Ireland will vote soon and is likely to say ‘Yes’ to Europe

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An Irish flag flies next to a symbol of the euro currency at the entrance of the European Parliament in Brussels,
Ireland will vote soon on Europe’s new Fiscal Union treaty Photo: Reuters

Sometime today we will learn when Europe’s new Fiscal Union treaty is going to be given its first, and probably only, contact with direct democracy.

The Irish Government will announce the date of their referendum, probably for sometime in May or June.

It is a vote that will have far more impact on Ireland than it will on the rest of Europe.

For once the Irish cannot stop this treaty. David Cameron made sure of that by saying that it couldn’t be an EU treaty at all, and therefore the usual rules of unanimity do not apply.

But if the Irish vote 'No', there will be a different kind of veto - a veto on the Republic ever being given another European bailout.

From that moment on, Dublin would be on its own, at the mercy of the markets for any money it might need to borrow.

This may be why the polls are pointing very strongly in favour of a ‘Yes’ vote.

The latest, at the weekend, showed 49 percent in favour with 33 percent against and 18 percent still undecided.

That is well up on the 44 percent support the treaty had just a fortnight ago.

We’ve been here before, of course, with both the Nice and Lisbon Treaties.

Both looked as if they would be waved through with ease, only for opinion to shift dramatically during the campaign.

But this time there are two factors that suggest the Irish aren’t about to rock the European boat: more dark clouds gathering on the economy, and the aftermath of a political corruption scandal that makes the current "dinnergate" rumpus in London look very small beer indeed.

Fiscal Union treaty referendum: Ireland looks set to back the referendum
49 per cent of Irish voters appear to back the new Fiscal Union treaty in the country's upcoming referendum Credit: PA

Ireland slipped back into recession at the end of 2011 having looked, earlier in the year, to have resolved the contradictions of cutting and growing at the same time.

If the economic growth had lasted, they may have been more confident of being able to pay the interest on the huge debts that Dublin took on during the financial crisis of 2008.

They are due to make an interest payment of €3.1 billion (£2.6 billion) to the European Central Bank (ECB) this year, equivalent to fully 2 percent of their GDP.

That would be tough enough in good times, but near on impossible now.

Even if they manage this payment, there would be a similar bill next year and long into the future.

They hope that the ECB will take a lenient view and allow that debt to be restructured - not written off like so much Greek debt, but repackaged into a manageable form.

Will Frankfurt agree? They wait to find out, but defiance over the Fiscal Union Treaty certainly wouldn’t help Dublin’s cause. Nor does any of this give the Irish people confidence that they can do without the backstop of a second European bailout.

Defying Europe might be more attractive if one had confidence in one’s own political system, but a corruption scandal that is likely to see two former prime ministers and a former European Commissioner ejected from their party for corruption hardly engenders trust in home-grown politicians.

Former Ireland taoiseach Bertie Ahern
Former Ireland taoiseach Bertie Ahern has resigned from Fianna Fail Credit: AP

The Mahon Tribunal has been investigating allegations of corrupt payments to politicians for many years and finally reported its findings last week.

The result was that Bertie Ahern, Taoiseach for 11 years until 2008, and Padraig Flynn, former minister and Ireland’s European Commissioner in the 1990s, both resigned from their party, Fianna Fail, before they could be expelled.

Ahern, it was found, had failed to account for IR£165,000 that passed through accounts connected with him, with much of his explanation for how the money got there “deemed to be untrue”.

It got worse; another former Fianna Fail Prime Minister Albert Reynolds also faces a move to expel him for pressuring a developer to give his party money, with yet more former members of the Dail, the Senate and local councillors implicated as well.The report’s conclusions came as no surprise to the Irish people, but inevitably it has damaged confidence in a political system that now has Sinn Fein firmly in position as the largest opposition party.

Little wonder, perhaps, that when seen from Dublin, Brussels begins to look pretty attractive.