Page last updated at 19:27 GMT, Thursday, 12 June 2008 20:27 UK

Worlds collide at Irish EU poll

By Jonny Dymond
BBC News, Dublin

A voter casts her ballot in a polling centre in Dublin city centre
Turnout of below 40% will almost certainly sink the treaty
In a polling station in central Dublin eight electoral officials sit at tables, slowly turning the pages of their newspapers.

A tea urn belches steam in the corner. The only noise comes from the rustle of official notices, twisting in the slight breeze.

All that is missing is tumbleweed slowly rolling down the centre of the room.

Welcome to Ireland's make-or-break referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon. Europe, we are told, is holding its breath. Ireland appears to have stayed in bed.

Asked about turnout, the presiding officer declares there to have been "a steady flow". Behind him the police officer on duty looks up for moment from her paper, pauses, looks down again.

Lack of information

Outside the polling station journalists from Spain, Poland, France and the Netherlands stand in a rather forlorn group.

I didn't know anything about it and it is immoral to ask someone to vote on something they don't understand
Elizabeth O'Connor

One man's flow is another man's trickle.

A low turnout is thought to be good news for the No camp. Anything over 40% will bring a smile to the Yes campaign.

Any Yes campaigner dropping in to the Marlborough Street polling station around midday might think the battle lost.

But half an hour's drive outside Dublin, in the Guardian Angels School in Dun Laoghaire, there is a real flow, you might even say a stream of voters, making their way into the school for ages four to 12.

The walls of the main room are lined with pupils' colourful approximations of Van Gogh's Sunflowers. In such places are the great decisions about the future of Europe being made. Such are the delights of direct democracy.

Outside the school, voters make their way back to their cars, clutching their identification papers, democratic rights duly exercised. The vast majority are Yes voters.

A man walks past campaign placards in Mullingar, Ireland (12/06/08)
In 2001 Irish voters almost wrecked EU plans to expand eastwards

But deep ignorance about what they have voted on is the unifying theme of their responses.

"I voted Yes because I feel that it probably is the best thing for our country," one voter said.

"The truth of the matter is I don't know the guts of [the treaty], so I basically left it to the politicians."

Mother and daughter Annette and Emma Brindley both voted Yes.

Emma because a friend who knew about the treaty told her to, and Annette "because we are part of Europe and we should stay part of Europe".

"I was," she adds, "disappointed that we didn't have more information about it."

"I voted Yes," says another woman voter who was reluctant to give her name.

"We have to move onwards and we are part of it all and we've been part of it for a long time. That's the way to be."

"Oh, I voted No," Elizabeth O'Connor, 76, says doughtily.

"I didn't know anything about it and it is immoral to ask someone to vote on something they don't understand."

Voting No because you do not know has pedigree in Ireland.

It is, like the gaily decorated school, an idea that seems a long way from the dispassionate debates in Brussels.

But, then, so does the whole imperfectly informed referendum.

Ireland, and the rest of the EU, will find out soon what happens when these two very different worlds collide.

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