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Ireland votes for discipline despite pain as it approves EU financial plan

Category : Business

Country votes yes to European Union budget plans, with 60.03% agreeing to fiscal and spending treaty

Ireland has ratified the EU fiscal pact, providing some cheer for European leaders amid the eurozone crisis.

A clear 60-40 vote by the only electorate in Europe allowed to have its say on the treaty backed the EU reform programme aimed at imposing budget discipline on all 27 states of the union.

The Irish Republic’s prime minister, Enda Kenny, last nightdescribed the outcome of the referendum as a “stepping stone on the road to Ireland’s recovery” and called on fellow Europeans to help his country deal with the billions of euros of debt that was still crippling the Irish economy.

Despite four years of recession, anger over austerity budgets and fears over low turnout, Kenny’s Fine Gael and his Irish Labour party coalition partners won a yes vote with 60.3% of the electorate supporting the treaty and 39.7% voting against.

Just over half of the country’s 3.3 million voters turned out, after a late surge at the polls on Thursday evening. Earlier on referendum day, there had been fears that a very low turnout could benefit the no camp.

Kenny said the Irish people had “sent a powerful signal around the world that it is serious about overcoming its economic challenges”.

“This result also ensures that Ireland will be eligible for funding from the European Stability Mechanism should that need arise. The ratification of this stability treaty would also mean that Ireland and other eurozone countries can now put in place good housekeeping rules aimed at ensuring responsible budgeting becomes the norm across Europe.”

He said he had spoken to the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and other EU leaders including the European council president Herman Van Rompuyabout the pain the Irish people were enduring as the government tried to restore the nation’s finances. “Europe’s banking sector needs a comprehensive solution and Ireland’s banking debt must form part of that solution. Europe badly needs a success story and Ireland can provide that success story if the right and proper framework is put in place,” Kenny said.

The vote was carried for the yes side mainly by the urban middle class and the country’s farmers, the latter being traditionally pro-Europe thanks to the largesse of the common agricultural policy. Rural constituencies with large farming communities voted strongly in favour of the treaty.

In Dublin and other cities, there was a sharp class divide. Up to 90% of those who voted in the working-class district of Ballyfermot in west Dublin backed the no camp. In middle-class Sandymount, however, 77% came out in favour of the treaty.

Overall, only five out of the Irish Republic’s 43 constituencies voted no in Thursday’s referendum.

Sinn Féin, which was the leading voice of the no camp, said the yes vote had been grudging and was ruled by fear. Gerry Adams, the Sinn Féin president, said the issues of bank debt and austerity would not go away despite the yes vote.

Adams added: “The government has given firm commitments in terms of committing on a bank bailout, in terms of growth and jobs incentive initiatives, so we will be holding the government to those promises. The problems which are facing people today will be there tomorrow.”

A majority of voters, however, in Adams’ border constituency voted yes in the referendum.

Fianna Fáil, the opposition party which backed the government’s call for a yes vote, accepted that the Irish people had reluctantly backed the treaty, fearing isolation and exclusion from emergency funds should the republic need a second bailout. Darragh O’Brien, leader of Fianna Fáil in Ireland’s second chamber, the senate, described it as a “grudging, pragmatic vote”.

An Irish government minister who played a central role in the yes campaign also admitted the crisis in Greece had convinced a majority of Irish voters they should stay inside the EU tent.

Fine Gael junior finance minister Brian Hayes said a majority of the electorate baulked at voting no because they did not want to place Ireland “at the centre of the storm – a bit like what has happened in Greece”.

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