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Why an early date is best for referendum

A week after announcing that we would hold a referendum to ratify the eurozone treaty, the Government has still to announce a date for polling day.

This delay could potentially play into the hands of the No voters and increases the risk of obfuscation by those who will use the campaign as a focus for discontent with our current lot.

When the Taoiseach announced a week ago today that there would be a referendum the initial indications from government sources were that polling would take place some time in May.

Now even this lax schedule seems to have slipped with the latest word being that polling might not take place until mid or even late-June.

If the Taoiseach and the Cabinet let it go that far, there is a risk that the initiative, which they seized by calling a referendum last week, will drift back to the No camp.

The longer the referendum campaign drags on the greater the risk that it will be hijacked by superficial or utterly irrelevant issues.

If this happens then Mr Kenny and his ministerial colleagues will have succeeded in plucking defeat from the jaws of potential victory.

This would be a disaster for this country and must not be allowed to happen.

Not alone would an early referendum date prevent the debate being clouded by extraneous issues, it would also ramp up the pressure on the EU to reach a satisfactory settlement on the Anglo promissory notes.

While the Taoiseach has insisted that the promissory notes and the fiscal compact are two entirely separate issues, there is little doubt but that a satisfactory deal on the former would greatly facilitate Irish ratification of the latter.

After almost four years of crisis, events elsewhere in the eurozone are finally working to our advantage.

Yesterday Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy threw down the gauntlet to the EU when he announced that Spain's 2012 budget deficit would be 5.8pc of GDP rather than the 4.4pc previously agreed with Brussels.

Mr Rajoy's defiance increases the Irish Government's room for manoeuvre.

With the eurozone's fourth-largest economy now thumbing its nose at the EU, the European Commission will have a greater incentive to do what it can to ensure an Irish Yes vote.

With the early calling of a referendum having caught domestic opponents of the fiscal compact off guard and external conditions now working in our favour, Mr Kenny is well-positioned to secure a decisive Yes vote in the referendum.

But only if he moves quickly to exploit what may prove to be temporary advantages.

Mr Kenny must be bold.

By opting for an early polling date -- it would still be possible to hold the referendum as soon as the middle of next month -- he would once again put the No campaigners on the back foot.

If, instead, he persists with his current approach of postponing the referendum for three or even four months then he yields an advantage.

Irish Independent