DUBLIN -- Ireland's voters have decided to ratify the European Union's deficit-fighting treaty with "yes" votes reaching nearly 60 percent, according to election officials citing early unofficial results. Chief Irish opponents of European austerity conceded defeat.
The treaty's approval, to be declared officially later Friday, relieves some pressure on EU financial chiefs as they battle to contain the eurozone's debt crisis. But critics said the tougher deficit rules would do nothing to stimulate desperately needed growth in bailed-out Ireland, Portugal and Greece nor stop Spain or Italy from requiring aid too.
"The `yes' side is going to win. The question now is where will the jobs and the stability they have promised come from, against the backdrop of a continuing and deepening capitalist crisis within Europe? Their policies will only make the situation worse," said Joe Higgins, leader of Ireland's Socialist Party, which opposed the treaty.
Dozens of party activists monitoring the ballot counting at several centers across Ireland reported the "yes" side solidly outpolling "no" voters several hours ahead of the official result announcement at Dublin Castle. The activists, called "tallymen," stood near official ballot-counters and made their own calculations.
A strong majority of districts reported pro-treaty majorities, with the "yes" side polling between 55 percent and 75 percent in largely middle-class suburban areas of Dublin, home to a third of Ireland's 4.5 million people. The anti-treaty vote was strongest in urban working-class districts where anger over the crippling cost of Ireland's bank-bailout program runs highest, but even there, tallymen reported, the votes were splitting nearly evenly.
About half of Ireland's 3.13 million registered voters participated in Thursday's referendum. Ireland was the only nation among 25 signatories requiring public approval. Rejection could have blocked Ireland from receiving new EU loans once its 2010 bailout money runs out next year.
Several government ministers said the early figures showed an official victory was certain. Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, who campaigned with warnings that Ireland would face harsher austerity if it rejected the treaty, offered a cautious welcome for the early results and declined to declare victory.
"I'm hopeful for a strong `yes' vote. The early trends would indicate a strong run in favor of the `yes' vote. We'll wait to see what the trends are around the country," said Kenny, who rose to power 14 months ago on a platform promising to pull Ireland out of recession, minimize the cost of bank rescues, and getting the country borrowing normally again on bond markets by next year.