Polls and government ministers revealed a slump in support for the treaty among the populace of the recession-hit country ahead of the plebiscite next month.
Public opinion was gauged by a face-to-face poll with 1,000 voters earlier this week conducted by the TNS mrbi market research company. The survey, published in the Friday edition of the Irish Times, showed opposition to the treaty stood at 29 percent, increasing one point since the last poll in May, with support dropping eight points to 46 percent in the same time span. The number of voters who remained undecided stood at 25 percent, an increase of seven points.
In an article which accompanied the results, The Irish Times' political editor, Stephen Collins, wrote that "a striking feature of the latest poll is that most of those who have left the 'yes' camp have moved into the 'don't know' category rather than shifting into the 'no' camp."
If the poll results were not gloomy enough, Irish Foreign Minister Michael Martin admitted that the government was pessimistic about the October 2 referendum but that he believed that, while it would be difficult to secure ratification, he expected a slim vote in favor.
"I was never under any illusion but that it would be difficult to secure this but I do think we can do it," he told national radio broadcaster RTE. "There is a very significant challenge ahead, it's going to be a very tight campaign and it will demand all of the resources, conviction, politics and passion of all of those on the Yes side."
Brussels concessions led to second referendum
Ireland is the only member of the 27-nation EU which is constitutionally bound to hold a referendum on the treaty, which is designed to overhaul of the EU's foreign policy-making and internal decision-making in a greatly expanded bloc. Irish voters threw the ratification process into chaos last year when they rejected the treaty in the first referendum.
Irish voters rejected the pact in a referendum held in June, partly out of concerns that their country would lose the right to nominate a commissioner to the EU's executive and concerns that the treaty would contravene the country's constitution on issues relating to the right to life, education and family policy.
The decision to launch a second referendum came after opinion polls showed voters would back it this time after Dublin won concessions from Brussels on key policy areas. These included the guarantee that Ireland's traditional policy of neutrality would be maintained and that the Lisbon Treaty would not impinge on Ireland's right to set tax levels. The EU also agreed that Ireland would retain the right to an EU commissioner.
Backlash could lead to potential "No" vote
Despite the fact that the previous three opinion polls conducted this year showed solid support for the treaty, it is believed that the growing dissatisfaction with the Irish government's handling of the financial crisis has turned an anti-government backlash into a vote against ratification.
Prime Minister Brian Cowen's government has itself been faced with some uncomfortable reading in recent polls. The latest showed that 75 percent of voters would like to see him ousted, while support for the prime minister's Fianna Fail party dropped to a record low of 17 percent.
For the Lisbon Treaty to come into force, it has to be ratified by all 27 EU states. Poland and the Czech Republic, currently led by Euro-skeptic presidents, have said that they will wait for Ireland's vote before signing it into law.
If Ireland were to vote “No” for a second time, observers say it could derail the treaty for good.
Editor: Chuck Penfold