Cowen confirms new Lisbon referendum after EU deal


Taoiseach Brian Cowen has confirmed he is going to hold a second referendum on the Lisbon treaty after the Government secured the legal guarantees it had requested over ethical issues, taxation, neutrality and the retention of a commissioner.

The deal was finalised at a European summit in Brussels today. However, the Government appears to have dropped its request to secure legally binding guarantees on workers rights in a new protocol that it will now seek to negotiate with its EU partners over coming months.

Following talks between Taoiseach Brian Cowen and British prime minister Gordon Brown in Brussels this morning a breakthrough over the extent of the legal guarantees offered to Ireland was achieved.

Speaking at a press conference in Brussels at lunchtime Mr Cowen said: "On the basis of today's agreement ... I am prepared to go back to the Irish people next year." The Lisbon treaty was rejected by the Irish electorate in June.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy said he was greatly satisfied that the Lisbon process had been relaunched. “The Irish will be consulted again,” he said at a press conference where he lauded the bravery of Mr Cowen in aiming to ratify the treaty again before November.

Asked about the guarantees the Irish had achieved at the summit, Mr Brown said he believed people would be satisfied by the agreement of EU leaders. “I believe (it is) a successful attempt to ensure that the Irish concerns are taken note of but not disrupting the progress we made in Europe on the Lisbon treaty,” he said.

Britain had raised an unexpected objection to the nature of some of the legal guarantees being sought by Mr Cowen, particularly to legally binding assurances about workers’ rights.

The issue of workers’ rights is particularly sensitive in Britain, which negotiated its own protocol to the Lisbon treaty to ensure the charter of fundamental rights could not override British domestic law. EU sources said there were concerns that legally binding guarantees offered to Ireland on social rights could cause political problems in Britain.

When asked about workers rights and the Irish guarantees at a press conference, Mr Brown said all the red lines negotiated by the British in the Lisbon treaty remained.

The draft summit conclusions have now been amended to remove a statement offering the Government the necessary legal guarantees on social issues. Instead, the conclusions contain language that now only offers assurances on workers rights.

“In addition, the high importance attached to the issues, including workers rights, set out in paragraph (d) of annex II will be confirmed,” says the amended set of summit conclusions.

The conclusions, which have now been finalised, also outline that that EU leaders have agreed to offer the “necessary legal guarantees on the following three points:

as regards all member states, nothing in the Lisbon treaty makes any change of any kind to the extent or operation of the Union’s competence in relation to taxation;

the Lisbon treaty does not prejudice the security and defence policy of member states, including Ireland’s traditional policy of neutrality, and the obligations of most other member states;

a guarantee that the provisions of the Irish constitution concerning the right to life, education and the family are wholly unaffected by the conferral of legal status on the EU charter of fundamental rights by the Lisbon treaty and by the justice and home affairs provision of the treaty.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio this morning, the Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheal Martin insisted that the deal put forward by the Taoiseach had been decided upon as a result of listening to the will of the people of Ireland.

"What we're endeavouring to do is reflect the wishes of the people as expressed through the ballot box and through the democratic process in a new situation and reflect that into agreements with the other countries because I'm convinced that Irish people don't want to hold up 26 other countries in Europe if we can get satisfaction on the issues that are important to the Irish people," he said.