BRIAN Cowen last night admitted he did not know what would happen next after voters plunged the EU into chaos with a resounding no to the Lisbon treaty.
The Taoiseach was caught by surprise as a higher than expected turnout saw the electorate bury Lisbon by a majority of 110,000.
The result sent shockwaves through European capitals.
Luxembourg premier Jean-Claude Juncker declared it had provoked a “crisis” within the EU. Money markets also reacted badly as the euro tumbled.
Mr Cowen said the result pushed Europe into “uncertainty and unchartered waters” and he would need to discuss where the EU went next at a heads of government meeting on Thursday. “I don’t have an answer to the question what happens next,” Mr Cowen said. However, he refused to rule out a Lisbon 2-style poll in the future.
Chairman of no vote campaigners Libertas Declan Ganley insisted Mr Cowen now had a strong mandate to go to Europe and gain a better deal for Ireland. “This is a great day for Irish democracy, Europe needs to listen to the voice of the people,” he said.
The Lisbon treaty was defeated by a margin of 53.4% to 46.6% with 752,451 people voting in favour and 862,415 against on a turn-out of 53.1%.
But while Irish voters rejected Lisbon, the very clear message from other EU member states was that the treaty was not dead yet.
Following phone-calls between Brian Cowen and several European leaders, including Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Nicolas Sarkozy, it was agreed that ratification of the treaty should continue in other member states.
“Mr Cowen also believes the treaty is not dead — the treaty is alive and we should find a solution,” Mr Barroso told a press conference in Brussels as the results came in. “Ireland is in a minority and other countries must be allowed to express their opinion and at the end we will have a full and clear picture of everyone’s position. Our Irish friends recognise this full well and recognise that this is the best way of proceeding.”
Legally if one member state fails to ratify a treaty, then it falls. However, early indications from other EU capitals are that they will try hard to retain Lisbon. A second referendum in Ireland could be a possibility in such circumstances.
Meanwhile, the blame game among the yes campaign has begun with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael accusing each other of not doing enough to secure support for Lisbon.
Fine Gael said the financial controversies of former taoiseach Bertie Ahern and the subsequent change of party leadership distracted the government from campaigning.
Enda Kenny, leader of Fine Gael, said he did not want to get involved in recrimination and said he would not be calling for a general election. But he said: “I did make the point on a number of occasions that the vacuum that was opening up could certainly lead to misinformation being out there and that is what happened.”
But Fianna Fáil rejected suggestions that it was late starting its campaign.
There was jubilation among the no campaign, however, with Sinn Féin asserting that Lisbon was now “dead” and the Government had to negotiate a better deal.
SF president Gerry Adams hailed the victory of no campaigners in what he termed a “David and Goliath contest”.
“The Lisbon Treaty is finished, there now needs to be a better treaty, the people have said it wasn’t good enough.”
Just 10 of the 43 constituencies — Clare, Dublin South, Dublin South East, Dublin North, Dublin North Central, Dún Laoghaire, Kildare North, Laois Offaly, Carlow Kilkenny and Meath East — voted in favour of the treaty.
Dublin saw the closest result as the no side won by a knife-edge 51% to 49%.
The capital also contained the constituency with the highest no vote (Dublin South West at just over 65%) and highest yes vote (Dún Laoghaire with 63.5%). The region with the biggest no vote was Connacht/Ulster, at 57%.
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