More on EU referendums in Ireland

May 6th, 2005 | by Andrew Ó Baoill |

A story from EU Observer fleshes out the news of the Irish government’s plans to curb the right to a referendum on new EU treaties (as already reported on funferal). Specifically it seems the proposal will be rolled into the text of the referendum on the EU constitution. As I said earlier I’m surprised that they’d think this would fly, but you never know.

I also got a statement from Pat Rabbitte, leader of the Labour Party, raising concerns about the proposal and also some wording that would support joining a defense alliance – possibly endangering the ‘triple-lock’ mechanism currently in place. Of course, the triple-lock is a fairly minimal understanding of neutrality and reflects what I think is a problematic and short-sighted concentration on the minutia of process rather than on principle. I’d also mention that the concentration on the ‘perception’ of the first issue (the removal of the right to a referendum) is part of a worrying trend of avoiding any substantive debate – and probably part of Rabbitte’s cosying up to the europhiles in Fine Gael. The Rabbitte statement follows below the fold.

In light of publication of the Government’s draft proposal on the EU Constitution, it is necessary to set out some initial reaction.

Since we received the Government draft, our analysis of it gave rise to a number of serious concerns. Labour supports the EU Constitution, and we were and are preparing to support a Yes vote in any referendum on the matter. The complex wording proposed by the Government for the referendum, at least in draft form, has however given rise to a number of issues of considerable importance. We have raised these issues with the Taoiseach and Government in detailed correspondence, together with other concerns we have about the quality of scrutiny in relation to EU decisions and policy-making.

The principal issues are these. First, the Government’s draft wording contained an enabling provision that would lead to a situation where future changes in substantial areas of the policy elements of the European Treaties and Constitution, even if they were in conflict with a provision of our Constitution, could be adopted by a majority vote in the Houses of the Oireachtas, rather than by referendum. This change is not one required by the European Constitution, but rather contained only in the Government’s draft wording. It would give rise to the perception, at least, that major changes to the European Constitution could in future be made without any reference to the people.

At a meeting I had with the Taoiseach on Monday last, he agreed with my suggestion in respect of the first issue above, that the enabling provision concerning future Treaty changes should be removed from the draft wording. As a result, the status quo would be maintained — in other words, each future policy change at European level would be examined on a case-by-case basis to establish whether it had constitutional implications in Ireland and therefore whether a referendum would be necessary. In short, any perception that all future changes could be made without reference to the people has been removed, and I have expressed my appreciation to the Taoiseach for that.

Second, the wording appears to reflect a wish on the part of the Government to be in a position to enter into what would be, in effect, a binding international agreement on “permanent structured cooperation” in the area of defence. Again, it appears to be being proposed that a move towards permanent structured cooperation could take place on the basis of an Oireachtas majority. It is far from clear what this means, or why the Government would wish to do so, or what implications it would have for the so-called “triple lock” which is the cornerstone of Ireland’s current defence policy. (The triple lock means that Ireland sends troops abroad on the basis of three things – UN request, Government decision, and Dáil consent.)

We are in continuing correspondence with the Government about the second proposal in relation to permanent structured cooperation in the area of defence, in particular about how the protection of the triple lock would be guaranteed.

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