Roche says October date 'most likely' for Lisbon poll


The Minister for European Affairs Dick Roche today gave a strong indication the second Lisbon referendum will be held in October and appeared to rule out a June date for the poll.

When asked on Newstalk radio at lunchtime if he could see the Treaty being put to the people again in October, Mr Roche said: “I’m not a betting man, but I think I’d still be betting on that date.

He said an October date was “most likely” to allow for negotiations “on the points of law on which we’re getting guarantees” to be concluded. “That could be done at a push I suppose, it could possibly be done by the end of March. But you then have a very short time span in which to hold a referendum. You’ll also have to produce the egislation and the wording for the referendum and there has to be discussions with the opposition parties on those items. You then have to appoint a referendum commission.”

Mr Roche said that June’s local and European elections “would not be the right time” to hold the referendum re-run. “I don’t think it would be fair to expect Fine Gael and Labour and the Greens and other parties to go out and campaign for a yes for that and they’d be campaigning against the Government on other issues. I don’t think that is realistic and I don’t think that would come about.”

He also said that the referendum should stand alone, “so that the Irish people can make the judgement on the guarantees” and warned that in a June vote, “a whole series of issues - by elections, local elections, European elections” could serve to confuse voters.

Earlier today, Mr Roche welcomed the findings of a new Irish Times/TNS mrbi poll which shows a major swing in favour of the Lisbon Treaty.

Speaking this morning, Mr Roche said there was a growing realisation that the country's future lay with the European Union.

The latest poll shows that 51 per cent would now vote Yes to the treaty in a referendum, an increase of eight points since the last Irish Timespoll in November, with 33 per cent saying they would vote No, a drop of six points. There are still 16 per cent in the “Don’t Know” category (down 2 points). When undecided voters are excluded, the Yes side has 60.7 per cent, with 39.3 per cent in the No camp. That compares to the referendum result last June of 53.4 per cent No and 46.6 per cent Yes.

Despite the turnaround in the public mood since last June, there is no guarantee the Yes side will win the second referendum and everything will hinge on the campaign.

In the poll, people were asked how they would vote in the light of the commitment to allow Ireland to retain a European Union commissioner along with legal guarantees on other Irish concerns about neutrality, abortion and taxation.

Voters were also asked if, in the light of the current economic crisis, they thought it was better to be part of the EU. An overwhelming 80 per cent thought it better to be part of the EU, 13 per cent thought it was not and 7 per cent had no opinion.

Commenting on the poll this morning, Mr Roche told RTÉ Radio: "There's a growing realisation amongst people that our place is in Europe. There's also a growing realisation that if we are to attract investment and jobs we have to be part of the European Union."

"And now we have the additional situation that our international standing has been brought into question by what has happened in our banking system. And we might as well face that there is a huge cost internationally to Ireland's reputation. Who would want to invest in a country if there are major quesitons about their banking system. We absolutely need Europe," he said.

However, the founder of the anti-Lisbon treaty group Libertas Declan Ganley dismissed the poll's findings.

He claimed the opinion poll based on a "flawed question" which would lead people to believe that the treaty had been re-negotiated when it was in fact the same document which was rejected by Irish voters last year. Mr Ganley said that the new guarantees were not legally binding and "amounted to another attempt to hoodwink" voters.

Sinn Féin today called on the Government to publish the text of the guarantees.

“The government needs to publish the detail of the 'guarantees' it agreed at last December's Council of Minister's meeting. Without this detail and an explanation of how government intends to ensure the Lisbon Treaty re-run 'guarantees' are legally binding the Irish Timespoll means little," said Dublin MEP Mary Lou McDonald.

Mr Roche dismissed Mr Ganley's claims. "To quote Mandy Rice-Davies 'Libertas would say that wouldn't they.' Who believes anything that Libertas has to say. They are mis-leading the Irish people," he said.

According to the poll, support for the Yes side is strongest among better-off voters and there is a big gender difference with men more inclined to vote Yes than women. In party terms, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael voters are almost equally strongly in favour.

A clear majority of Labour and Green Party supporters are also in the Yes camp, with Sinn Féin the only party whose supporters still back the No campaign. Fianna Fáil voters back the treaty by 60 per cent to 31 per cent, while Fine Gael voters support it by 59 per cent to 29 per cent. Labour voters favour Lisbon by 53 per cent to 34 per cent, while Greens back it by 57 per cent to 33 per cent.

Sinn Féin voters support a No by a margin of 49 per cent to 30 per cent.

In the last Irish Timespoll before the referendum in June, only Fianna Fáil and Green supporters professed themselves in favour of the treaty, with a majority of Fine Gael and Labour voters rejecting the advice of their party leaders and voting No.