By Hilary White

BRUSSELS, December 22, 2008 ( – The Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland has committed his country to a second referendum on the ratification of the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty. The Irish Times reports that the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen said at a Brussels press conference, “On the basis of today’s agreement, I am prepared to go back to the Irish people next year.”

The Irish government is claiming to have secured “legal guarantees” from the European Union on “ethical issues,” taxation, neutrality and the retention of Ireland’s EU commissioner. Among the ethical issues in question were fears that the EU would have the power under the Treaty to overturn or abolish Ireland’s constitutional protections for the unborn.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who is known to have been at the forefront of those pushing for a second referendum, said he is “greatly pleased” that the Lisbon Treaty will go forward.

The deal was brokered and announced at a European summit in Brussels after months of rumors that the referendum held last June, in which the Irish rejected the Treaty by 53.4 per cent to 46.6 per cent, will be replayed until the outcome desired by EU politicians is achieved. When the Irish rejected the Lisbon Treaty (the replacement for the EU Constitution that was defeated by referenda in 2005) EU politicians began a pressure campaign on Ireland that many decried as an attack on the principles of representative democracy in Europe.

Despite the resounding rejection of the Treaty, Michael Martin, the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, insisted that the decision to replay the referendum was made as a result of “listening” to the will of the people of Ireland.

“What we’re endeavouring to do is reflect the wishes of the people as expressed through the ballot box and through the democratic process in a new situation and reflect that into agreements with the other countries because I’m convinced that Irish people don’t want to hold up 26 other countries in Europe if we can get satisfaction on the issues that are important to the Irish people,” Martin said.

But other voices have said that the message of the decision is that “no” no longer means “no” and that the people governed in Europe are no longer being heard by those who govern.

A lead editorial in the London Times said, “Mr Cowen could have disgraced himself more thoroughly by ignoring Ireland’s first referendum on the Lisbon treaty altogether. But his decision to heed European blandishments rather than his own citizens’ ballots still shows, as the leader of the Irish ‘no’ campaign has said, contempt for the democratic process.”

“If a second Irish referendum on the Lisbon treaty does take place, it deserves to be resoundingly rejected once again.”

Read related coverage:

Irish Who Voted Against Lisbon Treaty Had Abortion Fears in Mind

“Difficult” Ireland Must Ratify Lisbon Treaty or Lose International Influence: Prominent EU Rep.

EU to Solve “Irish Problem” with Second Referendum in Autumn ‘09


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