TAOISEACH Enda Kenny has said he will not hold a referendum on the new eurozone treaty unless he is constitutionally required to do so.
The treaty will contain new rules forcing governments to control budget deficits -- and is likely to provoke controversy over its impact on the country's economic sovereignty. The text of the agreement is due to be finalised by the end of March.
Mr Kenny said there would not be a referendum if Attorney General Maire Whelan advised that there was no need for one under the Irish Constitution.
"Well, you don't go holding a referendum unless you have to. And clearly the advice of the Attorney General is what the Government will act on, as we've always done," he said.
However, his comments are likely to infuriate Opposition leaders Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin and Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, both of whom have called on the Government to hold a referendum on the deal regardless of the Attorney General's advice.
"Micheal says lots of things are appalling and he seems to have moved away from . . . constructive opposition to outright outrage and hysteria. That's his political choice," Mr Kenny said.
The Government is aware that another complex EU referendum could be difficult to pass -- given that the Nice Treaty and the Lisbon Treaty were both rejected before being accepted the second time out.
The new eurozone treaty could involve up to 26 EU states -- with only Britain staying out. It is being drawn up at the insistence of Germany and France, which want stricter financial controls in the eurozone to prevent future bailouts and assure the future of the euro currency.
Mr Kenny in an interview said that if the Attorney General's advice was that the agreement required a referendum, then one would be held. But he was cautious about the idea of holding it on the same day as the referendum to abolish the Seanad and the long-awaited children's rights referendum.
"I need to reflect on the question of holding multi-referenda on the one day," he said. "Clearly on the last occasion there was some confusion because of the shortness of time."
Mr Kenny was referring to the defeat last November of the Government's proposal to give Oireachtas committees more powers of inquiry and the ability to compel witnesses to attend. It was held on the same day as the presidential election and the judges' pay referendum -- which did pass.