Irish voters have rejected the European Union’s Lisbon treaty, putting plans to overhaul the bloc’s institutions in peril and humiliating Ireland’s political leaders.
Justice minister Dermot Ahern conceded the vote shortly after mid-day on Friday as tallies from around the country showed the treaty had been defeated in an overwhelming number of constituencies.
“It looks like this will be a ‘No’ vote,” Ahern told RTE television. “At the end of the day for a myriad of reasons the people have spoken.”
The Lisbon treaty was itself an effort to resurrect EU reforms that were torpedoed by French and Dutch voters in 2005.
This time Ireland was only country to entrust its voters with a referendum. The “No” vote means a country with fewer than 1 per cent of the EU’s 490 million population could doom a treaty painstakingly negotiated by all 27 member states.
The Lisbon treaty envisages a long-term president of the European Council of EU leaders, a stronger foreign policy chief and a mutual defence pact. Fourteen countries have already ratified the treaty in their national parliaments.
But while Ireland ranks in surveys as one of the EU’s most pro-European states, opponents say the treaty reduces small countries’ influence and gives Brussels new foreign and defence policy powers that undermine Ireland’s historic neutrality.
With more than 864,000 votes counted, official returns from Thursday’s vote showed “No” leading 53.85 per cent to 46.15 per cent.
The euro fell to its lowest level in over a month against the dollar after the first reports suggesting a “No” victory.
EU leaders meeting in Brussels next week will have awkward questions for Ireland’s Prime Minister Brian Cowen.
Some expressed hope that Ireland would still find a way to sign on to the pact.
“Ireland will for sure find a way to ratify this treaty,” Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk told reporters.