Thirteen years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the people living on 12 of the country’s windswept Atlantic islands off Donegal, Mayo and Galway will go to the polls days in advance of the mainland to decide whether to give a Yes or a No in a decision that could in theory derail the whole reshaping of Europe.
As the 775 strong-electorate on the Donegal islands begin balloting on Wednesday, opinion polls are indicating there may be a three-to-two majority in favor of the Nice Treaty on EU enlargement — but there are still a large number of undecideds.
The islanders vote early to ensure bad weather doesn’t delay getting ballot boxes back to the mainland for the count next Sunday. Bad weather delayed the official legal declaration that Mary McAleese was the winner in the 1997 presidential election.
After the 54-46 percent rejection of the treaty in the June 2001 referendum that sent shockwaves through European capitals, the polls suggest the treaty will be endorsed this time.
A Sunday Independent/IMS poll found that 41 percent would vote for the treaty next Saturday, 27 percent are against, 24 percent are undecided and 8 percent don’t intend to vote.
Taking the undecideds into account, the poll suggests Ireland’s 3 million-strong electorate will broadly vote by 60-40 in favor — but it all depends on the turnout.
There is still considerable uncertainty as polls before last year’s rejection had also indicated the treaty was on course for acceptance.
The newspaper said the poll suggests that in the second Nice vote, the electorate are making a clear distinction “between their unfavorable opinion of the government and the exercise of national self-interest needed to pass the treaty.”
The treaty provides the necessary legal framework for enlargement and has to be ratified by all 15 member states by the end of the year or it will fall. Only Ireland requires a constitutional referendum. All other states have already endorsed it by parliamentary votes.
Last week, the Commission cleared the way for 10 former communist and Mediterranean countries to join by 2004. Commission president Romano Prodi described the plan as the EU’s “political masterpiece.”
In the run-up to the final days of the campaign, the No lobby was suffering most problems. Credibility and trust are regarded as the key to swinging the vote.
There had been fears there would be a substantial protest vote against the government because of spending cuts and corruption allegations but the IMS poll indicates this has been overstated.
While satisfaction with the government has fallen 27 points to just 31 percent since the May general election, the pollsters found that among those who intend to vote No, only 4 to 5 percent said it was because of anti-government feelings.
Recently the heat has switched from the establishment parties to leading No campaigners.
Sinn Fein has been hit by the spying allegations in the North. The No to Nice Campaign has been damaged by revelations that its main spokesman, Justin Barrett, accepted invitations to meetings of a German political party that is widely regarded as a far-right, neo-Nazi organization.
Barrett has strongly denied he was aware of the party’s political ideology and said his group had no association with it. He had addressed them as an anti-abortionist.
He said he was the victim of a “smear campaign” by elements in the Yes lobby.
“To clarify in a straight, simple matter — what are our links? — our links are no links at all. . . . I hold no extremist views,” he told RTE.