Church v State clash likely as second referendum is floated

The battle lines are being drawn up already inside the Dublin establishment for a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. It’s becoming clearer what the results of a shorter than expected “period of reflection” will be when Brian Cowen reports to the EU Council of Ministers in October. “No rush” and “up to a year” may boil down to just four months before making a new commitment. The kite was flown at the Humbert summer school at Killala, when the Irish Europe minister Dick Roche told the bucolic scholars that – in his “personal opinion” at the moment – a second referendum on the Treaty would “ultimately” be required. Ratification by the Oireachtas only was not a viable option.

So the Lisbon Treaty lives – official!
At the same session, Fine Gael Senator Eugene Regan’s support for the legislative option exposed the threadbare nature of his case.

“The Oireachtas could ratify Lisbon, subject to a number of opt-outs if necessary…. for example, the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the solidarity clause, transfer of certain matters to qualified majority voting, and the inclusion of new competences such as energy security, climate change and tourism”

So what would be left to ratify after all these opt-outs, senator? .

Can we detect a slight weakening of the impossiblist Sinn Fein “No” position can be detected from Mary Lou, keen no doubt to be on the winning side before next year’s Euro-elections?

“MEP Mary Lou McDonald has said if the Irish government secures a better deal for Ireland at European level, only then is there an argument for a new referendum. Those of us on the ‘no’ side want specific new additional points in the treaty and we want specific cast iron legal views on taxation,’ she said.”

If opinion hardens for second referendum, Cowen will be choosing the hard place rather than the rock. Quite a gamble, and a lot of persuading to do as a recession bites. It’s hardly an exaggeration to say his premiership will be at stake.

And will the Catholic Church come out with its most explicit statements on a matter of public morals since the legalisation of contraceptives row in the 1970s? As Slugger has already noted, at the same summer school Cardinal Brady warned that “a succession of anti-family, anti-life and other anti-Christian decisions by Brussels has made it more difficult for committed Christians to maintain their instinctive support for Europe in the Lisbon Referendum”. This is code for a supposed assault on the abortion ban implicit in the Treaty according to its critics and identified as a key fear in the minds of “No” voters last June.

Ireland could face a Church v State battle of interpretations over what the Treaty actually means in this area over fears that ratifying the Charter of Fundamental Rights could force the Supreme Court to overturn the abortion ban on new human rights grounds. So far the parties have played down the existence of a link with abortion. Brian Cowen did so in his diagnoses of No, immediately after the referendum. “… concerns were expressed regarding abortion, despite the specific assurances in terms of Ireland’s legal arrangements in this regard.”

In fact, as Slugger has noted, the Irish State faces defeat on abortion already, not because of anything the EU is doing but because of a likely ruling in the quite separate European Court of Human Rights.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

Living History 1968-74

A unique, once-in-a-lifetime 10-week course at Stranmillis University College Belfast featuring live, in-depth interviews with leading figures from this tumultuous era in Northern Ireland’s cultural and political history.

Live interviews with: Bernadette McAliskey, Austin Currie, Brid Rogers, Baroness Blood, Dennis Bradley, Baroness Paisley, Lord Kilclooney, Tim McGarry, Danny Morrison, Sir Kenneth Bloomfield and others…

Find out more…