THE admission that he failed fully to read the Lisbon treaty was not a “determining factor” in the Government’s referendum defeat, Taoiseach Brian Cowen insisted yesterday.
At the beginning of the referendum campaign, Mr Cowen admitted he had not read the treaty “cover to cover”, but said he had been involved in its negotiation and knew exactly what it contained. The no campaign seized on his admission, however, and asked voters why they should support a treaty which the Taoiseach had not read.
Following the defeat of the campaign, both Mr Cowen and EU Commissioner Charlie McCreevy — who also admitted not reading the treaty in full — were heavily criticised for sending out the wrong message.
In the Dáil yesterday, Mr Cowen insisted it was not a major factor in the rejection of the treaty. Asked about the issue by Labour leader Eamon Gilmore, Mr Cowen said: “The point I was making was that I did not need to read it from cover to cover because I had negotiated 95% of it as Minister for Foreign Affairs during our presidency of the EU and had seen more drafts of it than, perhaps, some of the people asking about it.”
Mr Gilmore said the comment had certainly not helped the yes campaign. “The treaty itself was not easy to communicate. It was not based on a single big idea but on a series of reforms. In that context, it certainly was not helpful that senior politicians claimed not to have read the treaty and that some were dismissive of the notion they might do so.”
Mr Cowen engaged in angry exchanges with Sinn Féin, the only Dáil party to campaign for a no vote.
Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin urged Mr Cowen to recognise “the will of the people” and not force a second referendum on the electorate. Any attempt to “unravel” their democratically expressed will would be an “absolute travesty of democracy, justice and fair play within the EU”.
Mr Cowen responded: “The only people I ever heard talk about coercion under the guise of democracy were those who subscribed to a theory that one could have the ballot box in one hand and an Armalite in the other. That is the only coercion I have ever heard of in Irish democratic circles, which the deputy willingly supported.”
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