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Independent TDs seek to force referendum on EU fiscal compact

The Dáil Technical Group hopes the President can help force a referendum on the EU treaty if the government is advised against holding one.

President Michael D Higgins
President Michael D Higgins
Image: Niall Carson/PA Wire/Press Association Images

A GROUP OF independent TDs are planning to force a referendum on the EU fiscal compact by using a little known constitutional provision to petition President Michael D Higgins.

Donegal South West TD Thomas Pringle is leading the Dáil Technical Group’s push to refer the forthcoming EU Treaty Bill to the people of Ireland should the Attorney General advise the government that a referendum is not legally required.

Opposition parties and other interest groups are calling on the government to hold a referendum on the fiscal compact which aims to enshrine fiscal discipline among EU member states. So far 25 of the 27 member states have signed up to the treaty.

Under Article 27 of the Constitution a third of members of the Dáil and a majority of members of the Seanad can sign a petition requesting the President decline to sign a Bill as law until it is put to the people of Ireland.

The constitution states:

A majority of the members of Seanad Éireann and not less than one-third of the members of Dáil Éireann may by a joint petition addressed to the President by them under this Article request the President to decline to sign and promulgate as a law any Bill to which this article applies on the ground that the Bill contains a proposal of such national importance that the will of the people thereon ought to be ascertained.

Though the President is not obliged to call for a referendum automatically, he is expected to convene the Council of State to consider the matter. He can then refuse to sign the bill until either a referendum is held or a general election is called and the Dáil reassembles.

Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One, Pringle said that if it came to this he believed the President would call for a referendum.

“I think that if we receive the required number of signatories from the Oireachtas I imagine that the president would honour that request and put the question to the people in relation to the legislation,” he said.

Pringle today called on TDs to pledge their support for the Technical Group’s petition and to ”give the people of Ireland the opportunity to determine the course of their own future.”

He said he would be writing to members of the Oireachtas to ask them to pledge their support to the petition.

The government currently holds an over two-thirds majority in the Dáil but with four defectors who are not subject to the whip, Pringle is hopeful of having the numbers necessary – in this case 56 TDs.

In the Seanad, the petition would need the support of 31 members but Pringle said he hoped some government senators would be willing to cross over. ”In the interests of democracy there may be government members willing to sign the petition,” he told RTÉ.

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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