THE Green Party will have to support an EU referendum for the first time when the new EU treaty is put to a vote.
Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern said Ireland was likely to hold a referendum on the new European Treaty, aimed at modernising the operation of the 27-state union.
The Greens vehemently opposed several EU referenda held in this country. Environment Minister John Gormley was particularly critical of the draft EU constitution, agreed in 2004 during Ireland's EU presidency.
The party always rejected accusations that it is Eurosceptic, arguing it is pro-Europe and pro-enlargement but dissatisfied with the globalisation and militarisation policies that the European Union pursued.
But as a government party, the Greens will now have to back the new treaty, even though it is not dramatically different from the agreement struck in 2004.
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern says 90pc of what was agreed during Ireland's EU presidency was retained in the new deal.
The new agreement is to replace the 2004 draft European constitution, which was rejected by French and Dutch voters.
Dermot Ahern said that "the substance of what was agreed in 2004 has been retained".
"Really, what is gone is the term constitution," he said.
He said the Irish Government was not totally in favour of the concept of a European constitution. However, it was "very happy" with the deal done by EU leaders to replace the failed 2004 constitution.
Accepting there was speculation a referendum would not be required to pass the treaty, the minister said the decision to hold a vote depended on the Attorney General's advice.
"It is likely that a referendum will be held. It was our strong legal advice that the draft constitution would have required a referendum in Ireland," he said.
Ireland could end up being the only country to hold a referendum, the minister said.
While some countries were trying to avoid holding referendum, Ireland tended to err on the side of caution as it was "up for the people to decide". And the minister said it was important for the country that any such referendum was passed.
Overall, the EU had been "a hugely positive experience" for Ireland, he said.
"We must remind people how beneficial the EU has been for us."
The main reforms involved the way the EU did its voting at Council, Commission and European Parliament level.
"It will make the EU more effective, and more easy for countries to do business," Mr Ahern said.
He said that a recent example of making the EU more relevant to everyday life was Ireland's suggestion, at an EU Council meeting 18 months ago, that the issue of high roaming charges for mobile phone should be looked at.
The procedures in the new agreement would allow that sort of change to take place much more quickly, he said.