Thursday 21 February 2019

Anger as Sarkozy visit on Lisbon vote plunges into chaos

Michael Brennan, Paul Melia and  Fionnan Sheahan

PLANS for the controversial visit of Nicolas Sarkozy on Monday descended into chaos last night.

Senior politicians said they had never seen such "shoddy" preparations for what was being regarded as a critical meeting on the Lisbon Treaty.

Such is the poor level of organisation, that the entire affair has been dubbed a "French farce".

Party leaders were shocked that they had not even received an official invitation to talks with the French head of state.

While refusing to condemn Mr Sarkozy for the chaos, it was clear there was increasing concern about how seriously the French organisers were taking the five-hour "summit".

There are deepening fears that the event will fail to address the concerns of the majority of Irish people who voted 'No' in last month's referendum.

Those fears come on the back of growing anger over what Mr Sarkozy said earlier this week, when he told party members that Ireland would have to hold a second vote.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny was last night said to be particularly annoyed by the failure to provide proper notification.

One party insider complained that "nothing as shoddy" had ever happened with any other visit by a European head of state.

Last night, Labour was also refusing to confirm its attendance at Mr Sarkozy's hour-long meeting with treaty campaigners at the French Embassy, due to the lack of official details.

According to the official itinerary, Mr Sarkozy will meet Taoiseach Brian Cowen at Government Buildings at 1pm on Monday, where he is also likely to be confronted by noisy protesters opposed to the prospect of a second referendum.

He will give a press conference at 3.15pm and then travel to the French embassy in Ailesbury Road, Dublin 4, for a 3.45pm meeting with treaty campaigners.

He is due to leave the embassy at 5pm.

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore questioned the value of the president's "short visit".

Respond

"President Sarkozy is very welcome to visit Ireland. It's not appropriate for him, though, to be telling the Irish people how we should now respond," he said.

The Government had originally been given responsibility for inviting treaty campaigners to meet Mr Sarkozy. But government insiders maintain the guest list is now being decided upon totally by the French. The French Embassy is due to announce the official guestlist today.

Former Green MEP Patricia McKenna, who has promised to protest against the visit outside Government Buildings, said it was becoming more of an Irish farce than a "French farce".

"I think a lot of the confusion is down to our own Government. They are extremely nervous about the fact that Sarkozy is quite outspoken and honest, and at least he is being more straightforward than our own politicians are," she said.

But Minister of State for Europe Dick Roche said he believed that Mr Sarkozy's comments this week about the need to hold a second referendum had been overplayed. He denied that the French president was being "corralled" into the embassy as a result.

A spokeswoman for Sinn Fein said there was disappointment that the party's request for a one-to-one meeting with Mr Sarkozy had been turned down.

Although plans to host a public meeting involving Mr Sarkozy and treaty campaigners have been abandoned, it is still not clear if the anti-treaty group Libertas will be invited to the French embassy meeting.

Libertas was unavailable for comment last night.

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