THE Government has decided to abolish the National Forum on Europe, the body established in 2001 to promote debate on Ireland’s involvement in the EU.
The decision may appear strange to observers given that the re-run of the Lisbon referendum will take place this year and a majority of forum members support the treaty.
But pro-Lisbon campaigners believe the forum did little to help sell the treaty in the first referendum campaign — even though that was not its job.
The Government cited a lack of money as the reason for the forum’s closure.
But Fine Gael TD Lucinda Creighton — whose party was a member of the forum — gave an insight into what some pro-Lisbon politicians felt about the body, saying it had become “a very, very expensive forum of hot air”.
“The Forum on Europe had degenerated into a talking-shop, dominated by the social partners. Most of the ‘representatives’ who participated in the forum had no mandate and did not represent any clear constituency,” she said.
Ms Creighton added that the Oireachtas was the “appropriate forum” for the debating of matters pertaining to European affairs.
That view was echoed by the Government, which said it would “engage with the political parties to ensure that a broad-based debate... continues within the ambit of the Oireachtas”.
Confining the major political debate to the Dáil and Seanad will give the pro-Lisbon campaign a major advantage ahead of the referendum, as the main political parties — Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour — support the treaty.
Sinn Féin is the only party to have opposed Lisbon in the last campaign, and with just four TDs and one senator, has a limited presence in the Oireachtas.
Criticising the decision, Sinn Féin MEP Mary Lou McDonald said the Government’s agenda was clear.
“As result of the people’s rejection of the Lisbon treaty last year, the Government is systematically shutting down all avenues of public debate on European referendums with the final goal being that we will have no referendum process at all,” she said.
Former Socialist Party TD, Joe Higgins, who also opposed Lisbon, denounced the decision as a “calculated strategy to strangle a wide-ranging and democratic debate in the months leading up to Lisbon”.
The closure was criticised by some pro-Lisbon campaigners, including Labour MEP Proinsias de Rossa.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved