x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Ireland votes on Europe's deficit-fighting treaty

Saying yes could mean dooming Ireland to more long, hard years of austerity. But saying no could mean national bankruptcy next year.

DUBLIN // Saying yes could mean dooming Ireland to more long, hard years of austerity. But saying no could mean national bankruptcy next year.

Ireland's debt-burdened voters confronted a dilemma yesterday as they decided in a referendum whether to ratify the European Union's deficit-fighting treaty, a measure backed by Germany as a confidence-building measure but criticised by many economists as exactly the wrong kind of medicine for countries drowning in red ink.

The results of the vote are expected to be announced today.

Pro-treaty forces led by prime minister Enda Kenny stress that Ireland could lose its access to European bailout loans next year unless the treaty passes, leaving Ireland no reasonable choice but to say yes. Opponents say it would be better to pursue a showdown with EU partners now, and demand better debt-reduction terms at the risk of triggering a worse euro zone crisis, rather than commit to new rules requiring tougher deficit targets that Ireland simply can't meet.

Outside Dublin polling stations in churches and elementary schools, the citizens expressed equal measures of rage, bewilderment and resignation at the colossal toxic debts of Ireland's state-owned banks that brought their nation to its knees and will take decades to repay.

Ireland has already weathered four years of austerity, more than any other European nation; is struggling to maintain tepid growth against the tide; and is hoping to resume normal borrowing on bond markets next year if it can convince analysts to raise its battered credit rating.