Gormley urges withdrawal from European Defence Agency

 

GREEN PARTY leader John Gormley has said Ireland should withdraw from the European Defence Agency (EDA) to help persuade the public to back the Lisbon Treaty.

He also said holding a second referendum on the treaty before the summer could leave the Government open to criticism of performing a “rush job” on Lisbon.

“That has always been the Green Party position before entering government and that is still our position,” said Mr Gormley, when asked whether he wanted Ireland to withdraw from the EDA, which is an EU agency that helps states improve defence capabilities.

Mr Gormley said the issue was on the agenda of tomorrow’s Cabinet subcommittee meeting on Lisbon along with a debate on the texts of the concessions that Ireland wants to negotiate with its EU partners on social/ethical issues, taxation and defence.

He said the texts should also contain clear commitments that the Government would not be forced to spend more money on defence and military equipment by anything in the treaty.

“The point is the treaty itself says that member states shall improve their military capability and that is not acceptable to the Green Party. We should be able to spend our money in an independent way.

“It is very important in the wording of the concession there is no onus on Ireland at all to spend money on military capability so we are not forced in a certain direction,” he said.

The Greens’ demand for Ireland to withdraw from the defence group is likely to be strongly opposed by Minister for Defence Willie O’Dea, a keen supporter of EDA membership.

“It would put us in an impossible situation, I would argue, because we would not have access to the strategic information that we have had access to by virtue of our membership, and we would not be involved in the organisation and planning of missions,” Mr O’Dea told The Irish Times in an interview in January.

Mr Gormley also warned there was a danger that holding an early referendum on Lisbon could be perceived as a “rush job”. “The last thing you want to do is catch everyone like NGOs by surprise,” he said, while acknowledging there are also good arguments for holding a referendum before the European elections in June.

“People are ready for positive news on Europe and they want positivity and that would be in favour of the early referendum . . . I think we will have a decision on this fairly quickly I would hope before the March summit,” said Mr Gormley, who added he would begin drafting new legislation ensuring transparency of funding for referendums within 10 days.

“What I want to do is to ensure we can’t have a situation where some individuals with a certain level of wealth can dictate a referendum campaign,” said Mr Gormley, who denied the legislation was specifically targeted at Libertas founder Declan Ganley

Asked if he expected rank-and-file Greens at this weekend’s party conference to complain about the party’s association with Fianna Fáil, Mr Gormley said the polls were holding steady and the party was making significant achievements in government.

“If you look at what we are getting . . . in terms of recycling, insulation programmes and even this week the legislation I am publishing on spending limits on local election,” he said, while also noting that Green Ministers’ budgets were increasing even during the recession.