A piece in the Irish Times by political insider Stephen Collins confirms something we have thought for a while now.
Under the headline "Irish officials meet Danes for advice on Lisbon opt-outs", the article reports that:
Senior Irish officials met their Danish counterparts in Copenhagen earlier this month to get advice on how Ireland could opt out of significant provisions of the Lisbon Treaty in order to resolve the impasse created by the outcome of the referendum in June.
If Ireland proceeds down the road of seeking opt-outs from the treaty on issues like defence and the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which provoked such controversy during the referendum campaign, the approval of all 26 EU partners would be required. In that event, another referendum in Ireland would be necessary, but what form it would take and whether it would be one question or a combination of questions will not become clear for some time.
Here's how we see it.
The Government won't have another referendum on the same text because they would lose by an even bigger margin.
They probably can't hold the pro-treaty coalition together to just overtly push it through parliament with no referendum. Labour and FG would get hammered by their own voters.
So they will explore the legal edges of the Crotty case, and find out which elements in Lisbon are clearly constitutional changes. Remember that Crotty lost on every point except one, so on that restrictive reading, the list might not be long: perhaps just Defence, the Charter and the Justice and Home Affairs provisions.
In October (or afterwards) Ireland will be offered opt outs from these elements, and EU leaders will will stuff everything else in Lisbon into the Croatian accession treaty, and put that through the Dail.
The EU Constitution / Lisbon Treaty will then apply as planned to the whole EU, and Ireland will be offered a referendum only on those opt outs.
That way, even if the Irish referendum on the opt outs returns a no vote, the Constitution / Treaty will still come into effect for everyone else.
The advantages for the political elite are several. They will have given people a referendum, but stopped them actually changing anything. Indeed there will be greater pressure to say yes in that referendum, because you are no longer talking about what should happen, only whether Ireland should be part of it. Not voting on behalf of the millions of Europeans who were denied a vote, but only on whether Ireland should "exclude itself" (you can hear them saying it now).
Politicians elsewhere might hope that by using the Croatians as a human shield, they will deter calls for a referendum.
On the other hand, this plan might not work.
People are not going to be fooled just because The Constitutional / Reform / Lisbon Treaty is rebranded yet again.
It's very nasty timing for the British Government, as the Croatian Accession Treaty is slated for Jan 2010 - just before the likely General Election. Gordon Brown won't want to hand the Tories a great opportunity to present him as a liar just before the election.
It also requires a hell of a nerve for the Irish opposition parties to go along with such a stitch up. And indeed Cowen, whose poll ratings seem to be going the way of Brown's.
Perhaps the biggest problem is that the Irish public have been watching the politicians scheming *in public* ever since the no vote. So they can see that the con is firmly on.
It's one thing to write an oh-so-clever article in the Irish Times explaining your cunning plan to get round the no vote.
But in reality it might not be so easy to circumvent the democratic vote of an entire country.