Friday 23 February 2018

President urged to call referendum if Government rules against treaty vote

Lyndsey Telford

PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins will be urged to take the unprecedented step of calling a referendum if the Government rules against a vote on the new European treaty.

Amid claims Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his EU counterparts crafted the pact to avoid the electorate, 16 left-wing TDs vowed to lobby the former Labour man if a public vote is ruled out.

Under the never-before-used Article 27 of the constitution the president can call a referendum with enough support from the Dail and the Seanad.

Independent TD Thomas Pringle, who is spearheading the challenge, said they will turn to the head of state if Attorney General Maire Whelan rules there is no legal requirement for a referendum.

"Article 27 says a third of the Dail and the majority of the Seanad can petition the president not to sign an Act into law until a referendum has been held by the people," said Mr Pringle.

The group, comprising 16 Independent and United Left Alliance TDs, will need 55 signatures from Dail members to carry the petition.

"If you look at the number of Independents, Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail, we make up 52 TDs," he said.

"But the constitutional requirement would be for 55 TDs to sign this petition, so we will be hoping for some Fine Gael or Labour TDs who, in the interest of democracy, will support our calls for a referendum."

Mr Pringle wrote to all members of the Oireachtas today calling for their support and signatures for the Article 27 petition.

If agreed, the president will be required to consider the treaty with the help of the Council of State, which includes former presidents Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese, as well as the Taoiseach and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore. But the final decision comes down to him alone.

According to the constitution, Mr Higgins will have to determine whether the treaty is of such national importance that it requires the will of the people.

Opposition leaders have reiterated their calls for a public vote on the fiscal compact, which will bring strict budgetary rules and penalise member states that breach them.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said pushing the treaty through without a referendum would damage the people's confidence in any future European Union initiatives.

"For the sake of rushing through this treaty, we could damage the possibility of ever again winning support for an EU initiative," said Mr Martin.

"Given that this treaty commits us to a new major EU treaty in the next few years, this is an urgent concern."

Sinn Fein accused the Taoiseach of hiding behind the Attorney General.

Donegal North East TD Padraig Mac Lochlainn said the treaty was "a suicide pact" and the public should be given a voice.

"It's clear that the people want to have their say on this matter," he said.

A Red C Survey for the Sunday Business Post last week revealed that 72% of the Irish public are in favour of a referendum.

Sinn Fein vice-president Mary Lou McDonald earlier challenged Mr Kenny over claims from a top European official that he allowed the compact to be drafted in such a way that the Attorney General would find no legal grounds to hold a public vote.

Mr Kenny said he had no idea about the allegation.

"If it is the case and that speculative report were true, does that not bely what we have been saying all the time, that Ireland had no say in the matter?" Mr Kenny said.

Meanwhile, Independent TD Mick Wallace shot down claims earlier this week by Transport Minister Leo Varadkar that the electorate would not understand the intricacies of the treaty well enough to make an informed decision in a referendum.

"The notion that the people are not clued in to what's happening is not true," said Mr Wallace.

"I've been amazed by the level of interest and the level of knowledge people have all over the country about this present crisis."

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said it was insulting and undemocratic to imply that members of the public are not smart enough to have their say.

He also accused Mr Kenny of allowing Europe to strangle and crucify Ireland.

"If you won't listen to the people then the people should come to the streets," he added.

Independent TD Shane Ross criticised the Taoiseach's claims that the treaty will stimulate growth.

"He says this is an austerity and stimulus programme," said Mr Ross.

"If anybody can tell me how these two can be reconciled, I think they should be sent to heaven immediately."

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