independent

Monday 21 April 2014

Cowen is forced to abandon 'summit' on Lisbon

Taoiseach Brian Cowen has been forced to abandon plans for a new high-powered body to salvage the Lisbon Treaty amid ongoing disunity in the 'Yes' camp.

The Dail was due to be recalled this week to set up the cross-party committee to examine the outcome of June's referendum defeat and decide on the future of the treaty ratification.

But failure to reach agreement with Fine Gael and Labour has resulted in the plan being dropped.

Although it is widely acknowledged there will have to be a second referendum, the Government is aware it needs to keep the other 'Yes' parties onside.

The Government is now weighing up its options, but is not in favour of passing the problem on to an existing Dail committee covering European affairs. The move comes as pressure continues to be brought to bear on the Government to come up with a solution.

Among European leaders there are concerns a change of Government in Britain may present further obstacles to the ratification process. Mr Cowen is in Brussels today for a special EU summit on the Georgia crisis.

If Prime Minister Gordon Brown wereas to lose an election before Ireland has ratified Lisbon, it would cast further doubts over the future of the treaty.

On the margins of the meeting, Mr Cowen may be informally asked by European leaders about how his plans are progressing.

He is not due to formally report back to his EU counterparts on the process until the middle of next month.

After rejecting the Government's proposal to set up an Oireachtas Commission, Fine Gael is to come up with its own plans to proceed with Lisbon. Alongside Lisbon II, the party wants to run a separate referendum strengthening the country's rights to set its own tax rates, without any interference from the EU.

Debate

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny wants the political debate to be conducted by the Oireachtas European Affairs committee, chaired by his party's backbencher, Bernard Durkan.

But there is little appetite in Government circles to hand over the deliberations to this committee. The coalition's plan was to set up a specific committee with a small number of senior TDs from each party and have it focus solely on coming up with recommendations in a short period of time.

Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin is now considering what approach to adopt towards involving the opposition in the decision making process.

"The Oireachtas will have an important role to play in the follow-up to dealing with the outcome to the Lisbon referendum. The precise role the Oireachtas will play is currently being worked on," a spokesman said.

The prospect of the Tories coming to power in Britain -- before Ireland ratifies Lisbon -- and holding a referendum on on the treaty, which would almost certainly be defeated, is also on the minds of European leaders.

"That would be where the concern lies. The threat is there," a Government source said.

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