Irish show signs of dissent ahead of EU vote

Mon Apr 2, 2012 2:25pm GMT

By Padraic Halpin

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Thousands of Irish protesters sent a message to the government at the weekend that next month's referendum on Europe's new fiscal treaty may not be as easy as early opinion polls suggest.

The Irish have tolerated a longer austerity drive than most Europeans but the protests over a 100-euro tax that nearly half all homeowners have refused to pay signals patience may be wearing thin.

That is worrying for the government as it tells voters it is in their interest to support German-led plans for stricter budget rules in a May 31 referendum, that will probably be Europe's only popular vote on the treaty.

The most recent poll showed that 60 percent of voters who had made up their mind would support the new rules. But Ireland's surprise 2008 rejection of the Lisbon Treaty, a set of EU reforms, is a reminder that an upset cannot be ruled out.

Opponents have dubbed the new treaty the 'austerity treaty' and are fighting hard to keep nearly five years of tax hikes and spending cuts at the heart of the debate.

"The discussion quite legitimately will be around Ireland's experience of a whole series of austerity budgets since 2008 and what the consequences are for unemployment rates and the domestic economy," said Mary Lou McDonald, deputy leader of the left wing Sinn Fein opposition party.

"They say that we've been the poster child for austerity across the European Union but we're not Greeks, we're not French. I never really expected that we would have had massive demonstrations on the streets but the absence of those should not be taken as an absence of anger."

Though tens of thousands took to the streets when Ireland's financial crisis began to take its toll in 2009, Saturday's 5,000-strong protest was large by Irish standards.   Continued...

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