Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

Cowen warns Sarkozy: Back off on Lisbon Treaty vote

Taoiseach Brian Cowen will today bluntly tell Nicolas Sarkozy to stop interfering in Irish politics by pressing the Government to hold a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

Mr Cowen will warn the French president he is "swelling the ranks" of the 'No' campaign every time he intervenes. The message will be delivered at a key meeting in Government Buildings this afternoon, insiders revealed last night.

The Government's tough stance follows a week of disarray ahead of today's visit, which led to the threat of Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny and Labour leader Eamon Gilmore snubbing the talks.

Last night, following frantic day-long negotiations, Mr Kenny agreed to attend a one-to-one meeting with Mr Sarkozy which will last for around 10 minutes in Government Buildings.

However, the Labour Party, which was said to be "happy with the progress made" with French officials, had not reached a final decision on Mr Gilmore's attendance.

Both parties yesterday held out on securing individual meetings within the French president's action-packed, four-hour schedule. European Minister Dick Roche said he fully appreciated the stance taken by Mr Gilmore on Friday in declining the original invite to speak for three minutes with some 15 other guests.

He said the past week's events had not been a "triumph for organisation" but it was now important to focus on today's opportunities.

"Frankly, if the arrangements had been made under my office, I would obviously have prepared for space to have been made for the opposition leaders to meet President Sarkozy in Government Buildings or in Leinster House.

"But the protocol arrangements are being made by the French officials," he told the Irish Independent.

Mr Roche further claimed the Government had made its position on the Lisbon Treaty fallout "very clear" and is now determined to understand the "extraordinary width of objections" to the Lisbon Treaty.

"Before we start putting together any sort of a formula to the decision that has been made, we must first have a deep reflective analysis of the decision itself. There is no point in putting together ideas from the top of our heads," he said.

Despite previous pledges by Mr Sarkozy to find a solution, either in October or December, Mr Roche said the Irish Government would not be returning to the October European Summit with a "fully fleshed-out plan", because it will take considerable time to assess the 'No' vote.

He said October would be "far too early to be speaking about a solution".

A Government source last night said recent remarks by the French president on Ireland voting again had "not been helpful".

The Government was also keen to emphasise its role in trying to set up a meeting between President Sarkozy and the opposition leaders as such a proposition had originally been tabled by Irish officials weeks ago.

But a Government spokesman was keen not to be seen dictating to the French on how to organise the events.

"The Irish Government has created what we believe is a significant opportunity for the main opposition leaders to engage," the spokesman said.

Amid the frantic efforts to accommodate the opposition leaders and provide a media opportunity, the possibility of slightly extending the visiting time for Mr Sarkozy was still being examined last night.

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