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Friday, 18 October, 2002, 09:53 GMT 10:53 UK
Nice poll goes down to the wire
Bertie Ahern
Defeat could have personal consequences for Bertie Ahern

Soon after his May election triumph, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said victory in Saturday's referendum on the EU's Nice Treaty would be one of his top priorities.

Signpost of the No campaign
The outcome may depend on the turnout
It was the right thing to do, he said, to facilitate the enlargement of the European Union.

Since that day, little has gone right for Bertie. Like Ireland's football manager, Mick McCarthy, his reputation has taken one knock after another - though he has not yet been booed as Mick was after Ireland's defeat by Switzerland on Wednesday.

Mr Ahern has faced allegations of election irregularities, of appointing a corrupt minister to his first government five years ago. There have been persistent reports that his own backbenchers are out to oust him.

One small consolation is that the main opposition parties - who also want a Yes vote - are urging their supporters to hold their fire and not to punish the government on Nice.

To vote No for domestic political reasons, the Fine Gael and Labour parties say, is only to penalise those in the EU applicant states.

Fight for votes

The Irish Prime Minister can take some comfort from the reassuring results of the latest opinion polls.

But with so many still undecided the result may well depend on which side gets its supporters out.

Signpost of the Yes campaign
All main parties are pushing for a Yes vote
Both Yes and No campaigners believe that any turnout of over 40% guarantees a victory for the government.

Anything less and the No side will be quietly confident.

Mr Ahern has promised to fight for every vote right up to the close of polls.

He is only too aware that last year the Yes side lost because it took the people for granted and didn't bother to campaign.

So, Nice was rejected by 54% to 46% with a turnout of 35%.

Neutrality

On doorsteps and in radio and television studios he and his ministers have taken on the No side accusing them of telling "untruths."

But people are confused.

Lamp-posts are festooned with posters urging people to vote Yes to save neutrality and jobs and others urging a No vote to protect neutrality and jobs.

No wonder so many still haven't made up their mind.

The Irish Prime Minister must be praying that the combined forces of the government, the main opposition parties, the trade unions, employers groups and the Catholic Church will persuade the undecided to vote Yes.

But a defeat could have personal consequences for Mr Ahern.

He knows at least that if he wins tomorrow he is likely to be in his job a lot longer than Mick McCarthy.


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17 Oct 02 | Europe
16 Oct 02 | Europe
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