Retention of commissioner a key Lisbon issue, says Martin

 

THE RETENTION of an Irish commissioner is among the issues the Government is discussing with EU colleagues in advance of making a decision on another Lisbon Treaty referendum, Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin said yesterday.

Mr Martin said the Government accepted the decision of the people in the last referendum and they had to be listened to.

"Clearly, that issue of a commissioner was much more than just a commissioner . . . it almost signified what people perceived to be a loss of influence at the table . . . despite the fact that one had Ministers at the table and civil servants at different levels . . .," he said.

Mr Martin said the commissioner issue was not simple and could be easily wished away or dealt with. But it was a significant issue, encapsulating as it did the whole idea of a country being at the table with additional influence brought to bear.

The Government will decide on another referendum in advance of the next European summit, which takes place in Brussels on December 11th and 12th.

Mr Martin said there was no appetite for a fundamental renegotiation of the treaty.

The Minister was responding, on the RTÉ Radio programme, Morning Ireland,to The Irish Times/TNS mrbi poll which showed a change in public attitudes since the June referendum.

The poll revealed that 43 per cent of voters would now vote Yes, 39 per cent No, while 18 per cent had no opinion.

In the poll, people were asked how they would vote if the treaty was modified to allow Ireland to retain an EU commissioner and other Irish concerns on neutrality, abortion and taxation were clarified in special declarations.

When the "don't knows" were excluded, the Yes side had 52.5 per cent, with the No side on 47.5 per cent. It compared with the June result of 53.4 per cent No and 46.6 per cent Yes.

Mr Martin described the poll as "a snapshot in time" and he did not think one could read too much into it.

"It is interesting that some of it confirms our own research that we commissioned in the immediate aftermath of the poll earlier this year," he said.

Mr Martin said that the issues which surfaced in the last referendum campaign - the commissioner, neutrality, ethical, social and tax issues - were featuring in discussions the Government was having with the EU presidency and legal counsel over the past number of weeks.

"Those discussions are ongoing and have intensified in recent times," he said.

Asked about the value of declarations on issues such as abortion, taxation and neutrality, Mr Martin said it was important that the issues were dealt with in discussions with European colleagues.

Meanwhile, the European Commission said yesterday that it had taken note of The Irish Times/TNS mrbi poll. The commission added that it was up to the Government to find a way forward ahead of next month's summit.