Government gives green flag to summer poll on EU treaty
IRELAND is to hold a referendum on whether to accept the European fiscal treaty which tightens controls on member states' budgetary decisions, it has been confirmed.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he was confident the public will vote in favour of ratifying the contentious compact.
"I believe it is in Ireland's national interest that this treaty be approved," said Mr Kenny.
The Taoiseach, who announced plans for the referendum in the Dail, said that adopting the fiscal compact would be vital for Ireland's economic recovery and job creation.
A decision to hold a referendum was taken on advice from Attorney General Maire Whelan.
The treaty, agreed by 25 of the 27 European Union states after Britain and the Czech Republic refused support, must be ratified by January 2013.
It is designed to prevent a repeat of the Greek debt crisis and protect against the potential collapse of the euro currency.
The fiscal compact carries a number of firewalls aimed at protecting individual states from contagion from countries on the verge of defaulting on their debts.
The Irish Government will set up a special referendum committee in the coming weeks, normally headed by a senior judge, to advise the public on what the vote is about but not whether to support or reject.
Sinn Fein has argued that the latest treaty and tighter budget controls will do little to boost the Irish economy.
Party president Gerry Adams described it as an austerity measure that will result in the public paying for the mistakes of greedy bankers.
"You tried to avoid a referendum and you failed," Mr Adams told the Taoiseach in the Dail parliament.
"The question is whether the Government will accept the outcome."
Mr Adams said there is both a legal and democratic need for a referendum.
Ireland has a fairly mixed record when it comes to referendums on European issues.
On several occasions over the past decade, voters have been asked to return to the polls to vote on a treaty after initially refusing their support.
Voters rejected the Nice Treaty in a referendum in June 2001, but on the second time of asking the following year - with a bigger turnout - the deal was passed.
When the Lisbon Treaty was first put to the electorate in the summer of 2008, it was also rejected but again, on the second time of asking just over a year later, it passed. The Government claimed it had secured guarantees on contentious issues including corporation tax rates, neutrality and abortion.
The Taoiseach said that adopting this new treaty would increase European confidence in Ireland and signal that the nation is committed to paying back its debts.
"In this referendum, the Irish people can confirm our commitment to responsible budgeting and, in doing so, ensure that the reckless economic mismanagement that drove our country to the brink of bankruptcy will not be repeated by any future government," Mr Kenny said.
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, leader of the opposition, said the Government should never have questioned the importance of holding a referendum.
"How can you honestly expect the people to be happy with a situation where a treaty is important enough to save the euro, but not important enough for them to have a say?" he asked.
Asked what David Cameron thought of the Irish plans for a referendum, the UK Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "That is a matter for Ireland.
"As I understand it, it is a judgment they have made based on the constitution of that country and their assessment of it, so it is a matter for them."
The spokesman said the referendum decision did not come as a surprise, as it had always been thought possible that Dublin might have to put the fiscal compact to a public vote.
A German MEP told RTÉ he is ‘’surprised’’ that Enda Kenny’s government has decided to call a referendum because the intergovernmental treaty "did not involve a transfer of sovereignty of the country"
Elmar Brok - a member of Angela Merkel's CDU Party - said the fiscal compact "doesn't change anything".
But he added: "I'm confident the Irish people will vote yes because this does not change anything. It's a method (so that) rules which are undersigned, which have to be fulfilled by the Treaty of Lisbon and even earlier by the Treaty of Maastricht, can be implemented."