FINANCE Minister Michael Noonan has been accused of scaremongering the electorate after saying any referendum on the new EU deal would be a vote on whether to stay in the euro or not.
Mr Noonan predicted voters would pass any referendum if the stricter EU budget measures needed to be voted on, a decision on which could be known in just a few weeks.
But his summary on what a referendum would mean for Ireland was seized upon by Fianna Fáil who declared that his comments were “irresponsible” and an early attempt to silence criticism of the EU agreement.
Sinn Féin also claimed his comments were an attempt to win any vote by “instilling fear” in people.
Speaking while visiting bankers and investors earlier in the day in London, Mr Noonan said: “It really comes down on this occasion to a very simple issue, do you want to continue in the euro or not.
“Faced with that question, I think the Irish people will pass such a referendum,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg Television.
A decision on whether to hold a referendum on strict budget proposals in the EU inter-government treaty may now be known next month.
EU plans include restricting deficit levels for nations to 0.5%, forbidding debt writedowns and allowing Brussels to preview budgets and refer them back for changes.
The Attorney General is considering if changes will need to be made to the Constitution and therefore if a referendum is required.
“I hope we will have the first draft before Christmas, then we’ll be able to do a legal assessment on it,” said Mr Noonan.
FF’s finance spokesman Michael McGrath attacked the minister over his “irresponsible” and “incorrect” comments.
“On the one hand we’re being told that we don’t know yet whether a referendum will be required and on the other hand they’re being told if there is a referendum, it’s a question of whether or not we wish to remain in the euro.
“That’s simply not the case. It seems clear now that the Government is laying the ground for a negative campaign, which is based on scaremongering and is putting a question to the Irish people which wasn’t decided last week.”
Mr McGrath also said the minister was employing the same “scare tactics” used by French President Nicolas Sarkozy over Greece’s planned referendum on its bailout terms.
Mr Noonan held talks with British chancellor george Osbourne yesterday where the two discussed Britain opting out of the treaty changes as well as the a commitment to reduce the 4.8% interest rate on the country’s €5 billion loan to Ireland.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny earlier told the Dáil that the new EU accord was “not something that should be a concern to Ireland”.
EU members will decide on treaty changes by March but Mr Kenny said the issue of a referendum would depend on legal advice.
“This is not something to be rushed,” he added.
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