Would Ireland really need a Referendum on Treaty change?

Paul doesn’t like themdoesn’t like them, but there is some limited evidence (according to the Spectator this week) that populations which are regularly consulted and feel part of the political process are happier than those who are not.

In Ireland the population is so rarely consulted (and her politicians so rarely called upon to publicly justify policy), that it always feels like a game of political Russian roulette, with four of six chambers loaded.

Yet the Irish Times’ leader today warns the Taoiseach of using an Irish referendum as a threat (‘don’t make us agree to fiscal consolidation or the fluffy kitten gets it’). And it reasons, the grounds for calling one are as much political as legal:

Yet, the fear of rejection notwithstanding, the legal requirement to hold a referendum on changes in our relationship with the EU is by no means absolute. In signing up to the Treaty of Rome we incorporated in our Constitution a provision (article 29) recognising the constitutionality of future “laws enacted, acts done or measures adopted by the State necessitated by the obligations of membership of the Communities”. Those words, the Supreme Court recognised in the Crotty case (1987), “must be construed as an authorisation . . . not only to join the Communities as they stood in 1973, but also to join in amendments of the Treaties so long as such amendments do not alter the essential scope or objectives of the Communities”.

In such circumstances – and a consolidation of monetary union discipline would certainly seem to be covered – a referendum is not legally required as such changes would be deemed consistent with the Constitution (in the case of treaty changes approving new accessions to the EU, we have never bothered holding referendums).

The last Irish Minister of Finance who held out for Irish independent action on fiscal matters had his (and his government’s) cards well and truly marked…

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  • John Ó Néill

    There may be a strong domestic lose-lose for the government in this (and Kenny heading off to meet the EPP today has been well covered in the local media, which may come back to haunt him if the noises are wrong). Politically, it will be very difficult to avoid the referendum route as it will be portrayed as pandering to Europe over the heads of the electorate. It is hard to see a Yes vote in a referendum short of (what is being dubbed) extreme #shocktherapy: all the empty ATMs and no jobs plays have already been made and exposed.
    Regardless, all 27 states have to agree (28 if Croatia needs to as well) which seems unlikely, referenda or not. So the purpose may not really be treaty change (as it just isn’t likely) but rather creating a platform for some states to be pushed out or creating a restricted economic Kessel at the heart of the EU/EZ. Or just kicking the can down the road yet again.

  • The key point is “really need”.
    In the absolute sense there may be no “legal need” but there is no doubt that in nations where there is a facility for a Referendum, then it confers a kind of Legitimacy that is beyond doubt.
    As Garret the Good once claimed, the EU or whatever it was called when he said it had to be done by stealth as people would have been wary of the sovreignty issue so it had to be incremental.

    The loss of sovreignty issue was also a matter of debate. “yes we lost sovreignty, no we havent” but it was not exactly considered reasonable when the money from Europe was (with Credit) financing the good times that would never end.
    With sovreignty now obviously conceded and a population at best resentful of Europe, then anything that facilitates the Populations sense of pride that there is at least a degree of sovreignty……a referendum……is a “need”.
    Now of course that might mean that the nation has little more than Hobsons Choice………..but the risk of staging a referendum and nobody able to predict the outcome is probably less of a political risk than going on TV and saying “we dont need a referendum”.
    That hardly works in Britain……where Cameron is weak on his referendum “commitment”.
    So it certainly wouldnt work in Ireland.

  • This post has been written whilst negotiations are ongoing to determine the terms of any treaty changes so we really dont know if (legally) there will or will not be a need for a referendum in Ireland.

    From all that I read, it looks as though one will be needed simply becuase the Germans are asking for much more than just consolidation of monetary union discipline.

    We are hearing talk from the Germans about “Fiscal union” but does anybody know exactly what that means in practice? In its purest sense, it means that all tax collected throughout Europe is pooled and then distributed according amounts grants being set by higher European Powers. I think we are at least a decade away from that but I would imagine that the process starts with a State being told how much they are allowed to spend…or esle be punished. Yes, the Germans have actually used the word “punish”

    Whatever form this so-called “fiscal union” takes, there can be absolutely no doubt that more sovereignty will have to be surrendered. So let there be no doubt that if there is a new treaty, the Irish will have no choice but to hold a referendum.

