The Minister for Foreign Affairs has said that Ireland is likely to have a referendum on the new EU Treaty agreed by the bloc’s leaders at the weekend.
Speaking on RTÉ radio the Minister for Foreign Affairs Mr Dermot Ahern said that the Government is “very happy” with the deal brokered to replace the failed 2004 draft European Constitution.
Given that the new agreement has not dramatically changed the substance of the 2004 agreement brokered during Ireland’s Presidency of the EU, the Minister said, “It is likely that a referendum will be held.”
The Minister said that while there has been speculation that a referendum won’t be required to pass the treaty, the decision to hold a vote is dependent on the advice of the Attorney General.
“It was our strong legal advice that the draft Constitution would have required a referendum in Ireland,” said the Minister.
The Minister also agreed that it is a possibility that Ireland could be the only country to hold a referendum.
He said that some countries were trying their best to avoid having a referendum but Ireland tended to err on the side of caution as ultimately it was "up for the people to decide".
The Minister said it was important for the country that any such referendum is passed.
Minister Ahern said that overall the EU has been “a hugely positive experience” for Ireland.
“We must remind people how beneficial the EU has been for us,” said the Minister.
He said that the purpose of the new treaty is to reform the EU, given that it has expanded to 27 member states.
He said that the main reforms involve the way the EU does its voting, at Council, Commission and European Parliament level.
“It will make the EU more effective, and more easy for countries to do business,” he said.
Mr Ahern said that a recent example of making the EU more relevant in everyday life was when Ireland suggested at an EU Council meeting 18 months ago that the issue of roaming charges for mobile phones should be looked at.
The procedures in the new agreement will allow that sort of change to take place much quicker.
The new agreement is to replace the 2004 draft European Constitution, which was rejected by French and Dutch voters.
“The substance of what was agreed in 2004 has been retained,” he said.
“Really what is gone is the term constitution,” he said adding that the Government was not totally in favour of the concept of a European Constitution.