02/10/2009 - Results
On 2nd October the Irish finally said "yes" to the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty during the second referendum organised on the European text. 67.13% of voters approved the ratification of the treaty, 32.87% rejected it and 0.40% placed a blank or void slip into the ballot box. This positive result is the highest ever recorded in the country since the referendum on the Maastricht Treaty on 18th June 1992 when 69.1% of voters approved the ratification of the text.
Dublin South was the constituency where the "yes" achieved the highest percentage (81.7%). Only two of the 42 constituencies voted "no" in their majority: North East Donegal (51.46% and South West Donegal (50.30%). Both of these areas are in Connacht-Ulster in the west of Ireland.
Turnout was five points higher (4.9) than during the initial referendum on 12th June 2008 rising to 59%. It is also the highest rate ever recorded during a referendum on a European issue since Ireland's accession to the EU in 1972 (70.90%). This high turnout and notably the mobilization on the part of Lisbon Treaty supporters explain the victory of the "yes" to a great extent.
Apart from the turnout several things explain the Irish change of mind. Firstly the guarantees achieved by Prime Minister Brian Cowen's government (Fianna Fail, FF) from its EU partners. These involve defence (upkeep of the country's military neutrality policy), social affairs (upkeep of measures in the Irish Constitution with regard to the right to life, education and the family but also with regard to workers' rights and public services, a guarantee on the part of Member States with regard to healthcare) and taxation (no modification to Member States' present competences in this area). Ireland will also be able to keep its Commissioner.
"We can no longer afford to vote no" said Michael March, a political expert from Trinity College Dublin just a few days before the referendum on 2nd October. Indeed Ireland is suffering a severe economic crisis: unemployment has almost tripled in two years (12.5% of the working population is without work), public deficit, which was 0 in 2007 has reached 11% of the GDP and this has declined to -8%. The Irish have become aware of the economic security and protection provided by being members of the EU (the European Central Bank, ECB provided 120 billion € in cash to the Irish banks). They just had to compare their situation with that of Iceland, a non-member of the Union which came close to economic bankruptcy. The international economic crisis and more widely the economic aspect which did not feature in the campaign for the first referendum had a higher profile this time. The Irish understood that Ireland would be greatly weakened if it was on the outside or on the edge of the EU and that their country, which is so dependent on the rest of the world, could not survive alone in a globalised world.
"My message is very simple: Thank you Ireland!" declared José Manuel Barroso who said he was "extremely happy with the result". "Ireland has given Europe another chance. This shows the value of European solidarity and that Europe provides a positive answer to the economic crisis. I shall implement an extremely ambitious programme for Europe. With this result I feel that it is possible to achieve the support of our citizens," added the President of the European Commission.
Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen said that 2nd October was a "good day for Ireland and for Europe", saying "the Lisbon Treaty will lead to a better Europe, a stronger, fairer Europe." "The Irish gave a convincing yes to the Lisbon Treaty. I think that it is good for Ireland because I passionately believe that our future lies within the European Union and that there was no real reason to vote no," stressed Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin (FF). Finally European Affairs Minister, Dick Roche (FF) said "It is an overwhelming victory. It has been a long time since we witnessed a result like this one."
As for the "no" camp, defeat was acknowledged rapidly. "I congratulate the Taoiseach (Prime Minister in Gaelic) for the effectiveness of his campaign. It is an extremely convincing victory for the "yes". We did not succeed. Obviously I am disappointed. I think we made a mistake but we told the truth. The Irish are terrified – they have put their trust in the establishment. This vote is not based on hope but on something else which is more like fear. The Irish were told that we had guarantees, I am sceptical. The government has promised that a yes would lead us back to employment and economic good health. We'll take stock next year ...." said Declan Ganley, leader of Libertas and chair of the company Rivada Networks.
Socialist Party leader (SP), MEP Joe Higgins denounced "one of the most unfair and biased electoral campaign in our history", condemning the positions adopted and the speeches made by company heads, notably those of Ryanair and Intel in support of the Lisbon Treaty. "We are extremely disappointed to see that the voice of the people was not heard the first time. I want to express my sympathy and commiseration to all of our supporters who gave their all for the love of their country," said Richard Greene, spokesperson for Coir (Justice in Gaelic) one of the main organizations which led the "no" campaign to the Lisbon Treaty.
Although Brian Cowen can rejoice at the "yes" victory, as can the entire Irish political community except for the far left and Sinn Fein (SF), no parties were organized on the evening of the result. "The government is not taking part in any gala evening. We are in a difficult economic situation and it is because of this that people voted yes," said Finance Minister Brian Lenihan (FF).