  • Having seen the summit statement, the leaders agreed a new fiscal rule to keep balanced budgets, to be enshrined by participating states “at constitutional or equivalent level”, so I think an Irish referendum becomes inevitable.

  • IrelandNorth

    Very little point in conducting sham referenda like Nice/Lisbon if the hush-puppy middle-class constitutionalist nationalist political caste of the counterfeit republic just keep running them until they get their way. Sadly, there is a democratic deficit in what is euphemistically referred to as “the south”. Look how the stage managed the presidential election, with opinion poll after opinion poll ad nasuem, with the end result that they succeeded in massaging public opinion to manufacture the appropriate consent.

  • Cynic2

    I fear – genuinely fear – that the European leaders have pushed it too far. I predict that in several states the votes will fail and the Euro will collapse.

    When voters face a situation of damned if I do and damned if I dont they will want to hold their destiny in their own hands, not entrust it to a Franco German axis. If they succeed it will be by small margins and in some states thsi will drive a resurgance in Nationalism

  • Alias

    “I fear – genuinely fear – that the European leaders have pushed it too far. I predict that in several states the votes will fail and the Euro will collapse.”

    Except, of course, they haven’t pushed it (a new treaty) at all. Cameron couldn’t veto that process at the European Concil meeting since it is not decided by the unanimity rule but by qualified majority voting.

    In other words, if the other member states wanted a new treaty they could have began the process without Cameron.

    I suspect they didn’t for the reason you state. Cameron is just the fall-guy for a decision made by others.

  • FuturePhysicist

    Better Eurocrats than faceless bondholders perhaps?

  • IrelandNorth

    Affirmative, Mick! Yes, Ireland would really need a referendum on Treaty Change. We need referenda on everything to remind our a-la-carte democrat political caste of a progressive thing called participatory democracy, much beloved b our new incumbent President. With a bit of look, it may even referenda may even replace GAA as the national sport. A new joke in Ireland could be: “How many Irish referenda does it take to change a European treaty.” An anti-Lison poster last time evocatively portrayed the Europhile politicians of the day with the caption: “Would you buy a second-hand treaty from this bunch?”

  • Alias

    The government seem to think they’ll need a referendum since they’re already proffering their customary EU-supplied misinformation and scaremongering.

    Noonan said today that a no-vote would be a yes-vote to withdrawal from the eurozone. This is the same deception they used with the Lisbon Treaty, wherein they claimed that it was actually a referendum on membership of the EU rather than a referendum on treaty change, and that a no-vote would be a yes-vote to withdrawal from the EU.

    The muppets in government never learn, but will the public be wise to it this time around?

  • Drumlins Rock

    They can’t run multiple referendums (or is referendi?) this time I would think, if it is rejected they will have to live with the cosequences. Although like Nice it would probably be too late to turn back.

  • Alias

    At some point we are going to have to exit the eurozone and default.

    However, the idea that the EU will eject us from the eurozone in the event of a no-vote and thereby force a default is pure fiction.

    The whole point of the exercise is to avoid sovereign default, not to force it.

  • Alias

    Given that the thread’s core question has been overtaken by events, the new agreement will require a referendum as Ireland “will transpose it into their national legislation at constitutional or equivalent level.” There is no equivalent level to the Constitution in Ireland, which remains as the highest form of law in the land.

    As the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, made clear, the national interest of Ireland is of no consequence and must be duly ignored by the government in approving this agreement: “The European interest was at stake and the European interest has to be our only criterion.”

    Whether or not the Irish nation shares the view of the EU that its national interest is of no conseuqnce and must be duly sacrificed for the greater good of the EU is yet to be determined.

    The aim will be to incorporate the proposed intergovernmental agreement into the EU treaty at the earliest opportunity. As the self-amending clause requires unaminity, that will be require the approval of the UK at some future date.

  • dwatch

    Republic of Ireland could sink EU ‘compact’ deal with referendum – Republic of Ireland, Local & National – Belfasttelegraph.co.uk http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/republic-of-ireland/republic-of-ireland-could-sink-eu-compact-deal-with-referendum-16091334.html

  • dwatch

    Europe will target Irish corporation tax, warns DUP – The Irish Times – Wed, Dec 14, 2011
    http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/world/2011/1214/1224309045024.html