October 1, 2009
Irish citizens faced a critical choice early this month and they bolstered the country's status in the European Union with a resounding vote in favor of accepting the "Lisbon Treaty" amendments to the European Union Charter just 16 months after rejecting the proposition and putting that status in peril.
As returns from the Oct. 2 vote were being tallied, officials said "yes" votes were outnumbering "no" in 41 of Ireland's 43 constituencies, according to the Associated Press, giving the country's assent to a reshaping of the 27-nation treaty that is intended to make European Union institutions more effective after a decade of eastward expansion.
It is not an exaggeration to say that if the "no" votes had prevailed once again, Ireland would instantly have become a second-class country in the eyes of the rest of Europe. The danger was very real and the ramifications of a negative vote would have damaged Ireland as a prime target for investment, limited the country's participation as a full partner in Europe, and severely threatened the continuance of its current Fianna Fail government.
Though all major political parties and their leaders strongly urged a "yes" vote and got their wish, there was a loud vocal group led by the Sinn Fein and others recommending "no." In a separate push for approval, the president of the European Union Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, visited Ireland late last month to try to persuade the Irish to vote "Yes." He said that Europe would lose confidence in Ireland if the voters rejected the treaty a second time.
There was genuine shock in Europe and Ireland when the 2008 vote was announced: 862,415 Irish citizens (53.4 percent) voted "no" against 752,451 (46.6 percent who said "yes." Dublin narrowly voted against approval, but in parts of Waterford, Cork, Kerry, and Donegal more than 60 percent of citizens voted in the negbative. All members of the European Union had to approve the treaty or it could not be enacted, and much to the consternation of most of Europe's leaders, Ireland was the only holdout.
There is apparently a deep-seated nationalism in Ireland, almost a xenophobic fear of outsiders telling them how to manage their affairs – a condition probably caused by the hundreds of years of British occupation, and the vote in 2008 was perhaps a telling manifestation of this attitude.
But Ireland is a different place now than it was in mid-2008, and the second vote in favor of the treaty was, too, a telling manifestation, this time a recognition of the changed situation. The recession has hurt Ireland severely. According to the Irish Central Statistics Office (CSO), unemployment reached 11.6 percent in its latest report in September, meaning that 265,000 Irish are out of work. Furthermore, the CSO reports that for the first time since 1995, Ireland has experienced a net emigration and a drop in population in spite of the largest number of births last year (74,500) since 1896.
The economy and the banking system in Ireland is in great turmoil; it seems that every new day brings more bad news. Most workers, both in government and in the private sector, have experienced pay cuts, some well over 10 percent. Education benefits have been cut, the public's share of hospital costs has risen, and the construction industry is at a near standstill.
Saturday's first official results foreshadowed a landslide for the pro-treaty side, according to AP. North Kildare in Dublin's commuter belt voted 76.2 percent "yes," up 17 points from last year, a change mirrored in more than a half-dozen other districts from Waterford to Tipperary. Only in Ireland's conservative northwest corner, Donegal, were voters still turning down the treaty, the AP reported.
"I'm absolutely delighted for the country. It looks like a convincing win on this occasion," said Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin, who directed the government campaign. "It's good for Ireland, because I do passionately believe our future is in the European Union - and there was no real reason to vote no."