Oireachtas group says main option is amended treaty


HOLDING A second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty with additional material in the form of declarations, formal EU decisions on certain issues, or protocols that would be attached to the document is the key option outlined in the report of an Oireachtas Subcommittee on Lisbon, published yesterday.

Chaired by Fine Gael Senator Paschal Donohoe, the all-party group was set up under the auspices of the Joint Committee on European Affairs with the formal title of Subcommittee on Ireland's Future in the European Union.

Its main task was to "analyse the challenges facing Ireland in the European Union following the Lisbon Treaty referendum result".

Although the subcommittee does not endorse a particular course of action, some options get more favourable treatment than others. The report says there are two basic options: ratification or non-ratification of the treaty.

In terms of ratification, there are three choices: second referendum; ratification by the Oireachtas; or referendum on EU membership. In terms of non-ratification, the choices are: continue under the existing Nice Treaty, renegotiate Lisbon, or two-speed Europe with Ireland in the slow lane.

This section of the report draws from a paper commissioned by the subcommittee from the Dublin European Institute at University College Dublin entitled Ireland's Future in Europe: Scenarios and Implicationsby Gavin Barrett, Brigid Laffan, Rodney Thom, Daniel C Thomas and Ben Tonra.

The report says: "If a decision is made to hold another referendum, it would be expected that the Government would make an attempt to respond at both domestic and EU level to the range of concerns expressed during the referendum campaign."

The report points out that protocols would probably require a re-ratification of the treaty and this "would likely be strongly resisted" in several member states. A joint declaration by the member states would not require re-ratification and "could be used as a way of clarifying some aspects of the treaty and removing misunderstandings".

A declaration could be the means by which Ireland retains its right to nominate a member of the European Commission, the document continues. On parliamentary ratification, the report says it is not clear this would be legally possible. It could also be interpreted as "circumventing the democratic decision of the people".

It warns against holding a referendum that included a commitment that rejection of it would mean leaving the EU. This would be "a high-stakes strategy" and would not reflect the express wish of the Irish people as reflected in surveys, to remain at the heart of the EU, the report said. Seeking to maintain the status quo under the Nice Treaty could leave Ireland "severely damaged", it continued.

On the domestic front, the report urges greater Oireachtas scrutiny of EU legislation, the establishment of a five-member EU panel in the Seanad and a new requirement for a two-thirds Dáil majority before Irish troops could be sent on missions overseas.

There was no Sinn Féin representative at the launch as the party published its own document. Independent Senator Rónán Mullen attended, but made clear that he also disagreed with the document.

Mr Donohoe said: "This report passionately believes that Ireland wins when we are at the heart of Europe."

Sinn Féin MEP Mary Lou McDonald said the subcommittee report was "simply a re-articulation of the Yes argument".

Taoiseach Brian Cowen discussed the prospect of all 27 EU states retaining a commissioner yesterday during a meeting in Helsinki with the Finnish prime minister, Matti Vanhanen.

The two men met to consider the response to the referendum defeat in Ireland in advance of a crucial European Council meeting in two weeks, at which the issue will be centre stage.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Cowen said the treaty was the main topic for discussion.

He had told his Finnish counterpart about the results of a major survey of voter attitudes undertaken in the wake of the referendum defeat.

He listed the primary Irish concerns as the maintenance of an Irish EU commissioner, neutrality and the maintenance of Ireland's corporation tax regime.

Mr Vanhanen confirmed that the commissioner issue had been discussed.