Ó Cuív quits as FF deputy leader over EU referendum


Fianna Fáil’s Éamon Ó Cuív has resigned as deputy leader and party spokesman on communications, energy and natural resources in a row over the European fiscal compact treaty.

In a statement released this evening, party leader Micheál Martin said his former deputy's refusal to support the parliamentary party's position on the fiscal compact meant it was “no longer feasible for him to occupy these roles”.

Mr Martin said Fianna Fáil would be supporting the referendum last night.

Earlier today the Fianna Fáil leader had welcomed the decision to hold a referendum and pledged his party’s support for the Yes campaign, but Mr Cuív expressed reservations over how he would vote.

Speaking this evening, Mr Ó Cuív said he accepted his views on Europe were "not compatible" with those held by Mr Martin and the majority in the Fianna Fáil party.

"But, to me, this whole issue is about the fundamental future of Ireland, and I believe it's much bigger than any one individual or any one group of people, and therefore it would be incompatible for me to stay as deputy leader and not have my heart and soul in what I would consider to be an absolutely fundamental decision that we have to make," he said on Today FM.

Earlier, when asked about his voting intentions on TG4’s Seacht Lá programme, Mr Ó Cuív said: “That is a personal matter for me.”

He said he had stated previously how he had voted and he was not going to make the same mistake again. This was a reference to his disclosure that he had voted No in the first Nice referendum.

Elsewhere, European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said passing the referendum is in Ireland’s interest.

Speaking at a news conference in Brussels today Mr Barroso said the treaty would help to rebuild the Irish economy but ultimately it was up to each member state to decide on whether to approve it or not.

Minister for European Affairs Lucinda Creighton said it would "send a very negative signal to investors" if voters fail to pass a referendum on the treaty.

It also emerged today the vote on the fiscal compact would be held separately from other referendums planned this year.

It would be "very difficult" if Ireland were the only euro-area country not to ratify the treaty, Ms Creighton said. "It’s not just a treaty for Ireland but one for all of the euro zone, and it’s really about putting in place rules that are going to help the Irish currency, which is the euro, to stabilise," she told RTÉ's Morning Ireland programme.

Investment and job creation in Ireland will "certainly come into question" if the country is not part of the European Union, Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan said later.

"I welcome the fact that the Irish people will be able to adjudicate on the contribution that the European Union is making through this fiscal treaty, to job creation and to ensuring that we are able to come through our EU-IMF programme as quickly as we possibly an and get back our economic sovereignty," he said.

He said he believed when those particular matters were put to the attention of the Irish electorate, there would be a positive response and they would vote Yes.

Asked if he was concerned the referendum campaign would become bogged down in other issues such as the household charge, the Minister said it was a very different matter.

"I think ultimately people will have elements of difficulty with national policy issues. This is a very different issue.

"This is a serious matter that requires the full attention of people in terms of how we are going to get out of our difficulties financially and otherwise, and build on the job creation and inward investment that we see from countries all over the world coming in to Ireland at the moment."

Mr Hogan said if we were not part of the European Union, the foreign direct investment and the jobs coming into the country would "certainly come into question".

However, Independent Donegal TD Thomas Pringle said a No vote would maintain the Government’s ability to control its own fiscal policy.

He warned the treaty would "enshrine a permanent system of balanced budgets as well as permanent austerity into the future".

The vote on the European Stability Treaty will be held on its own, but other scheduled referendums will go ahead this year, Taoiseach Enda Kenny told the Dáil this morning.

Mr Kenny said proposed referendums on child protection, the abolition of the Seanad, or any other referendum, would not be interfered with by the treaty vote.

The Taoiseach, who was replying in the Dáil today to Fine Gael TD John O’Mahony, said the treaty referendum was a very serious question for the Irish people.

It was about Ireland’s future, the people’s future and about keeping this country right at the heart of the European process, with an opportunity for investment and job creation, the Taoiseach said, adding: “That is where our future is and that is where we need to be."

He was asked about the timetable for the treaty referendum by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams. Mr Kenny said the Government had not set out a specific time process for the preparation of the referendum bill and the process to be gone through before the people were asked the question.

The Taoiseach added that he would be able to provide more accurate information following next Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting. He was positively disposed toward setting up an Oireachtas sub-committee dealing with the matter, he said.

The Government's decision to hold a referendum could have profound consequences for the country’s future prosperity and has caused some surprise in other European Union capitals.

No date has been set for the referendum but it is expected to take place in May or June.

The Taoiseach said that he intended to sign the treaty at a meeting with the other EU heads of Government in Brussels on Friday.

He said the Government would finalise the arrangements and the process leading to the referendum in the coming weeks, and a referendum commission would be established.

“I am very confident that when the importance and merit are communicated to the Irish people they will endorse it emphatically by voting yes to continuing economic stability and recovery,” he said.

Mr Kenny said the decision had been taken at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting following the advice of Attorney General Máire Whelan that, as the treaty was outside the EU architecture, on balance a referendum should be held.

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said the referendum would come down to a vote for economic growth and stability. “We now have an opportunity to go beyond the casino capitalism,” he said.

In the Dáil, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams accused the Government of trying to avoid a referendum and said the fact that it was now going to be held represented a failure for the Coalition.

Speaking on behalf of the technical group, South Dublin TD Shane Ross also expressed opposition to the treaty, saying it was a formula for austerity which had been dictated by the Germans and the French.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said he would be asking his party to support the treaty as it was in the national interest.