- Ireland - referendum
Crunch time is finally here in Ireland and after weeks of contested, often acrimonious squabbling from both sides of the Yes-No divide, the message to the Irish people on Thursday morning was unanimous: get out and vote.
In Dublin's affluent Foxrock neighbourhood, Barry McCabe, a 45-year-old Web designer, confessed to making a last-minute decision as he emerged from the polling station. "I didn't know how I was going to vote 10 minutes ago," he said, before adding, "This vote is going to be decided by people like us."
In the end, McCabe voted "yes," he said, despite a "very good, very persuasive," case put out by the No side.
"I started out yes. But then the no side put up a very instructive argument and that swung me to consider no," said McCabe. "In the end, I went back to where I started – at yes –because when it comes down to it, I'm very pro-European Union personally."
Thursday’s vote is a referendum on whether to approve the Lisbon Treaty, a package of reforms for the European Union that would create an EU president, a stronger foreign policy chief and a more democratic voting system. Ireland is the only one of the 27 EU members to hold a referendum on the critical issue, and polls suggest the vote could go either way. Voter turnout is seen as crucial, with No voters likely to be more motivated to go to the polls. When Ireland almost scuttled the Nice treaty in a 2001 referendum, only 35% of the population had gone to the polls.
McCabe's last-minute decision to vote 'yes' is one that would hearten Pat Carey, government chief whip for Ireland's ruling, Fianna Fail party, and minister of state with special responsibility for active citizenship. "It's fair to say that if there is to be a no vote – and I don't expect it to be – then it would place the whole project into uncertainty," he said, referring to the EU's smooth functioning."We're working very hard to ensure that the majority of the Irish people who support the Yes side, vote," he told FRANCE 24 in an interview just hours before polls opened across the nation.
While most of the major Irish political parties have backed the Yes side, Sinn Fein, the left-wing nationalist party that enjoys little support in newly wealthy Ireland, have backed the No side. But the No campaign got off to an early, surprisingly efficient start – aided by generous funding from Declan Ganley, a controversial figure in Irish business and political circles and founder of Libertas, a think tank leading the No campaign.
The No camp has been campaigning on claims that the referendum threatens Irish sacred cows like military neutrality, national sovereignty and the ban on abortion. FRANCE 24’s European affairs specialist Caroline de Camaret reports from Dublin that Irish voters are also fear they would lose their EU commissioner, “their direct link to Brussels” as under the new treaty the European commissioners would rotate.
De Camaret also points out that the creation of an EU minister for foreign affairs worries voters who are particularly attached to their diplomatic neutrality. “In 2001, the Irish had obtained concessions from the EU on this point when they rejected the Nice treaty in the first round,” she reports.
From pints to polling stations
At a pub in Dublin's Goatstown neighborhood, local councilmen across party lines marking an end to a hard week of campaigning with a "nourishing pint" – or two – of Guinness, admitted to having to play a tough game of catch-up with the No side. "They sowed the seeds of doubt," said Aidan Culhane, local councilman for the Labour Party.
His friend, Tom Joyce, mayor of Dun Laoghaire, a suburban seaside town 12 kilometers from Dublin city center and member of Fine Gael, Ireland's major opposition party, agreed. "Negative campaigns are so much easier to do," said Joyce. "There's been so much fear mongering from the no side, it's very difficult to argue peoples' fears away."
Like most campaigners on the yes side, Culhane and Joyce criticize the No side for fanning fears over a host of issues ranging from tax issues to abortion laws. The No side has even enlisted the help of a singing Turkey. Several yes side campaigners admitted that French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner's comments Monday that Ireland had "counted greatly on European money" and would be the first victim of a No vote was not helpful.
But Carey was dismissive about Kouchner's remarks. "This is not the first time somebody from the French administration has made comments that are less than helpful," he said. "But I don't think his remarks will have an impact on how people vote."
Check out additional FRANCE 24 articles on the referendum:
And find out more about the possible consequences of an Irish "no" vote by watching the FRANCE 24 Debate.