British exit from the EU could force new referendum here, warns Ahern
Published 30/10/2015 | 02:30
Bertie Ahern has warned that a UK exit from Europe could force a new referendum in Ireland.
The former Taoiseach said Ireland should be as helpful as possible to Britain as it seeks concessions from the EU ahead of a poll on whether to exit as early as next year.
He said his experience of European referenda showed they opened up new issues not envisaged by treaty negotiators and could be exploited by foreign interests.
"Treaty change is difficult," said Mr Ahern. "If you have treaty change, it means every one of the 27 (other member states) have to ratify it in national parliaments or in referenda.
"I don't see how you can make the changes the prime minister (David Cameron) is looking for without some sort of treaty changes."
The former Fianna Fáil leader served as Taoiseach between 1997 and 2008. In 2004 he held office as president of the European Council, during which a new European constitution was agreed.
The British government wants that constitution to be significantly reformed if it is not to leave the EU and is seeking concessions on issues of sovereignty, competitiveness and immigration.
Mr Ahern supported the Irish Government's position that Ireland should be a helpful neighbour to Britain.
But he recalled battles over referenda on the Lisbon and Nice European reform treaties.
Ireland voted twice on the Lisbon Treaty, which centred on the creation of a European constitution, approving it in 2009.
Mr Ahern was in office during the poll on the Nice Treaty, which reformed the institutional structure of the EU to accommodate eastern expansion. The referendum was passed in 2002.
He told a conference in Newry, Co Down that his views had changed since the referendum on Ireland entering the EU.
"I don't love Europe as much as I did in 1972. The alternative is something we sure don't want."
He said Ireland had strong reasons for wanting its major trading partner the UK to remain within the EU.
But he acknowledged: "I understand many of the UK's objectives, the Irish Government have said they are open to considering sensible proposals."
Relations between British and Irish ministers could suffer if the UK leaves the EU, Mr Ahern also warned. And the chemistry between partners could change if the European connection and side meetings in Brussels were lost.
He warned that Northern Ireland could be particularly affected.