Setback for Europe Irish Expected to Reject EU Treaty

In a major setback for the European Union, Irish voters appeared on Friday to have rejected the Lisbon Treaty that was to replace the failed EU constitution. In a TV interview, Irish Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said the "no" voters appeared to have the upper hand.


Speaking on national TV early Friday afternoon, Irish Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said his country appeared to have rejected the Lisbon Treaty, the agreement painstakingly negotiated to rescue the most important parts of a European Union draft constitution rejected by French and Dutch voters in referenda in 2005.

"It looks as if the 'no' voters have the majority," Ahern said on national TV, saying there were different reasons for the treaty's rejection.

The counting of Thursday's ballot began early Friday morning, and the final results of the country's 43 electoral districts are expected to be announced at 5 p.m. Analysts believe the final results will mirror earlier results released on Friday afternoon.

Of Ireland's 3.05 million registered voters, 45 percent went to the polls on Thursday to vote in the referendum, Irish public broadcaster RTE reported. Low voter turnout, it was believed, could give opponents of the reform treaty the upper hand because they would be more motivated to vote than "yes" voters.

An Irish "no" vote would mean that the reform treaty, signed by 27 EU leaders in 2007, would not be able to go into effect. The Irish government, the country's biggest opposition parties and industry leaders all promoted the treaty right up to the vote. As he cast his ballot, Prime Minister Brian Cowan said he had done everything in his power to try to convince Irish voters of the value of the treaty. He said its opponents had merely sought to instil fear in voters and disseminate false information.

Ireland is the only EU member state whose constitution stipulates that EU treaties must be ratified by a "yes" vote in a national referendum. In 2001, the country rejected the Treaty of Nice, but after changes were made, it received voter approval in October 2002. Many observers have called for holding a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in order to prevent its collapse.

dsl/ap/reuters

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