Ireland heads to polls for European treaty vote

Ireland votes Friday on the EU's Lisbon Treaty in a crunch second referendum which Europe's leaders hope will overturn last year's No vote and avoid plunging the bloc into chaos.

Polling stations are set to open across the republic at 7:00 am (0600 GMT) as more than three million voters have their say on the treaty that would reform how the European Union is governed.

Prime Minister Brian Cowen has warned that another rejection would damage Ireland's attempts to reverse its sharp recession and marginalise it on the European stage.

European leaders are hoping for an end to the constitutional deadlock gripping the EU since June 2008 when 53.4 percent of Irish voters rejected the treaty -- designed to streamline decision-making in the 27-member bloc.

A total of 3,078,032 Irish citizens are eligible to vote.

Some have already cast their ballots on remote islands off the western Atlantic Ocean coast. The islands vote early in case bad weather delays bringing the ballot boxes back to the mainland.

A sticker with the word 'Lies' is placed over a poster urging voters to accept the Lisbon Treaty in Dublin, Ireland

Five islands voted Wednesday -- one with just seven voters -- with eight more islands having voted Thursday.

Poor visibility stopped helicopters taking the boxes Wednesday to the furthest two islands, so they arrived by boat instead. Returning officers estimated a 40 percent turnout.

The final opinion poll before the vote, in the Sunday Business Post newspaper, put support for the treaty at 55 percent, with 27 percent planning to vote against it.

Irish bookmaker Paddy Power says the odds on a Yes result are 1/25, while a No is priced at 8/1.

However, there are concerns that some voters will use the referendum to kick Cowen's unpopular government over the spectacular collapse of Ireland's long-booming "Celtic Tiger" economy.

This year, Ireland's gross domestic product is set to shrink a record eight percent, while the jobless total could exceed 15 percent, three times its June 2008 level. Interview: Ireland's Europe chief confident

Foreign Minister Micheal Martin urged voters to back the treaty to help pull the country out of recession.

"A Yes vote is a road map to economic recovery," Martin said.

"We have held a unique position as the country which is known for both being a Euro-positive country and having strong links to the rest of the world.

"We have been the place to invest not just because we are members of the Union, but because we are at the table both shaping and participating in the development of the Union.

"Ireland is a small country with an open economy and we need to send a clear message that we want to be part of a stronger, more effective EU."

Ireland is the only EU country constitutionally obliged to put the treaty to a referendum. Of the 27 EU states, Poland and the Czech Republic are the only others yet to ratify it.

Dublin agreed to hold another poll after securing guarantees on key policy areas which it felt were behind last year's rejection, such as its military neutrality, abortion and tax laws.

The referendum paper is in Gaelic and English, with voters being asked: "Do you approve of the proposal to amend the constitution contained in the undermentioned bill?

"Twenty-Eighth Amendment of the Constitution (Treaty of Lisbon) Bill 2009."

Voters then have to mark X in the box besides "ta/yes" if they approve of the proposal, or "nil/no" if they do not approve.

The counting will start Saturday, with the full results possible as early as Saturday afternoon.

source AFP

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