtas inquiries. The report was delivered to Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan on March 2nd, but has yet to be published.

The Department of the Environment said that as of last night the agenda for today’s Cabinet meeting did not include the report which would have to be presented to Ministers before publication.

The commission carried out research that showed that a lack of understanding of what was proposed had a significant bearing on the voting intentions of a substantial number of voters who voted No or abstained.

It criticised the fact that it had “just five weeks” to prepare its explanation of the proposals, write the text of the guide and print and distribute it throughout the State.

The referendum on judges’ pay was passed, while voters rejected the proposed constitutional amendment extending the power of the Oireachtas to conduct inquiries.

Yesterday, a spokesman for the Taoiseach said this referendum was given sufficient time for public debate. The Taoiseach had committed at the end of February that it would be a stand-alone referendum.

A spokeswoman for the Tánaiste rejected the proposition that it was being rushed. “We are confident that there will be full debate on this referendum.”

Mr Noonan said this commission would have a two-month period, and said the work was already under way. “The thing to remember is that this treaty isn’t like the Lisbon Treaty. It has about 20 pages that will explain the whole lot, and it’s possible for anybody to sit down for an hour and read it and understand it. It doesn’t have the complex detail issues that were in the Lisbon Treaty, which confused people.”

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin called on Mr Hogan to explain what he described as “suppression” of the Referendum Commission’s report.

Saying sections had been leaked to The Irish Times, he asked why Mr Hogan had “sat on it for six weeks”.

“There will be public suspicion that a Government obsessed by spin is simply trying to avoid publishing a document that may be critical of its performance.”