Ireland may have to revisit EU treaty "No"

DUBLIN Thu Oct 30, 2008 4:05pm GMT

Ireland's Prime Minister Brian Cowen reacts during a joint news conference with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso at the EC headquarters in Brussels, June 19, 2008. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Ireland's Prime Minister Brian Cowen reacts during a joint news conference with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso at the EC headquarters in Brussels, June 19, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Yves Herman

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland may have to reconsider its rejection of the European Union's reform treaty as there will be little room for renegotiation after 26 other member states ratify it, Prime Minister Brian Cowen said on Thursday.

Ireland's "No" vote in its June referendum derailed a replacement for an EU constitution already rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005 and humiliated Cowen, who had entered office in May and campaigned in favour of the treaty.

Since the vote, Ireland became the first euro zone country to enter recession and upset many European partners with a unilateral plan to guarantee 400 billion euros (316 billion pounds) worth of bank debt to shore up its financial system.

The Irish government has promised a plan of action on the Lisbon reform treaty by an EU summit in December, by which time EU partners may offer to address some of the worries which contributed to the rejection of the treaty, Cowen said.

"We need to come back and say to the Irish people honestly, here is what is on offer from the European Union, do we wish to revisit this question or do we not?," Cowen told a business conference.

"If 26 other partners want to proceed in a certain direction and we ... are not going to respond in a positive and constructive way to address that issue, then there are consequences," Cowen said.

Cowen said people mainly worried about Ireland's ability to set its taxes, to keep a permanent seat on the European Commission and to maintain its military neutrality, though many voted "No" due to lack of information.

"(European partners) indicated they can be helpful in some respects ... but they're also making it very clear they don't have an interest in re-ratifying or amending the treaty in a substantive way," Cowen told reporters at the conference.

Hit by the global credit crunch and the abrupt end of a decade-long construction boom at home, Ireland expects to break EU budget deficit rules next year by more than double the limit.

Tens of thousands of students and pensioners have protested in Dublin in the past week against spending cuts and tax rises introduced in the 2009 budget, with a poll showing support for Cowen's Fianna Fail party falling as low as 26 percent and backing for the opposition Fine Gael up at 33 percent.

(Editing by Myra MacDonald)