Ireland takes high-stakes gamble with EU poll re-run
AFP - Sunday, December 14
DUBLIN (AFP) - - Irish punters voted with their wallets this weekend, strongly tipping the Yes campaign in an EU referendum re-run confirmed Friday -- but analysts warned the new poll remains a huge political gamble.
About 100,000 euros (132,000 dollars) in bets surged in to bookmakers Paddy Power forecasting a Yes vote, hours after Prime Minister Brian Cowen announced a second ballot next year on the Lisbon Treaty at a European Union summit.
"We initially sat on the fence in the odds we announced but as soon as we saw the money coming in -- some bets were as high as 5,000 euros -- we slashed the price of a Yes vote from 5-6 to 4-6 and 4-7," Paddy Power junior told AFP.
"It has been very much one-way traffic so far with people believing the treaty will be passed second time around. We've hardly taken a bean on the No vote. But it is early days."
Ireland sent shockwaves through the 27-nation bloc by rejecting the treaty by 53 percent in June, but under a deal hammered out by EU leaders on Friday Cowen agreed to re-run the vote.
It is deja vu for Ireland: in 2001 voters rejected the EU's Nice Treaty, but the result was overturned the following year in a second referendum when clarifying declarations were given by other member states.
This time the assurances focus on four issues which swayed Ireland's rejection of Lisbon, according to polls -- EU interference in Dublin's military neutrality, abortion laws, taxation and retaining a Brussels commissioner.
Cowen stressed the importance of the guarantees Friday, saying in Brussels that only "on condition of our being able to satisfactorily put guarantees in place, I .. would be prepared to return to the public" in a second ballot.
With those reassurances Dublin hopes for a voter U-turn similar to that over Nice. Cowen, expected to call a new poll by next October, said there was "clear evidence the European Union is ready to respond" to Irish concerns.
But the influential pro-Lisbon Irish Times described it as an "enormous challenge.
"The fundamental problem about the second Lisbon referendum for slow Irish learners is that there is obviously no guarantee it will be carried," the paper's political editor Stephen Collins wrote.
"While the rapid deterioration of the economy over the past six months may serve as a wake-up call to the electorate about how dangerous isolation can be, it could equally serve to sour the mood even further.
"The problem about a referendum next October is that by the time it comes around, an already deeply unpopular government may have lost the final shreds of its authority," Collins wrote.
Eamon Gilmore, leader of the main Labour opposition which supported the treaty along with Cowen's ruling Fianna Fail party in the first referendum, described the retention of Ireland's commissioner as "a significant change."
But the hostility of treaty opponents doesn't appear to have lessened.
The Libertas group, led by wealthy business Declan Ganley that played a key role in the June No campaign, is unimpressed by the summit package and plans to field anti-Lisbon candidates across the EU in next year's European elections.
"The Irish government and the powerful elite in Brussels are showing utter contempt for the democratic decision of the Irish people in rejecting the Lisbon Treaty. Not one sentence will change in a "new version," Ganley said.
Wealthy businessman Ulick McEvaddy, a prominent No campaigner, says his opposition had "absolutely not softened" and he will be campaigning against it again.
McEvaddy, a member of the pro-EU Fine Gael opposition party, said his main concern was the independence of the Irish government to act in the interests of the Irish people.
"The larger nations will act in their own interests at most times and, when it suits them, they will act in the interests of the rest of Europe. How often do we have to vote on treaties before people will say that No is No?"
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Ireland's Prime Minister Brian Cowen speaks at a press conference after a working session of a second day of a European Council summit at the headquarters of the European Council on December 12.
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