Taoiseach and Opposition clash in wake of EU deal


Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the oppostion have clashed in the Dáil today over the new treaty agreed by EU leaders in Brussels last night and whether a referendum will be held on the issue.

Opposition parties have said they may take a legal challenge against the Government if it decides not to hold a referendum on the new European treaty.

There were heated exchanges in the Dáil between Mr Kenny and the Sinn Féin leader  in the aftermath of yesterday’s meeting with Gerry Adams accusing the Taoiseach of being "buddy, buddy" and playing the "amadan" with French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

"Taoiseach, could you tell us how much extra austerity you signed up to last night ?," Mr Adams added

Mr Kenny replied: “For you to get up here, above everybody else, and talk about meeting people…when you yourself were ‘buddy, buddy’ with some very shadowy creatures over the past 30 years…

"At least the French president is elected democratically by his people…and everybody who attends at that meeting is quite entitled to give good wishes, or whatever, to everybody they meet there because we have to work together in the interests of Europe."

Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin said the people’s judgement should be trusted on the fiscal treaty.

It was morally right to consult with the people relating to the treaty, particularly given the centrality of our relationship with Europe, he added.

Mr Kenny said "very adequate information" would be given to people on what was contained in the treaty.

Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins, on behalf of the Technical Group, said the Government’s obsession at the summit meeting was to get a wording for the austerity treaty which it hoped would avoid a referendum.

The Government has asked Attorney General Máire Whelan today to prepare formal legal advice on whether a referendum is required to ratify the fiscal treaty agreed by EU leaders at a summit in Brussels last night.

The objective of the pact is to reinforce the single currency by toughening Europe’s budget rules.

Speaking earlier today, the Fianna Fáil leader said his party was speaking to lawyers about challenging the Government

He told RTÉ's News at One the Government had mishandled the issue of the European treaty. “It’s been handled very badly. People are perpetually in the dark about the contents of this treaty, what it means and what it’s about,” said Mr Martin.

“We believe that we should consult the people and take the people with us.”

Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou McDonald said while the issue should not end up in court, the party was determined to take all measures necessary to secure a referendum.

“We are actively receiving legal advice, that is ongoing, and we will look at any and all measures to stop this implementation of this agreement and to ensure that people have their democratic say,” said Ms McDonald.

A senior Government source said late yesterday the prospect of a referendum remains in the balance but there is some confidence in Dublin that the pact might not necessitate a vote.

Ministers are braced for the likelihood of a Supreme Court challenge to any move to ratify the pact without a plebiscite.

There is anxiety in Dublin that any referendum would be presented by the Opposition as an opportunity to beat up the Government and its European sponsors over the austerity and banking policies set down in Ireland’s bailout.

The expectation now is that Ms Whelan will take three or four weeks to finalise her assessment.

Meanwhile, European markets reacted positively to yesterday's agreement by EU leaders. The euro, shares and commodities all gained today following the announcement of a a deal on the terms of a pact to toughen budget rules among member states.

The Czech Republic joined Britain in staying outside the treaty but the 25 other EU member states have agreed to participate.

Investors were further encouraged today by hopes for a Greek bond deal later this week. Greek prime minister Lucas Papademos said negotiators had made "significant progress" in talks to strike a restructuring deal on government debt and aimed to have a definitive agreement by Friday.

Elsewhere, the publication of new figures which show euro zone unemployment has hit its highest level since the birth of the euro failed to dissuade investors today.

Seasonally adjusted unemployment among the 17 countries sharing the euro rose to 10.4 per cent in December, on a par with an upwardly revised November figure, the European Union's statistics office Eurostat said.

It was the highest rate since June 1998, before the introduction of the euro in 1999.

Additional reporting: Reuters