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Page last updated at 20:59 GMT, Thursday, 11 December 2008

Ireland braced for tough New Year

By James Helm
BBC News, Dublin

Irish PM Brian Cowen
Irish PM Brian Cowen will be hoping for victory in a second EU vote

In the centre of Dublin, around the shops and government offices, this is no ordinary festive period. The Christmas trees are up, the decorations are out, the carols are being sung. But this year, there is a different mood.

The backdrop, of course, is the economic downturn, which is hitting Ireland particularly hard. The forecasts are dire.

Add to that a crisis in the farming sector - a recall of Irish pork in recent days - and the gloom deepens. And now, we have the promise in 2009 of a re-run referendum on the EU's reform treaty.

Ireland has been here before in the not-too-distant past.

In 2002 there was a second vote on the Nice Treaty after it was rejected first time around the previous year.

It went through second time, and the Irish government is desperately hoping the same thing happens again.

Difficult times

Since the first Lisbon vote back in June, in which Irish voters rejected the treaty, the world has turned on its axis.

Ireland's golden economic period, known as the Celtic Tiger, had already lost its bite, but the construction and financial sectors have been especially badly hit by the current downturn.

What mood will the people be in by the end of next year ?
Mark Hennessey
Irish Times

The prospects for the economy next year are bleak.

Colm Murray, who runs his own design business in the middle of Dublin, had one plea: "I just hope the campaigning doesn't start now. I don't think I could bear 10 months of it!"

In the first poll, he says, he engaged with the whole debate, listened to all sides, and voted in the referendum.

This time, he thinks people need to be better informed about the issues at stake.

A school of thought suggests that some Yes voters, who supported the Lisbon agreement first time, may be annoyed that the result has not - as they might see it - been allowed to stand, even though their side lost.

On the flip side, will the tougher times mean that some No voters are more nervous now about the possible long-term repercussions for Ireland of a second rejection?

Political commentator, Mark Hennessy of the Irish Times, said it was hard to weigh up the public mood so far from voting day next autumn, and he would not give a prediction.

Instead, he asked: "What mood will the Irish people be in by the end of next year? Are we likely to be more cautious and vote Yes this time, or more cantankerous and vote No?"

Government woes

What is crystal clear is that the Taoiseach, or Prime Minister, Brian Cowen, is under severe pressure.

His recent budget has been heavily criticised. Now, inked into his new government diary for 2009, there is a daunting prospect: another referendum on the Lisbon Treaty and another bruising campaign to precede it.

What is also clear is that the No side, with Declan Ganley of Libertas again at its forefront, along with Sinn Fein and others, will relish the chance to do battle once again.

Surveys after the summer's No vote suggested that a whole range of diverse issues - such as concerns about Ireland's military neutrality, a perceived loss of clout within the EU, and social concerns including abortion - came into play.

The Yes campaign last time round was much derided. One senior government official, who did not want to be named, described it as "pretty hopeless".

Chastened, the government will be preparing to do more this time to assuage people's fears about Ireland's EU Commission representation, tax sovereignty, neutrality, and a range of other issues.

Groundhog Day may well be appearing somewhere in the Christmas TV schedules. And once the parties are over, the Irish government is likely to step into the New Year a little nervously.

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