Lisbon Treaty assurances 'are binding'

The independent body set up to explain the Lisbon Treaty today maintained assurances attached to the charter were legally watertight.

The Referendum Commission said while guarantees covering abortion, tax and defence gave voters extra clarity, the issues had not been in the treaty to begin with.

High Court judge Mr Justice Frank Clarke, chairman, said assurances thrashed out with European leaders last December to address Irish concerns did not change the treaty.

“They certainly are legally binding,” the senior judge said.

“They will be legally binding as an international treaty straight away and they will have the added status of being part of the EU treaties whenever there’s a chance to do that.

Mr Justice Clarke said the role of the body was to explain the treaty content rather than comment on claims being made about the political consequences of a yes or no vote.

But he did move to clarify suggestions the treaty would slash the minimum wage.

“As far as the claim that Lisbon has anything to do with the minimum wage is concerned, there is a simple answer to that. It hasn’t,” he said.

The Commission is sending out an easy-to-read treaty guide to 1.9 million home across the state in advance of the October 2 vote.

A more detailed booklet will also be available online or by post by contacting the Commission.

Mr Justice Clarke said research carried out by the Commission showed knowledge of the treaty among voters had improved.

As the campaigns kicked off last year just 21% of people had a sound knowledge, which increased to 44% on polling day June 12 and surged to 60% at the start of this summer.

The judge said the boost could be explained by the television and media coverage of the treaty and the debates about the guarantees.

He said the campaign may have floundered last year because too much emphasis was placed on issues not in the treaty.

“It’s also possible to argue that one of the things that happened the last time was that a lot of the campaign ended up concentrating on debates about whether things were in the treaty or not, the very issues that were the subject of the guarantees,” he said.

“And perhaps that got everything sidetracked from what I think is the important issue of explaining what actually is in there.”

Mr Justice Clarke said he believed the Commission needed more than the 11-week period that had been allotted to it to carry out its work.

The five-person panel was set up in early July by Environment Minister John Gormley.

Other members include Dáil Éireann clerk Kieran Coughlan, Seanad clerk Deirdre Lane, Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly and the Comptroller and Auditor General John Buckley.

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