Irish voters go to the polls on Thursday to decide if they want to ratify the EU fiscal treaty which will oblige each euro-zone member state to keep budget deficits and public debts within tight limits.
Three Sunday paper polls showed Ireland was in favour of supporting by 60% to 40%, but there was a still a sizeable proportion of the electorate – between 16 and 30%, depending on the poll – which still didn’t know how it was going to vote.
Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny went on television on Sunday night to appeal for a yes vote.
He said the treaty would play a role in Ireland’s recovery, although he also acknowledged it will not solve all the country problems.
But he emphasised, on the eve of Ireland’s islanders going to the polls, the treaty was a step to keep Ireland moving in the right direction.
Islanders usually vote early as a precaution against inclement weather affecting transfer of the polling boxes to count centers – but this week Ireland was enjoying one of the warmest periods for years, with temperatures frequently reaching record 25 degrees Celsius.
The weather is expected to attract one of the biggest referendum votes in the main poll on Thursday, with votes being counted and a result confirmed on Friday.
Kenny said the electorate was making a decision that will have enormous implications for the country’s future.
“This treaty strengthens the economic and budgetary rules that apply to countries like Ireland that use the euro. It will create stability in the euro zone that is essential for growth and job creation,” he said.
“A strong yes vote will create the certainty and stability that our country needs to continue on the road to economic recovery.”
Kenny had refused to take part in televised debates on the controversial issue. Instead, he was invited, as an RTE broadcasting duty under electoral regulations to give major parties equal time, to make the address after Gerry Adams’s speech at the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis(annual convention) was aired the previous evening.
Adams and Sinn Fein want a no vote. He said Irish voters burdened by economic hardship should not be scared into backing the treaty.
Independent Dublin South TD (member of Parliament) Shane Ross, an ardent opponent of almost all Sinn Fein policies, ended weeks of silence by agreeing with them this time and urging a no vote.
Ross, a powerful influence in the financial world, used his Sunday Independent column to claim that he was “passionately pro-European” but he could not vote yes because “we are being compelled to vote in a twilight zone.”
When voting opened on the islands on Monday Hugh O’Donnell may have been the only presiding electoral officer who had music played to him.
A saxophone was played by Barry Edgar Pilcher, the only person to cast a vote on Inishfree Island, four kilometers out of Burtonport in Co. Donegal.
Six people have a vote on Inishfree but they now live on the mainland and didn’t go to the polls.
The polling booth is always set up in the ramshackle cottage home of Edgar, 69, who is the lone resident on the island for most of the past 20 years.
Edgar, who originally moved from south London in 1993 “to get away from the rat race,” writes poetry and plays music and maintains Internet contact with other musicians in Europe.
Edgar has a wife, who is a retired nurse, and a daughter, who is a nurse, in Britain and he speaks to them by Skype and they get together about once a year.
A ferry visits the island once a week to take Edgar to the mainland where he collects his welfare and stocks up for the week ahead.