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Irish vote on a knife edge

Mark Mardell | 08:15 UK time, Thursday, 12 June 2008

It's all about getting the vote out now. I was on the Yes battle bus for the last day of campaigning as the new Irish prime minister spent a day shaking hands on home ground in the Irish Midlands. Irish PM Brian Cowen

In the succession of rather dull high streets and shopping centres there wasn't much political chatter. A seemingly very relaxed Brian Cowen met people and asked them to vote. He didn't even tell them what to vote for.

Young Yes campaigners in yellow T-shirts hovered around the edge of the crowd offering reassurance. And a lot of it was needed. I wouldn't say most voters were hostile, but they were concerned and not a little bewildered.

One elderly woman had heard that Lisbon would mean the European Union was going to stop people having more than two children, so she was going to vote No.What about the poster suggesting the EU will microchip children? Won't it mean Ireland has less power in the EU? "No, there's no change there," replied the campaigner - a reply that one might describe generously as broad-brush, given changing voting weights and the loss of commissioners on a regular basis.Yes campaign bus

But there is a great deal of anger with the No campaign. Mr Cowen says
"I think tomorrow is really about whether we want to be in Europe or not".
I asked him directly if he would ask Ireland to vote again, if it voted No this time. He told me: "The problem is if I go to next week's European Council with a No vote preliminary discussions would have to begin on what happens. There'd be great disappointment and a great sense of uncertainty about where we go from here."

In the countryside it seems there is less support for a No than in Dublin. In Grafton Street, by St Stephens Green, No campaigners have been working the crowd hard. People eagerly take stickers and one man offers the campaigners some leaflets of his own. He tells me: "Europe is a great idea but I don't think the treaty is going to serve the people of Europe, and I think it is really bad that out of 500 million people only we get a vote. The last time we said No to Nice they made us vote again. If we say No to Lisbon they'll make us vote again. So who's running the show and for whom?"
No to Lisbon sign
While people are actually voting journalists often talk about turnout and the weather, and I often think it's because there is no other hard information around. But this time it is pretty important. Based on the two referendums on the Nice Treaty the assumption is that a turnout over 50% means a Yes victory, under 40% hands it to the Noes. That makes a big assumption that public opinion has not changed much since then, but it gives us something to go on when polls close at one minute past ten tonight.

If it is a No all eyes will be on Cowen to see what he does. But they will also flicker across to Westminster, to see if Brown carries on with British ratification. I'm told he intends to, but I am not certain that will hold. We will see. Or then again, we may never know.

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