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DUBLIN: Ireland’s finance minister warned voters yesterday that if they reject the European Union’s new fiscal treaty at a referendum it will be a “jump into the unknown” that the country can ill afford.
Ireland will hold probably the only popular vote on the German-led plan for stricter budget rules on May 31, and an opinion poll last week showed a narrow lead for supporters of the treaty, but with 40 percent still undecided.
In his first major speech of the campaign, Finance Minister Michael Noonan warned that the uncertainty around elections in France and Greece had the potential to spook markets and that the last thing Ireland should do is create more trouble. “The Irish electorate is conservative and the Irish electorate likes to vote for certainty,” he told a business conference.
“Certainty is on the yes side ... the plunge in the dark, the jump into the unknown is all on the no side of this particular argument.” Irish voters have twice rejected complex European treaties at referendum, in part due to warnings from lobby groups that voting yes could undermine Ireland’s neutrality or conservative social legislation. Both times they reversed course after adjustments were made to address those concerns.
The treaty needs the approval of only 12 of the 17 euro zone countries to be ratified, but an Irish rejection would undermine one of Europe’s key plans for overcoming its debt crisis, now spreading from Spain to the Netherlands.
That instability, which could be exacerbated by elections in France and Greece, makes Ireland’s choice all the more important, Noonan said.
“We can’t control other peoples agendas. All we can do is control our own agenda. It is very important that we don’t create trouble for ourselves,” he said. “We don’t want to be knocked off course.”
Noonan conceded that the treaty would force the government to cut its budget deficit from a projected 3 percent in 2015 to 0.5 percent in 2018, but rejected opposition claims that this would lead to three more years of painful austerity, saying normal growth in the economy would bridge the gap instead.