Ministers to meet ahead of vital EU summit


BRUSSELS SUMMIT:SENIOR CABINET Ministers are to hold a special meeting of the Cabinet's European Union committee before the Taoiseach travels to Brussels tomorrow for the EU leaders' summit.

Meanwhile, the Dáil will hold several hours of debate on the outcome of Thursday's referendum, following Opposition protests that every other European parliament is discussing the crisis, bar Ireland's.

The Cabinet sub-committee, chaired by Brian Cowen, also includes Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan, Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Mary Coughlan, Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern, Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey and Green Party Ministers John Gormley and Eamon Ryan.

During Dáil exchanges yesterday, the Taoiseach repeatedly insisted that "no quick fixes" exist to deal with the referendum result, but he insisted that he would not be calling on other EU states to scrap their ratification of the treaty.

"We cannot question the wish of others to do this or to put their case in terms of what the treaty means for the future direction of the European Union when we expect them to respect our wishes. Respect is a two-way street and one has to accept that," he told Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin.

The Government's strategy now appears to be to buy time until the real attitude of the other member states becomes clear, while also allowing Irish public opinion to note the ongoing ratification of the treaty in other states.

Replying to Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, Mr Cowen said he would stress to EU colleagues tomorrow that "it is far too early yet to draw conclusions" and that the Government needs time "to take stock" of the reason for the treaty's rejection.

"I also will stress the need to consider what has happened and its implications in a calm, constructive and collective manner.

"I will underline that there can be no question of hasty answers or quick fixes," Mr Cowen said.

He said the Government would now begin a still-undefined process to investigate the reasons behind the majority's rejection of the treaty, but he warned: "I do not know whether we can address those concerns, some of which are contradictory.

"People voted against the treaty for a range of reasons. Different people had different perceptions and a different view of what the treaty involved, which may or may not have been objectively based on the treaty provisions."

Meanwhile, the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party decided at its meeting last night to defer its examination of the referendum defeat, and a review of the party's own performance.

So far, Mr Cowen has spoken to the president of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso, French president Nicolas Sarkozy, German chancellor Angela Merkel, British prime minister Gordon Brown, and the prime minister of Luxembourg Jean-Claude Juncker; he will speak to several more leaders today before he travels to Brussels tomorrow.

Mr Cowen welcomed "the initial message of solidarity that was apparent" at Monday's meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg, which followed on a "superb" performance by Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin, a number of sources said.

The referendum vote, said the Taoiseach, "does not mean Ireland is turning away from the European Union, or that it implies a desire to stand aside from engagement with our EU partners".

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny blamed part of the No vote on the anger held by many about the implementation of EU directives, and he urged Ministers to adopt a more user-friendly approach.

However, Mr Cowen said EU directives are implemented "in compliance with legal requirements" and done so in a way that is "as simple and proper as possible", and fair and proportionate.