DUBLIN – Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny made a nationally televised appeal Sunday to voters to support the European Union's fiscal treaty in a referendum this week, warning that rejection would send the signal that Ireland was not serious about tackling its deficits and was no longer a secure member of the euro currency.
Kenny said a "yes" verdict in Thursday's referendum was essential to ensure that Ireland could tap EU bailout funds in 2013, if necessary. Ireland's current EU-International Monetary Fund loans are due to run out by the end of next year, and the treaty specifies that only ratified members could access future EU loans.
"A strong 'yes' vote will create the certainty and stability that our country needs to continue on the road to economic recovery. This treaty will not solve all of our problems, but it is one part of the solution," Kenny said in his 4-minute TV address to his debt-burdened nation of 4.5 million.
Ireland is the only nation among 25 signatories putting the deficit-fighting treaty to a national vote, and critics of the German-led push for austerity are hoping that Ireland's increasingly euroskeptical voters reject the pact.
Treaty architects ensured that an Irish "no" could not veto progress elsewhere, stipulating that it would require formal ratification from just 12 countries to become law in those countries. And Kenny argued that an Irish rejection would do far and away the most damage to Ireland's own interests.
" Only a 'yes' vote will give Ireland guaranteed access to Europe's permanent rescue fund, the European Stability Mechanism, should Ireland ever need it. I want this country to have the same access as all other euro countries to this insurance policy. This is very important," said Kenny, who has insisted that Ireland should be able to resume normal borrowing on bond markets next year.
Kenny added that Ireland's exceptional reliance on foreign corporate investment also made the treaty's approval essential. Ireland's tepid return to economic growth over the past year has been driven by strong exports from the approximately 950 high-tech multinationals, including 600 U.S. companies, with Irish operations.
"In my recent visits to the United States, in China and elsewhere, the consistent message from both political and business leaders is that they want to see certainty about Ireland's place in the eurozone. A 'yes' vote will provide that certainty and will confirm to investors that Ireland is a reliable place, with stable conditions," he said.
Three opinion polls published in different Sunday newspapers in Ireland all registered a strong lead for the "yes" camp. Middle-class urban voters have consistently polled most strongly pro-treaty, while voters in the rural west and northwest are most strongly opposed.
However, polls during Ireland's EU treaty referendums in 2001 and 2008 also pointed to approval — only to see higher turnout among anti-EU voters shoot down both treaties. The governments of the day overturned those verdicts by rerunning the referendums the following year, but Kenny insists his government won't restage this contest if he's defeated.
Kenny's pro-treaty party, http://www.finegael.ie/voteyes2012/
Anti-treaty group Libertas, http://www.libertas.ie/