Ireland’s government is confident that voters have backed a referendum on the European Union’s new fiscal treaty based on early counting, the country’s European affairs minister has said.
“We are very, very confident. We’ll have to wait another half an hour to see how the tallies are looking, but so far so
good,” Lucinda Creighton said on Friday while watching votes being counted in her Dublin South East constituency.
Two government sources told Reuters after the polls closed late on Thursday that the treaty was likely to pass by a margin of more than three to two, citing polling data
The official result is expected by Friday afternoon.
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, could give momentum to a growing European backlash against austerity measures.
Two government sources told the Reuters news agency ahead of the counting that voters were likely to pass the treaty by a margin of more than three to two.
Pre-referendum opinion polls also suggested a clear majority of voters would back the treaty.
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, and low turnout has favoured a “no” vote in Irish referendums in the past.
Although a “no” result could have 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 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.
But it could fuel a growing campaign led by France’s new President Francois Hollande for Europe to focus on growth rather than belt-tightening.