The Lisbon Treaty campaign in Ireland has proved more divisive than previous national debates on abortion and divorce, it was claimed today.
Political parties accused anti-Treaty groups of not playing by the rules by peddling misinformation to create confusion among undecided voters.
Irish referenda campaigns on abortion and divorce in the mid-1980s and mid-1990s turned ugly between rival groups with some Government ministers even receiving death threats.
Former Fine Gael leader Michael Noonan today said the Lisbon Treaty debate was the most divisive campaign in his memory.
Recalling referenda going back 35 years, the TD said: “This is the most difficult campaign I have been involved in.
“It was more about the rules of the game than the game itself,” the Limerick TD told his party’s final news conference.
Personalised attacks over the airwaves between the camps were common during the short Lisbon Treaty campaign.
The No campaigners captured much early publicity due to Government delays in announcing a referendum date.
Former opposition leader Alan Dukes today referred to the anti-Treaty groups as “a bunch of people in a permanent state of paranoia, worrying about where the next axe is going to fall”.
The former finance minister said he had been studying EU treaties for 40 years.
He added: “We have seen the most extraordinary claims made by the No side - such as euthanasia and the micro-chipping of children”.
Referring to the likely voting intentions of the electorate, Mr Noonan also said people aged under 25 and a “celebrity elite” believed it was fashionable to be anti-Treaty.
Nevertheless he expected the poll to be won by the Yes side by a significant margin.