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Economic fears swing EU vote in Ireland

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(DUBLIN) - Fears about Ireland's failing economy helped swing voters behind the EU's Lisbon Treaty, in what seemed more a vote against recession than a vote for the bloc's reform plans, experts said Sunday.

The government warned voters that giving the European Union a slap in the face just when Ireland needed cooperation from its international partners risked the republic's hopes of economic recovery.

And the plan seemed to have worked, with 67.1 percent of voters in favour of the treaty despite last year's initial rejection, the results out Saturday showed.

Brendan O'Connor, writing in the Sunday Independent newspaper, said the Yes vote was a plea for Europe to drag Ireland out of the economic mire, saying whatever reservations people had about Brussels, they could not foul up more than the Dublin government.

"Will someone come and take us over, please? Anyone? We don't care if you're European and we don't trust you. You'll do," he wrote.

"Is it any wonder such a high percentage of us are waving our knickers at Johnny Foreigner asking them to come rescue us?"

The Sunday Tribune newspaper's political editor Shane Coleman added: "Many voters wouldn't claim to grasp all the complexities of the economic crisis, but they understood what had happened to Iceland without the protection of the EU."

In the June 2008 referendum on the treaty, Ireland rejected Lisbon by 53.4 percent. But by the time of Friday's re-run vote, the "Celtic Tiger" economy's bubble had well and truly burst.

This year, Ireland's gross domestic product is set to shrink a record eight percent, while the jobless toll could exceed 15 percent, three times its June 2008 level.

US computer giant Intel, one of the high-tech firms which came to Ireland during the boom years, was among those backing a Yes vote as those in favour argued that a second No vote could put such big names off Ireland.

"The context in which this treaty took place on this occasion was different than the last time because of the economic and financial crisis," Prime Minister Brian Cowen told reporters.

"The whole argument that we're stronger together and better working with others, that had a strong resonance with the Irish people and I think the size of the mandate would indicate that the issue was a strong one in this campaign."

Finance Minister Brian Lenihan said voters had been hit with a dose of realism.

"The Irish people have always known that their economic destiny is bound with Europe," he told RTE state television.

"When the recession developed since the last referendum, people recognised that."

However, though leading figures in the Lisbon Treaty No campaign accepted defeat, they were still angry about the government's heavy warnings on the economy.

Sinn Fein, the only major political party to have opposed the Lisbon Treaty, admitted that the financial slump had not helped their case this time round.

Voters were told: "If you're unemployed, there will be no jobs if Lisbon goes down. If you're fearful about your job, your economic future, you've no option but to vote this treaty through," Vice President Mary Lou McDonald told RTE.

"I believe it was a very dishonourable message to deliver to people who feel very vulnerable -- but it seems to have worked."

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