Irish PM fails to rule out second Lisbon referendum

13.06.08 @ 22:47

  1. By Leigh Phillips

DUBLIN - Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen has said that his country's referendum on the Lisbon Treaty result must be respected, but was unclear on whether to rule out a second referendum on the document.

  • Supporters of the No campaign have warned against attempts to move forward with ratification of the treaty (Photo: EUobserver)

"In a democracy, the will of the people as expressed at the ballot box is sovereign. The government accepts and respects the verdict of the people," he told reporters in a first public statement just minutes after the final results were announced giving the No side an emphatic victory.

In a resounding defeat for the treaty, only ten out of 43 Irish constituencies voted in favour of the Lisbon Treaty.

A majority of Irish people - 53.4 percent - voted against the EU's Lisbon treaty in Thursday's referendum, while 46.6 percent voted in favour, according to final results released Friday (13 June). Participation was at 53.13 percent.

"Once again in Europe, a treaty supported by the leaders of all member states has been unable to secure popular support in a ballot", the prime minister said.

"We must not rush to conclusions. The Union has been in this situation before, and each time has found an agreed way forward. I hope that we can do so again on this occasion."

"I wish to make it clear to our European partners that Ireland has absolutely no wish to halt the progress of the Union."

"We still share the goal of a union fit for purpose in this century," he continued.

"We will take the time to explain this to our partners in Europe and the wider international community."

Mr Cowen also said that the result brings about "considerable uncertainty."

"There is no quick fix."

He could not hide his anger at the No side, calling it an "orchestrated campaign of confusion".

Asked by reporters what the result meant for the ratification of the treaty, the prime minister responded: "It's a matter for the national processes in all member states."

He added: "The question of a second referendum doesn't arise."

However, shortly after, in an interview on Irish public television station RTE, asked by the presenter what he felt about comments from other European leaders saying that ratification should continue, he said: "It's a matter for those governments to proceed as they wish.

Pressed whether he could rule out a "Lisbon Mark II", the Irish leader replied: "I'm not prepared to surmise on that.

"I'm not ruling anything in or out or up or down."

Labour: 'Lisbon is dead'

His Yes coalition ally, Labour leader Eamon Gilmore, however disagreed with Mr Cowen that it should be "full-steam ahead".

"The Lisbon Treaty is dead," he said in a separate RTE interview. "Ireland cannot ratify it – therefore Lisbon falls."

"This has to be recognised by everybody – by the Taoiseach [the Irish prime minister], by other member states."

"This proposal is now gone."

Other Irish politicians were scornful of the idea of continued ratification. European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso earlier in the afternoon had said the remaining ratifications "should continue to take their course."

Patricia McKenna, a former Irish Green MEP and leading No side campaigner reacted angrily to the suggestion: "It is completely unacceptable that anyone in Europe should continue with ratification.

"It shows complete contempt for the voice of the people. They simply fail to understand why people are voting No."

"It's time for the EU bureaucrats and senior politicians to come to grips with the fact that they cannot forge ahead without the consent of the people."

Ms McKenna wants her government to now tell other European leaders they must stop the process.

If European leaders carry on regardless, she warned that demonstrations would be organised across Europe.

A great day for Irish democracy

Mary Lou McDonald, a Sinn Fein MEP and the face of her party's No campaign, objected to French European affairs minister Jean-Pierre Jouyet's mid-afternoon suggestion that ratification continue and that some "legal arrangement" could be cobbled together.

Speaking to the EUobserver, Ms McDonald said: "I would remind the minister that the social issues raised by voters in the Irish referendum were essentially the same as those raised by voters in the French and Dutch referendums [in 2005 on the constitutional treaty]."

"And obviously the treaty requires the consent of every member state to come into effect."

Declan Ganley, the millionaire businessman and founder of Libertas, the centre-right anti-Treaty group campaigning around tax harmonisation issues and against European 'red tape', called the vote: "A great day for the Irish people and a great day for Irish democracy."

"We are bringing democracy into the heart of the European Union," he added, speaking to reporters in the courtyard of Dublin Castle, where the central vote count was held.

Mr Ganley also warned against moves to push forward with the same text.

"[European Union leaders] need to listen to the voices of the people. The people of France and Holland have already spoken and now the Irish are making their voice heard."

Loo-las

Outside the black cast-iron gates of Dublin castle, a few dozen people had gathered awaiting the results. Already black and white posters had appeared on railings and sign posts down the street telling European leaders and the Irish government to respect the result, with "No means No" in large letters.

At the gates, Alan Keogh was sceptical that the No vote was really the end.

"There'll be another re-run. Or they'll throw something similar back at us."

He was pleased with the result nontheless. At the beginning of the campaign, said the twenty-something Mr Keogh, then Prime Minister Bertie Ahern had called people that would vote No "a whole lot of loo-las".

He then unfurled an Irish flag on which he had written in black felt pen: "Who's the loo-la now, Bertie?"

But he also did not want the rest of the EU to feel rejected: "Tell Europe we still love them - just not in that way."

Next week Irish foreign affairs minister Micheál Martin is to meet with fellow European foreign ministers and explain the referendum results to his colleagues. The prime minister will do likewise at the next EU summit of heads of state and government at the end of the week.

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