October date is set for re-run of referendum
Brown says 'Yes' -- now Cowen won't contemplate 'No'
TAOISEACH Brian Cowen yesterday announced the second Lisbon Treaty referendum will take place at the start of October, after securing a deal with EU leaders.
Mr Cowen got agreement on the legal guarantees for the treaty in the strongest possible format when British Prime Minister Gordon Brown dropped his objections.
After two days of protracted negotiations with the British, Mr Cowen said the guarantees will turn into a protocol in the future. "We came here with two aims. Ireland wanted firm legal guarantees. We got them. We wanted a commitment to a protocol. We got that," he said.
Mr Cowen reached agreement after a series of one-to-one meetings with Mr Brown, including a discussion over breakfast yesterday, and discussions between officials.
The legally binding guarantees come in the full legal force of a protocol. The protocol -- a legal statement attached to a treaty and therefore the strongest form of legal guarantee -- will be attached to an EU treaty in the future.
The Taoiseach said he felt confident that having dealt with the concerns in this way, he now had a basis to put the case for a 'Yes' vote: "I expect that we would be ready to have a referendum early in October.''
He said he wasn't even thinking about losing the referendum again -- or if a 'No' vote would force him to resign. "Well obviously I don't contemplate defeat, and if that hypothetical event ever comes true, please ask me at that time," he said.
October 2 is the most likely date for a referendum, but this presumes the Taoiseach will opt for a Friday. The first referendum was held on a Thursday, which would point to October 1.
The second Nice Treaty was held on Saturday, October 19, 2002 -- so October 3 can't be ruled out completely.
Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern often argued that holding votes on a Thursday produced a better turnout in urban areas, as people tended to leave cities or go out after work.
Mr Cowen said he set it out in his letter to all the EU leaders what it was the Government was seeking, and he now had an agreement that was legally binding. "The guarantees make crystal clear that Ireland remains in control of our own tax rates; Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality is unaffected by the treaty; and the protections in the Irish constitution on the right to life, education and the family are not in any way affected by the Lisbon Treaty," he said.
"And today we have also agreed a solemn declaration making clear the importance of workers' rights and public services to the union."
Mr Brown said the agreed protocol was "specific to Ireland" and therefore did not affect the British position.
"The protocol status is no different from any other clarifications in other states," he said. The protocol would "only be subject to ratification at the time of the next accession treaty", he added.
Socialist MEP Joe Higgins said nothing in the treaty had changed and voters were being asked to back the same text.
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said the Government must set out a clear timetable for this treaty to be put to the people. "While some opinion polls have suggested there is growing support for the treaty, there is no room for complacency," he said.
Labour leader Eamon Gilmore said: "I will now be recommending to the Labour Party that we support and strongly campaign for the ratification of the treaty."
Mr Cowen said the Government will bring legislation to the Dail and set a date "as soon as possible".