Irish voters decisively approve European fiscal treaty


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The authorities in Ireland and throughout Europe tonight heaved a collective sigh of relief as Irish voters decisively approved the fiscal treaty aimed at imposing budget rules in the eurozone.

A countrywide referendum produced a result of 60-40 for the treaty, with only five of the 43 constituencies opposed to the pact. The turnout was 50 per cent.

The outcome was generally taken as a sign that prudence had prevailed over anger and a sense of resignation over feelings of rage. The substantial No vote confirmed the widespread resentment over the austerity policies, which Taoiseach Enda Kenny acknowledged had caused “pain and desperate anxiety.”

He thanked voters for “their decisiveness and their pragmatism and their understanding.” His government will take comfort from the clear-cut nature of its victory and the fact that only five areas voted against.

The outcome confirmed most were unconvinced by the assertion of the No campaign, headed by Sinn Fein, that rejecting the treaty would not lessen Ireland's chances of future European bailouts. The government warned a No vote would be a jump into the unknown.

The Yes vote was highest in middle-class areas, topping 70 per cent in affluent south Dublin. The No vote reached its height in poorer areas of the capital and in Donegal in the remote north-west.

The overall result is regarded by the authorities as a welcome outcome which will avoid adding a further headache to the existing European crisis. “It's a sigh of relief from the government rather than a celebration,” said transport minister Leo Varadkar.

Opinion polls in recent months gave what turned out to be a consistently accurate indication of the final result, following a campaign which produced intense debates but no game-changing moments.

The government's fear had been that the palpable anger over austerity might produce a late surge against the treaty, especially since many voters were aware that casting a Yes vote would amount to an endorsement of ongoing austerity.

Most voters appear to accept that more tough times lie ahead.

In his first response to the victory Mr Kenny declared: “The Irish people have sent a powerful signal around the world that this is a country serious about overcoming our economic challenges. The treaty will not solve all economic problems but it is a foundation stone.”

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who telephoned Mr Kenny to deliver his personal congratulations on the result, described the pact as “a key component of the EU's response to the current economic crisis.”

The president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, said: “The Yes vote sends an important signal of Ireland's commitment to the eurozone. It clearly states that Ireland's future is at the heart of the eurozone.”

Mr Kenny's deputy in the ruling coalition, Labour leader Eamon Gilmore, said he had encountered voter “anger and worry” during the campaign, adding: “Irish citizens are frustrated with the pace of recovery. People want to see real recovery in their own lives. We have to proceed with a plan to stimulate the Irish economy.”

Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein, whose poll ratings shot up during the campaign, accused the government of “playing on the fears of the public,” saying he had met many people who voted Yes “through gritted teeth.” He added: “Clearly an element of the Yes vote was ideologically committed to the Yes camp and others did so very, very reluctantly.”

Left-wing representative Richard Boyd-Barrett said: “The fear factor prevailed, but I think it's quite socially polarised. The manual working-class areas have voted highly No because the people have been the biggest victims of austerity.

“The middle classes, in the hope that things won't get any worse, have voted with the government and with the establishment.”

UK Independence party leader Nigel Farage said the result showed “the Irish political class has continued to persuade the people of Ireland to give up their hard-fought and short-lived independence.”