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Nice Treaty passes after Irish referendum

Irish voters on October 19, 2002 approved the Nice Treaty in the second referendum held on the matter. Ireland was the only country in the European Union whose populace was offered a chance to vote on the Treaty, the crux of which is the accession of ten countries, mostly Eastern-European, to the Union.

Official justification for presenting a second referendum on the issue was that the voter turnout in the first referendum, in 2001, was low. (Turnout then was 35%, compared to 50% this year.) There was objection, understandably, from some "no" voters that their will had not been honored the first time around.

One of the major points of detraction on the Nice Treaty was the issue of Irish neutrality within a future greater-European military. Stipulations were included in the proposition on the second referendum to guarantee such a neutrality.

Unofficially, there has no doubt come into play a certain xenophobia of the Irish citizenry, a generous and charitable lot overall, who nonetheless have been challenged in the last decade with the nation's first modern net immigration.

There is a sense among the Irish that some immigrants have been allowed benefits that the Irish themselves are not allowed. The Irish, a monocultural* bloc since the Anglo-Norman incursions of the 12th and 13th centuries, are not accustomed to foreigners coming to stay.

I suspect that the folk-ideas of "foreigners" (complicated by the somewhat awkward modern immigration) played against the customary Irish goodwill in their thoughts of welcoming Eastern European members to the union.

It was, whether ironic or not, Ireland's membership in the European Union that helped bring the last decade's phenomenal "Celtic Tiger" economic boom — which created conditions that made immigration desireable.

The "yes" result in the referendum now clears the way for Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Lithuania, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, Slovakia and Malta to be included in the European Union in 2004. Later this decade, Romania and Bulgaria* are expected to accede.

In this year's referendum, of the 50% who voted, 62.89% voted yes.

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*Note: The sole exception for many years to the monolithic nature of Irish culture has been the Irish Travellers, a small native nomadic population.

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* Romania and Bulgaria acceded to the European Union on 1 January 2007.

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Steve Edwards