Friday, July 11, 2008

Bypassing the referendum

I can't remember where I first came across it, but I remember after the Lisbon vote reading the comments of some Fine Gaeler - Gay Mitchell? - blaming the government for holding a referendum in the first place. His argument was that there was no constitutional imperative to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. I figured that was just some post-game point-scoring by the opposition. I thought so little of what he said that I read it and moved on. Didn't really strike me as important.

Then on July 5 I read a comment by Sarkozy that had me wondering if a non-referendum solution was being seriously considered.
“If the perspective of a second vote in Ireland has been raised it is because it has happened before,” Sarkozy told journalists, referring to Ireland’s second referendum on the Nice treaty in 2002. “We need some kind of vote to get out of the situation – in parliament or in a referendum, I don’t know. But when democratic society says ‘no’, you need a democratic solution.”
Catch that "in parliament"? But, would they? Could they? If all the parties agreed not to make it a difficult issue in the Dáil?

It would be an almighty act of arrogance, but an act of desperation too. And, desperate people will try desperate measures.

I thought to myself this could only be attempted after a prolonged and fairly vigorous softening up campaign. I still think it's unlikely, but today Ruth Barrington, a member of The Irish Times Trust, takes up the theme that the referendum was unnecessary.
Although the conventional wisdom holds that a referendum is required to ratify all EU treaties in Ireland, this is not the case. The treaties enlarging the EU, with the exception of our own in 1972, have been ratified through the Oireachtas. It is ironic that radical treaties that have expanded democracy to formerly totalitarian states can be ratified by the Oireachtas but rules of procedure treaties, such as Nice and Lisbon, which update and regulate our relationships within the union, are ratified by referendum.
The beginning of the softening up?