Ireland plans fiscal treaty referendum on 31 May

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Ireland will hold its referendum on the European Union's new fiscal treaty on 31 May in what will probably be the bloc's only popular vote on plans for stricter budget discipline.

"This is a treaty on stability and is about ensuring long-term stability, recovery, growth and jobs," Deputy Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore said after announcing the date yesterday (27 March).

The bill to amend the constitution will be published towards the end of this week, he added.

Ireland joined 24 other European Union states in January in backing the 'fiscal compact' treaty (see background), which its proponents say is necessary to restore confidence in the eurozone and tame the debt crisis that has sucked in Greece, Ireland and Portugal and now threatens the much bigger Italian and Spanish economies.

After taking legal advice, Prime Minister Enda Kenny last month said Ireland would hold a referendum on ratification and early opinion polls have given supporters of the fiscal compact a clear lead.

While Ireland's initial rejection delayed the implementation of the EU's Lisbon Treaty in 2008, the fiscal pact does not require EU-wide ratification and Ireland would simply drop out were the referendum to reject it.

The government has until the end of the year to ratify it, but chose a date 10 weeks away in an apparent attempt to take advantage of an early lead in the polls.

A poll on Saturday showed that 49% would vote in favour of the treaty with 33% opposed and 18% still to make up their minds.

The government is also likely to strike a deal with the European Central Bank (ECB) this week to refinance a portion of the country's bank debt, a move that might placate some opponents of the treaty.

"It's only now that you'll see the proper campaign start and get a better of idea of whether they are really that far ahead," said Eoin O'Malley, a politics lecturer at Dublin City University (DCU).

"It's not something like abortion where you've got a strong opinion one way or another, so the campaign could be important in this case," he added, referring to 1992 and 2002 referendums.

Ireland's main opposition party Fianna Fail has said it will join the governing Fine Gael and Labour parties in campaigning for a 'Yes' vote on the fiscal pact.

A poorly communicated campaign contributed to the defeat of a government-supported referendum on parliamentary committees last October, and Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin urged the government to mount a comprehensive information campaign about the EU pact.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, whose party forms the second largest opposition bloc in the lower house and is riding a wave of popularity on its anti-austerity stance, confirmed his deputies would campaign against the treaty.

EU leaders signed a German-inspired fiscal compact treaty to enforce stricter budget discipline in the eurozone on 2 March. It would notably commit signers to having national legislation to ensure deficits remain under 3% and so-called 'structural' medium-term deficits below 0.5%.

But as attention now turns to the legal details and ratification process, questions are being raised as to what will happen to countries that fail to ratify, with some fearing exclusion from the club.

Read our LinksDossier: Europe's new treaty: Towards a multi-speed union.

 

·        31 May: Ireland holds referendum on the fiscal treaty;

·        By end 2012: All signatories expected to finish national ratification process (12 euro area countries required for treaty to enter into force).

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