The Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore has warned that concessions must not be made by the Government to religious and social conservatives about the wording of guarantees to be negotiated before the Lisbon Treaty is put to a second referendum.
Addressing the AEJ in Dublin, he said since December, the Government has been in talks with other EU states about securing agreement on texts that would reassure Irish voters about neutrality, abortion, workers rights and “social and ethical issues” – although the scope of the latter has never been defined.
Saying that guarantees on neutrality and abortion were simple since they were not affected by Lisbon, Mr Gilmore criticised the Government for its decision not to keep the Opposition firmly in the loop about the negotiations.
“I sometimes wonder why we are not seeing more progress at this end. My understanding is that some issues have been raised,” he said.
“It is not finalised, and won’t be finalised until June. I wonder if there are difficulties on that front.”
He said religious and social conservatives were seeking “belt-and-braces” guarantees to ensure that Irish citizens would not be able to use the Charter of Fundamental Rights to acquire rights under Irish laws “that would compromise the arrangements here about education and certain social issues”.
While he did not express an opinion on the merits of such attempts, Mr Gilmore said the conservatives’ actions showed that they were seeking a “firewall” about other social and personal freedom issues, not just abortion.
“If the Government bends in that area it will cause the Labour Party and I think a very considerable body of liberal opinion in this State quite an amount of concern if there is an attempt to box off access to the European Court via the Charter of Fundamental Rights on an agenda which is wider than just the abortion issue.
“I hope that there isn’t going to be a problem on this. We put down a marker on this last December. Nobody has given me an answer. Abortion was an issue during the referendum. It would be easy to get a statement that simply restates the Maastricht protocol, or whatever.
“It is then a matter for the Irish Constitution. But what has been sought that is wider than that has never been spelt out. Nobody has given a list. What are these social and ethical issues?” he asked.
The Labour Party leader was lukewarm about the call made by Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny that the Government needed to declare a date immediately for the second referendum.
“There is a certain degree of expectation that it is going to be around October. There is merit in saying that a bit more clearly,” he said, though he showed little enthusiasm.
However, he said a Yes vote was vital. “Part of the problem that we have as a country right now in terms of the international perception of us, the Lisbon decision has contributed to it. It couldn’t have happened at a worse time. The quicker we get back on side the better we will be able to restore international confidence.”