Ireland sets date for Lisbon referendum

Ireland will vote for a second time on the European Union’s Lisbon treaty on October 2 – 17 months after the pact was overwhelmingly rejected in a referendum.

The Fianna Fáil-led government formally launched the campaign with publication of a white paper explaining the treaty, which aims to modernise the bloc's institutions and give the EU a more effective world role with the appointment of a full-time president and fully fledged EU diplomatic service.

Ireland secured agreement from fellow member states at last month's EU summit on “legally binding” guarantees to ensure Irish control over tax rates, military neutrality and the Irish constitution’s provisions on social and family law – including the right to life. The summit also agreed that the guarantees would be incorporated as a protocol in future EU treaties, as happened with the Danish opt-out in 1992 over Maastricht rules on monetary union.

In June last year53.4 per cent of Irish voters rejected the treaty, a result which diplomats blamed on lacklustre campaigning by the main parties, all of whom were in favour. An opinion poll suggested that 54 per cent of those who say they intend to vote will back the treaty this time.

Pollsters said the collapse of the economy has swung public opinion behind the treaty, with many voters worried that another rejection would isolate Ireland.

The Green party, junior partners in the Fianna Fáil-led coalition and traditionally opposed to EU treaties because of the moves to military integration, is to vote at a membership convention on July 18. Last time it failed to secure a necessary two-thirds majority of party membership to unite behind a single policy, leaving it to individual members to decide.

Micheál Martin, minister for foreign affairs who is also head of Fianna Fáil’s campaign, on Wednesday defended the use of public money to finance a postcard mail-shot to 1.9m homes explaining the treaty.

Under strict rules governing the conduct of the referendum campaigning, the government has to present both sides of the argument.

But Mr Martin said: “We’re not promoting any argument here, we’re providing information. There is no advocacy in any material we are sending out on the Lisbon treaty.”

He told Irish radio that surveys showed that last time 46 per cent of those who abstained and a similar proportion of those who voted No did so because they did not understand the issues.

The “No” camp lost one of its main advocates when Declan Ganley, the businessman leader of the eurosceptic Libertas party, failed to take a seat in the European parliament elections and announced that he was quitting politics. The “No” side is likely to be led by Sinn Féin, the nationalist party formerly seen as the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, the paramilitary group that fought for decades to end British control of Northern Ireland.

Ireland is the only EU member to hold a referendum on Lisbon. The treaty has been ratified in all but four of the EU’s 27 member states. Poland and the Czech Republic, although they have completed the parliamentary phases of the ratification, are awaiting the outcome of the Irish vote. Germany, where the constitutional court approved the treaty last month is awaiting passage of amending domestic legislation.

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