“You know, the Irish don’t want this treaty, but if we say yes, it will be because voters are scared and they’re being told this is the only way out,” said Michael Mannin, an unemployed project manager in the construction industry, which went bust after Ireland’s credit bubble burst in 2008. “The other reason is that we’re saddled with all this Catholic guilt that makes us Irish feel like we need to be punished for those good years we had before all this crisis stuff began.”
Vote is mandated
Nations linked by the new treaty — including Ireland, which won a hard-fought 20th-century war for independence from Britain — would lose at least part of their fiscal independence. They would have to advise E.U. officials before issuing new debt and face tough fines and orders to make fresh budget cuts should they exceed strict deficit limits.
Under Ireland’s constitution, the ceding of such powers requires a national vote — making this country of 4.5 million the only euro-zone member forced to put the treaty to the test at the ballot box. The most recent opinion polls show Thursday’s vote is up for grabs, with 39 percent in favor, 30 percent against and 31 percent undecided or inclined to stay home.
A rejection by Irish voters would not kill the treaty, which needs only 12 of the 17 nations that share the euro to ratify it in order for it to take effect. But a no vote in Ireland could deal the treaty a symbolically powerful blow, fueling even more opposition in countries such as France, where Hollande has insisted that it must be renegotiated to put more emphasis on growth. If the Irish do say no, a treaty provision would cut the country off from future bailouts, setting up a potential showdown with the E.U. late next year, by which time many analysts believe Ireland will require a second financial lifeline.
Nevertheless, in a country with a history of rejecting E.U. treaties, the Irish referendum has become an easy springboard for nationalists — who, as they have in Greece, are successfully tapping into the anti-austerity sentiment.
Inside a standing-room-only meeting hall in downtown Dublin this week, Gerry Adams — head of Sinn Fein, long seen as the political wing of the Irish Republican Army — held court as the man of the hour. With Sinn Fein the only major party to oppose the treaty here, Adams has surged in voter surveys to the point where he is now the most popular politician in Ireland. At 37 percent, his approval ratings best even those of Kenny. And even if Irish voters approve the treaty, political analysts say, one side effect of the referendum could be a new era of strength for Sinn Fein.
After a stirring performance by an Irish folk singer, Adams offered up a speech that seemed to associate the “bureaucrats in Brussels” with Ireland’s former British occupiers.
“We need to seize the moment,” he said to thunderous applause. “If something is bad for your country, you need to say ‘no’ to it.”