Cowen: No vote is not a rejection of Europe

IRELAND’S rejection of the Lisbon treaty was not a rejection of Europe, said Taoiseach Brian Cowen.

While the result had created uncertainty, he believed Ireland’s future remained bound with Europe’s. Ireland could only tackle challenges such as cross-border crime, climate change and migration by working with its neighbours, he said.

Mr Cowen was speaking during a special Dáil debate on the fallout from the referendum result. Most of the day’s regular parliamentary business was dropped to allow the debate take place.

Today, Mr Cowen will attend the EU leaders’ summit in Brussels and brief them on the issue. While he accepted the result, his assessment of Ireland’s rejection of the treaty would have to be “viewed alongside its approval in the majority of member states”, a broad hint the Government does not believe the treaty is dead.

Mr Cowen also took a swipe at groups which had welcomed the Irish result, such as the French National Front and the UK Independence Party.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said groups on the No side had spread misinformation during the campaign. He said the key concern now was ensuring that Ireland did not become isolated. “We do not want a situation where 26 other countries decide to move off in a different direction or at a different speed, which would be the worst of all worlds for our citizens.”

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore said the Lisbon result reflected “an erosion of confidence in politics”.

“The people did not accept the advice of the main political parties. That erosion of confidence, which is not unrelated to a decade of revelations at tribunals, must be of real concern.”

Green leader John Gormley said it was ironic that some people may have decided to vote no “in a fit of pique” over food and energy prices. “This is regrettable because this treaty addressed those issues.”

Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said the treaty was dead and it would be unacceptable to force Ireland to hold a second referendum.

“The Irish people have said no; it is their final answer and it should be accepted and acted upon.”

What they said:

Taoiseach Brian Cowen: There are some individuals and groups across Europe who now wish to claim the Irish people as their new friends. They are headed by the likes of Jean-Marie Le Pen and Nigel Farage. No proud Irish man or woman could but be uneasy that they rejoice in our decision.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny: While I respect the decision, claims being bandied about on doorsteps on issues such as tax harmonisation, European super armies, conscription, abortion, euthanasia and prostitution had nothing to do with the Lisbon Treaty but stayed in people’s minds and were expressed as a fear and anxiety when they went to vote.

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore: As a result of the vote last week, Ireland is facing its biggest diplomatic challenge since the Second World War. Fifty years of foreign policy centred on the objective of putting Ireland at the heart of Europe, and the many patent accomplishments won on the back of that policy, are now at stake.

Green Party leader and Environment Minister John Gormley: It has to be recognised that the elephant in the room throughout the referendum campaign was the underlying suggestion that there are too many immigrants in this country, which is something we do not like to talk about in this chamber. I do not doubt that many people have concerns of that nature. We have to look at that issue, with all other possible reasons people decided to vote No.

Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Is the EU to be a partnership of equal states with a voice at the top table for all member states, regardless of size? If it is to continue as such, the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty cannot proceed. It requires the unanimous agreement of all states, which cannot be achieved because the people of this State have said No. If the democratic decision of the Irish people is not to be respected, we will have a federal EU in the form of a centralised super state.

Minister for European Affairs Dick Roche: One undeniable fact is that those in Europe who celebrated last Thursday give everybody pause for thought. I speak of Mr Le Pen, or the extraordinary sight of an Irish pub in Brussels converted into a den for the United Kingdom Independence Party, who showed their respect for this nation and what we stand for by using our tricolour as the tablecloth for their drinks. That speaks volumes about those in Europe who welcomed this decision.


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