DUBLIN Oct 3 Ireland's government and
pro-Europe campaigners allowed themselves at best muted
celebrations after a resounding popular ratification of the
European Union's Lisbon Treaty.
With a backdrop of severe recession and rising dole queues,
and an often bitter referendum campaign, the winning side
appeared more relieved than ecstatic.
Government officials were careful not to appear triumphant,
conscious that many of those who voted in favour of the EU
reform charter, reversing last year's shock rejection, did so
despite their deep anger at the administration.
"The government is not engaged in any celebratory parties.
We are in a very difficult place (economically) and that's
precisely why people have voted 'Yes'," Finance Minister Brian
Lenihan told the state broadcaster.
Even the 'Yes' campaigners in Dublin's main count centre did
little more than shake hands and smile as it became apparent the
result had gone their way. Discreet arrangements were made for
Nevertheless, many of them saw the vote as historic.
"This is a great day," said Gary McGann, chief executive of
Ireland's largest packaging group, Smurfit Kappa (SKG.I), who
was a patron for the Ireland for Europe civic group.
"I've no interest in politics whatsoever, my interest was
that we wouldn't destroy the future for my kids.
"I'm old enough that it won't matter. The damage would have
been done to the generations to come, the companies and the
potential and talent that resides in this country but needs an
outlet and a marketplace."
Representing that generation, Nigel Smith, a 22-year-old
European Studies student at Dublin's Trinity College, wore a
beaming smile to go with his bright yellow Ireland For Europe
"I voted 'Yes' the last time but didn't get involved. This
time there were groups of people -- Solicitors for Europe, Women
for Europe -- representing whoever they wanted to represent,
which was really encouraging," he said.
Smith said he had been working for weeks as a volunteer for
eight to 10 hours a day to help secure a 'Yes' after the Irish
rejected the treaty in a first referendum last year.
This time, the government as well as civic and business
groups mounted a much livelier 'Yes' campaign, helped by the
perception that Ireland should not isolate itself from Europe at
a time of recession.
"I am relieved, we were out on the streets a lot," said
Smith, before leaving with two friends draped in Irish flags.
But there was bitterness and resentment among treaty
opponents who felt Ireland had been browbeaten by Europe, and
that the outcome of the first vote should have been respected.
"I want to sympathise and commiserate with all our people
who put in a great effort for the love of their country," said
Richard Greene, spokesman for the Coir group, which opposed the
"We are extremely disappointed that the voice of the people
was not heard the first time around."
Irish politicians working in Europe took satisfaction in
victory as they prepared to return to Brussels, no longer the
black sheep of Europe.
"It clearly will restore people's confidence in Ireland as a
pro-European member state," Proinsias De Rossa, one of the
country's 12 members of the European Parliament, told Reuters.
"The perception, whatever the reality, was that Ireland must
be loosening its relationship with Europe. Why else would they
vote 'No' to a treaty whose only purpose is to improve democracy
and decision making?"
For Smurfit's McGann, who sits on the European Round Table
of Industrialists and whose company has a presence in 22
European countries, that perception will be crucial in ensuring
Ireland's business strengths at home and abroad.
"It's not that long ago that the signs were up saying
'Paddys need not apply'. Paddys can apply again," he said.
(Editing by Kevin Liffey)