On 31 May 2012, the Irish people voted yes to the Fiscal Stability Treaty by a resounding margin of 60.3% to 39.7%. Voter turnout, at 50.6%, was on the low side, though higher than in some previous EU referendums. About 20% of the total eligible voters cast a no vote. A majority of voters in thirty-eight of the forty-three constituencies around the country opted to accept the Treaty.
Ireland becomes one of nine EU Member States, and one of four Eurozone countries, to ratify the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union. The Treaty will enter into force once it has been ratified by twelve Eurozone countries. The Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA) in Dublin is tracking the ratification process across the EU in a frequently updated map. Ireland was the only country to hold a referendum on the issue.
The Irish vote breaks with a wave of elections across Europe which have gone against incumbent governments. Both Irish governing coalition partners, Fine Gael and Labour, as well as one of the main opposition parties, Fianna Fáil, campaigned for a yes vote. Sinn Féin was the main political party to advocate a no vote, which was also the position of the hard left.
The referendum campaign, fought intensely on the airwaves and through extensive poster and leaflet campaigns, raised many issues on the substance of the Treaty and the Eurozone crisis as a whole. One of the decisive issues proved to be access to funding from the European Stability Mechanism, which will only be available to those Eurozone countries that have ratified the Treaty. The no side suggested that the rules could be changed in the event of Ireland needing another bailout in the future, but the electorate opted for the certainty provided by the yes side on this issue.
Negotiations are underway on growth-enhancing measures to accompany the Treaty, championed by the French President and supported by many in Ireland and elsewhere. With the Irish referendum complete and the result known, the Irish Government can now focus its full attention on further steps.
One of the issues that the Irish Government is likely to focus on in the aftermath of the vote is the burden of Irish bank debt. During a series of telephone calls with European leaders to deliver news of the result, the Irish Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, raised this issue. He stated that by voting yes, Ireland had “sent a message” about the issue of bank debt, and that “this has got to be dealt with by the political leaders of Europe”.
Dáithí O’Ceallaigh is Director General of the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA).
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