Opposition invited to discuss Lisbon No


THE GOVERNMENT has intitiated high-level contact with the two main opposition parties to discuss the formation of an all-party body on the Lisbon Treaty.

Miniser for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin spoke to Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny by phone and Labour leader Eamon Gilmore in person on Wednesday.

Mr Martin outlined to both leaders what sources said was the Government's thinking on the situation faced by Ireland following the referendum defeat, and invited their views on how the all-party body should proceed.

In an intense flurry to prepare the ground for the early recall of the Dáil in the first week of September, Mr Martin also spoke to foreign affairs and European spokespeople for both parties.

He wrote formally to both parties, setting out Government proposals on dealing with the implications of the referendum result.

However, neither party would indicate if they were willing at this stage to support the Government or back an all-party approach.

A Fine Gael spokeswoman said the party had yet to consider Mr Martin's letter in detail but would be responding later this week.

And a spokesman for Labour said that while Mr Gilmore had received an "outline proposal", he was still waiting for the Government to flesh out the details of its approach. "We will be making a more definite decision based on further details being supplied," said the spokesman.

However, Mr Gilmore gave an indication of his thinking on Lisbon in comments over the weekend.

Speaking to The Irish Timesin Cork, he said he would focus on the economy when the Dáil returns rather than being "distracted" by a debate on Lisbon.

"I think the problem at the moment . . . is that there's a kind of fixation with institutional issues and a lot of the post-Lisbon discussion has been about institutional matters and I think that's a mistake," he said.

Mr Gilmore yesterday repeated his strong view that there should be no decision now on a second referendum.

He told RTÉ's This Weekradio programme that a new referendum could only happen under two conditions: a substantially different proposition being put to the people or a substantial change in public opinion.

He said that neither condition existed and there was little prospect of them happening.

Elsewhere, Mr Martin yesterday strongly dismissed a new opinion poll which suggested a second referendum on Lisbon would be heavily defeated if held now.

The poll, conducted by Red C, found that 52 per cent of a sample of 1,000 said they would vote No if asked again, with 32 per cent saying they would back the treaty.

The poll was commissioned by Open Europe, a British-based organisation opposed to further integration.

Mr Martin charged that the poll amounted to "outside interference in our vital national debate". He said: "I would like to know what prompted a British organisation with a strong ideological bias to commission a poll into Irish attitudes to Europe at this time."

He said the Government would rely on the study it has commissioned exploring the reasons behind the No vote. It is expected to be ready when the Dáil resumes for a special sitting in early September. However, it is not clear at this stage if there will be any agreement to establish the all-party body then.

Former Green MEP Patricia McKenna yesterday accused Mr Martin of double standards about "outside interference" in the continuing debate on the Lisbon Treaty.

Caroline Simons of Libertas also dismissed the idea that Open Europe had interfered. "I am not surprised that other member states, especially one that was not allowed to have a referendum, would be keen to see what is happening here and to look with interest at what Ireland does next," she said.