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A day after a senior churchman cited EU hostility to religion as a reason for Ireland's resounding "no" to the EU's key reform treaty in June, the country's Europe Minister said a second Irish vote may be necessary.
Irish leaders are still wondering why the country's voters rejected the Lisbon Treaty
"My personal view is that a referendum is the appropriate response to the position we are in; this is very much a personal view at this stage," European Affairs Minister Dick Roche told the Irish Independent newspaper on Monday, Aug. 25.
According to the paper, Roche is the first minister to publicly suggest an eventual rerun after Ireland plunged the EU into crisis when 53 percent of voters rejected the Lisbon Treaty in a referendum held in June.
"We have to explore all possible solutions," he said. "We cannot exclude the possibility that, at some stage, and in the right circumstances, it may be necessary to consult the people once again."
Roche expressed concern that otherwise, Ireland might soon find itself out on a limb.
"If we want to retain our position as a constructive EU member state, we cannot simply sit on our hands, as some would have us do, and keep saying that 'no' means 'no,'" he added. "We have to recognize, however, that all other member states -- 26 sovereign, democratic parliaments -- are likely to have ratified the treaty by the end of the year. This will leave Ireland in an isolated position."
The way ahead
But opponents of the treaty insist that no new vote is necessary, arguing that it is little more than a slightly altered version of the previous EU constitution, which was torpedoed by French and Dutch voters in referendums in 2005.
Prime Minister Brian Cowen is due to travel to Paris next month for talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who also currently hold the EU's rotating presidency, on a possible way out of the crisis that has left the bloc in limbo.
EU leaders are set to discuss the Irish rejection again at an October summit in an effort to overcome the impasse ahead of elections next year to the European Parliament.
The role of religion
Is the secular view the dominant one in the EU?
Meanwhile, the government is awaiting a specially commissioned analysis of why the people voted against the Lisbon Treaty, due out next month.
According to Cardinal Sean Brady, the country's most senior Roman Catholic churchman, the answer may be the EU's perceived hostility to religion.
Addressing the Humbert summer school in the west of the country on Sunday, Brady, Primate of All-Ireland, said the referendum result said, "At least some of those who were previously enthusiastic about the founding aims of the EU, both social and economic, are now expressing unease."
"Successive decisions ... have undermined the family based on marriage, the right to life from the moment of conception, to natural death, the sacredness of the Sabbath, the right of Christian institutions to maintain and promote their ethos," he added. "These and other decisions have made it more difficult for committed Christians to maintain their instinctive commitment to the European project."
Social consequences for EU
Brady said that if the European Union chose to ignore the impact people's faith has on their political decisions it affect the amount of support the bloc enjoys among the public. According to AFP, Brady said there was a "fairly widespread culture" in European affairs of relegating religious convictions to the purely private sphere.
He said such an approach ends up with Christians being denied the right to intervene in public debates on issues such as stem-cell research, the status of same-sex unions, the primacy of the family based on marriage and the culture of life.
"The prevailing culture and social agenda within the EU would at least appear to be driven by the secular tradition rather than by the Christian memory and heritage of the vast majority of member states."