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Will Lisbon Treaty have sea legs?

By Russell Padmore
Business reporter, BBC World Service

Actor Dermot Morgan as Father Ted
Father Ted's advice "careful now" could apply to Irish voting on the treaty

A few hundred early voters on islands off the west coast of Ireland will soon hold the attention of the Republic's business leaders, who have urged people to vote "Yes" to the EU's Lisbon Treaty.

The Irish hold a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty this Friday, but Wednesday is polling day for 742 registered voters living on the rocky Atlantic outcrops of Arranmore, Gola, Inishbofin, Inishfree and Tory Island.

The architects of the Lisbon Treaty will be watching anxiously as the Irish take a second look at a deal designed to reshape the continent's institutions for the next few decades.

The spectre of recession has returned to haunt the Irish people, who may fear that now would be a very bad time to upset the power-brokers in Brussels - those big neighbours who might still be called on to bail out the Republic's economy.

As the country fights a deep recession, the message from Ireland's business elite could be summed up with the phrase "careful now", a line from Father Ted, a popular comedy show featuring the escapades of a priest who lived on the mythical Craggy Island.

Businesses - both home-grown and foreign - are lining up to educate voters on the benefits, as they see it, of voting "Yes".

Intel urges 'Yes'

The head of Intel in Ireland, Jim O'Hara, told his bosses in Silicon Valley that he was getting off the sidelines to call for a "Yes" vote.

Michael O'Leary CEO Ryanair
The euro and the Europeans have rescued us from our own appalling decade of economic mismanagement
Michael O'Leary
Chief executive, Ryanair


"This is not a political campaign," said Mr O'Hara as he spelled the choice out in a simple fashion.

"Why did Intel come to Ireland? It came to Ireland because of its low corporation tax, its educated workforce, its competitive cost structures and the fact that, as part of the EU, it was a gateway into Europe. Intel made those choices in full belief that investment in Ireland was an investment in Europe," he said.

Michael O'Leary, the chief executive of Europe's biggest low-cost airline, Ryanair, is another of the Irish business sector's shock troops calling for a "Yes" on Lisbon, though he campaigned for the victorious "No" camp before the first referendum in June 2008.

"The euro and the Europeans have rescued us from our own appalling decade of economic mismanagement," he said at a recent news conference.

"The only reason we're not bankrupt is because the European Central Bank is bailing us out to the tune of billions."

Leading the 'No' charge

While Sinn Fein is the biggest political party to oppose Lisbon, the telecoms entrepreneur Declan Ganley is one of the lead voices in the business community calling on voters to put a cross in the "No" box.

Declan Ganley, businessman
They'd say 'vote yes to fluffy kittens'
Declan Ganley
Anti-Lisbon Treaty businessman

"I have watched as our elected leaders have littered lampposts across the country with the lie that this treaty will create jobs," he said. "This is just not true."

He recently told the Sligo Champion newspaper: "We can base our vote on fear and worry, caused by the national economic crisis, brought about by our Government and accept a treaty they haven't explained.

"Or we can be confident, strong, and filled with hope for a better tomorrow and a stronger, better Ireland, by accepting that the Europe we have now works for the needs of all Europeans."

Foreign investment key

The fear that foreign investors will take a dim view if the Irish vote "No" haunts many in the financial sector.

LISBON TREATY REFERENDUM
Ireland is holding its second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty
Business community overwhelmingly calls for a 'Yes'
All major political parties, except Sinn Fein, campaign for 'Yes'

Austin Hughes, chief economist at KBC Ireland, told me: "Now there's a realisation Ireland's economic fortunes are linked to Europe, the fear factor is operating very much in favour of a 'Yes' vote.

"The bank crisis means voters are now aware that you must be careful not to frighten foreign investors."

Gerry Keenan, the new chairman of the Irish Association of Investment Managers, has warned sentiment towards Ireland "will evaporate like snow in spring" if there is a "No" to Lisbon.

Danny McCoy from the employers group, IBEC, has described a possible "No" vote as "catastrophic".

Irish government tested

Following a series of scandals the Taoiseach (prime minister) Brian Cowen is said to be the least popular leader since the foundation of the Irish Republic.

As the country suffers its worst-ever recession, the power-brokers at the EU headquarters in Brussels fear the government could be punished by voters rejecting the Lisbon Treaty again.

Getting the Irish to vote "Yes" this time is a tall order for Mr Cowen, but compared to the other challenge of taking the economy off life support and rescuing the banks it might prove to be a walk in the park.

According to the polls, there are still many people undecided about which way to vote and the prominent anti-Lisbon businessman, Declan Ganley, still hopes they will see it his way.

He is very critical of the government and the "Yes" campaigners.

"If they thought animal welfare would persuade people to vote yes, they'd say: 'Vote Yes to fluffy kittens'," he told the national broadcaster RTE.

"In this Lisbon Treaty there's nothing to create jobs, there's nothing to help recovery, it is spin."



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