Ireland approves second Lisbon Treaty referendum amidst economic crisis

Ireland approves second Lisbon Treaty referendum amidst economic crisis67.1 per cent of voters pass new European Union Treaty in highest referendum turnout since Ireland joined the EEC in 1972.

67.1 per cent of voters pass new European Union Treaty in highest referendum turnout since Ireland joined the European Economic Community in 1972.

The Irish electorate was called to vote on a revised Lisbon Treaty proposal in a new referendum held on 2 October 2009, over a year after the voters had voted "No" by a margin of 53.4% to 46.6%.

The Treaty of Lisbon is a proposed reform of the European Union that, if ratified by all member states, will introduce substantial changes to the working of the EU.

Following the Irish "No" vote on the first referendum held on 12th June 2008, EU leaders amended the Treaty proposal to address the concerns of the Irish electorate on issues such as taxes, abortion and military neutrality.

The referendum on the amended Treaty was this time approved by the Irish voters by a margin of 67.1% to 32.9%. A total of 1,214,268 people voted "Yes", while 594,606 voted "No".

Turnout was 58%, up from the previous referendum's 53.1%, making this the highest turnout in a European referendum since the vote on joining the then European Economic Community (EEC) in 1972.

Analysts say economic situation boosted "Yes" vote

Political analysts have argued that Irish voters changed their mind on the Lisbon Treaty mainly due to the current economic crisis.

Opinion polls taken over the last 12 months revealed that support for the proposed Treaty went up dramatically as the economic circumstances worsened.

Political parties campaigning for a "Yes" vote focused their message on the economy and jobs, highlighting the importance of the EU as an essential partner on the road to recovery.

According to the September 2009 Eurobarometer survey, the majority of the Irish people continue to believe that membership of the EU is good for the country.

But Irish Deputy Prime Minister Mary Coughlan admitted there were still mixed messages about the Treaty and issues such as abortion and the minimum wage were two areas of concern that left people unsure as to how to vote.

Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin said the Lisbon Treaty referendum was the most important of the seven referendums held since Ireland joined the European community in 1972.

Mr Martin said that “the fundamental economic necessity of the EU for Ireland is overwhelming” and insisted that the revised text "involves a comprehensive response to the democratic will of the people.”

"In addition to the agreement to retain a Commissioner for every State, the legal guarantees now mean that there is absolutely no reason for doubt about the impact of the Lisbon Treaty on the areas of greatest concern to the Irish people”, told the Foreign Affairs Minister in a reference to issues such as Ireland's abortion laws, taxation, and military neutrality.

Irish EU package was renegotiated following "No" referendum result

A first referendum on the issue had been previously rejected by the Irish electorate on 12th June 2008 by a margin of 53.4% to 46.6%.

The Irish "No" had come as a surprise to many both in Ireland and in Europe, and provoked international uncertainty over the place of Ireland in the EU.

Following the rejection of the first Lisbon Treaty referendum, EU leaders agreed to a new compromise package to accommodate the Irish demands on 11 December 2008.

Under the approved revised text, Ireland is to keep its Commissioner and retain control over taxation policy, social and ethical issues, and military neutrality.

Mainstream parties welcome "Yes" result

Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Labour Party and the Greens, which represent over a 90% of the electorate in the Irish Parliament, celebrated the voters' endorsement of the Treaty.

Fianna Fáil leader and Taoiseach Brian Cowen welcomed the result and said "On this day the full and final credit for this victory rests with the Irish people."

Mr Cowen described the result as "right thing for our own future and the future of our children" and believed it would "give a lot of heart to people" in the current economic crisis.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said “Ireland has strengthened its place at the heart of the European family. I am delighted that the vast majority of people voted on the issue at hand in spite of the efforts of some to distract them.”

Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore said “This is an important development that will enable Europe to function more efficiently and democratically; improve the rights of citizens, workers and consumers through the Charter of Fundamental Rights; and help restore international confidence in Ireland so that jobs and businesses can be secured here."

Green Party leader and Minister for the Environment John Gormley said the result “removes any uncertainty about Ireland’s relationship with the European Union: we are committed and progressive members, and we will continue to occupy a key role in the EU.”

The Taoiseach thanked opposition parties Fine Gael and Labour for their campaign on the Yes side telling “You have put the nation ahead of party politics and I thank you for that.”

Opposition parties had appealed to voters who were frustrated with the economic crisis not to use the referendum to punish the Government.

"No" camp criticises second referendum

The "No" side was defended by a mixed bag of minority groups whose reasons for opposing the Treaty were varied.

Sinn Féin party, which had made the EU Commissioner issue a key part of its "No" campaign last year, ignored the revised text which allows Ireland is to keep its Commissioner and said the Lisbon Treaty was still a bad deal for Ireland.

Sinn Féin has campaigned for a "No" in every European referendum since 1972.

Declan Ganley, founder of political party Libertas, which was instrumental in the success of the previous referendum's "No" campaign, said the electorate was being asked to vote again on exactly the same treaty.

Mr Ganley joined the "No" campaign despite having said he would not be involved in a second referendum debate after failing to win a seat in the European Parliament election.

Socialist Party MEP Joe Higgins said the Treaty was "profoundly undemocratic" and blamed defeat on an "unprecedented well-financed grand coalition of the political establishment, big business, most of the print media and the EU authorities."

Englishman Nigel Farage, leader of the British "UK Independence Party" (UKIP), who entered the Irish debate campaigning for the "No" side, disagreed with the result and said "The way this thing has been conducted is more akin to Zimbabwe or Afghanistan. This has not been a free and fair referendum."

Irish business campaigned strongly for "Yes"

Several high profile business organisations formed the alliance "Business for Europe" to call unanimously for a "Yes" in the referendum.

Highlighting that a "Yes" vote was key to Ireland’s economic future, the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC) published a study showing that 98% Irish companies felt that EU membership had been important to the success of Irish business.

IBEC director general Danny McCoy said "A Yes vote will send a positive signal to foreign investors and to our economic trading partners in the EU. The successful ratification of the treaty is a vital step on the road to Ireland’s economic recovery.”

Chambers Ireland's chief executive Ian Talbot said "If we continue to be the only English-speaking economy in the Eurozone and a core member of the European Union, then we will maintain our position as one of the most logical investment locations for serving the European market of 500 million people."

Intel Corporation vice president Jim O'Hara said one of the reasons foreign investors came to Ireland was down to “the fact that Ireland was a part of the EU, it was a gateway into the EU. So most multinationals made those choices in the full belief that an investment in Ireland was an investment in Europe.”

Ryanair airline chief executive Michael O’Leary spent €500,000 campaigning for a "Yes" vote in the referendum. He admitted that although he had not participated in the first Lisbon Treaty referendum, “This time, we cannot afford that kind of complacency.’’

Mr O’Leary said the EU’s policy on lower air fares was one of the reasons for Ryanair’s existence and insisted that “Ireland’s future success depends on being at the heart of Europe and our membership of the Euro.”


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