22nd Mar 2018

Ireland plans referendum body on possible EU treaty poll

  • Ireland received an EU-IMF bail-out in 2010 (Photo: informatique)

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny has said he intends to establish a permanent referendum commission so that the public is fully prepared for a possible poll on the fiscal discipline treaty currently being drawn up by member states.

"I cannot give you an indication now as to whether there will actually be a referendum in respect of the inter-governmental agreement from the European business until the text is finalised and we get the advice of the attorney general," said Kenny on Tuesday (28 December), according to PA.

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"What I am going to do though is set up the Referendum Commission on a much more permanent basis so that the commission will be able to reflect in readiness as to what is actually going to happen."

Referendum commissions are set up ahead of each referendum in Ireland to give neutral information on the topic being put to vote.

EU leaders, with the exception of Britain, agreed earlier this month to tighten up fiscal and budgetary surveillance in the eurozone in the form of an inter-governmental pact.

With the 17 eurozone states under pressure to agree the text as soon as possible, Ireland is already in the spotlight for the possible problems it might have with ratification.

Attorney general Marie Whelan is examining the details of the agreement - a draft of which was circulated on 16 December - to see if they imply a change to Ireland's constitution through more powers being handed over to the EU level. This would require a referendum.

Ireland is feeling the pressure after having seen the last two EU treaties - the Nice and Lisbon Treaty - rejected by voters. Subsequent referendums saw both treaties then accepted.

But the governments at the time came under fierce criticism, particularly in the case of the Lisbon Treaty, for being too complacent about the result in the run-up to the first referendum and and letting critics of the treaty frame the debate.

This time round, the current government also has to contend with the fact that a potential referendum would take place as the Irish continue to endure swingeing austerity measures, put in place in return for an EU-IMF bailout in 2010.

The Irish government, gloomy about the prospect of a Yes vote under such conditions, has rejected a call by the opposition to hold a referendum on the treaty regardless of whether one is legally required.

“You don’t go holding a referendum unless you have to and clearly the advice of the attorney general is what the government will act on as we’ve always done," said Kenny, according to the Irish Times.

Meanwhile, Ireland's EU partners have already anticipated its potential ratification problems.

The treaty draft circulated earlier this month suggested that the agreement will enter into force once nine countries have ratified it - although it is thought that Berlin may want to raise this threshold to ensure as many eurozone states are on board as possible.

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