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Irish PM won't speculate on second EU vote

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen said on Friday he could not speculate on whether Ireland would hold another referendum on the European Union’s reform treaty after voters rejected the text last week.

Officials in Dublin believe a second vote would be a high-risk strategy that could heap more humiliation on Ireland and Europe if voters spurned the Lisbon Treaty again.

Cowen, who held two days of talks with other EU leaders, said he needed more time to analyse the situation in Ireland.

“I can’t speculate at this point whether we will have another referendum or not as I have to get involved in a process of engagement,” Cowen told reporters after his meetings.

“It is only at that point that the government can make a continuous assessment of what our next steps may or may not be.”

Cowen, who took over as prime minister last month, said he would explore “all options, all areas”.

Irish voters’ failure to back the Lisbon treaty has cast doubt on a project aimed at overhauling the bloc’s creaking institutions.

The treaty’s opponents have feared it would leave Ireland with a weaker voice, as well as not supporting workers.

A European Commission poll, conducted among Irish voters after the referendum and released on Friday, showed the majority of “No” backers believed the result would put Ireland in a strong position to renegotiate a better deal.

“It is clear from some of the comments already made that perhaps the room for manoeuvre is not as great as others would have you believe,” Cowen said.

The unofficial talk in Brussels is of drafting a declaration of assurances that Ireland’s neutrality, tax sovereignty and conservative abortion and euthanasia laws would not be affected by the treaty, then putting it to a second vote.

But Cowen said it was unclear what progress could be made before the next planned summit of EU heads in October.

“A number indicated that they have no interest in reopening the text of the treaty,” he said. “They have a particular focus on the timeline of European Parliament elections next year.

“I made it clear, however frustrating it is for them, it is simply too early to know how we are going to move forward from this point,” Cowen said.

Editing by Paul Taylor