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Monday, 21 October, 2002, 13:49 GMT 14:49 UK
Irish Referendum
Pat Kenny, left, and Enda James Shellock, of the Equal in Europe campaign against the Nice treaty in Dublin
For the second time of asking, the Irish are to vote on the Nice Treaty which paves the way to EU enlargement.

The first time they voted, the answer was no thanks, so there's to be a second referendum.

The doubters are being constantly reminded that the Irish economy has soared of late, and since joining the EU in 1973 Ireland has received a net total of more than 30 billion Euros.

But as they prepare to count the Irish ayes, is it right to hold a second vote at all? Ben Geoghegan reported.

Thank you, I'll definitely be voting "Yes" next week.

See ya, lads. Hello, how are you. Good to see you again. Hello?


Are you voting "Yes", Sinead?

If you want to know how ashamed the Irish government was when the country voted "No" to Nice last year, take a look at the junior foreign minister, out on the campaign trail. He's been telling people that what's a stake is nothing less than their reputation as good Europeans.

Certainly a sense of embarrassment, it would be, certainly. If you think back at it their were all the parties, business leaders, the trade union movement all the establishment were behind the "Yes" vote. Yet we didn't manage to pull off a victory.

The "Yes" camp believe they lost last year as EU enlargement failed to capture the imagination. So now, after a 700% increase in the government's referendum budget, they're doing everything they can to draw people in. But so are the "No" campaigners. A poster war has broken out in Dublin - no-one can claim they haven't noticed this referendum.

A little song about being against Nice. Have a nice day.

Wherever you go it's difficult not to be bombarded with propaganda from one side or the other. Whichever way it goes, people aren't gonna be able to argue they haven't been told about the issues.

It's also a campaign which has sparked a new interest in song-writing. This track from the "No" side, asks why the Prime Minister refused to listen to voters last year when they rejected the treaty.

Well, he offered us a treaty
Started talking to us sweeetly
We rejected it completely
Now he's asking us again....

In attempting to be good Europeans, have the Irish government turned into bad democrats, where only one answer will do?

The turnout at this meeting in Trinity College Dublin seemed to confirm that there is more interest in the referendum this time round. But the "No" camp say people shouldn't be asked to vote again.

One of the biggest tragedies of this campaign is that we are having a re-run of the exact same question in relation to the Nice treaty that was put to us last time.

The Irish government feels no need to apologise for trying again to offer former communist states the chance to share in the EU's wealth.

I was deeply ashamed of the result in the last referendum. It didn't do us credit as a country at all. We should be welcoming in a further ten small and medium size powers instead of concentrating on details, instead of giving the impression that we are people that took the money and ran.

The Nice Treaty paves the way for ten new members to join by 2004. But it also changes the way decisions are made. What the "No" camp claim is that the changes will weaken the voting strength and overall influence of smaller nations and give more power to countries like France and Germany.

One way or the other we are going to loose and not just us but the other member states that can't keep up. It's not just Ireland, there will be a number of member states in the EU who will not be able to keep up with the faster powerful members of Europe and particularly with the new countries coming in they will surely be in the slow lane. That changes the way Europe has operated up to now where every member state had a legal equality, that equality will be removed with Nice.

Whichever way they vote, the Irish will emerge from this experience as some of the best-informed Europeans when it comes to understanding the many issues bubbling around this referendum. They've spent weeks now, arguing about its effect on Irish neutrality, immigration, women's rights and privatisation. But by the end of this debate, the audience was pretty equally divided.

My gut reaction is that the attitude that politicians have are leading me to want to vote "no" again, simply because of the way the Irish people are being treated.

The issues of the referendum have not changed. It was a good treaty then, it's a good treaty now. I hope people will be more informed in general. The debate tonight is more energised than before. I will be voting "yes".

There's no criticism of me in this report and I've no questions to answer regarding the criticism.

But as well as weighing up the technical arguments of the treaty, politicians have been trying to embarrass the Irish Prime Minister over the Flood Report, which followed a corruption inquiry involving a member of Mr Ahern's last government. The report concluded that Ireland's former Foreign Minister, Ray Burke, received a corrupt payment from builders looking to develop land. Mr Ahern says he appointed him in 1997 because he believed there was no truth in the allegations. The report was published three weeks ago and is now a bestseller. Some on the "Yes" side believe Mr Ahern's reluctance to answer questions about the affair could affect the outcome of the referendum. Senior members of Mr Ahern's party are now trying to make sure people don't use tomorrow's vote as a way to punish the Taoiseach

What I would say to them is what I am saying to them and have been saying to them it's, "Look, if you feel like taking to out on the Government over any one of the issues that are there, put your feelings aside on this referendum and store it up for the local elections and the European elections that will be coming down in the next year-and-a-half."

One group of "No" campaigners has also been distracted from the main issues after one of their spokesmen admitted he'd been to meetings with a right-wing group in Germany. But he's denied any links with them.

This building site isn't on the usual tourist route through Dublin. But visiting officials from the countries wanting to join the EU are brought here to see the advantages of membership and get advice on how to apply for funds.

Blue signs, like this one, are dotted all over the countryside and are a constant reminder to people in this country over just how much this country has benefited from being in Europe.

This sewage treatment plant is one in a long line being paid for by European funds. This will cost about 110 million. And the campaigners say this "yes" issue is a moral duty. That the Irish people have a duty to make sure all the benefits they've had over the last 30 years are now offered to other countries as well.

Could the whole enlargement project be toppled if Ireland votes "No"? The Czech Foreign Minister has been in Ireland to ask people to open the door to membership. And the Czechs aren't the only people who see enlargement as the end of their journey to democracy.

First, we became a member of NATO, which was a very important step. In the case of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. And now we want to complete this process of reunification with Europe. Re-entry, coming back into Western Europe, by our membership of the European Union. And this will be the end of this, let's say post Riali (unchecked) arrangement. We want it to end with our membership of the European Union.

But there have been other visitors during this campaign, including young people from outside Ireland who've been telling people to vote "No". They support EU enlargement but they claim that the Nice Treaty will make them second-class members of a two-tier Europe.

We will lose our equality in Europe. In Slovenia, lives just two million people, and I'm afraid the foreign factor is companies will buy everything in our country. I'm really afraid of that.

And we'll be known just as European. Because it's just as bad to say that this is a bad treaty for the whole of Europe, not only for Ireland, but the applicant countries. So, of course, Ireland, as the only people voting should be voting "no", of course they should.

The big unanswered question of this referendum is whether enlargement could go ahead without the Treaty. The "No" campaign says it could. The junior minister says it's very unlikely.

Certainly, as far as we are concerned, we have said it and I think we can stand over the fact that there is no plan B and there's nothing but a black hole there if a "no" vote wins on the day.

Tomorrow, Europe will watch as Ireland decides whether the EU follows the road set out by the Treaty or embarks on a new journey.

This transcript was produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.

Newsnight's Ben Geoghegan
"For the second time of asking, the Irish are to vote on the Nice Treaty which paves the way to EU enlargement."

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