Thursday 8 December 2016

Kenny blocks Independents on neutrality - but insists 'there will be other free votes'

Kevin Doyle, Cormac McQuinn and Niall O'Connor

Published 24/11/2016 | 02:30

Enda Kenny said Independents would be allowed free votes on other issues but he wanted a collective response to Sinn Féin’s motion which seeks to enshrine the country’s neutrality in the Constitution. Photo: Collins
Enda Kenny said Independents would be allowed free votes on other issues but he wanted a collective response to Sinn Féin’s motion which seeks to enshrine the country’s neutrality in the Constitution. Photo: Collins

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has confirmed he blocked Independent TDs from having a free vote on a bill relating to Ireland's neutrality because he sees it as a matter of "fundamental public policy".

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The Fine Gael leader said Independents would be allowed free votes on other issues but he wanted a collective response to Sinn Féin's motion which seeks to enshrine the country's neutrality in the Constitution.

He said such a move "were it ever to be implemented by a referendum would mean unforeseen difficulties in so many areas for the country".

Mr Kenny was speaking after the Irish Independent revealed details of a furious row at Cabinet as Shane Ross and Finian McGrath sought a free vote on a motion that will be debated in the Dáil tonight.

The Taoiseach even produced a copy of Bunreacht na hÉireann during the debate which saw several ministers intervene to defuse the situation.

"I also made that point that article 29.9 of the Constitution is clear and the people of the country voted in a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty and it was made perfectly clear and enshrined in the Constitution and in the treaties of the EU as a protocol, indicating very clearly our neutrality," Mr Kenny said.

He added that all governments had adopted "very, very tight" safeguards for Ireland.

Read more: Minister is entitled to a free vote - but really should pick his battles

Read more: Taoiseach 'left red in face' by heated Cabinet row with Ross on neutrality

"There is no question of provision of a European army, there is no question of our neutrality being infringed in any way. And while I respect of course the right of the Independent Alliance to refer to free votes, there will be other occasions when there will be free votes," he said.

Independent minister John Halligan yesterday said Mr Ross was correct to "kick up a fuss" about the issue but the Alliance were likely to oppose the Sinn Féin motion.

The motion seeks to add the following line to the constitution: "War shall not be declared and the State shall not participate in any war or other armed conflict, nor aid foreign powers in any way in preparation for war or other armed conflict, or conduct of war or other armed conflict, save with the assent of Dáil Éireann."

Mr Halligan said he was "not too pushed" on the bill because it was "almost impossible for Ireland to go to war".

"I'm more concerned about the free vote on it. I think on issues like that there probably should be a free vote, I do. There is not going to be one. They are indicating that it is part of the Constitution. We will accept that on this occasion," he said.

The Waterford TD added that his group would "consistently" differ with Fine Gael "but it doesn't mean we are going to fight like mad to bring down the Government. We are entitled to have differences as Independents".

Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar yesterday described the Cabinet discussion on neutrality as "robust".

He said the Independents were entitled to argue for a free vote as there was no mention of Ireland's position on neutrality in the Programme for Government but the constitution was "a bigger deal".

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan will use tonight's debate to "strongly reinforce" the Government's position on Irish neutrality.

Sources say he will emphasis there has been long-standing position of neutrality and that "a triple-lock" is in place to prevent Ireland engaging in war. He will also reference reassurances in the Lisbon Treaty.

Irish Independent

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