Haughey engaged in telephone diplomacy to ease fears on European referendum

Files reveal taoiseach spoke to French president the day after Supreme Court decision

Economist and campaigner Raymond Crotty: his Supreme Court case to prevent the government signing the Single European Act led to the landmark decision that the treaty must be put to the Irish people by way of a referendum. Photographer: Jack McManus

Economist and campaigner Raymond Crotty: his Supreme Court case to prevent the government signing the Single European Act led to the landmark decision that the treaty must be put to the Irish people by way of a referendum. Photographer: Jack McManus

 

Taoiseach Charles Haughey was forced to engage in an urgent round of phone calls with European leaders in spring 1987 to explain why Ireland could not ratify the Single European Act (SEA), thereby putting the creation of the single market at risk.

Just a month after he began his third term as taoiseach in March 1987, Haughey was shocked by a Supreme Court decision that forced him to hold a referendum on the Single European Act.

Government press secretary PJ Mara told political correspondents Haughey was furious at the decision of the court, arrived at by a 3/2 majority, which he believed to be perverse.

The case had been taken by economist and campaigner Raymond Crotty, who had argued that provisions in the SEA would impinge on Ireland’s neutrality and erode sovereignty in a way not envisaged when Ireland joined the EEC in 1972.

Just a few months earlier, in opposition in 1986, Haughey had demanded a referendum and encouraged the legal challenge but he now faced a serious political crisis on Europe in tandem with the battle he faced to cope with the public finances.

The Department of Foreign Affairs archives reveal Haughey spoke to President François Mitterand of France the day after the court decision was announced on April 9th.

“I was present on the afternoon of April 10th when the Taoiseach talked to President Mitterand,” wrote Foreign Affairs official David Donoghue.

“The Taoiseach (speaking on the lines of an earlier conversation with Prime Minister Martens of Belgium) said that he regretted the development, over which he had no control, and that he hoped everything would be in order before the European Council meeting at the end of June.

“The French president was very courteous and understanding and there was a particularly amicable exchange,” recorded the official.

The following morning, Donoghue went to the taoiseach’s home in Kinsealy to be on stand-by in the event of a phone conversation materialising with Chancellor Helmut Kohl of West Germany.

“In the event, one of the Chancellor’s officials rang at the appointed time and, as he spoke English, the Taoiseach spoke to him without my assistance. From what I gathered from the Taoiseach subsequently, the official had been asked by the Chancellor to take a message to the Taoiseach.

“Though I was not present during the conversation, my impression was that the Taoiseach spoke to the official very much on the lines of earlier conversations with other Heads of Government. There was not particular suggestion from the Taoiseach afterwards that a follow-up conversation with the Chancellor personally was called for.”

Dáil was recalled

The Dáil was recalled during the Easter break to pass a Bill providing for a referendum on the SEA on May 26th.

During the referendum campaign, there were reports that some other European governments were annoyed at prospect the SEA might be blocked by Ireland despite the fact that it was signed by all other member states.

Just days before the referendum, the German economic minister Martin Bangemann was reported as telling Irish Industry minister Albert Reynolds there would be harmful consequences for this country if the SEA was not ratified. The German government officially denied the report but it was widely believed to be true.

In the event, the SEA was passed by a massive majority, with 70 per cent voting yes but the court decision resulted in a number of subsequent referendums on EU treaties, two of which were defeated before being run a second time.

The archives reveal the government spent €202,417 on media advertising calling for a Yes vote in the referendum.

When the bills came due for payment in October 1987, Haughey directed the bill should be paid by the Department of Foreign Affairs rather than his own department. He instructed that a supplementary estimate should be passed if Foreign Affairs could not find the money through savings in its original estimate.