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Europe

Ireland's Mixed Signals on Lisbon Treaty Vote Cause Concern

The "no" side has surged ahead a week before Ireland holds a referendum on the European Union's Lisbon Treaty as the Irish justice minister warned there is "no plan B" if Irish voters reject the referendum.

Portuguese Prime Minister and EU President, José Sócrates, together with Portuguese Foreign Afffairs Minister, Luis Amado, during the signing ceremony of the Treaty of Lisbon at the Jeronimos Monastery, in Lisbon, Portugal, 13 December 2007.

The Lisbon Treaty was supposed to unite the EU -- some Irish have other ideas

The TNS/mrbi survey of 1,000 voters carried by the Irish Times showed opponents of the treaty 5 per cent ahead of those in favor. All polls up until now had shown the yes side in the lead.

The no side now stands at 35 per cent, up 17 per cent since three weeks ago, while the yes side has lost five points to 30 per cent. Some 35 per cent of voters still haven't made up their minds.

Justice Minister Brian Lenihan told Irish radio Friday that a no vote would be "bad for Ireland, bad for jobs and bad for goodwill" towards Ireland in Europe. He said rejection of the treaty would send the "wrong signal" to Ireland's largest market.

Taoiseach (prime minister) Brian Cowen said he was confident the yes vote would increase and he accused the no campaign of creating fear, suspicion and confusion.

Government paints a rosy picture

Irish Taoiseach-in-waiting Brian Cowen waves after he was publicly unveiled

Cowen is optimistic of a yes vote

In the government's own survey, seven out of 10 households said they were in favor of the treaty, Roche said in an interview with the French daily Le Figaro, contradicting a poll published by the Irish Times on Friday in which a no vote seemed likely in the June 12 referendum.

Roche hinted however that abstention by voters could harm the prospects for the Lisbon Treaty saying the most difficult task now would be to convince people to turn out to vote.

In the comments quoted in French in Le Figaro newspaper, he warned a rejection of the treaty would be a major "defeat for Ireland and Europe," undermining its ability to tackle challenges such as globalization and crime.

According to the Irish Times survey, 35 percent of people planned to vote against the treaty, while 30 percent said they would vote in favor. Some 28 percent were undecided, while seven percent said they will not take part.

Ireland votes on the treaty on June 12, the only one of 27 EU member states to hold a public referendum on the treaty aimed at simplifying decision-making in the bloc.

An Irish no would mean the treaty, a replacement for the failed EU constitution rejected by French and Dutch voters, could not go into effect.

Treaty rests on notoriously headstrong Irish

A 'NO' supporter carries his message down Dublin's Grafton Street Thursday, June 7, 2001

The Nizza Treaty got similarly short thrift

Irish voters have caused headaches for the EU in the past, rejecting the Nice Treaty in 2001 before approving it in a second referendum a year later.

All the major Irish political parties have been campaigning for a yes vote. The nationalist party, Sinn Fein, is the only party with parliamentary representation which opposes the treaty. It has four seats in the 166-member Dail (lower house).

Sinn Fein MEP Mary Lou McDonald said the opinion poll showed that the Irish public believes a better deal is possible.

Declan Ganley, the founder of the main anti-treaty group, Libertas, said the referendum could still be won by either side.

A spokesman for the European Commission refused to comment on the survey: "Opinion polls are not decisive. The decisive thing will be when the Irish people go to the polls. And we won't speculate on what the decision will be."

Ireland is the only country to hold a referendum on the treaty, which it is obliged to do by its constitution. Other EU member states opted for a parliamentary vote, and 15 have already ratified the text.

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