The Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, has just confirmed in the Dáil that the people of the 26 Counties will be asked in a referendum to ratify the Brussels Treaty.
The Attorney General has given her formal advice that, under the Irish constitution, a referendum is required on the so-called ‘fiscal compact’. She pointed out that the latest Treaty is outside that of the formal architecture of the European Union.
Her decision represents a major blow to the Dublin government and EU officials, who had worked assiduously in negotiations to ensure the Treaty was worded to avoid such a referendum in Ireland.
The newly-elected President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, indicated last week that he would convene a Council of State to study the constitutional ramifications of any decision not to hold the referendum. Sinn Féin and a number of independent TDs had also indicated their intention of pursuing a Supreme Court challenge if a referendum was not held.
In a dramatic u-turn this afternoon, Mr Kenny told the Dublin parliament that he looked forward to the debate, and declared that he believed the Treaty was “in the national interest”.
As he called for a ‘Yes’ vote, he insisted a permanent enforcement by the EU of the State’s annual budgets under new fiscal austerity rules would be good for Ireland.
Labour leader and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, speaking after Kenny’s announcement, said ratifying the Treaty would give the 26-County State access to further EU bailout loans. A ‘Yes’ vote would be “a vote for economic stability and a vote for economic recovery”, he declared.
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams welcomed the announcement and the “unusual” decision for it to be made in the Dáil chamber by Kenny and Gilmore.
“It gives us hope that you do listen to us on these matters,” he said. Their eventual acceptance of a need for a referendum represented “another failure” by the coalition government, but one which was “a good thing” for the Irish people.
He said the referendum was on an issue of “profound and long-lasting importance”. But pointing to the one-sided media debates and the refusal of previous governments to accept successive referendum outcomes on Europe, he asked:
“Will the Government accept the outcome? Or will there be a rerun replay?
“Will there be an informed debate, or the bullying tactic of the past employed?”
No date has yet been set for the referendum, but the deadline for the Treaty’s ratification is January 1, 2013.