Cowen plays down Sarkozy referendum comment


Taoiseach Brian Cowen has played down French president Nicolas Sarkozy's assertion that Ireland would have to hold a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

Speaking in New York where he is on an official visit, Mr Cowen said "we had to acknowledge that there were many views across Europe about the problems we face after the rejection of the measure".

During a meeting with deputies from his UMP party at his office in Paris yesterday, Mr Sarkozy, according to quotes from a number of those in attendance, said: “The Irish will have to vote again.”

The UMP deputies repeated the remarks to journalists waiting outside.

Mr Sarkozy’s special adviser also sought to tone down the comments when he appeared on television earlier today. Appearing on France 2 television, Henri Guaino said that Mr Sarkozy will “probably” ask Ireland to vote again on the Lisbon Treaty, adding that a new vote was “one of the possible solutions”.

Mr Guaino added that the text of the treaty should be modified to address Irish concerns.

Mr Cowen told fellow EU heads of government last month that he needed time to consider the best way forward before delivering a progress report in October. "I said I'd come back and report progress after the Government had had an opportunity to assess," Mr Cowen told reporters in New York when asked about Mr Sarkozy's comments.

Next Monday, the French president will travel to Dublin for a five-hour visit and hold meetings with Mr Cowen. He will also meet some representatives from the referendum campaign’s Yes and No camps.

Minister for European Affairs Dick Roche told RTÉ this morning: "What I am detecting is certainly a degree of puzzlement as to how Ireland goes forward but an anxiety not to make difficulties for Ireland and that we don't have a two-tier Europe which would disadvantage Ireland."

"The line from the Elysee couldn't be clearer. What President Sarkozy has said is that he is coming here to listen he is not coming here with a pre-cooked formula.

"We are going to analyse very carefully what the Irish people have said. They have made a very clear decision on this issue - that has to be respected but we have to understand what it is saying to us as policymakers."

Both pro and anti-Lisbon Treaty organisations have reacted angrily to Mr Sarkozy's assertion.

Labour Party’s European affairs spokesman, Joe Costello, yesterday said the remarks were unhelpful.

Declan Ganley of Libertas told RTÉ radio that the comments “typify the anti-democratic nature of what’s going on in Brussels”.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin described Mr Sarkozy’s comments as “insulting” to the Irish people.

"We have listened to a succession of EU leaders lining up to try and bully and coerce us into doing what they want,'' said Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh. "It is important that President Sarkozy understands that the Irish people demand that our vote is respected."