Monday 22 January 2018

Fence-sitters are knocked off perch by Commission ruling

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

Fence-sitting TDs lobbying for the referendum to be postponed, rather than calling for a Yes or No vote, got knocked off their perch yesterday.

The Referendum Commission, chaired by High Court judge Kevin Feeney, said the vote can't actually be postponed at this stage.

But Independent TDs Shane Ross and Finian McGrath, who have yet to declare which way they are voting, still claim a deferral of the EU fiscal treaty referendum is possible.

The Commission said once a legal order is signed by a minister to hold a referendum, the only way this can be changed "is if a general election is called".

"If a general election is called, the minister may change the referendum date to the date of the proposed general election.

"There are no other circumstances under the Referendum Act 1994 in which the minister has the power to postpone a referendum nor has the minister the power to simply rescind the order to hold a referendum," the Commission said.

Despite the Commission's statement, Mr Ross claimed it was still possible to defer the referendum and that it was allowed under the Constitution.

The Dublin South TD said his legal advice was that the referendum could be postponed.

"It can certainly be done but does need a brief piece of legislation to do it," he said.

Mr McGrath said he was "disappointed and dismayed" by the decision of the Commission.

But Fine Gael's director of elections Simon Coveney said the clarification from the Commission "definitively puts to bed" any suggestion the referendum can be postponed.

"I would encourage everyone who recognises that this treaty is an important part of our economic recovery to now come out and support a Yes vote," he said.

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore said if there was a No vote, it was not clear if the country would have access to emergency funding if we needed it.

"It is not clear if investors will continue to have confidence in Ireland, and it is not clear what the impact on the stability of our currency will be," he said.

"Rejecting this treaty is not a risk that we can afford to take, and I believe that if we are to be certain about the immediate future of this country, we must vote Yes."

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Enda Kenny played down the prospect of any deal on a stimulus package being completed at next week's EU summit.

"I don't see the meeting of the 23rd (of May) as one where decisions are taken," he said.

Mr Kenny also said the Government had a number of projects ready if EU structural funds became available.

However, Ireland has spent its share of existing grants allocated.

Last night the Government refused to say if it was drawing up any contingency plans for Greece leaving the euro.

After initially saying he was "not aware" of any contingency plans, Mr Kenny's spokesman then said the Government did not comment on contingency plans "whether they exist or not".

"It is worth noting that Ireland's economy has taken a very different direction to that of Greece's in the last year in particular," he said.

Irish Independent

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