Enda Kenny was speaking after he addressed the Ireland Day gathering of business leaders at the New York Stock Exchange, where he rang the ceremonial opening bell.
Social Protection Minister Joan Burton, who is also in Manhattan for the St Patrick’s festivities, said on Sunday that the “windows of opportunity” for a referendum to take place were late May/early June or late June/early July, to avoid clashing with the Leaving Cert, Euro 2012 and the Eucharistic Congress.
However, Mr Kenny threw cold water on that suggestion.
“The Government will decide in the near future on an actual date,” he said during a brief tour of the trading room floor.
“As I’ve said, we have a process to put in place here… legislation, a referendum commission, and an analysis of how it’s going to be explained to people, to give them full and thorough information about what the fiscal treaty is about.
“Clearly, the treaty takes effect on Jan 1, 2013. You can figure out the choices that are available to Government. The Government will assess this very shortly and make a decision,” he said.
“Referenda are not taken lightly… The Government does not want these things to drag on for too long but we need a process which we set in place with our legislation, our commission, and [we need a] timescale by which we can give people a full and thorough understanding of what’s involved here.”
Mr Kenny reiterated his confidence that Irish voters would endorse the treaty “very strongly”.
“Essentially it amounts to an insurance policy for the country,” he said.
“We’re in a bailout programme. We emerge from that in two years’ time but if for some unforeseen reason [in] the future, Ireland were to require monies from the European Union, having ratified the treaty, it or any other country could draw assistance from that and I think that when people examine this in a pragmatic sense, as the Irish will do, they will look at the country’s future, our people’s future, and they will also realise that this is about very strong budgetary housekeeping so that no future government will run amok with the people’s finances,” Mr Kenny added.
The Taoiseach and his delegation headed to Washington DC after his morning on Wall Street, rounding off a busy schedule with a speech at the American Ireland Fund gala dinner last night.
His final day in the US capital will begin at vice-president Joe Biden’s official residence later this morning, followed by the annual presenting of the bowl of shamrock to President Barack Obama.
There will also be a lunch meeting with Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, before Mr Obama hosts a St Patrick’s Day reception at the White House this evening.