Sarkozy meets Yes and No camps in Dublin


French president Nicolas Sarkozy met supporters and opponents of the Libson Treaty in Government Buildings and at the French embassy in Ballsbridge this afternoon, where he said he respected the outcome of the Irish referendum on the treaty, but also welcomed that other states are continuing the ratification process.

He arrived in Dublin shortly before 1pm and, following a working lunch with Taoiseach Brian Cowen, Mr Sarkozy also held private discussions with the Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny and Labour's Eamon Gilmore.

Mr Sarkozy, who currently holds the presidency of the European Council, then met leading figures from the Yes and No camps at the French embassy.

His arrival shortly after 3.30 pm was greeted by a small, but vocal band of protesters who chanted and waved banners as the motorcade passed. One protester was taken to hospital after he collapsed at the scene.

Those attending the embassy meeting include Libertas founder Declan Ganley, an outspoken critic of EU reform under Lisbon, Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, Richard Boyd Barrett of the People Before Profit Alliance, Irish Farmers’ Association president Pádraig Walshe, director general of the Irish Business and Employers Confederation Turlough O’Sullivan and general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions David Begg.

The French president admitted that the Lisbon treaty issue will not be resolved within the lifetime of France’s presidency of the European Union.

Mr Sarkozy made the comments during his meeting with members of the pro and anti-Lisbon Treaty campaign, as part of his attempt to understand why Ireland voted No in the referendum.

The French president met with representatives a large number of representatives including Libertas’s Declan Ganly, Turlough O’Sullivan from employer’s group Ibec, Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams and Padraig Walshe from the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA).

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Ganly said the meeting was “predictable”.

“One thing that appeared to be at least acknowledged, that Lisbon or whatever succeeds it is not gong to be settled during the term of the French presidency, which ends this year,” he said.

“But the most worrying thing about the meeting is the fact that clearly the message is not being properly heard, perhaps not even being heard at all, that we have said no.”

Mr Ganly said the French leader has acknowledged that the French people would have voted no if they were asked. “And yet this process should continue, this wish to force through this agenda that Europeans, if they were asked, would say no too is continuing. There is something fundamentally wrong and broken with that and we need to get back to the drawing board.”

His view was echoed by former Green MEP Patricia McKenna, who is currently chair of the People's Movement.

“He wants the Irish people to put this treaty through by a referendum or by whatever means necessary,” said Ms McKenna.

“We went through the motions. He is not getting the message. We said to him this is an opportunity to go back to the peoples of Europe and consult with them about what kind of Europe they want. That's what he has to do as president of the EU.”

However, Mr Adams said Mr Sarkozy had done what the Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, has yet to do by sitting down and listening to the different points of view, and described it as “a good engagement”.

“We put it to him that there needed to be a new treaty, that the Lisbon treaty had been voted down, we put to him the issues we believe were at the core of that – democratic deficit, workers rights, public services, increasing militarisation,” he said.

“We need to continue this debate. The Yes camp and the Government are failing to stand up for the national interest. I said to Mr Sarkozy this is about the type of Europe that is required. We want to see a social Europe, an EU of equals where a small state like this is treated the same as other larger member states.”

Fine Gael’s representative at the meeting, Billy Timmins, said the French president had shown “a remarkable tolerance” for all views.

“To me the most important thing to come out of the meeting was that he said he had realised there would not be a solution to the problem within the term of the French presidency,” he said

“But it was important for him to initiate dialogue with a view to outlining a method as to how moving forward could take place in succeeding presidencies. To me that was the most tangible thing he said.”

Mr Timmins said talk of a new referendum was “a little bit premature“.

Business group Ibec told Mr Sarkozy during the meeting that Ireland’s future economic success rests on playing a positive role at the centre of a “strong, outward-looking” EU, but the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) expressed unease about the direction the union is taking.

In a statement after the meeting, Mr O’Sullivan welcomed Mr Sarkozy’s initiative to listen to “the views of both sides of the argument following the Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty”.

“The challenge for both Irish and EU politicians is to find a means of honestly and openly addressing Irish worries, be they directly or indirectly linked to the specific text of the Lisbon Treaty, while at the same time not undermining the cohesiveness of the union as a whole,” he said.

Ictu general secretary David Begg said he told Mr Sarkozy that there is widespread unease amongst workers about the direction the EU is taking.

Mr Begg said he had presented a letter to Mr Sarkozy reminding him of his own objective of ‘remoralising capitalism’.

He said that while Ictu had campaigned for a Yes vote in the Lisbon Treaty referendum, it was now known that only 25 per cent of blue collar workers voted in favour. Mr Begg said Europe needed to achieve a balance between fundamental rights and free markets and called for the inclusion of a 'social protocol' in one of the EU treaties.

Others were less concerned with Lisbon and more worried about current events at the World Trade talks. IFA president Padraig Walshe said there were bigger issues for farmers than the Lisbon treaty, namely what he called the “sellout” of Irish and European agriculture in Geneva.

“We put across the message very strongly to president Sarkozy about what was happening in Geneva this week being far more important to rural people than anything else, even the Lisbon treaty,” he said.

“The sell-out of Irish and European agriculture in Geneva was the issue as far as rural people are concerned, and that if that sell-out went ahead that rural people's attitude towards any future vote that might be held with regards to Europe would be very negative as a result.”

Mr Walshe said Mr Sarkozy wasn’t in favour of a 20 per cent cut in agricultural output, which is what farmers could be facing under proposals put forward by peter Mandelson. “He said Mr Mandelson wasn't very courageous in the deal that he was offering at the moment,” he said.