Ahern urges 'yes' vote for EU expansion

The people of Ireland were tonight urged to go to the polls on October 19 and vote yes to the expansion of the European Union.

The people of Ireland were tonight urged to go to the polls on October 19 and vote yes to the expansion of the European Union.

Bertie Ahern claimed it would be a disaster for Ireland and the countries wishing to join the union if the Nice Treaty was rejected again.

The referendum will see the first national vote held on a Saturday, so that as many people as possible can attend the poll, the Government said.

Ratification of the treaty would allow a number of former communist states and other current non-members to join the 15-state community.

Mr Ahern appealed for a large turnout.

“We discussed the government’s campaign and its strategy today and we will be urging people in this country for the interest of jobs, for growth, for the future of this country, to vote ‘yes’,” he said.

“This treaty is a treaty to allow enlargement, to allow the countries of central and eastern Europe to join their fellow Europeans after over a decade of working hard, after almost half a century of being under Soviet rule, this is their opportunity.

“And what the Nice Treaty is, is to make some minor institutional changes to allow those countries to join, and that’s what it’s about.”

Mr Ahern admitted the campaign prior to the country’s first poll on the issue last year was “lacklustre”.

In it, 54% of the Irish people voted “No” in a very low turnout, amid fears that many did not fully understand the issues involved.

“It did not catch much of the public’s imagination as hard as we tried,” Mr Ahern said.

“I think that’s a different issue now. The context of this referendum is different.

“The Tanaiste and I spent a lot of time last year analysing the views of those people who voted yes and no, but particularly those people who voted no, or didn’t vote at all. We took account of those views,” he added.

The date was set after it emerged only 16% of Irish people “adequately understand” the issues surrounding the referendum.

A survey also found that just over a quarter of people under the age of 24 intended to vote.

The independent Referendum Commission, which is charged with raising awareness of the poll, outlined the results of its survey as it launched a publicity campaign on Wednesday.

Retired Chief Justice Tom Finlay, the chairman of the Commission, said the results of the survey were “deeply disturbing”.

The Commission will be running a campaign explaining the background to the Treaty and trying to encourage people to vote.

The first television advertisements were aired on Wednesday night and others will be placed on billboards, radio, newspapers and the Internet in the run-up to polling day.

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein, the Green Party and a number of independent members of the Irish Parliament have come together to form an alliance against the Nice Treaty.

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