New bid to sway Ireland over EU treaty

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The Independent Online

A proposal to break the logjam over Ireland's rejection of the EU's Lisbon Treaty may be presented to the gathering of member states' leaders in Brussels this week, it was revealed today.

The Republic's Europe minister, Dick Roche, suggested Dublin will seek binding assurances that the Treaty will maintain Irish neutrality and protect its abortion laws and independence over taxation, as well as changes to guarantee a commissioner in Brussels for every member state, no matter how small.

It is thought that, if accepted, these changes could pave the way for Brian Cowen's Government to declare a second referendum for next year, in the hope of reversing the No vote delivered by Irish voters in June.

Any call for a second referendum would infuriate campaigners against the Treaty, who argue that the judgment of the only electorate in Europe to be allowed a vote on the document should be respected.

Declan Ganley, who led the Libertas campaign for a No vote in the referendum, described the move as "almost Mugabe-esque" and said elites in Brussels were showing "absolute contempt" for the democratically expressed wishes of the Irish people.

Mr Roche suggested that the proposed measures might address the concerns which motivated voters in June and allow the EU to "move forward" on the Treaty, which is designed to streamline the Union's operations and allow it to function more effectively with 27 members.

Mr Roche told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "The Government has conducted very exhaustive research over the summer and identified various areas where we need robust guarantees of sovereignty - on taxation and social and ethical issues, and defence and neutrality.

"We are also seeking agreement that there will be one commissioner for each member state.

"We do believe we can craft legally robust instruments which are Ireland-specific and which will meet the requirements of the Irish people and would not require a renegotiation (of the Treaty).

"The arrangements we will be looking for on taxation, social and ethical issues, defence and neutrality have to be legally robust and able to withstand legal challenge and they have to be arrangements that satisfy the Irish people."

With the decision by the Czech Constitutional Court not to block Prague's ratification of the Treaty, Ireland's No vote is now the only significant obstacle to EU-wide adoption of the Treaty, which replaces the failed European Constitution.

Mr Roche said: "We are obviously uncomfortable with the position, but our first responsibility is to the Irish people and the decision they have made and we have to discharge that responsibility.

"We are aware that Europe has shown huge solidarity towards Ireland and we want to show solidarity to the Union. We also appreciate that the Union wants to move forward. We do have a complex and difficult situation but a way forward is beginning to emerge."

Mr Ganley told Today: "What we are seeing here is an absolute contempt for the democratic process being shown by the unaccountable elites in Brussels.

"A higher percentage of the Irish electorate voted No to this Treaty than the American electorate voted for Barack Obama. I don't hear calls for another election there.

"This is almost Mugabe-esque."

But he predicted that, despite the Irish Government "putting a ribbon on and pouring chocolate sauce" on the Treaty, it would be rejected again by the people in any re-run referendum.