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30,000 Latvians in Ireland go to polls in referendum

Thousands of Latvians living in Ireland go to the polls tomorrow for a referendum on their country's future.

The Baltic state's president has called a vote on the dissolution of parliament over a corruption row.

Around 30,000 Latvians live in the Republic of Ireland and up to 4,000 in Northern Ireland. The referendum centre is in Newry, Co Down, and is organised by Latvian honorary consul and businessman Gerard O'Hare.

Spokeswoman for the consulate Edite Muceniece said: "The honorary consulate office in Newry being trusted to host this referendum demonstrates that Ireland north and south has become a more pluralistic society and it also shows that, even within a single or federal Europe, the citizen can still retain their own identity, nationalism and culture."

The referendum, the first of its kind in Latvia's history, became necessary after then-president Valdis Zatlers called for the dissolution of parliament.

The dispute involves the parliament's refusal to allow prosecutors to search the home of a rich businessman who is also a member of the legislature.

Some Latvians in Ireland keep close ties with home through family members. Others have moved their entire immediate families to the Republic or Northern Ireland to take advantage of jobs which were created in the service and other sectors during the economic boom.

Latvia declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. It is one of the poorest members of the European Union and has suffered from the recent economic crisis.

President Zatlers decided to dissolve the country's parliament, the Saeima, in state capital Riga.

He alleged on May 28: "The Saeima showed on more than one occasion that it defends the personal interests of narrow groups or even specific individuals, not the interests of the state."

He also claimed: "The Saeima demonstrated a lack of respect and trust in the competence of the judicial system, and that, sadly, was not the first time."

He said the legislature failed to approve a judge whose professional development had been appreciated in the judicial system and also refused to endorse a prosecutor-general nominated by the chief justice of the supreme court.

The last election was held in October last year. The country is recovering from the European Union's toughest recession, partly inspired by widespread budget cuts similar to those now being carried out in euro zone countries.

The referendum centre is at Drumalane Mill, Newry.

PA Media