VOTERS will be asked to support strict new European fiscal rules in a referendum on May 31, it has been confirmed.
Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore announced the date after it was agreed by Government Ministers at a Cabinet meeting this morning.
"The Government will put in place a comprehensive campaign to ensure that voters are informed about the context of the treaty," he said.
"That in turn will facilitate a true debate."
The public will have their say on whether Ireland ratifies the European fiscal treaty, which provides access to future bailout funds and imposes stricter rules and guidelines on budgetary measures.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny was absent from this morning's Cabinet meeting as he is still on a trade mission in China.
The Government has argued that agreeing to the treaty is in the country's best interest and warned that rejecting it could result in Ireland being cast adrift from Europe and cut off from emergency funds should it require them in the future.
But opposition TDs have claimed it will result in a further loss of sovereignty for Ireland and the country will have its future unfairly determined by some of Europe's most influential states, France and Germany.
Twenty-five of the 27 European Union states agreed to the treaty, which is designed to prevent a repeat of the Greek debt crisis and contagion to neighbouring EU countries, in a bid to avoid the potential collapse of the euro.
While harsh rules and penalties will apply to members who fail to reach budgetary standards set by the compact, its aim is to restore financial harmony to the eurozone.
The UK and Czech Republic refused to sign up and Prime Minister David Cameron warned he would take action if it threatens UK interests.
Legislation will also be approved allowing the referendum to take place in Ireland, meaning a Referendum Commission can now be established.
Its job is to inform the public of both sides of the argument - for and against accepting the treaty - in a fair and impartial way. It also aims to encourage voter turnout.
The Republic, which has a mixed record when it comes to referendums on Europe, will be the only EU state to hold a vote on the compact.
Ireland is unique in that it has a constitutional obligation to hold a referendum when an amendment to the constitution is thought to be significant enough.
The Taoiseach referred the text of the fiscal compact agreement to Ireland's Attorney General Maire Whelan, who determined that the decision to ratify it was of great enough importance to warrant a public vote.
The Government was forced to call voters back to the polls for a second time when it was trying to pass the Nice Treaty.
The public rejected the deal in 2001, but a bigger turnout the following year voted in favour.
Similarly, the Lisbon Treaty was rejected when it was first put to the electorate in 2008.
But the Government called voters back a year later and it was passed.
However, the Taoiseach has insisted the choice to accept the fiscal compact will be put to the public only once.
He explained that only 12 European countries needed to agree to the treaty for it to come in force, meaning it could be passed with or without Ireland's support.
SO we are finally all set for a referendum on the fiscal compact treaty and all that goes with it. It is time to prepare ourselves because we are about to face an onslaught of views, opinions and arguments.