Coalition may be in breach of Constitution, says Rabbitte


LEGAL ISSUE:THE GOVERNMENT may be acting in breach of Article 29 of the Constitution by proceeding with the EU-IMF programme for Ireland, Labour Party spokesman on justice Pat Rabbitte has claimed.

Mr Rabbitte called on the Coalition to clarify the “exact status” of the agreement in Irish and international law.

A similar stance was taken by maverick Fianna Fáil TD for Tipperary South Mattie McGrath, who said: “If, as the Taoiseach has said, the agreement is not going before the Dáil, we will be constitutionally required to hold a referendum on it.”

However, Minister of State for Children Barry Andrews insisted the joint programme was not an international agreement for the purposes set out in the Constitution, and neither the Oireachtas nor any future government was restricted by the agreement.

Asked whether he would consider taking a legal challenge, Mr Rabbitte said he would “not rule out anything”, but first wanted to examine the Government’s response.

In particular, he wanted to know what legal advice the Government had been given in the light of Article 29.5.2 of the Constitution, which states: “The State shall not be bound by any international agreement involving a charge upon public funds unless the terms of the agreement shall have been approved by Dáil Éireann.”

The Labour Party frontbencher said: “Yet the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance have made it clear that they will not submit this programme to a Dáil vote.

“If the bailout deal is meant to be a binding contract, then how does the Government square that with the judgments of the courts that prohibit any government from fettering its own discretion . . . these are questions to which the Dáil, the public and the international community are entitled to answers,” he added.

“If the Government does not answer them then the courts will inevitably become involved. In the meantime, the reticence if not refusal of the Government to deal with the issue can only add to current instability and further undermine its credibility.”

Mr Andrews responded: “I want to assure people the loan facility agreements and the Memos of Understanding under the EU-IMF joint programme for Ireland are not an international agreement for the purposes of Article 29.5 and 29.6 of the Constitution.

“The nature of the loan facility agreement for the European Financial Stability Mechanism specifically derives from Council Regulation EU number 407/2010, under which Ireland can request financial assistance.

“Under this regulation Ireland is provided a facility to draw down certain monies in the future,” he said. “A future government is not obliged to avail of any drawdown. Accordingly, future executive action of a government is not fettered, nor is the legislative freedom of the Oireachtas,” he added.

Mr McGrath, who lost the Fianna Fáil whip last June, said: “Article 29.5.2 . . . states every international agreement to which the State becomes a party shall be laid before Dáil Éireann.

“If, as the Taoiseach has said, the agreement is not going before the Dáil, we will be constitutionally required to hold a referendum on it. The people of Ireland, along with their elected representatives, have not been told the truth or have not been consulted for far too long on these very serious issues for the future of our country.

“The debts we are talking about were incurred . . . by private wheeler-dealers seeking nothing but their own profit. Yet ordinary Irish citizens are now bearing the burden of those debts.”