Mixed reaction to Sarkozy visit
Mixed reaction to Sarkozy visit

Thousands gathered outside the Dublin parliament this week to demonstrate their opposition to a second Lisbon Treaty during the visit of Nicolas Sarkozy, the French premier and current president of the European Union.

Having voted 'No' to the Lisbon Treaty less then two months ago, diverse groups combined to the protest Sarkozy's stated attempts to force a second referendum on that treaty. Supporters of farmers' and fishermens' unions joined a number of left-wing, republican and pro-democracy campaigners in a colourful and effective mass demonstration.

Sarkozy claimed to be visiting Dublin to try and find a route out of the 'crisis' created by the rejection of the Lisbon treaty. Last week, he provoked a storm of criticism, including from some of his supporters, when he told a meeting of his political party that the Irish would have to vote again on Lisbon.

Speaking at a joint news conference in Dublin on Monday night with Taoiseach Brian Cowen, Mr Sarkozy brazenly denied making the statement.

The French leader claimed he would never want to meddle in Irish affairs. "I never said Ireland had to organise a new referendum," he said.

"I said that at some stage or another the Irish had to be given the opportunity to give their opinion, they had to give their opinion. I never said there had to be a referendum.

"I didn't say on what question there would be a vote. I did not, in any way, meddle in Irish domestic affairs."

While Mr Sarkozy's rhetoric had softened, there was no mention of possible renegotiation or compromise on the Lisbon Treaty. European bureaucrats hope the document, if approved, will serve to federalize and expand European Union government. A previous version of the text, a putative EU constitution, was rejected by French and Dutch voters before their referendum rights were removed last year.

However, after a public forum was abandoned, and after considerable wrangling, the French premier held a joint meeting with political activists and separate meetings with the leaders of the Fine Gael and Labour opposition parties.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams, who was not afforded a private meeting, however described the group discussions at the French embassy as "useful".

"Whilst the process of setting up today's meeting was imperfect it is worth noting that Mr Sarkozy did what the Irish government have failed to, he has met with and listened to those who campaigned against the Lisbon Treaty."

Mr Adams said he had pointed out to Mr Sarkozy that the reasons behind the 'No' vote were not as complex as had been suggested.

"The Irish electorate were deeply concerned with issues such as democracy, Ireland's loss of power within the EU, neutrality and militarisation, workers rights and public services.

"Indeed these same concerns are shared by many across the European Union."

Mr Adams pointed out that there could be no re-running of the Lisbon Treaty referendum.

"The Irish people have rejected the Treaty by a clear majority and by the EU's own rules it cannot proceed without the ratification of all member states. The Lisbon Treaty is finished -- therefore negotiations for a new Treaty must begin.

"Sinn Fein had sought a one to one meeting with President Sarkozy during his visit to outline in detail our proposals following the Irish people's rejection of the Treaty. Whilst we were not afforded the opportunity to do so on this occasion we will continue to pursue our request."

Former Green Party MEP Patricia McKenna was disappointed with the meeting. "We went through the motions. He is not getting the message," she said.

"He wants the Irish people to put this treaty through by a referendum or by whatever means necessary," she added.

Libertas founder Declan Ganley said he attempted to counter Mr Sarkozy's insistence that ratification continue. "I tried to get him to recognise the fact that the Lisbon Treaty is dead.

"The most worrying thing about the meeting is the fact that clearly the message is not being properly heard, perhaps not even being heard at all, that we have said No."

Speaking at the protest outside Leinster House, eirigi spokesperson Daithi Mac An Mhaistir said the Sarkozy visit was "a sham, designed to give the impression of a listening EU president who is trying to address the concerns of the people of Ireland.

"In reality Sarkozy, Cowen and their ilk are frantically trying to find a mechanism to subvert the democratic will of the people of this state."

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