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Sunday, 20 October, 2002, 04:02 GMT 05:02 UK
Early lead for Irish Yes vote
A voter in a polling booth in Dublin
A late surge may have pushed voter turnout over 40%
Early results in the Irish Republic's referendum on European Union expansion have shown a strong vote in favour of the treaty.

People were asked to approve the Treaty of Nice - setting out the legal basis for EU expansion to the east - which they rejected in a poll last year.


They did not want to be the people that said 'No' to the enlargement of the EU

Deputy Prime Minister Mary Harney
Of the country's 42 electoral districts, the seven with electronic voting systems returned an average Yes vote of 66.57%.

No exit polls have been taken and the final count is not due to be completed until late on Sunday afternoon but supporters of the Yes campaign are already scenting victory.

"Irish people wanted to be generous," Deputy Prime Minister Mary Harney said after the electronic returns from greater Dublin and Meath.

"They did not want to be the people that said 'No' to the enlargement of the EU in 2004."

Ms Harney said she expected a 60% vote in favour of the treaty.

The BBC's Kevin Connolly says that Prime Minister Bertie Ahern will not breathe a sigh of relief until the official result is declared but the early indications are that Ireland has not left him with the diplomatic embarrassment of a second 'No'.

Higher turnout

A late surge of voters reported in some areas appears to have boosted turnout figures to more than 40%.

Low participation in the last poll - where just one-third of eligible voters bothered to cast their ballot - is widely believed to have favoured the No campaign.

Opinion polls on the eve of the ballot showed that the 19% of voters who said they were as yet undecided could tip the balance either way, with 42% saying Yes and 29% saying No.

'Yes' pressure

Supporters of the Nice plans say EU expansion to take in up to 12 new members will boost Ireland's economy as well as increasing cultural diversity in the union.

The No camp, which includes Greens, Socialists and Sinn Fein nationalists, say the treaty is a Trojan horse which would give Brussels greater control over Irish affairs.

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A number of EU leaders made last-ditch appeals to Irish voters to vote in favour of the treaty which all other EU states ratified by a parliamentary vote.

European Commission President Romano Prodi warned a second negative decision by Ireland would be a "tragedy".

Danish Prime Minister Anders Rasmussen - whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency - said a "No" victory would create an "unprecedented crisis" both politically and economically.

The treaty will expire if it is not ratified by all member states by the end of this year.

Referendum on referendums

Saturday's referendum contained two questions in addition to the approval of Nice.

One asks for approval for future moves on integration to be put to a parliamentary vote instead of a referendum, in line with the rest of the EU.

The other asks for a ban on the government joining a common European defence force without a referendum first.

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The BBC's Anita McVeigh
"A final result is expected by early evening"
The BBC's James Helm
"More voters have come out and voted"

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14 Oct 02 | Europe
08 Oct 02 | Europe
18 Oct 02 | Europe
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