DUBLIN – A majority of voters plan to say "yes" next week to the European Union fiscal treaty, a new poll suggested Saturday, but the prime minister warned pro-treaty voters not to be complacent because he expects the gap to narrow in the final days of campaigning.
The poll published in The Irish Times newspaper found 39 percent of registered voters plan to support the EU's deficit-fighting treaty in a referendum Thursday, while 30 percent planned to reject it and the remaining 31 percent weren't sure or didn't plan to vote. The results closely followed the pattern of the past four-week campaign, with the pro-treaty side holding a significant but not overwhelming lead.
And Prime Minister Enda Kenny said he expected the anti-treaty side to win over many undecided voters in the immediate run-up to Thursday's referendum.
"This campaign will clearly narrow in the last week as these things always do," Kenny told a crowd of supporters in the Irish midlands town of Portlaois.
"Don't let up on this. This won't be all right on the day unless you go out and put your X on the box that says 'yes'," said Kenny, who plans a live television address to the nation Sunday night seeking approval for the treaty.
Ireland is the only treaty signatory requiring public approval to ratify it. If Ireland rejects the pact, it still would become law in ratifying countries once at least 12 EU members approve it through their parliaments. But an Irish "no" would send political shockwaves throughout the 27-nation bloc, where EU treaty opponents often complain they want the right to referendums too.
Irish rejection also could complicate Ireland's own efforts to keep its debts and deficits financed and avoid national default. Ireland is currently dependent on EU-International Monetary Fund loans that will run out in late 2013, when Ireland either must resume normal borrowing on bond markets or seek a second bailout.
But the treaty specifies that any dissenting nations will be denied access to EU bailout funds. Its central rule requires ratifying members to achieve deficits less than 0.5 percent of its national economic output. Kenny said Ireland — which last year posted an EU-leading 13.1 percent deficit — couldn't afford to shut the door on EU financing.
"We are fully funded until the end of 2013. A 'yes' vote fund guarantees access to a permanent fund beyond that. A 'no' vote clearly doesn't," he said.
Those campaigning against the treaty say they think an Irish rejection would force other EU nations, most notably Germany, to agree better debt-reduction terms for Ireland including the write-down of billions in debts held by state-seized Irish banks.
German banks were primary lenders to Irish banks during Ireland's long property-fueled boom, which fell apart in 2008. Ireland saved five of its banks from collapse by nationalizing them and making taxpayers responsible for repaying foreign creditors, a bitterly debated move expected to cost this country of 4.5 million people more than €70 billion ($100 billion).
Anti-treaty posters erected this week across Ireland accuse German Chancellor Angela Merkel of seeking to impose decades of austerity on Ireland. Others declare: "Cut the bank debt or NO deal!"
The poll found that 77 percent think one or two nations dominate EU decision-making. Of those, 69 percent said Germany, 28 percent France. The poll had a 3-point error margin.
Kenny's pro-treaty party, http://www.finegael.ie/voteyes2012/
Anti-treaty group Libertas, http://www.libertas.ie/