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Ireland Decides, Again

Maynooth, Ireland – On October 2, Irish voters go to the polls for a second time to decide whether to adopt the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty. The mood in EU capitals is one of nervousness as polling day looms, with the future of the EU in the hands of Ireland’s unpredictable voters. On two of the last three occasions that the Irish have been asked to vote on an EU Treaty, they have rejected the proposal.

For the EU, the stakes could not be higher. The Lisbon Treaty was the compromise agreed by EU leaders in the aftermath of the rejection of the Constitutional Treaty in popular referendums in France and the Netherlands in 2005. Much negotiating blood has been spilled on the Treaty, and its rejection a second time by Irish voters would leave the Union unable to ratify and implement its provisions; this would inevitably lead to policy paralysis and institutional decay.

The referendum campaign in Ireland has seen a resurgence of conflict between a familiar constellation of forces. On the Yes side are all of the main political parties, trade unions, the business community, and a broad network of civil-society groups. Their campaign has been more coordinated and intense than last time, with the aim of mobilizing the maximum number of supporters and ensuring a high turnout, which most commentators assume will assist the Yes side.

On the No side: a disparate coalition drawn from both the far right and the far left, including ultra-Catholics and unreconstructed Marxists, has sought to whip up hysteria about supposed threats ranging from military conscription to euthanasia and abortion. But the No side has struggled to find a coherent point of reference and seems to have none of the dynamism and vigor that it projected last time.