* Minister says 50/50 chance Ireland will have to hold
* Legal experts say earliest referendum could be held is in
* Irish people's views of Europe have grown colder since
* Electorate has twice rejected EU referendums
* Govt likely to seek concessions on cost of bank bailout to
get electorate on side
By Carmel Crimmins and Padraic Halpin
DUBLIN, Dec 9 Europe's plans for fiscal
union may require a referendum in Ireland, the country's
minister for European Affairs said on Friday, which could delay
or even obstruct tighter budgetary rules to preserve the euro.
Ireland's government has said it would struggle to get
another referendum past an electorate with a history of impeding
"I would say it's 50-50 and we will be looking at the detail
over the next couple of weeks," Lucinda Creighton told Reuters
by phone from Brussels where an EU leaders' summit is taking
Twenty-three of the 27 EU leaders agreed at the summit to
pursue tighter integration with stricter budget rules for the
euro zone but Britain, Ireland's closest neighbour and a key
trading partner, said it could not accept proposed amendments to
the EU treaty after failing to secure concessions for itself.
As a result of the UK opt-out, which creates the risk of a
two-speed Europe, France and Germany plan to forge an
intergovernmental treaty among the euro zone countries and any
others that want to join.
"I think it's probable that we are looking at a referendum,"
said Gavin Barrett, a senior law lecturer at University College
Dublin who specialises in European constitutional law.
Irish citizens are entitled to vote on any major transfer of
powers to Brussels and Barrett said it might be six months, at
the earliest, before a referendum could be held, thwarting
investor hopes for a swift deal on fiscal union.
Irish voters have twice rejected European referendums before
eventually passing them once concessions were offered, most
recently in 2010 when in return for passing the Lisbon Treaty
Dublin got assurances on its military neutrality and its ability
to decide its own tax rates.
GOODIE BAG NEEDED
Ireland was traditionally an enthusiastic supporter of
Europe but its relationship with Brussels has become less
starry-eyed in the aftermath of its financial crisis.
Prime Minister Enda Kenny is trying to persuade European
leaders to cut the cost of Ireland's bank bailout. A deal on
that would be very helpful in persuading the electorate to vote
yes in any new referendum.
"Before we would have said that the European leaders were
great but it seems to me they don't have a clue what to do. The
IMF have been more accepting of the difficult situation we are
in than Europe has," said Mary O'Mahony, 58, from Co. Cork.
"My gut instinct would be to vote No. Nobody knows what they
are going to put in the small print and there is a lot more
distrust of Europe now."
Since the 2010 referendum, French President Nicolas
Sarkozy's repeated calls for Ireland to raise its corporate tax
rate have made people doubt Europe's promises and, for the first
time, anti-European rhetoric was deployed in an Irish
parliamentary election in February.
The leader of the centre-left Labour party Eamon Gilmore
famously rubbished "Frankfurt's way" during the election
campaign. He is now Ireland's minister for foreign affairs.
Kenny raised the issue of reducing the burden of bailing out
defunct lender Anglo Irish with European leaders in Brussels.
His government estimates it could potentially reduce its debt
burden by between 15-20 billion euros if it could use the euro
zone's rescue fund to recapitalise Anglo.
"It's going to be a difficult job if there isn't some sort
of goodie bag that goes with it," Eoin O'Malley, lecturer in
politics at Dublin City University, said of another European
"We could be probably bought off with 10 billion euros in
some way. He (Kenny) just needs somethinng."