Today, in the referendum on the European fiscal treaty, our maturity as a democratic society will be tested as never before.
There was a time when Irish citizens could play games with issues of enormous moment and get away with it. That time has gone. A majority voted No in the Nice and Lisbon referendums at the first time of asking, and later reversed both decisions. Today we must make a decision whose consequences could be both disastrous and irreversible.
What is at stake? In the first place, a further diminution of our economic sovereignty. But that is unavoidable, whether or not the European Union moves closer to integration.
The imposition of permanent "austerity"? This is simply absurd. Regardless of tomorrow's outcome, future governments must bring public revenue and spending into balance. We cannot pile up public debt indefinitely. Anyone who suggests otherwise is foolish or untruthful or both.
Rejection of the fiscal pact would not promote economic growth or permit increased spending. On the contrary, it would make it immensely difficult, probably impossible, to borrow sufficient funds to maintain the present level of public services. A No vote is a vote for poverty, not progress.
In the real world, all the measures proposed in the fiscal pact are already in operation in Ireland. They are set out in various agreements to which we have signed up. Even had that not been the case, we would have to implement them in order to put our finances back on a sound footing.
In the course of the campaign, the Government and its allies have, by and large, made arguments like these with honesty and clarity. In so far as they have occasionally hedged and fumbled, they would seem to have been motivated by fear of over-stating the case.
They have been accused of "scaremongering". The opposite is the truth.
If we vote No, our international reputation will sink to the Greek level. One of our greatest successes is our ability to attract investment by multinational companies. If we engage in self-indulgence today, how can we expect those companies, or our other trading partners, or the European institutions, to take us seriously?
These same European institutions, and the dominant European countries, have themselves much to answer for, and we have an intense and practical interest in the common struggle to overcome the debt crisis.
The euro currency was evidently a brilliant idea -- in good times. It has not worked well in bad times. Its survival is now in doubt. If it collapses, the most vulnerable countries, including Ireland, will suffer most.
To a great extent, the solution is in the hands of Germany. President Francois Hollande of France has demanded the addition to the fiscal treaty of measures to encourage growth and employment. Germany remains to be persuaded. Chancellor Angela Merkel should remember the example of great leaders like Helmut Kohl and Helmut Schmidt, and emulate them.
She should also remember some more recent events.
Many eurozone countries have behaved badly in a variety of ways. The IMF chief, Christine Lagarde, says, for example, that Greece "institutionalised non-payment of tax". We will spend a long time paying for the recklessness of Irish banks. But German banks made a major contribution to the boom and bust.
And it is well worth Germany's while to pay something to save the euro. If it crashed, an independent German currency would rise by at least 40pc overnight. No country is secure, and stability is in everyone's interest. But no country has a greater interest in stability than Ireland.
At a time like this, it would be madness for Ireland to exclude itself from the "club". Alone, we are weak. As part of a powerful union, we have some strength -- and leverage.
And before we vote, we would do well to look at the motives of those who oppose the treaty, as well as the absurdity of their arguments.
Unfortunately, the referendum campaign has provided a platform for Sinn Fein which it has exploited ruthlessly. Voters should recognise that it is not motivated by principle but by cynicism and opportunism.
For all these reasons, this newspaper strongly recommends a Yes vote today. Endorsement of the treaty will not provide an instant cure for our ills. The road ahead will still be long and rough. But it is the only road. We must travel it with clear heads and firm purpose. Voting Yes will show our determination, and our maturity.