As polls narrow, Irish PM warns of 'disaster' if EU treaty defeated
By Honor Mahony
Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern has issued a stark warning on the consequences of rejecting the EU treaty as the latest poll shows a narrowing gap between the yes and no side.
A no vote would have "repercussions that would do immense damage to Ireland," and would be a "disaster for the country," he said on Sunday (27 April), according to the Irish Times.
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His words were in reaction to a poll published by the Sunday Business Post that showed that 35 percent were in favour of the treaty, 31 percent said they were against and 34 percent remain undecided.
The results represent a decrease for the Yes side of eight percentage points, an increase for the No side of seven percentage points and an increase of one point for the undecided category when compared with a similar polls taken two months ago.
The high percentage of those who do not know how they will vote, as well as stronger showing for the no camp, comes just six weeks ahead of the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, set for 12 June.
The government is increasingly concerned that farmers may exercise their anger about current world trade negotiations during the treaty vote.
The leader of the Irish Farmers Association, Padraig Walshe, has repeatedly connected the two issues.
Addressing a rally of around 10,000 farmers in Dublin earlier this month - the biggest in recent years, Mr Walshe said: "Sell us out and we will have our say on the 12th of June."
He was referring to negotiations being conducted by EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson on behalf of the European Union, on a world deal on liberalising trade. Part of securing a deal with developing countries is set to involve concessions by the EU on its farm subsidies regime.
Mr Ahern addressed farmers specifically on Sunday, pointing out how much the farming community had gained from the EU.
"The biggest beneficiaries [of the European Union] are the agricultural communities and they should be the ones leading this campaign for it," he told RTE, the state radio.
He added that the trade talks will be resolved and that he hoped that the "agricultural community quickly turn around their attitude to get behind the Lisbon agenda. It's in their interest more than any other interest or any other section in this country."
All member states need to approve the treaty for it to come into force. So far 11 of the 27 have done so. Ireland is the only country having a referendum on the document, with a no vote likely to put the treaty on hold for good.
This means the country is under extreme pressure to secure a yes vote, with much of high politics in Brussels on hold until after 12 June.
A series of senior politicians have visited Ireland to try and woo voters, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.
The referendum comes at a time of change in Irish politics, with the long-serving Mr Ahern due to step down on 6 May to be replaced by current deputy prime minister Brian Cowen, as well as general uncertainty amid signs of a slowdown in the Irish economy.