DUBLIN, Ireland — Fearful of being marginalized in Europe at a time of recession, Irish voters have approved the Lisbon Treaty in a second referendum, reversing the outcome of the first poll just over a year ago.
The result is a huge relief for the beleaguered government of Prime Minister Brian Cowen, which had some success in arguing that voters’ concerns about the treaty had been met since the first referendum. There will be relief too in other European Union states that Ireland, the only country obliged to hold a referendum on the treaty, has now cleared the way for its full implementation.
The treaty is designed to reform the EU with the goal of increasing efficiency in tackling global challenges such as climate change, terrorism and immigration.
Irish Foreign Minister Micheel Martin said, “I am delighted for the country,” and claimed that “the information deficit that led to a rejection of the treaty last year has been addressed.” Before the second vote, Ireland obtained commitments from other EU member states that it would retain control of its taxes, neutrality and contentious issues such as abortion and workers rights. The country of 4.1 million will also keep a full-time seat in the European Commission, the EU's executive branch, rather than a rotating commissioner as envisaged at the time of the first referendum.
“When the Taoiseach (prime minister) told them that strong legal guarantees were essential, all 26 heads of state and government agreed and this led to a substantial change in public support for ratification which was maintained until the end,” said Martin.
The Catholic Church in Ireland also allayed fears stirred up last time by anti-abortion groups. It advised believers that they could in good conscience vote either way in the referendum as social issues would not be affected.
The collapse in the Irish economy in the last year played a significant part in convincing the Irish to reverse the first referendum decision. With the government required to borrow €400 million ($583 million) every week on the international markets to maintain essential services, voters did not want to antagonize its allies in the EU.
Declan Ganley, the businessman who played a prominent roll in both no campaigns, said, “The people voted yes out of a sense of despair.” Ireland’s finance minister, Brian Lenihan said “The government is not engaged in any celebratory parties. We are in a very difficult place and that is precisely why people have voted yes.”
The yes campaign was boosted by wealthy individuals such as Michael O’Leary, chief executive officer of cut-price airline Ryanair, who took out full-page advertisements in national newspapers. One depicted opponents as losers, including Ganley, who failed to win a seat in the European Parliament this year.
Many voters who supported the no campaign last time may also have been put off by British right wing support for a rejection of the treaty to bolster plans by the British Conservative Party to have a referendum on the UK’s commitment to Europe. The presidents of Poland and the Czech Republic have yet to confirm their parliaments’ ratification of the treaty, which is officially designed to enhance “the efficiency and democratic legitimacy” of the EU but which opponents say weakens democracy and undermines workers’ rights.
Ireland’s European Affairs Minister Dick Roche said, “Regarding the Polish and Czech presidents, it is a matter for them and it is a matter for their people. The ball is now firmly in their court. All I can say is that Ireland has lived up to its responsibilities and it is now up to them to live up to theirs.”
With some votes still to be counted on Saturday it was clear that the margin for the yes campaign was approximately 60-40 percent. In the first referendum in June last year the outcome was 53-47 percent against the treaty.