Fine Gael was accused of threatening the electorate by claiming that a no vote in the fiscal treaty referendum would result in harsher budgets and young emigrants being “marooned abroad” for years to come.
Michael Noonan, the finance minister, said the budget would be “dramatically more difficult” if the EU fiscal compact is rejected on May 31.
He said if people think that by rejecting the treaty they will avoid further cuts and tax increases, “actually a no vote will do the opposite”.
A government spokesman said the plan for a €3.5bn budget adjustment in 2013 had not changed. “The Government’s strategy on budgetary terms is laid down; there’s been no change in that,” he said.
The confusion threatened to overshadow the launch of Fine Gael’s yes campaign in the Shelbourne Hotel.
Asked if his party was engaging in scare tactics, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said: “It’s not a question of attempting to scare anybody.”
He said Budget 2013 plans were based on projections for economic growth and “the minister is quite right to say that we do not want that undermined in any way”.
Brendan Howlin, the public expenditure minister, last night said the “budgetary arithmetic” would become more difficult with a no vote. “It certainly will impact on stability. It will impact on confidence on people who are investing in the state. And therefore we have to be more cautious in terms of the amount of money we spend, obviously, because we have to have as much [of] a buffer to ensure that we will always be able to fund services into the future,” he said.
Fianna Fáil, which also supports the treaty, said the comments by Mr Noonan were “unhelpful” and could alienate potential yes voters.
Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said Mr Noonan had issued “outrageous” threats and was “resorting to threats and bullying”.
Ireland will continue to get funds from the troika until the end of 2013, meaning a no vote will not affect funding requirements for next year.
Independent TD Shane Ross called for the referendum to be deferred because other EU nations were waiting for the outcome of the French presidential election.
Mr Ross said presidential candidate François Hollande had indicated he would renegotiate the treaty. He said it may not be relevant in a few months’ time, “if Hollande gets his way”.
Lucinda Creighton, the European affairs minister, said thousands of young people may be “marooned abroad” for longer by a no vote.
She said people had a “moral obligation” to vote yes to “secure our economic future and provide opportunities that will keep families together and our young people at home”.
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