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Sunday 20 October 2019

Cowen confident of 'Yes' vote for Lisbon re-run

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor in Brussels

Taoiseach Brian Cowen last night said he was "confident" the planned second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty will be successful.

But Mr Cowen said the Government would have to take it "step by step" and stressed he was not yet in position to formally call a second poll by next October.

Following an EU summit, at which he secured concessions on four major issues of concern for the Irish people, Mr Cowen is on track to run Lisbon II.

"On the basis of the agreement today, and on condition of our being able to satisfactorily put guarantees in place, I have said that I would be prepared to return to the public to put a new package and to seek their approval to it," he said.

Notably, he struck a conciliatory tone with Fine Gael and the Labour Party, saying he would be meeting Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore to brief them on the outcome of the summit.

"I'd like to emphasise again that this is a national issue of huge importance to Ireland, clearly over and above party politics," he said.

EU Heads of State agreed that each country will retain a European Commissioner and agreement was reached on giving Ireland guarantees that the treaty won't affect abortion, neutrality and taxation policy.

The legal wording on each may not be drafted until June, at which point Mr Cowen will be free to call the referendum.

Mr Cowen said the Government would only come to a decision on the date of the referendum when the detailed legal and technical work is completed.

"That being the case, I am confident, given the importance of this as a national issue, the many people in Ireland and the many parties in Ireland that support our participation in Europe, that we will be successful in that event. But, as I say, I am taking this step by step and I think it is important that we do so and not project ourselves beyond where we are at," he said.

The importance of workers' rights will be stressed, but, following concerns by the British, the precise wording on this issue appeared to be watered down.

Mr Cowen said it was not correct to say the Government didn't get what it wanted on this topic, even though there doesn't seem to be any difference between what is agreed on workers' rights and what was already there.

Unions

"The important point to make about workers' rights, of course, is that we have seen the adoption of the Charter [of Fundamental Rights] that is incorporated into the Treaty of Lisbon that provides us with the best means of securing rights for workers," he said.

The mention of workers' rights was intended to ensure trade unions would back Lisbon II, after the country's largest trade union, SIPTU, did not call for a 'Yes' vote in the first referendum.

Before the conclusions were even published, SIPTU general president Jack O'Connor said he "welcomed the belated recognition that action to protect people's rights at work is central to any prospect of endorsement of the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland".

But last night, he dampened down this endorsement of the outcome after hearing reports the Government may be rowing back on employment rights issues.

"We have to assess the substance of what is being proposed, but workers voted overwhelmingly against the original proposition and are unlikely to be attracted by an alternative unless issues relating to people's rights at work are addressed in a tangible and meaningful way," he said.

Mr Cowen also confirmed the end of October as the deadline for holding the referendum.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who holds the EU Presidency, said: "The Lisbon process is relaunched. I'd just like to tell you how brave the Irish prime minister has been."

Ireland's legal guarantees will be attached to another treaty being brought in to allow Croatia to join the EU in 2010.

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