McDowell lends voice to Yes side


Former tánaiste and Progressive Democrats’ leader Michael McDowell has added his voice to the call for a Yes vote in the Lisbon Treaty referendum, said he believed “it is overwhelmingly in Ireland’s interests to do so”.

In his first foray into political life since the 2007 general election he said the debate on Europe needed to be nuanced and not a “phony Punch and Judy” between the extremes – the federalists at one end and those who have always rejected Ireland’s membership of the EU at the other.

The former minister for justice declined, despite repeated questions, to say whether or not he was returning to political life. “I’m not talking about my future and I came here in a personal capacity to talk about Europe," he said.

He said he was seeking “a real debate on Europe, and not a debate on other issues which are of far less interest to the Irish people”.

Addressing a Solicitors for Lisbon meeting in the Shelbourne Hotel today, Mr McDowell, a senior counsel, said the debate on the referendum had been ill-served because it had been dominated by extremes of opinion to the exclusion of the great majority “in the centre”.

Mr McDowell said he did not come to the issue “either as a Euro federalist or as a Euro sceptic, but as a Euro realist.”

He said: “I need reassurance that by casting a Yes vote, I am not simply signing a political cheque for the creation of a federal European superstate against my wishes”.

He said he has done a detailed analysis of the decisions of the Czech and German constitutional courts, which looked at the compatibility of the Lisbon Treaty to their constitutions. This was unlike Ireland, where membership of the EU “explicitly makes European law superior to Irish law”.

Based on this analysis, he rejected claims the treaty started an irreversible process of creating a federal superstate and said EU member states would remain “masters of the treaty”.

He insisted that his decision to speak on the issue two weeks before the October 2nd vote was not a criticism of the Government’s handling of the referendum debate. “It’s a difficult thing to sell. It’s not an easy thing to convey in soundbytes and in appealing for a non-soundbyte-type debate, I’m not criticising anyone,” he said.

David Geary of the Solicitors for Europe group, which organised the meeting, described the referendum debate as "one of the most important for a generation".

Solicitors for Europe has 200 members across the State including a number of EU law specialists, he said, adding that the group would hold a number of information events over the next two weeks in the run-up to the referendum.