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EU to Ireland: your referendum won't stop EU financial treaty

Germany is angry that Ireland plans to hold a referendum on a treaty that will impose strict budget controls on EU members. Ireland has twice rejected EU treaties — but this time, it alone cannot scupper the deal.

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"Economically the promissory notes are a drag on Ireland's regaining fiscal control. If the government wanted to, they could use this [referendum] as a bargaining tool to renegotiate the payment of the Anglo promissory notes," he says.  

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Speaking in parliament, independent lawmaker Shane Ross, a former stock broker and journalist, echoed this view, demanding a "quid-pro-quo" debt write-off in return for a "yes" vote. 

Graham Finlay, a lecturer in politics at University College Dublin, says the opportunity for the Irish government to extract concessions on debt repayments is a real one.

"I can see people voting no unless there are concessions. Things would be extremely problematic if we rejected it, losing top-table access, but crushing us would not be in the interests of the EU. It's playing with too much fire," he says.

Opposition parties welcomed the decision to hold the vote. Micheál Martin, leader of the Fianna Fáilparty that governed Ireland until March 2011, said, "I think it's the right decision and one that shouldn't have required legal advice in my view." 

Fianna Fáil will support a yes vote, as will ruling coalition parties Fine Gael and Labour, but socialist lawmakers in Sinn Féin and the United Left Alliance will campaign for a "no" vote. Party deputy leader Éamon Ó Cuív stepped down today in opposition to the party's support for the treaty.

Paul Murphy, a member of the EU parliament for the United Left Alliance representing Dublin, welcomed the referendum but warned a straight question on the EU compact was necessary.  

"Politically, they'll load the question, linking it to membership of the euro [currency] but legally they may not be able to do so. It's the fear card they'll go for, primarily," he says. 

Everything remains up for grabs in the vote: an opinion poll conducted for the Sunday Business Post newspaper in January found that 40 percent of voters would vote yes to the treaty and 36 percent would vote no, with 24 percent undecided.

A eurozone finance meeting scheduled for Friday has been cancelled, with Germany saying it will not increase the amount of bailout funds to eurozone countries. German chancellor Angela Merkel told parliament she "does not see the need at this time for a debate over increasing the capacity" of the EU to deal with countries in economic trouble.

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