Referendum not required on EU banking union treaty, says academic

Pringle case judgment has changed the rules

Sat, Jun 1, 2013, 01:00

A referendum should not be required to endorse the forthcoming EU treaty on banking union, according to a leading academic.

John O’Hagan, professor of economics at Trinity College, Dublin, told a seminar in Dublin yesterday that last year’s Supreme Court decision in the Pringle case had significantly modified the Crotty judgment of 1987 which has resulted in referendums on EU treaties since then.

He was speaking at a seminar at the Institute of International and European Affairs on the issue of sovereignty.

“The judgments by Clarke and O’Donnell in Pringle 2012 are of particular interest as they set out the most recent Supreme Court positions on this issue and both address the issue of sovereignty and their interpretation of this term as expressed in the Constitution.

“Neither judge is in any doubt that the Irish government has the power to ratify international treaties, including those at an EU level, without recourse to a referendum,”said Mr O’Hagan.

He cited the opinion of Mr Justice Frank Clark who stated in the Pringle judgment: “The overall position is quite clear. The Government enjoys a wide discretion, under Art. 29.4, to enter into international treaties subject only to the obligation to obtain the approval of the Dáil . . . or that of the Oireachtas.”

The judge went on to say that the limit on the discretion which the government holds arises where the relevant treaty involves Ireland in committing itself to undefined policies not specified in the treaty.

Mr O’Hagan said the corollary of this seemed clear: where policies arising from the treaty change are defined there is no need for a referendum

“It seems to me then that the discretion of the government to commit to international treaties is a lot more expansive than previously thought,” he added.

He also quoted the views of Mr Justice Donal O’Donnell in the same case who said: “It is indeed in the nature of international relations, and expressly contemplated by the Constitution, that states will make treaties, enter into trade agreements, form alliances ... It is the decision to enter into an agreement or alliance which is the exercise of sovereignty.”