'Yes' camp wins Irish vote
DUBLIN, Ireland -- Ireland has reversed last year's shock referendum vote against the Treaty of Nice plan for expanding the European Union.
The final results from the second referendum on the issue were announced on Sunday.
They showed a 62.89 percent vote in favour of ratifying the treaty -- 906,318 votes to 534,887 (37.11 percent).
Just 15 months ago Irish voters rejected the treaty amid fears that it would impinge on Ireland's traditional neutrality and hit its economy.
Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said on Sunday: "We have examined more closely the eurosceptic option and rejected it."
CNN's European Political Editor Robin Oakley said: "It's been a very, very big turnout and it will mean a huge sigh of relief for the 10 applicant countries and for European Union leaders across the continent."
Across Europe, leaders from many of the exisiting and potential members of the EU hailed the result. (Story)
Results in Dublin were the first to be returned after voting was carried out electronically and its results, solidly in favour of Nice, were repeated across the country.
The first official count of paper ballots -- in Tipperary South -- showed just over 65 percent for a 'yes' and just under 35 percent for a 'no,' state radio reported.
Ahern said: "It shows we remain strongly committed to the European Union -- that we fully recognise that what is good for the people of Europe is good for the people of Ireland."
He added: "It ensures that Ireland remains at the heart of Europe, where we belong, where we can continue to make a valuable contribution -- and where we can ensure our interests continue to be protected.
"Today is an historic day in our relationship with our sister states in Europe.
"It is now time to move on. Now that the last obstacle to ratification of the Treaty of Nice has been removed, the EU can move to address the challenges
and opportunities that we in Europe will all face together.
"And we can work to welcome our new partners in 2004 -- during Ireland's Presidency of the EU."
Deputy Irish Prime Minister Mary Harney said the referendum result marked a defining moment for Ireland and Europe.
She said: "The last 18 months have been a watershed in our democracy and how we see our place in Europe.
"We have confirmed in this referendum that the Irish people will remain fully and exclusively in control of our defence forces.
"Today Ireland played a lead role in Europe - and we have all won."
Even before the final result was announced, parties opposed to the treaty began to concede defeat.
John Gormley, whose Green Party mounted an anti-Nice alliance with parties like Sinn Fein and the Irish pro-life lobby, told the Press Association: "I think it is very clear now the 'yes' side have a resounding victory.
"I had predicted a 60-40 win for them on trends I witnessed in the past week, and it is unfortunately going to be the case.
"There was, I think, a huge guilt trip, a certain intimidation -- and a lot of money as well."
Irish Government Transport Minister Seamus Brennan said: "The result is obviously emphatic.
"I think people looked at the bigger picture and the bigger argument -- that whatever concerns there were about the detail of this, the issue was enlargement and the economy.
"The people stood back from that and said Ireland wants to let in these countries now, not wait, and secondly we are taking no risks with our economy because investment is critical and we do not want to send out the wrong signals."
The results showed a big increase in turnout to about 50 percent, compared with a national average of just under 35 percent in the first referendum in July 2001.
Ireland alone among EU members requires a popular vote to ratify the Nice Treaty. If it had not done so by the end of this year, the treaty would have become invalid and the process of expansion could have been held up for years.
The 10 candidate states -- Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Lithuania, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, Slovakia and Malta -- are preparing to join the bloc in 2004. Romania and Bulgaria are expected to join later this decade.
The Nice Treaty is intended to make administrative reforms to prevent institutional paralysis when new nations are admitted to the EU and must be ratified by all 15 current members of the EU.
Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, said: "The approval of the Nice Treaty is essential if we are to proceed on schedule for enlargement."