THE controversial EU-Canada trade deal is to be referred to an Oireachtas committee in a bid to prevent a damaging split in the Green Party.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan have agreed that the EU’s Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) with Canada will be referred to the Oireachtas European Affairs Committee for further scrutiny.
The move further delays a Dáil vote on a motion to ratify CETA which would have seen a number of Green TDs, including prominent backbencher Neasa Hourigan, vote against their own party.
“I can confirm that discussions have been ongoing at leader level in relation to the trade deal and that yesterday it was agreed to put it to [the] Oireachtas Committee as the best way to manage it,” Mr Ryan’s spokesman confirmed to Independent.ie on Wednesday.
“We think that the EU Affairs Committee is the best one to deal with it as trade negotiations on international agreement are an EU competence.”
Ms Hourigan and another Dáil backbencher, Patrick Costello, along with Green Party councillors and members have voiced strong opposition to CETA, claiming it would allow multinationals to sue Ireland if strong climate and social rights protections are brought in. Ms Hourigan has said publicly she will not vote for the deal when it comes before the Dáil.
Already a Dáil vote on CETA in December was postponed over the internal rift within the Green Party despite its four ministers at Cabinet, including Mr Ryan and deputy leader Catherine Martin, agreeing that it should be ratified by TDs.
"The move to place CETA under the scrutiny of a committee is in no small part due to the pressure placed on the government by various environmental groups and members of the public voicing their opposition to the fast track the treaty ratification seemed to be on,” Ms Hourigan said on Wednesday.
“Scrutiny by an Oireachtas Committee is a necessary step in the process but not an end in itself. An Oireachtas Committee should provide a forum for the detailed examination of some of the issues we have with the CETA treaty, particularly the Investment Court System. The next step is to look at the detail of the committee instruction."
Mr Costello also welcomed the news but said he was still strongly opposed to the deal and that the question of whether it may require a referendum must be addressed comprehensively before any Dáil vote.
“The news that CETA will now go before the Oireachtas Committee on European Affairs is a very welcome development and will finally ensure a longer and more comprehensive debate will be facilitated,” he said.
“Both myself and Deputy Neasa Hourigan have spoken out against the deal for months now, as have Green Party members who are due a large amount of credit for the internal pressure they have driven.
“I am glad to see that we will finally have an opportunity to see key questions answered, particularly on the constitutionality of the Investment Court System and on the Dáil ratification of CETA.
“The question of whether CETA requires a referendum must also be addressed comprehensively. CETA is too serious to rush through without listening to debate from other countries and without ensuring a comprehensive analysis and discussion of potential consequences.”
A senior Fine Gael source said the move helps Mr Ryan’s internal difficulties but stressed that, although not urgent, the deal will need to be ratified.
Despite signing a letter supporting the deal in December, it is understood Green Party deputy leader Catherine Martin put pressure on ministerial colleagues to have the deal scrutinised by an Oireachtas Committee.
She recently told a party conference that the leadership should listen to dissenting voices. Ms Martin’s husband and Dublin South West TD Francis Noel Duffy also wrote to Oireachtas EU Affairs Committee today asking for a debate on CETA.
When contacted Minister Martin’s spokesperson said: “she was happy there was now an effort to scrutinised this agreement at an Oireachtas Committee level.”
“She has voiced concerns to Green Party colleagues and she has listened to the membership, NGOs and civil society groups,” he added.