Leaders in joint plea as Europe gets the jitters
THE leaders of the three main political parties joined forces for the first time yesterday to make a concerted plea for a 'Yes' vote in Thursday's Lisbon Treaty referendum.
But their appeal was over-shadowed by remarks from the French foreign minister, warning Irish voters about the consequences of voting 'No'.
As the campaign entered its final, frenetic stages, Bernard Kouchner, whose country holds the next EU presidency, said: "I think the first victim of a potential 'No', which I don't want to envisage, would be the Irish." He added that Ireland had "counted greatly on European money" in the past.
The remarks were seized on by 'No' campaigners as evidence of bullying from abroad -- detracting from a remarkable show of unity by Taoiseach Brian Cowen, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny and Labour leader Eamon Gilmore, who insisted a 'Yes' to the treaty was in Ireland's best interests.
"We don't want to take the risks that come with a 'No' vote," Mr Cowen said.
Mr Gilmore added: "This isn't the time for this country to throw a wobbly on Europe."
Mr Kenny warned that a 'No' would tarnish Ireland's reputation as a committed and influential EU member.
"The message will go out that Ireland has isolated itself from the rest of Europe," he said.
The show of solidarity by the three -- who less than a fortnight ago were squabbling over the conduct of the campaign -- came as islanders off Co Donegal yesterday cast their ballots, and as opinion polls indicated that the outcome remains on a knife-edge.
Declan Ganley, founder of the anti-Lisbon campaign group Libertas, meanwhile, called on citizens to send politicians back to the drawing board.
"It's common sense that Ireland can get a better deal," Mr Ganley said. "We can't get a worse one."
The Taoiseach pinned his hopes on a large number of voters casting their ballots.
"I hope there will be a good turnout," Mr Cowen said. "It would reflect the seriousness with which we view this issue."
He said the treaty was substantially negotiated by an Irish Presidency, and he had been involved in drafting it. He knew exactly what was in it.
"It strikes a fair balance between the needs of 27 different member states," Mr Cowen added. Voting 'Yes' would secure the achievements of 35 years of Irish EU membership.
As treaty opponents continued to express doubts, Libertas said Ireland had to keep its EU commissioner.
Automatic membership of the Commission would disappear for one term of office in every three under a strict rotation policy if the treaty is passed.
"We cannot afford to lose our vital seat," said Mr Ganley. "We cannot afford to have our voting weight halved at the European Council, while Germany's is doubled.
"The French people have already said 'No' to this same formula, and so have the Dutch," he added.
But Mr Cowen said any fair assessment of the treaty would conclude that there was much more on the credit side than in the debit column.
"I believe we are going to win this referendum," Mr Cowen told the joint press conference yesterday. "I think we are going to win it because more and more people are coming to the conclusion that this is in Ireland's interests."