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Page last updated at 06:10 GMT, Friday, 2 October 2009 07:10 UK

Job woes colour Irish treaty vote

By Mark Simpson
BBC News, Dublin

Delivering referendum ballot box on Inishfree Island, Donegal, Ireland, 30 Sep 09
Inishfree: The first to vote were islanders off the west coast

The Republic of Ireland's referendum on the Lisbon Treaty is not so much a fight between the Yes and No camps, but a battle between fear and anger.

In Ireland, politics is a national pastime. The treaty has divided politicians, workers and even families; in some cases husbands and wives.

Hanging over the whole debate is the fact that the country is in economic turmoil.

The big fear is that the situation will become even worse.

Huge anger is directed at the politicians and bankers who failed to thwart the economic meltdown.

LISBON TREATY
Aimed at streamlining EU decision-making
Ratified by all member states except Czech Republic, Ireland and Poland
Only Ireland is holding referendum on it
Took a decade of negotiations
Was intended to take effect in January 2009

The No camp is hoping to capitalise on that growing anger. Hence posters ridiculing the Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen with the slogan "the only job Lisbon saves is his".

It is a clear pitch for a protest vote.

On the other hand, the Yes camp is trying to utilise the fear factor. Voters are being warned that if they reject the treaty, they may deliver a fatal blow to Ireland's ailing economy by damaging relations with their European neighbours.

Hence the huge, yellow posters hanging from thousands of lamp-posts which scream: "Yes to Europe. Yes to Recovery."

John Shine
I could be angry and vote 'no' but that would just be playing politics
John Shine
Fish and chip shop owner

The message echoes the words of the children's rhyme by Hilaire Belloc: "It's always best to cling to nurse, for fear of finding something worse."

Of the two strategies, the latter appears to be working better. Opinion polls suggest the Yes camp will comfortably win the referendum.

Economic woes

John Shine, who runs a fish and chip shop in Ireland's most northerly county, Donegal, was swayed by the argument that Ireland cannot afford to say no.

His business is struggling to cope with the recession. He says: "I could be angry and vote no but that would just be playing politics. For the greater future of the country I believe we have no choice but to vote yes."

The decline of Ireland's Celtic Tiger economy has been dramatic.

In the space of less than two years it has gone from "the Ritz to the pits".

A No to Lisbon poster
Fears for Irish sovereignty dominate the 'No' camp's pitch

Unemployment has doubled and one of the country's leading banks has had to be nationalised.

Large EU subsidies helped build the Irish economy - now Ireland is looking to Europe, and the eurozone, as its safety net. The European Central Bank is already helping.

The Lisbon Treaty aims to streamline EU decision-making and make it more efficient, but opponents - in the UK as well as Ireland - argue that it undermines national sovereignty.

The No camp claims it will also be bad for Irish farmers, compromise Ireland's military neutrality, undermine workers' rights, reduce the minimum wage and endanger anti-abortion laws.

Mr Cowen insists he now has watertight guarantees from Brussels that none of the above will happen. But not everyone trusts the government.

There is also resentment that people are being asked to vote again on the treaty, even though they rejected it last year and not a single word in the document has since been altered.

However, the context of the vote has changed radically, with Ireland's economic downfall and the risk of a total collapse.

Distrust, confusion, fear and anger are clouding the debate, on both sides.

In the end it may boil down to "who scares wins".



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