Ireland appears to reject EU reform treaty

‘It looks like this will be a ‘no’ vote,’ minister says; rejection is blow to EU

MSNBC News Services

DUBLIN, Ireland – Irish voters appear to have rejected the European Union’s reform treaty, throwing the 27-nation bloc into renewed diplomatic turmoil.

“It looks like this will be a ‘no’ vote,” Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said Friday on Irish television. “At the end of the day, for a myriad of reasons, the people have spoken.”

Electoral officials expect to confirm the result of the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty later Friday.

Ahern has based his conclusion on tallies of votes produced nationally by election observers as well as early official returns. They show the “no” camp ahead in the vast majority of Ireland’s 43 electoral constituencies, while pro-treaty voters were clearly ahead in only a few.

The treaty was painstakingly negotiated following the failure of the EU’s proposed constitution, which French and Dutch voters rejected in 2005.

All EU nations must approve the Lisbon Treaty for it to become law. The other 26 members planned to ratify the document only through their national governments. Eighteen have already done so, while the rest were waiting for Ireland’s referendum result.

The treaty seeks to rescue from the constitution’s ashes many reforms to make the EU function better. These included beefing up the roles of the EU’s president and foreign policy chief, and reducing the areas where individual nations could veto policy changes.

The mammoth, densely worded document faced its only popular electoral test in Ireland, a traditionally pro-EU state that has broadly benefited from membership.

Fear over independence
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 — claims vociferously rejected by the government.

Politicians from the government and major opposition parties — all of whom campaigned for the treaty’s ratification — appeared uniformly grim-faced Friday as counting progressed in 43 constituencies nationwide.

“I do not see how we’re going to claw back our position based on the numbers I’m seeing. It’s going pretty much all the way of the `no’ camp,” said Pat Rabbitte, former leader of the opposition Labour Party.

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