Page last updated at 12:01 GMT, Monday, 16 February 2009

Irish may get earlier Lisbon vote

Irish vote count in Dublin, 13 Jun 08
The Irish 'No' vote last June sent shockwaves through the EU

The Irish government is considering whether it would be logistically possible to bring forward the date for a second Lisbon Treaty referendum.

"All options are being considered," an Irish government spokesman told the BBC News website on Monday.

Republic of Ireland voters rejected the EU reform treaty in a referendum last June. October 2009 had been given as the likely month for a new referendum.

The EU has given Ireland sovereignty "guarantees" to reassure voters.

An Irish Times/TNS mrbi opinion poll published on Monday suggests that 51% of voters in the Republic of Ireland would back the controversial treaty now, with 33% saying they would vote "No". It put the number of undecided voters at 16%.

The poll was conducted last Monday and Tuesday among a sample of 1,000 voters across the country.

Correspondents say the economic crisis has boosted support for the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland.

We want to make sure the wording of the guarantees is robust, so that they can stand up to legal challenge
Irish government spokesman

The treaty, aimed at strengthening EU institutions, has to be ratified by all 27 member states to take effect. Ireland was the only country to hold a referendum on it.

The Czech Republic and Poland have not yet ratified the treaty either. And in Germany, a legal challenge has sent the treaty to the constitutional court.

Opponents say the treaty is part of a federalist EU agenda that threatens national sovereignty. The also say it differs little from the ill-fated EU constitution, rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005.

Legal discussions

The Irish government spokesman, who declined to be named, said it was "considering whether it is logistically possible" to bring forward the referendum date from October.

He did not rule out that the referendum re-run could coincide with the European Parliament election. The date for that in Ireland is 5 June.

He said the EU "guarantees" for Ireland "are still being worked on", and that "it depends whether they can be signed off in March" by EU leaders.

"We want to make sure the wording of the guarantees is robust, so that they can stand up to legal challenge," he added.

The EU has pledged not to impose rules on Ireland concerning taxation, "family" issues - such as abortion, euthanasia and gay marriage - and the traditional Irish state neutrality.

In last June's referendum on the reform treaty, 53.4% voted "No" to Lisbon, and 46.6% "Yes".

The spokesman said the government would have to give the Irish referendum commission enough time to inform voters about the treaty.

There were widespread complaints in the run-up to last June's referendum that many voters had a poor understanding of the treaty.

"It would be wrong to foist it on people, if the referendum cannot be scheduled to give people sufficient time to debate it," the spokesman told the BBC.

Supporters of Prime Minister Brian Cowen's Fianna Fail party and the main opposition Fine Gael mostly back the treaty. The nationalist opposition Sinn Fein opposes it.

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