The Irish, French and British governments are saying little about the revelation, but the comments do not sit comfortably with the jovial pictures of Bertie Ahern and Sarkozy taken jostling and swapping national jerseys before the France vs. Ireland Rugby World Cup match last October.
The referendum to vote on the new framework for the European Union is proving a tricky political issue for the Irish government because the highly complicated wording is difficult for voters to understand, and a low vote could risk defeat.
While opinion polls suggest it will be passed, the majority of voters are undecided.
Opponents say the Lisbon Treaty will diminish Irish sovereignty and mean the country will have less influence in Europe, and that its traditional neutrality may be further eroded by a NATO-dominated defence alliance and European Union-wide foreign policy formulation envisaged in the treaty.
The e-mail in the Irish Daily Mail and Irish Times came from a senior official at the British Embassy in Dublin on 29 February to brief the Foreign Office in London.
It summarized a briefing the official received from a senior Irish civil servant at the Department of Foreign Affairs.
The British diplomat says the Irish official explained that the Irish government intends not to fight the referendum in June on the detail of the treaty, which is “largely incomprehensible to the lay reader”, but instead by playing up the benefits of European Union membership.
It also revealed that the Irish government wanted a referendum in October — but decided to go for one in June because the later one would occur in the middle of the French presidency of the European Union. While it is not clear if the later date may have been preferred to avoid overlap the fall-out from the next appearance of Bertie Ahern at the Mahon Tribunal investigating corruption which could damage the government and consequently its campaign for a “yes” vote, the Irish official said the earlier date was decided on because of fears Sarkozy might make comments which could alienate some Irish voters.
The British memo says the Irish saw “the risk of unhelpful developments during the French Presidency – particularly related to EU defense – were just too great.”
Irish concerns that the large and powerful farming lobby might oppose the treaty over European Union agricultural concessions to the World Trade Organization were also raised.
The Irish official said that Brussels had been asked to go gently before the referendum on anything that might damage the prospects for a “yes” vote.
Ireland is the only country in the EU holding a referendum on the treaty, required because of the Republic’s written constitution. But the stakes are high: defeat would mean the treaty could not take effect across the EU, unless Ireland was to be isolated and the other countries adopted its provisions.