Donegal set for crucial EU Fiscal Treaty vote

Posters in Ireland for and against the treaty
Image caption Posters in Ireland for and against the treaty

When Ireland's biggest cycle race came to Donegal, spectators came out in force to line the route.

But the roadside posters along stage five of the An Post Ras between Bundoran and Buncrana pointed to a race of a different kind.

On Thursday, people will go to the polls to vote on whether or not the Republic of Ireland should endorse the European Fiscal Pact which EU leaders hope will save the Euro.

The Irish government has warned that the Republic's economic recovery will be jeopardised if it is rejected.

The yes and no camps in Donegal are in a fight for the hearts and minds of the people.

One of the race spectators was a young Letterkenny woman who teaches in Dublin.

"I'll be voting yes. The EU will help us get out of recession and hopefully provide more jobs for the Irish economy," she said.

People in Donegal feel the county suffered most when the Republic's Celtic Tiger economy hit the buffers.

Hundreds of young people across Ireland's most northern county have emigrated and the unemployment rate is high.

For those left behind, wage cuts and higher taxes have become the norm.

A young public sector worker in Letterkenny said the impact on his life had been huge.

"I am putting life on hold. I can't afford to get a mortgage and I can't think about getting married," he said.

"I'm going to be well in to my forties or early fifties before I get into any financial independence."

The Republic of Ireland was forced to seek an international bail-out in 2010.

A series of spending cuts and tax rises have been imposed on the country as the government tries to restore stability to the public finances.

A number of groups opposed to the Irish government's programme of austerity have sprung up across Donegal. They are calling for a NO vote.

Antony McCahill is a member of the Can't Pay Won't Pay lobby.

"If you go to the airports the young people are getting on the planes.

"I'm opposed to austerity across the board. About 30% of people in Donegal still haven't made up their mind. I would ask them to come out and vote no."

In recent years, there has been little in the way of business expansion in Letterkenny, the largest town in Donegal.

But Clive Alcorn, the owner of Alcorn Flower and Garden Centre and Tropical World, expanded his company at the height of the recession.

"In business you have got to take the chance. We cannot afford to vote no. Ireland is too small to survive on its own. We need the bigger partners."

Brian Flanagan opened Flanagan's Furniture in Buncrana 40 years ago and had shops up and down the country. The company closed in 2012 when the administrators were called in.

Rebuild

He said the Republic does not need to rely on Europe to rebuild.

"Each country has to balance its books and they won't do that until they have no choice. When I was in business I didn't balance the books until I had to," he said.

"Keep the decision making close and keep the tax collection and spending close to those who are paying it."

In March, unemployed builder Joe Murphy walked from Donegal to Dublin in protest against government cuts. He is a member of Donegal Action Against Austerity.

"We are not going to be sent into economic oblivion if we do not vote yes, but if we vote no this austerity will be here for a very long time to come."

The new EU fiscal treaty will force countries in the Eurozone to abide by strict new budget rules, or face sanctions.

The treaty was drawn up in response to the debt crisis.

The aim is to strengthen fiscal discipline and toughen the enforcement of EU budget guidelines.

The new measures come into effect once 12 EU states have ratified the treaty.

'Little Republic'

When it comes to rejecting European treaties, Ireland has a long track record.

Both the Nice Treaty (2001) and Lisbon Treaty (2008) referendums were lost, forcing the governments of the day into the embarrassing position of having to re-run the votes to get them passed.

The electorate in Donegal twice voted no to the Lisbon Treaty.

Stephen Maguire from the news website Donegal Daily.com said he would be surprised if there was a different outcome this time around

"Many people here think Donegal is its own little Republic. I definitely think there will be a high no vote up here in Donegal."

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