By Elizabeth Thomson
Irish voters have backed the EU fiscal pact 60-40, meaning three more years of austerity lies ahead for the nation.
The result comes as a relief to many European leaders, including Taoiseach Enda Kenny who welcomed the move as “one of the many foundation stones” needed to solve the country’s problems.
Speaking on Friday night, Mr Kenny said the Irish people had “sent a powerful signal around the world that it is serious about overcoming its economic challenges.”
Transport Minister Leo Varadkar said it was “a sigh of relief from the government rather than a celebration”.
In 2010, the nation’s economy received an EU-IMF bailout worth 85bn euros and the cornerstone of the “Yes” campaign was framed around a clause in the treaty stating that only signed up states will be eligible to receive European bailout money in the future.
As the economic crises in Greece and Spain deepen, it was feared that a “no” vote might have fuelled a Europe-wide backlash against austerity.
Before it can be implemented, the treaty must be ratified by twelve of the 17 states in the Eurozone. Britain and the Czech Republic have opted out.
Ireland is the only country to put the EU plan to a public vote, as is required for major reforms by Irish constitutional law. Final results show that only five of forty-three constituencies opted against the plans with sixty per cent of the electorate voting “Yes”.
Speaking back in February, SNP MEP Alyn Smith cautiously welcomed the referendum stating that it would “ensure a sustainable support having properly debated the issues”.
However, the German-backed plan means that Ireland will be required to cut its structural deficit from 13.1 to 0.5%; despite 14% unemployment, a 15% collapse in GDP and emigration rising to 70,000 a year.
Members of the “No” camp, led by Sinn Fein and the Socialists campaigned against the treaty on the basis of the belief that austerity is not working, and a fear that three more years of cuts will sharpen class divides.
In the days before the poll Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams urged voters not to give up their say over Irish economic policy and “not to write austerity into the constitution”. Other left-wing political commentators have railed against the plan and the perceived European neoliberal agenda at its core; with the belief that the stringent fiscal rules in the treaty will be adhered to at the expense of the lower paid.
On Friday, The Guardian reported that indeed the “Yes” vote was won for Mr Kenny and his coalition by the middle class, with high numbers of “no” voters turning out from working class districts.
Mr Kenny said “I acknowledge the sacrifices that the Irish people are making … to contribute to the process of economic recovery”.
The Irish government will begin the process of ratifying the pact through its parliament next week.