Kenny prefers date in late May for treaty referendum


THE REFERENDUM on the EU stability treaty is most likely to be held at the end of May, senior political sources told The Irish Timeslast night. This is understood to be Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s preference.

The referendum is due to be discussed at this morning’s weekly Cabinet meeting, although the actual date may not be announced until later this month.

The Cabinet is today expected to approve proposals from Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore to draft legislation enabling the referendum to be held. It is also likely to decide in principle to establish a Referendum Commission.

The 31st Amendment to the Constitution Bill must be published before the Referendum Commission can actually be set up. This body is chaired by a serving judge of the High Court or a retired member of the High or Supreme Courts.

For the first time since the Government was formed, Fine Gael senior and junior Ministers have held a meeting to discuss topics of current interest.

The Taoiseach is understood to have told this meeting, which took place at his department last Wednesday, that he felt the referendum should take place in late May. He is said to have expressed the same view at the previous day’s Cabinet meeting.

Meetings of Fine Gael Ministers were a fairly regular monthly occurrence in the period of the rainbow coalition with Labour and Democratic Left of 1994-97.

The Taoiseach is said to be keen to play a very active leading role in the campaign for a Yes vote in the referendum.

The view was also expressed at the Fine Gael Ministers’ meeting that it was critically important to have civil society groups heavily involved in the campaign, since this was crucial to securing approval for the Lisbon Treaty.

The Fine Gael Ministers are also very anxious that the two Coalition parties be seen to be campaigning in a united fashion for a Yes vote.

The party’s ardfheis, to take place in Dublin at the end of this month, was also discussed.

This event is seen as a major launching pad for the referendum campaign.

However, the gathering of Ministers from the main Government party did not reflect any Coalition tensions or desire to differentiate themselves from their Labour partners, a senior Fine Gael source said.

The majority view in Government at this stage is that holding the referendum in June would clash with the start of summer examinations, the start of the European soccer championships and the Eucharistic Congress.

No Cabinet meeting is planned for next week in view of the absence of so many Ministers abroad for events connected with St Patrick’s Day.

Unofficial Government sources said a “committed group of Ministers will be dedicated to the referendum campaign”.

In addition to the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste, Ministers of State such as Lucinda Creighton and Brian Hayes are expected to take a high profile.

There is said to be a “quiet confidence” in Government circles that a majority of the electorate will support the treaty.

Sinn Féin foreign affairs spokesman Pádraig Mac Lochlainn said in a statement yesterday that the referendum on the “austerity treaty” should happen before the summer.

“The Government needs to name a date now, but what is more important is that the campaign takes place in a respectful and democratic manner, without the scaremongering that has taken place during previous European referendum campaigns.

“We also need to see a clear commitment from the Government that this question will only be put to the people once, and that the result will be respected no matter what.”