Government to work to ensure UK is not isolated from EU

Mon, Dec 12, 2011, 00:00

THE GOVERNMENT intends to launch an intensive diplomatic engagement with Britain to ensure London is not left isolated as a result of its refusal to agree strict new fiscal rules in the European Union.

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said yesterday it was not in Ireland’s interest that Britain would be left isolated arising from prime minister David Cameron’s decision not to back treaty change.

Mr Gilmore is expected to begin a series of bilateral meetings with London within weeks.

It was also confirmed by the Tánaiste and by Minister of State for Europe Lucinda Creighton yesterday that it could be as late as March before Attorney General Máire Whelan can advise the Government on whether or not a referendum will be required arising out of last week’s agreement. “I believe there will be a lot of discussion on that between now and March. I will be surprised if Britain is not involved in that discussion between now and March,” Mr Gilmore said.

Separately, former attorney general Michael McDowell said yesterday that on first reading of reports, his “hunch” was a referendum would be required. However, the former PD leader added that without seeing how it would interact with the treaty “you would be very brave to venture an opinion without further seeing the text and substance of what was being proposed”.

Mr Gilmore said Britain’s decision did not mean it could not be involved in the process that would now take place to forge an international treaty. “Britain is our nearest neighbour, a very close friend. They voluntarily came to Ireland’s assistance last year in the way of a bilateral loan.

“You can take it there will be a lot of bilateral discussions between Ireland and Britain over the next period of time, both about their position within the EU, common agendas that Ireland has with Britain, and in relation to their position on this proposed agreement,” he told RTÉ.

A senior Government source later clarified that Mr Gilmore had not suggested that Britain could be persuaded to reconsider its stance on treaty change. “The key issue is isolation and ensuring that Britain is not isolated from the process that will unfold over the next three months because they are not in favour of treaty change or treaty negotiation.”

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin warned the rift with Britain could threaten the future of the EU. Mr Martin said the absence of Britain from key discussions and regulations represented “a huge threat to our long-term economic prospects”.

Asked about the need for a referendum, Mr Gilmore made a distinction between an EU treaty change and an international agreement involving up to 26 countries. Asked if Britain had done Ireland a favour by facilitating an arrangement that bypassed a referendum, Mr Gilmore indicated a referendum would depend on the substance or text rather than the form.

Ms Creighton said her view was there was no difference between treaty change and an international agreement vis-à-vis a referendum.

“The only question on the table is are we ceding some sort of competence to another body?” she said.

Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald called for a referendum to be held.

Meanwhile, Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte became the first Labour member of Government to signal possible change to the Croke Park agreement with public sector unions. Speaking on RTÉ’s Week in Politics, Mr Rabbitte said depending on how the situation developed in the euro zone, the Government might have to sit down with the unions and talk about renegotiating the deal.

A senior member of Siptu, Paul Bell, said Mr Rabbitte was entering “very dangerous territory”.