EUROPEAN Affairs Minister Dick Roche raised the prospect of a second Lisbon Treaty referendum last night, saying he believes it is "the appropriate response" to the country's continuing political crisis.
Mr Roche's controversial comments, in an interview with the Irish Independent, came as the Catholic Primate of All Ireland yesterday voiced fears that some Christians had voted against the treaty because the EU was becoming ever more secular in its outlook.
Mr Roche said: "My personal view is that a referendum is the appropriate response to the position we are in. This is very much a personal view at this stage."
He added: "If we want to retain our position as a constructive EU member state, we cannot simply sit on our hands, as some would have us do, and keep saying that 'No' means 'No'."
Mr Roche is the first minister to publicly suggest an eventual re-run of the treaty referendum, defeated last June.
Some members of Government may be relieved that the unpalatable truth is now being aired -- but the minister's intervention will dismay 'No' campaigners, many of whom had predicted after their victory that the Government would not heed the result.
The minister sought to downplay any controversy about his remarks by saying the Government would make no decision on the matter until after its detailed analysis of the referendum defeat had been completed and considered.
A government spokesman said last night: "Mr Roche is not calling for a second referendum to be put. That would not be a fair reflection. The Government is instead following the steps it said it would take in the wake of the referendum outcome."
Mr Roche yesterday attended the Humbert Summer School, where Cardinal Sean Brady warned of Christian "unease" at the European project and a growing belief that EU policy was not formulated on the basis of religious values, but on purely secular terms. He said he believed this had played a role in the defeat of the treaty.
The differing views from senior members of Church and State will this week reopen the entire Lisbon debate -- but may not bring closer the finding of a solution that would ensure our continued full-membership of the EU.
The Government is especially wary of being seen to be offer a prescription to the people before it even receives an analysis of why the people voted 'No'.
The results of a major survey of public opinion on the referendum will be received next month, and the Taoiseach will then present his analysis of why the treaty was defeated to other EU leaders. A Government spokesman said yesterday that some of the reasons cited for voting 'No' had contradicted one another.
Ireland has been given until October to tell our partner states what we intend to do to rectify the situation.
"We now need to take a hard look at our situation within the EU," Mr Roche said. "We have to recognise, however, that all other member states -- 26 sovereign, democratic parliaments -- are likely to have ratified the treaty by the end of the year. This will leave Ireland in an isolated position.
"In the view of the other member states, we will be preventing the EU from equipping itself to deal with the many political and economic challenges facing today's Europe."
The European Affairs Minister privately does not see any chance of resolving the problem by trying to put elements of Lisbon into Irish law by passing Bills in the Dail. If the legislative route was not adopted the first time out, it could not be resorted to now, he believes.
"'Not an inch' is not a policy that has much to commend it in a dynamic Europe that wants to move forward," Mr Roche said. "We have to explore all possible solutions. We cannot exclude the possibility that, at some stage, and in the right circumstances, it may be necessary to consult the people once again. My personal view is that a referendum is the appropriate response to the position we are in; this is very much a personal view at this stage."