Irish bemused by EU Treaty as Merkel flies in

DUBLIN Mon Apr 14, 2008 9:30am EDT

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting in Berlin, April 8, 2008. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting in Berlin, April 8, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Tobias Schwarz

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DUBLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived in Dublin on Monday to discuss a European Union reform treaty that still bemuses most Irish voters ahead of a June referendum that will determine the pact's fate.

A Red C poll published in The Irish Sun newspaper showed 60 percent of people in Ireland are still undecided on whether to back the successor to the EU's failed constitution, while 28 percent plan to back it and 12 percent are opposed.

Of 1,001 people surveyed, 65 percent said they had very little or no understanding of the treaty, 28 percent had some understanding and 6 percent professed to have a full grasp.

Ireland is the only EU country planning a referendum on the treaty and a "No" vote from one of the bloc's smallest states could topple the whole project, designed to end years of wrangling over reform of Europe's institutions.

Ireland's politicians, who mostly favor the treaty, have been at pains to say Merkel is not here to push for a "Yes" vote. But groups opposed to the pact believe she is spearheading a pro-treaty drive by top EU figures.

"When the German Chancellor comes here this week, she will lecture us from on high about how to vote, without encountering a single dissenting voice, or being asked any awkward questions," said Declan Ganley, chairman of think-tank Libertas.

Libertas opposes the treaty, which it believes is little more than a rehashed version of the EU Constitution rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005.

European Commission President Jose Manual Barroso is also due to visit Dublin later this week.

Irish nationalist Sinn Fein is the only political party in Ireland's Dail (lower house of parliament) opposed to the treaty. It has four seats in the 166-seat chamber.

Outgoing prime minister Bertie Ahern has acknowledged that the government faces an uphill battle to convince people of the treaty's merits due to its lack of radical reforms.

Irish voters are seen as some of the most pro-European in the EU -- 89 percent surveyed in Monday's poll said membership had been good for Ireland -- but in 2001 they rejected the Nice Treaty designed to enable EU enlargement.

That "No" vote forced the government to hold a second referendum that was widely criticized as undemocratic. Ministers have accepted such a re-run is not an option this time round.

(Reporting by Paul Hoskins; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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