Irish Leaders Faulted for Voters' EU Rebuke

From Reuters

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern's government was castigated by newspapers for its "complacency" Saturday after Ireland's rejection of the treaty intended to pave the way for European Union enlargement.

Ahern's coalition government, both main opposition parties, and business and church leaders had called for a "yes" vote in Thursday's referendum on the Nice Treaty, but, in a slap to the establishment, 54% of voters rejected it.

"The yes campaign was typified by complacency and indolence," said an editorial in the Irish Independent newspaper. "There was no leadership and no vision. Late in the day, Mr. Ahern realized he had a fight on his hands. Too late."

All 15 members of the EU must ratify the treaty, intended to provide for the enlargement of the bloc by as many as 12 nations, and the outcome of the vote in Ireland has left both the Irish government and EU leaders facing a difficult situation.

"On the Continent, east and west, we will be seen as the misers of Europe," lamented the Irish Independent.

"At home, the taoiseach [prime minister] has deservedly suffered a severe loss of reputation and authority."

The heavyweight Irish Times said the result had sent a message to political leaders about the accountability of EU institutions.

The newspaper was also concerned about the low turnout. Only 32% of the electorate voted.

"All must reflect long and hard on this poor showing of the Irish democratic spirit, in which so few came out to vote on such a profoundly important issue," it said.

The paper noted that many aspiring members in Central and Eastern Europe saw Ireland--which has transformed its economy with the help of EU structural funding--as an example of the positive aspects of EU membership.

It warned of a perception "that Ireland has turned its back on European integration after benefiting from substantial transfers over three decades, now that it has caught up with the richest states."

But not all papers agreed that the "no" vote was bad news. The brash tabloid Irish Star pointed to concerns over sovereignty, neutrality and military involvement.

"The government must now acknowledge that it got it wrong and set about renegotiating the treaty from scratch," the newspaper said.

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