Legal challenges await EU fiscal treaty in Ireland


Ireland may still have to hold a referendum on Europe's new fiscal treaty even if the government decides next month that it does not need a popular vote to sign up to the pact.

Irish attitudes towards Europe have cooled during the country's financial crisis and there is no guarantee a referendum on tougher fiscal rules would be passed, putting a question mark over Dublin's commitment to the single currency and creating a headache for Brussels.

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny told parliament yesterday (24 January) that he would hold a referendum if the state's lawyer clearly advised him such a vote was necessary. She will advise Kenny after a final text is decided by EU leaders at a summit next week.

But opposition parties said they would demand a referendum either way.

"I think you can pretty much take it that there will be some legal challenge if the government conclude that there is no need for a referendum," independent member of parliament Richard Boyd Barrett of the 'Campaign Against Austerity Treaty' told Reuters.

Ireland's largest left-wing opposition party Sinn Fein has also said it may take legal action to ensure a referendum is held.

Even if opposition parties fail to act, there is a strong possibility the country's president, Michael Higgins, may refer the fiscal compact to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality and the court could rule that a popular vote is needed.

"If the government decide that they don't need a referendum, I suspect that the president will refer it to the Supreme Court," said Ronan McCrea, an Irish lawyer and EU constitutional law lecturer at University College London.

"There is enough doubt around the constitutionality to justify a reference and also it would make the process quicker."

Irish presidents have referred legislation to the Supreme Court 15 times since 1937. The president has seven days from the time parliament presents him with a bill to decide, with the help of his council of top political and judicial figures, whether or not to sign it into law.

If the president opts to refer the bill, the Supreme Court could meet within days.

A challenge by opposition groups would take much longer as it would have to wait until after the president signs the bill into law. Such a challenge would go to the High Court first, followed by a possible appeal to the Supreme Court.

At a summit in December, all EU countries – except Britain – agreed a new treaty for tighter fiscal discipline and deeper economic integration to save the euro currency.

But as attention now turns to the legal details and ratification process, questions are being raised as to what will happen to countries that fail to ratify, with some fearing exclusion from the club (more).

  • 30 Jan.: EU leaders' summit in Brussels to decide on final treaty text.


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