BY ED WEST
IRISH PRO-LIFE groups campaigning against the Lisbon Treaty have accused a senior bishop of interfering in the upcoming referendum.
Bishop Noel Treanor of Down and Connor said last week that he could “state unequivocally that a Catholic can, without reserve and in good conscience, vote ‘Yes’ for the Lisbon Treaty.
“There are no grounds to justify a No vote in the Lisbon Treaty on the basis of specifically religious or ethical concerns,” he said.
Irish citizens will vote next month on the Treaty for the second time. In June last year they rejected the treaty, which required an amendment to the Irish constitution, by 53 per cent to 46 per cent.
Bishop Treanor is one of the Church’s most respected and senior experts on European Union ethical affairs and Irish Catholic bishops representative at the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (Comece).
He made his remarks before the Oireachtas joint committee on European affairs, the equivalent of a British parliamentary committee.
His comments were a boost to the Yes campaign led by Taoiseach Brian Cowen. Bishop Treanor said he was speaking with the blessing of Cardinal Seán Brady, Primate of All Ireland. A number of organisations involved in the No vote, which is expected to lose, argue that the Treaty would allow Brussels to challenge Ireland’s opposition to abortion. But Bishop Treanor told the committee that no organisation lobbying in the campaign speaks on behalf of the Church.
“Unfortunately, there is evidence that there are a number of publications and organisations who are intent once again on influencing the outcome of the forthcoming referendum by introducing misleading or inaccurate information,” he said.
He said Lisbon “does not alter the legal position of abortion in Ireland”.
He said: “This is further assured by the legal guarantees secured by the government in the period since the first referendum. These legal guarantees represent a welcome and significant clarification of already existing safeguards in the relationship between the competence of the EU institutions and national sovereignty on important ethical issues.” Responding to queries from joint committee members on the implications of decisions by the European Court of Justice for national jurisdictions, he said such decisions did “not compel national legislatures” or “force any member state” to follow suit.
But he was criticised by Niamh Uí Bhriain, spokeswoman for the Catholic anti-Lisbon group, Cóir (“Justice”), who said he had “clearly been misinformed in regard to the stance taken by pro-life organisations on the treaty, since what Cóir and others argue is that the Lisbon Treaty will give the European Court of Justice (ECJ) the right to decide on Ireland’s abortion laws in the future”.
She said: “If the ECJ decided that a right to abortion exists under any clause in the Charter, then EU law will simply be held superior to Irish law. What Cóir has argued is that the treaty will give the EU Courts the right to decide on abortion and a great many other social issues in the future.
“A reading of the treaty makes that very clear. A new and legally different EU is created in Articles 1 and 49, we all become citizens of that superstate in Article 9, and Article 6 then gives us, as citizens, a legally binding Charter of Rights.
“That’s what gives the EU Court the right to decide our human rights law – including our laws on issues like abortion and euthanasia – in the future. That means it will be the EU Court, not the Irish people, who will make future decisions if Lisbon is passed. That much is abundantly clear.” She told The Catholic Herald “Bishop Treanor needs to realise that the days of bishops crozierbelting are gone, and I as a Catholic think that’s a good thing. He has done something quite extraordinary.
“This is not a spiritual matter, the sort of thing bishops usually speak out about, and he has made an extraordinary statement.” She added: “He is part of an EUfunded bishops’ group [Comece] and has come out to personally campaign for the Treaty. He has made some fairly strident criticism of the No campaign. I think that criticism is fairly unacceptable.” She added: “Our right to vote on abortion is too precious to leave to trust and hope. To give up our commitment to protect the right of the unborn is too big for that.” But Fr John McManus, Bishop Treanor’s spokesman, said the bishop was not telling people how to vote.
He said: “What Bishop Treanor said was that a Catholic can in good conscience vote for the Lisbon Treaty. He said there is no basis to make a No vote on religious grounds. But he has said people are free to decide. He is simply saying that people can in good conscience vote either way.” In a statement a spokesman for the Bishops Conference of Ireland said: “While we do not seek to align ourselves with either side of the referendum debate, we wish to make it clear that a Catholic can, in good conscience, vote Yes or No.
“We urge all Christians to consider carefully the contents of the Treaty; we also wish to stress the responsibility on all of us to vote and to do so with regard not just for our own personal or group interest, but for the good of every citizen and the whole community.”