Kenny says Lisbon poll in June would be a 'serious mistake'


Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny has said holding a second Lisbon Treaty referendum on the same day as the European Parliament elections in June would be a "serious mistake" and he called on the Government to confirm its original indication that the ballot will be held in October.

Mr Kenny was speaking at a selection convention in Cork for the Ireland South constituency for the European Parliament elections in June.

“The next referendum on Lisbon must mark a first step in the restoration of the perception of Ireland as a committed member of the union. We must engage in a mature debate about whether we want to reaffirm our commitment to the European project,” Mr Kenny said.

He said the Government had promised to keep Fine Gael informed of developments, after he criticised Taoiseach Brian Cowen last December for his failure to consult with other parties on the referendum.

“Unfortunately, two months later, we have not received any further contact. I note from media reports that the Government may be considering bringing the referendum forward and holding it on the same day as the local and European elections.

“I believe that this would be a serious mistake. Not only would the necessary public debate on Lisbon be overshadowed by the election campaigns, it would run the risk of the elections being turned into proxy referendums by the candidates whose only political platform will be one of opposition to the treaty.

“I call on the Taoiseach to clear up this confusion by confirming his original indication that the referendum will be held in October.”

Speaking prior to the selection convention, the Ireland South MEP Colm Burke urged the Government to hold an April ballot on the Lisbon Treaty and not to wait until later in the year.

Mr Burke, who was selected as on of Fine Gael's two candidates, along with former GAA president Sean Kelly, said: “The current economic crisis has brought home to people, up and down the land, how vital is Ireland’s membership of the European Union. It is not alarmist to state that were we not inside the Union our economic plight would mirror that of Iceland, with double digit interest rates and reliance on an International Monetary Fund bail-out,” he said.

Mr Burke said he would like to see the leaders of the main pro-European parties, Brian Cowen, Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore, coming together and agreeing a joint policy platform for putting the Lisbon Treaty to the people in an early referendum.

Speaking at the convention, Mr Kenny said Fine Gael will shortly publish a review of the National Development Plan that he said would prioritise the protection of jobs.

“We have to identify ways to create new jobs and keep as many people in employment as possible,” he said.

“That is why Fine Gael since last July has been setting out proposals to correct the economy and put us back on the right track. In the immediate term Fine Gael will be producing a review of the existing National Development Plan that will identify labour-intensive and strategically beneficial projects that can and must be fast-tracked.

“That means selecting key road and public transport projects, schools programmes and other such projects that can keep as many people in employment and, where possible, get thousands back to work.”

Mr Kenny also called for the resignation of the board of the Financial Regulator as one of a number of measures to restore confidence in the banking sector in the wake of controversies surrounding Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Life & Permanent in particular.

He said trust had been “destroyed” in the banking sector, both domestically and internationally, as a result of “reckless” banking practices, ineffective regulatory oversight and “basic political incompetence” at Government level.

Mr Kenny said he believed there was no reason why the party could not secure two seats in the Ireland South constituency in June, repeating its achievement Ireland East in 2004.