Decision will be far-reaching
TODAY Irish citizens must make a choice which could turn out to be the most momentous decision of our lives. It will determine the future of the European Union. For better or worse, it will affect the wellbeing of this country, the voters' own lives and the lives of their children.
We are being asked to give the go-ahead to a voluntary agreement negotiated between 27 democratically elected governments to improve the efficient running of an expanded EU.
Tomorrow afternoon, Europe will know whether Ireland has chosen to retain its considerable influence in Europe or to undermine many years of work by member states.
The latter choice would present the EU with a crisis. We can only guess how the Union might set about solving that crisis, but we can be sure the consequences would not be good for Ireland. Those who foresee dancing in the streets of Europe after such an outcome are fooling themselves.
A rejection of nearly 10 years of institutional discussions and diplomatic compromises would win no friends for Ireland, particularly since many of those "compromises" were in our favour, secured over the years by Irish negotiators.
Yet some people would throw away those hard-won advantages without any notion of what, if anything, might replace them.
Renegotiation of the treaty is not an option. The assertion that the treaty represents a bad deal for Ireland and that, therefore, it does not matter if the rest of Europe chooses not to talk to us if we reject it is mischievous and dangerous.
Perhaps some of those who advocate rejection would savour a whiff of danger on behalf of us all?
In the event of a 'No' vote, the rest of Europe is unlikely to simply abandon everything and return to the present framework of the Treaty of Nice.
Those who suggest that we should send the Government back to negotiate a "better" deal are either very naive or are consciously misleading the public.
The benefits of the European Union today, particularly for a small country like ours, should be self-evident. Ireland has benefited more than most countries from its membership. In terms of trade and finance, our EU membership unlocked the door to a market of 500 million people, paved the way for large-scale foreign investment into the country and transformed the economy in a multitude of ways.
In terms of national pride and international status, it has helped to define our place among the nations of the world and won us respect. Ireland is seen as a progressive player within the European community and many of our representatives have distinguished themselves over the years.
Rejection of the Lisbon Treaty would diminish our status and influence in Europe at the worst possible time.
There is no need to rehearse the elements of the economic downturn -- a near dormant building industry, fallout from the credit crisis, rising unemployment and low consumer confidence.
A 'Yes' will not put these things right, but it will be a positive vote in favour of stability and cooperation, an end to the confusion and divisive squabbling that have marked the referendum campaigns.
The outcome will be viewed as the Irish people's verdict not only on the Lisbon Treaty, but upon the very concept of the European Union itself, a statement about its institutions and decision-making procedures. This from a country which benefited for decades as a net beneficiary of funds provided by the European taxpayer.
Whatever the outcome, it is unthinkable that, with the eyes of Europe upon us, the Irish electorate should show indifference by failing to turn out in numbers to vote on such an important issue.
When the Nice Treaty was voted down in 2001 the turnout was under 35pc -- the lowest ever for a Europe referendum. The Government restaged it in 2002 and it was passed. That is not an option this time.
Today we can show that we recognise and approve the vigorous and efficient European Union equipped with policies capable of dealing with with the many problems that lie ahead. We can best do this by voting 'Yes'.