Thursday 14 December 2017

Government begins referendum planning with tender for ballots

Fionnan Sheahan and Ed Carty

THE Government is making preparations to hold some sort of referendum, amid growing anticipation on whether a vote will be needed on tough EU rules.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny insists no decision has been taken yet on an EU referendum. But the Government has already tendered for the printing contract for 3.75 million ballot papers.

Mr Kenny admitted a decision on a referendum to toughen budgetary rules across the European Union will not be made until after an EU leaders' summit in Brussels on January 30. He said a final draft on a proposed treaty to try to ease the euro crisis and create a new deal is expected to be drawn up this week.

The Government is currently seeking tenders for the printing of ballot papers for a referendum.

Aside from the possible EU referendum, votes on children's rights and the abolition of the Seanad are planned for this year. But no dates have been set for any of these referenda.

The Office of Public Works is currently advertising for a contract to provide 3,754,000 ballot papers for a referendum.

But the Department of the Environment, which is responsible for running elections and referenda, insisted that the OPW is just getting prepared for anticipated votes later in the year.

"There is no suggestion this is happening and people haven't been told. No decision has been taken yet," a spokesman said.

The ballot paper contract will run for the next four years.

Mr Kenny insisted he can't seek formal advice from the Attorney General Maire Whelan on whether a referendum is needed until after the summit.

The Attorney General will be asked for advice on whether the document should go to a national vote if it is signed off by the European heads of government, he said.

"As Taoiseach and as leader of the Government, I'm not in a position to actually ask for formal legal advice from the Attorney General here until the politicians and the political process at heads of government level have dealt with the draft," he said.

"Tomorrow I would expect that there would be a conclusion at the technical level of a draft text.

"But if it's a requirement that this country has to have a referendum, then that's what will happen."

Mr Kenny dismissed reports he would indicate at the summit whether Ireland would hold a referendum.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin claimed Mr Kenny was speaking in riddles.

"I do not believe you Taoiseach when you say you do not have an idea about the legal implications of this treaty," he said.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams attacked plans for the treaty.

"The Taoiseach has said that his objective is to be the Taoiseach who retrieves Ireland's economic sovereignty," he told reporters. "This treaty is actually at odds with this objective."

Transport Minister Leo Varadkar said it was unclear whether voters would have a referendum on new arrangements on the euro region's fiscal rules.

"There's only one reason why you have a referendum and that's where there is a requirement to change the Constitution," he said.

"It's not clear at all that that is going to be the case with this fiscal treaty. I don't particularly like referendums," he added.

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