Irish voters have opted to ratify the European Union’s deficit-fighting fiscal treaty, according to the final results of a referendum.
Final results showed only five constituencies out of 43 voted “No” to the German-led plan for stricter budget rules,
with 60 per cent of the electorate coming out in favour.
Enda Kenny, the Irish prime minister, hailed the result on Friday, but warned that further steps on banking regulation were needed from the EU in order to help Ireland emerge from its crisis.
“The Irish people have sent a powerful message around the world that this is a country that is serious about overcoming its economic challenges,” Kenny told a news conference.
The opposition, meanwhile, accepted the vote but said that it will be difficult for the governement to follow through on promises of economic growth.
“The question now is where will the jobs and the stability they have promised come from, against the backdrop of a continuing and deepening capitalist crisis within Europe?” said Joe Higgins, leader of Ireland’s Socialist Party, which opposed the treaty.
“Their policies will only make the situation worse.”
‘Afraid about the future’
The government had courted unpopularity by insisting that Ireland – already four years into a brutal austerity programme – needed to vote in support of more cuts and tax hikes.
“The people of Ireland are hardly celebrating this, there’s been a mood of depression for a long time here about the situation, with unemployment, loans not being repaid, people losing their homes, a situation whereby many people have reluctantly voted ‘yes’,” Al Jazeera’s Andrew Simmons reported from Dublin.
“This is by no means a vote of confidence in the EU leadership […] Many people have voted ‘yes’ simply because they are afraid about the future.”
Gerry Adams, the president of the opposition Sinn Fein party, told Al Jazeera that while his party will “respect absolutely the people’s decision”, it will also hold the government to account on promises made regarding the country’s banking debt and creating new jobs.
“And most people know, even though some of them who voted ‘yes’, that this government has inflicted huge hardships on citizens here, not just in terms of half a million people unemployed, not just in terms of the 70,000 who have left our shores, but also in terms of making the debt of private banking greed the people’s debt,” he said.
“So we wish the government well, but we are going to hold them to account.”
Ireland is the only country holding a national referendum on the fiscal pact, which all 27 EU members have signed except Britain and the Czech Republic.
Rejecting the pact, a German-backed measure that would penalise countries if they fail to keep their deficits in check, would have given momentum to a growing European backlash against austerity measures.
The “yes” campaign’s main message, that a victory for the “no” camp would exclude Ireland from emergency EU funds when its current bailout package expires in 2013, struck a chord with many voters.
But Ireland’s main broadcaster RTE estimated that only half of the 3.1 million eligible voters cast their ballots in the poll.
Al Jazeera’s Simmons reported that there was also the suggestion of a class divide in voting, with many lower income districts in cities voting “no”, and middle class areas voting “yes”.
Although a “no” result could have had severe consequences for Ireland, it would not jeopardise the treaty, as it needs to be ratified by just 12 countries to come into force.
Denmark ratified the pact on Thursday, becoming the fifth country to do so after Romania, Portugal, Greece and Slovenia.
Eighteen months ago, Ireland was forced to accept a $106bn bailout from the EU and International Monetary Fund after its economy came close to collapse.
The government has warned that it may need fresh funds from the European Stability Mechanism, the new permanent bailout fund to which the fiscal pact grants guaranteed access, and says a “no” vote could have hit Ireland’s credit rating, making it harder to borrow.
Critics of the pact have labeled it an “austerity treaty” as it ultimately empowers the EU to fine countries that overspend, and have sought to harness public anger against the spending cuts and tax rises attached to the bailout.
Guido Westerwelle, the German foreign minister, meanwhile, welcomed Ireland’s backing of the fiscal pact as a
vote for “stability, growth and solidarity in Europe”.