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Irish PM pledges intense campaign for EU treaty vote

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(DUBLIN) - Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern on Saturday promised a vigorous campaign to persuade Irish voters to support the new European Union treaty in a referendum due to be held next year.

His announcement came days after a poll earlier this week suggested that only one in four Irish people support the new treaty, adding that backing for it had halved over the last two years.

Ireland is constitutionally bound to hold a referendum on the treaty agreed in Lisbon last month. It rejected the EU Nice Treaty in 2001, before overturning that decision in a second referendum.

"I think it is generally accepted that the political system did not engage sufficiently during the first referendum. We do not plan on a repeat of that," Ahern told a meeting of the Association of European Journalists in Dublin.

He said the government had "no intention of adopting a laid-back approach" in the campaign in the run-up to the referendum which he said would be in the first half of next year.

The turnout in the first Nice plebiscite was 34 percent. Ahern said that following a more vigorous public debate, the treaty was approved a year later with a 50 percent higher turnout.

Ahern said he was not surprised by a poll finding that suggested some 60 percent of people did not know how they intend to vote.

"Given the way things have evolved, it is hardly surprising that some confusion exists," he said.

"We must ensure that the public clearly understand the question facing them and why it is important that they vote.

"The government will also be working hard to explain why, for our part, we are certain that the Lisbon Reform Treaty is in the interest of both Ireland and Europe," he said.

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