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Ireland sees EU treaty referendum in June

Ireland is likely to hold its referendum on the European Union's reform treaty in June, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said.

Ahern told a news conference during a one-day visit to Slovenia, which holds the EU presidency that the reform treaty has to be ratified in Ireland by parliament and at a referendum.

“We hope to ratify in parliament probably in April and then we will take it to the people which will probably be in June. It's our intention to ratify during your presidency,” he told a joint news conference with Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa.

In 2001, Irish voters rejected the Nice Treaty designed to enable EU enlargement, forcing the government to hold a second referendum that was widely criticized as undemocratic - but which produced a 'Yes' result.

Slovenia is the first of the 10 countries that joined the EU in 2004 to hold the rotating six-month EU presidency.

Ensuring fast ratification of the EU treaty, which replaces an EU constitution that was abandoned after French and Dutch voters rejected it in 2005, is a Slovenian presidency priority.

Slovenia expects at least 20 out of 27 EU members to ratify the treaty by the end of June and others to do so by the end of the year. The treaty could then take effect in 2009.

Ireland is so far the only country to hold a referendum on ratification as it is constitutionally obliged to do so. Other countries' parliaments will vote on the charter.

Irish government sources said earlier in February the referendum could take place on May 29 while Irish newspapers mentioned June 5 as a possible date. Ahern gave no date.

Two recent opinion polls showed that between 62% and 72% of Irish voters are undecided on how to vote.

Though Ireland was able to hold a second referendum on the Nice Treaty, a second vote is unlikely to be an option in 2008.

The reform treaty will introduce all the main institutional changes foreseen in the defunct constitution. Its aim is to give the EU stronger leadership and a more effective foreign policy. It will also give more say to European and national parliaments. (Reuters)