Irish politicians and businessmen appealed on Wednesday for a decisive Yes vote in Friday’s referendum on the European Union’s Lisbon treaty to speed the nation’s economic recovery and return it to the heart of Europe.
“Only with a Yes will we ensure investor confidence in Ireland, protect our influence in vital economic decisions and reform Europe so that it is more dynamic and effective,” Brian Cowen, the prime minister, said.
Opinion polls predict a comfortable victory for the pro-Lisbon camp, which includes the centre-right Fianna Fáil-led government, all opposition parties except the nationalist Sinn Féin and the Socialist party, and dozens of big Irish companies, business associations and foreign investors.
A Yes vote would reverse the outcome of a June 2008 Irish referendum against the treaty, which redesigns the EU’s voting procedures, enhances the European parliament’s powers and envisages the appointment of the bloc’s first full-time president and a strengthened head of foreign policy.
Pro-Lisbon forces in Ireland are worried that the No camp may benefit from the deep unpopularity of Mr Cowen’s government, held responsible for the near-collapse of Ireland’s banking system and a savage recession that has pushed unemployment up to 12.6 per cent of the workforce.
Up to 5,000 trade unionists and community activists staged a demonstration in Dublin on Wednesday over the government’s alleged plans to cut public services.
Jim O’Hara, who runs the Irish operations of Intel, the US chip maker that is the largest foreign investor in Ireland, and who is one of the Yes camp’s most prominent campaigners, told the Financial Times: “It’s quite volatile. There’s a lot of anger at the government.”
He added: “A Yes vote is no guarantee of extra jobs, but we will have much better prospects of an increase in our economic prosperity if we are conceived of as welcome members of the European club.”
The European Commission fined Intel €1.06bn last May for violating EU antitrust rules, but Mr O’Hara said the company’s financial support for the pro-Lisbon camp – estimated at €200,000 ($293,000, £183,000) – was unrelated to its appeal against the fine.
“Are we trying to curry favour with the Commission? Nonsense. This is a legal case and it’s going to be dealt with over the next couple of years as an exclusively legal case,” Mr O’Hara said.
Describing how the company became involved in the campaign, he said: “It was something I initiated. It wasn’t something that Intel was thinking about at all.”
Another pro-Lisbon campaigner is Michael O’Leary, chief executive of Ryanair, the Irish airline, who says EU and eurozone membership “rescued us from [Ireland’s] appalling decade of economic mismanagement”.
A coalition of 54 business groups, including the American Chamber of Commerce, the Irish Banking Federation and the Irish Exporters Association, said on Wednesday: “A No vote would leave a huge question mark over Ireland’s relationship with the EU and would undermine our ability …to compete on European and global markets.”
But Declan Ganley, a No campaigner, said: “In the Lisbon treaty there’s nothing about creating jobs, nothing about helping economic recovery.”
All 27 EU nations must approve the treaty if it is to take force. The main doubt concerns the Czech Republic, whose president, Václav Klaus, has resisted signing the charter.
The referendum result is expected on Saturday.
Get alerts on Western Europe when a new story is published