Referendum will be held if required


Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore has said a referendum on the deal agreed by EU leaders on strict new fiscal rules will take place if that is what required.

Mr Gilmore also said it would not be in Ireland’s interests for Britain to become isolated from the European Union and stressed the Government would prefer that all 27 member States subscribe to the agreement.

“In certain circumstances if an agreement requires a referendum then we will have a referendum. That isn’t an issue as far as the Government is concerned,” he said.

“But I think we have to establish from the text of whatever is agreed whether or not a referendum is required. This is a new situation. We’re talking here about an international agreement.”

Mr Gilmore said he thought it would be “prudent” for Ireland to have discussions with Britain about bilateral relations as well as “the common approach we have on many issues within the European Union”.

He added: “They are our nearest neighbour. We have very close relations with Britain. We share a land border with the United Kingdom. We have very strong levels of trade.

“We’re very conscious of the fact that last year when Ireland was in financial difficulty, Britain unilaterally came to Ireland’s assistance at that stage in the form of a bilateral loan. We’ve common positions, common views on a whole range of areas at European Union level.”

If Britain was not going to be part of that agreement, Ireland would continue discussions about issues of concern to both nations. He was speaking at the launch of the ‘We the Citizens’ final report in Dublin this morning.

It was confirmed by the Tánaiste and by Minister of State for Europe Lucinda Creighton yesterday that it could be as late as March before Attorney General Máire Whelan can advise the Government on whether or not a referendum will be required.

Separately, former attorney general Michael McDowell said on first reading of reports, his “hunch” was a referendum would be required. 

However, the former PD leader added that without seeing how it would interact with the treaty “you would be very brave to venture an opinion without further seeing the text and substance of what was being proposed”.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin warned the rift with Britain could threaten the future of the EU. Mr Martin said the absence of Britain from key discussions and regulations represented “a huge threat to our long-term economic prospects”. 

Asked about the need for a referendum on RTÉ yesterday, Mr Gilmore made a distinction between an EU treaty change and an international agreement involving up to 26 countries. Asked if Britain had done Ireland a favour by facilitating an arrangement that bypassed a referendum, Mr Gilmore indicated a referendum would depend on the substance or text rather than the form.

Ms Creighton said her view was there was no difference between treaty change and an international agreement vis-à-vis a referendum.

“The only question on the table is are we ceding some sort of competence to another body?” she said.

Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald called for a referendum to be held.

Meanwhile, Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte became the first Labour member of Government to signal possible change to the Croke Park agreement with public sector unions.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Week in Politics, Mr Rabbitte said depending on how the situation developed in the euro zone, the Government might have to sit down with the unions and talk about renegotiating the deal.

A senior member of Siptu, Paul Bell, said Mr Rabbitte was entering “very dangerous territory”.