Final campaign push ahead of Irish fiscal pact referendum
(DUBLIN) - Ireland's government made its final plea Wednesday for voters to back a key EU pact designed to boost confidence in the euro, amid signs that the 'yes' campaign was well ahead.
Prime Minister Enda Kenny said that by ratifying the fiscal pact, which would punish countries that sign up if they fail to balance their budgets, Ireland would send a signal it will "never run riot with the people's money again".
"This is about stability, bringing confidence to the euro," the premier said as he campaigned at Dublin railway station.
Kenny said a 'yes' vote on the German-backed pact would show Europe that Ireland could lead by example.
"When we take over the EU presidency next year we want to be very effective," he told AFP. "A strong 'yes' vote adds to the respect and our credibility with our colleagues in Europe."
Ireland was forced to seek an 85-billion-euro ($106 billion) bailout from the EU and International Monetary Fund in 2010 after its property bubble burst and its banking sector was left on the brink of collapse.
The debt-laden government argues that only countries that ratify the fiscal pact can get guaranteed help from the European Stability Mechanism, the permanent bailout fund that comes into force in July and which it may well have to access.
Four opinion polls at the weekend suggested that around 60 percent of voters would back the treaty -- but with a third still undecided, there is still a possibility Ireland could deliver a shock "no" vote, as it has done in two previous EU referendums.
Leading bookmaker Paddy Power said it was offering odds of 1/25 on a "yes", meaning it thinks a positive outcome is a near certainty.
Critics of the pact have been quick to tap into public anger against the tax rises and spending cuts brought in after the bailout, branding it an "austerity treaty" as it ultimately empowers the EU to fine countries that overspend.
"We know that austerity doesn't work, and that's increasingly what people are saying in mainland Europe," Gerry Adams, leader of the Sinn Fein, the main party opposing the pact, told reporters outside the Irish parliament.
"It is not a good thing for us to hand over fiscal authority to unaccountable bureaucrats."
A 'no' vote in Thursday's referendum would not halt the fiscal pact -- which all 27 EU members except Britain and the Czech Republic have signed -- as it will come into force after just 12 countries have ratified it.
But the vote will be closely watched as a "no" could fuel the growing campaign led by France's new President Francois Hollande to focus on growth rather than belt-tightening as a cure for the EU's economic crisis.
Ireland had to vote twice before passing two fundamental EU treaties, the Nice and Lisbon accords.
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