A declaration by French and current European Union President Nicolas Sarkozy that Ireland will have to hold a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty has generated a furious reaction in Ireland ahead of his planned visit to Dublin on Monday.
In a meeting with members of his own party, Sarkozy said: “The Irish will have to vote again.” The remarks were later repeated by party officials to journalists.
In May Irish voters rejected the Treaty, which effectively sets a new constitution for the EU while allowing the continued expansion of the union towards the east. The greatest concerns to voters were a lack of democracy, sovereignty and accountability in the future European Union.
But Sarkozy’s expressed determination that Irish voters should toe the line of current dogma in Brussels has inflamed public opinion ahead of the visit.
Irish and French officials have met over the last three days to agree an itinerary for the shorter visit in a desperate bid to avoid a public relations disaster. Attempts are being made to scale down the visit to a “stop-over” amid concerns over a possible further ‘Napoleonic’ outburst.
A planned public meeting with anti-Lisbon Treaty campaigners has been suddenly abandoned. There were also reported concerns that Sarkozy’s expressed desire to raise a new European Army for future international conflict could get a public airing.
Now, Mr Sarkozy will arrive at Dublin Airport at 1pm and be taken to Government Buildings for a meeting, and lunch with Taoiseach Brian Cowen, followed by a brief press conference.
Afterwards, he will be closeted in the French embassy for a reception with “Irish personalties”. Mr Sarkozy will be accompanied by the French minister for foreign affairs, Bernard Kouchner, who previously warned that Irish voters would be the first to suffer if the Lisbon Treaty was rejected.
Anti-Lisbon group Coir yesterday called on Mr Sarkozy to withdraw his “imperious and insulting” declaration that Ireland would have to vote again.
Coir spokesman Richard Greene said: “It is simply deplorable that any foreign politician would come to a sovereign nation and attempt to tell voters what to do.”
Former Green MEP Patricia McKenna was critical of the decision to scrap the public meeting with No campaigners, blaming Dublin for influencing French officials to block such an event.
“The Government needs to realise that it was the No side that won the referendum. It would be good if there was such an event where the No side could put forward their ideas and where his reaction could be seen,” Ms McKenna said.
Another No campaigner, Richard Boyd Barrett of People Before Profit Alliance, called on the public to protest against efforts to force a second referendum on Lisbon.
A “No Means No” protest organised by the group will be held outside Government Buildings on Merrion Street from 12.30pm on Monday. “Sarkozy’s insistence that Ireland has no choice but to vote again on the Lisbon Treaty is outrageous and shows utter contempt to democracy,” Mr Boyd Barrett said.
Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore, who had called for a ‘Yes’ vote, described Mr Sarkozy’s comments as ‘unhelpful’.
‘No’ campaigner Declan Ganley of the Libertas organisation told Irish radio that the comments “typify the anti-democratic nature of what’s going on in Brussels”.
He predicted an even larger ‘No’ vote if a second referendum is held, and warned that his group is considering turning next year’s European Parliament elections into a proxy vote on the Treaty.
Sinn Féin described Mr Sarkozy’s comments as insulting to the Irish people.
“We have listened to a succession of EU leaders lining up to try and bully and coerce us into doing what they want,” said Aengus O Snodaigh, TD. “It is important that President Sarkozy understands that the Irish people demand that our vote is respected.”
The Dublin administration was this week mounting damage control head of the visit.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheal Martin said his government had privately received “subsequent clarification” that Mr Sarkozy “is coming to listen and not to impose a solution”. Mr Sarkozy was “entitled to his point of view”, said the Taoiseach, Brian Cowen.
Sinn Féin confirmed that the party would be meeting with President Sarkozy on Monday.
Party president Gerry Adams, speaking in Dublin today [Friday], said: “The Taoiseach should make it clear on Monday that there will be no re-run of the Lisbon Treaty. He needs to set out in clear and unambiguous terms the need for a new treaty.”
This is “a democratic imperative”, he added.