Ireland will hold a referendum on a Constitution for the European Union despite France’s rejection of the treaty, 26-County Prime Minister, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern declared today.

In its national plebiscite on the proposed constitution, France voted against by 55% to 45% on Sunday. The Netherlands is also expected to reject the controversial document later this week.

European bureacrats and politicians struggled for years to forge an agreed text along the lines of the US constitution. But there now seems no hope that the impenetrable tome, which must be ratified by all 25 member states, can become law.

Ahern surprised Irish voters by insisting they would get the chance to have their say on the massive 480-page documents.

The Taoiseach, during whose presidency the European Constitution was agreed, also insisted it would not be renegotiated or redrafted.

He said everyone “has to accept the democratic decision of the French people”, before declaring that the ratification process would continue.

“We are still committed to the European Constitution, I hope all member states are committed to it. Obviously everybody has an obligation before November of next year to ratify the constitution so the process will continue.”

Mr Ahern said he was disappointed with the result in France but admitted that it had been on the cards.

“Obviously it all cannot be ignored and I think there will have to be a fairly serious debate on it now at the European council meeting in a fortnight’s time,” he said.

The Taoiseach said it was up to the French Government to decide whether to put the constitution to the public again, as Ireland did with the Nice Treaty in 2001. But he insisted the mammoth task of re-drafting the document was unlikely.

“I think we have to work that out. I don’t know how we could re-negotiate it. Remember where it came from, it came from a convention that had gone on for several years,” he said.

“We are talking about an enormous document. What bit would you be trying to renegotiate, it’s 480 pages. It was a compromise, it was a set of balances so I don’t think there is any easy answer to that.”

Sinn Féin MEP Mary Lou McDonald today challenged Dublin “to tell us exactly what we will be voting for if this is put to the people in the Autumn.”

“The proposed Constitution requires the support of all 25-member states to be ratified, that clearly cannot happen, as it has been rejected by the French.

“Are the government seriously suggesting that millions of people across Europe are going to be ignored and that the referendum will be re-run in every country that rejects it until the EU bureaucrats get the result they want.

“The French people are to be congratulated. The result of their referendum must be respected.

“Their success is a major boost to all those who believe that this Constitution should be rejected because it is undemocratic, militaristic and right wing.”

Speaking during a visit to Brittany as a guest of the Breton Independence movement, the Vice President of Republican Sinn Féin Des Dalton that for small nations like Ireland and Brittany the European Union “merely represents another form of imperialism. Instead of having power centred in London or Paris it will instead be administered from Brussels.

“This will not change the reality of either British or French rule; it is merely replacing one form of imperialism with another.”

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