Page last updated at 16:19 GMT, Wednesday, 16 July 2008 17:19 UK

Irish wary of 'second vote' idea

French President Nicolas Sarkozy
Mr Sarkozy insists the Lisbon Treaty cannot be abandoned

Irish ministers have reacted robustly to the French president's remark that the Republic of Ireland should hold a new referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

European Affairs Minister Dick Roche said "it is far, far too early to be talking about a referendum or about some specific policy to go forward".

Foreign Minister Micheal Martin said Ireland would not be bullied.

Mr Sarkozy will visit Dublin on Monday, seeking a way ahead after Irish voters rejected the EU treaty on 12 June.

France currently holds the EU's six-month rotating presidency and is keen to resolve the Lisbon Treaty stumbling block before its presidency ends.

Mr Sarkozy was quoted as saying "the Irish will have to vote again". He was speaking to deputies from his conservative UMP party in Paris on Tuesday.

Irish 'best interests'

Ireland was the only one of 27 EU member states to hold a referendum on the treaty, which is aimed at streamlining EU institutions to improve decision-making in the enlarged bloc.

We are at the start of a process here, rather than at the end

Irish PM Brian Cowen

Critics see the treaty as further evidence of a federalist, pro-integration agenda at work in the EU. The treaty has to be ratified by all 27 states in order to take effect.

Foreign Minister Martin said Mr Sarkozy would be "in listening mode" during his visit to Dublin.

"We're not entertaining any prospect or any bullying from anybody," he said. "We'll be looking at it from an Irish perspective and what's in the best interests of Ireland."

A senior Irish government source told the BBC that "we don't want to have a row with Mr Sarkozy". The government "does not know exactly what Mr Sarkozy said [to UMP deputies]," he added.

But some Irish politicians were sharply critical of President Sarkozy.

Opposition Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore said the French leader had "seriously put his foot in it".

And Sinn Fein's Aengus O Snodaigh called Mr Sarkozy's comments "deeply insulting" to the Irish people.

No clear path

EU leaders agreed last month that the Irish government would present its ideas on the treaty at the next EU summit in October, after analysing the reasons for the No vote.

Approved by parliament: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, UK
Defeated by referendum: Irish Republic
Challenges: Legal objections in Czech Republic, Polish president delays ratification
No firm date: Italy (new government), Sweden

Speaking in New York on Tuesday, Prime Minister Brian Cowen said the "implications and consequences" of the Irish No vote would have to be discussed in detail.

"It is not simply a matter internally, there is also the wider issue of discussing with colleagues within the European Union how they see things as well... we are at the start of a process here, rather than at the end," Mr Cowen said.

Mr Sarkozy's close aide Henri Guaino, speaking on France 2 television, said that asking the Irish to vote again was "one of the solutions". But in that case, he added, the text of the treaty would "probably ... not be quite the same".

He stressed that Mr Sarkozy's remark about a fresh Irish vote was "not an official statement".

Mr Sarkozy's difficulty is how to sell the idea of a second referendum in Ireland - a country extremely sensitive to anything that can be construed as bullying from its bigger European neighbours, Hugh Schofield in Paris reports.

The EU is currently operating under the Nice Treaty, which Irish voters first rejected in 2001, but then accepted just over a year later, in a referendum re-run.

But the EU constitution debacle in 2005 makes it harder to re-run the Lisbon Treaty referendum now. French and Dutch voters rejected the constitution in 2005 - and the EU decided against putting the constitution to another vote.

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