13 June 2008

Ireland Says No To No To Foreign Rule

Ireland rejects EU reform treaty with 53.4 percent "no" vote 44 minutes ago

DUBLIN, Ireland - Electoral officials say Irish voters have rejected the European Union reform treaty with a national "No" vote of 53.4 percent.


The blueprint for modernizing the 27-nation bloc cannot become law without Irish approval and its defeat is a major blow to the EU.

Rural and working-class voters heavily rejected the treaty to modernize the EU's powers and institutions in line with its rapid expansion since 2004.

Ireland was the only EU member to seek to ratify the Lisbon Treaty through a national referendum. All others are doing so only through their national governments.

Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen will join other EU leaders at a summit next week to try to negotiate a new way forward.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

DUBLIN, Ireland (AP) — Substantial election returns showed Friday that Ireland's voters have rejected the European Union reform treaty, a blueprint for modernizing the 27-nation bloc that cannot become law without Irish approval.

Several senior Irish government figures conceded defeat for the treaty, which would be a major blow to the EU.

An EU constitution failed after French and Dutch voters rejected it in 2005. Ireland was the only member that subjected its would-be successor, the Lisbon Treaty, to a national vote. The Irish constitution requires all EU treaties to be ratified by referendum.

Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said he expected all other 26 EU members to ratify the Lisbon Treaty through their national parliaments by the end of this year.

This would leave Ireland diplomatically isolated but nonetheless wielding the power to prevent the treaty from becoming law and forcing a period of renewed negotiations.

"Obviously it's disappointing. It's quite clear there's a very substantial `no' vote," said Ahern, who noted that 58 percent of voters rejected the treaty in his home district.

"If we're left as the only country that has not ratified the treaty, it will obviously raise questions. We're in uncharted waters," he said.

National vote tallies compiled by election observers and backed by early official returns from Thursday's vote showed the "no" camp winning the vast majority of Ireland's 43 electoral constituencies.

"This is a huge rebuff to the political establishment. It shows there is massive distrust among ordinary working people," said Joe Higgins, the sole Socialist Party member in the Irish parliament.

At the major ballot-counting center in Dublin, Finance Minister Brian Lenihan struggled to speak to reporters as anti-treaty activists jubilantly drowned him out with songs and chants of "No!" He eventually gave up and walked out, as one activist waved a sign reading "No to foreign rule" over his head.

The pro-treaty vote was ahead in only half a dozen constituencies.

Rural and working-class areas were almost universally anti-treaty. Better-off parts of Dublin registered stronger support for the EU. In suburban south Dublin, a largely wealthy and highly educated district, the "yes" camp triumphed with 63 percent of the vote. But a neighboring, scruffier district voted 65 percent "no."

Electoral officials expected to announce the total results later Friday. The euro common currency fell to a one-month low on the news.

The Lisbon Treaty and the failed constitution before it sought to reshape EU powers and institutions in line with the bloc's rapid growth in size and population since 2004.

Both documents proposed to strengthen the roles of the EU's president and foreign policy chief, reduce the areas where individual nations could veto policy changes and increase the powers of the European Parliament to scrutinize EU laws.

Ireland views itself as a pro-EU state that has broadly benefited from 35 years of membership. Yet even here, a majority of voters appeared determined to register their opposition to the growth of a continental government that would erode Ireland's sense of independence.

Anti-treaty pressure groups warned that the EU would use treaty powers to reduce Ireland's ability to control its own tax rates and maintain a ban on abortion. Such claims were vociferously rejected by the government and major opposition parties, all of whom campaigned for the treaty's ratification.

"People felt a convincing case for the treaty had not been made, and they felt hectored and bullied into supporting it while the wool was being pulled over their eyes," said Richard Boyd Barrett, leader of a hard-left pressure group called People Before Profit.