TAOISEACH Brian Cowen yesterday threatened to expel any Fianna Fail TD who breaks ranks over the Lisbon Treaty.
Mr Cowen warned that he will not tolerate any dissent from within his own ranks as he began his first real working day as Taoiseach.
He threatened to remove the party whip from any minister, TD or senator who voiced support for the No campaign as the Government officially confirmed the referendum will be held on June 12.
Mr Cowen said his party had no intention of standing back and letting No campaigners "distort the treaty or demonise a union which is so important to the success of modern Ireland".
He appealed to voters to think of where their interests lie and back the EU treaty as the referendum campaign got under way in earnest.
"We are absolutely committed to the ratification of this treaty. It is fundamental to how we think, what our philosophy is," the Taoiseach said.
"And if there were to be anyone -- and I don't know of anybody, but take it hypothetically -- who had a conscientious problem, they would have to consider that outside the context of my parliamentary party."
He admitted he had not read the treaty "cover to cover", but insisted it was "not impenetrable".
He also promised there will be more information available on this vote than on any previous referendum.
He said he expected all Fianna Fail officeholders to do everything in their power to ensure the treaty is ratified.
"Every member of Government is committed to full participation in the campaign. I and other members of the Government will undertake a national tour in the campaign bus.
"It is my intention that this will be the most extensive referendum campaign undertaken by Fianna Fail in a long number of years," Mr Cowen said.
The new Taoiseach's combative stance is in marked contrast to his predecessor Bertie Ahern.
Mr Ahern promoted Eamon O Cuiv to the Cabinet in 2002, despite the fact he admitted voting against the first Nice Treaty.
Loyalty and party discipline have been key themes of Mr Cowen's leadership since his appointment as Taoiseach last week.
The Taoiseach said voters were being asked to make the EU more effective and decision-making more efficient.
Kick-starting the Fianna Fail campaign, Mr Cowen said it was a good and balanced treaty that protects what works best in the EU.
As the war of words over the referendum heated up, Sinn Fein accused Fianna Fail of telling lies about Lisbon.
Sinn Fein Dublin MEP Mary Lou McDonald said the referendum debate must be based on transparency and truth as she claimed senior government ministers appeared to be unaware of key facts relating to the Lisbon Treaty
The referendum will take place on June 12 with polling between 7am and 10pm on that date, which is a Thursday.
Appealing to farmers to back the referendum, Mr Cowen said the country needs the goodwill of partners to ensure that our particular interests are acknowledged, are catered for and are accommodated in EU agricultural negotiations.
But Libertas chairman Declan Ganley urged farmers to resist "Yes men" pressure on Lisbon.
A Fine Gael politician campaigning for the treaty warned her own local research showed the public had yet to be convinced about the Lisbon Treaty.
Fine Gael Senator Fidelma Healy-Eames said a survey by her staff last weekend on the streets of Galway showed that around 35pc intend to vote No while 31pc plan to vote Yes, with another 34pc undecided.