DUBLIN (AP) - 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. Leading 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.
Unofficial vote tallies from rich and poor parts of Dublin and Cork, the second-largest city, illustrated a stark class divide in how Ireland voted. The Dublin Southwest and Dublin Midwest districts, with swathes of run-down public housing blocks, voted 51 percent against the treaty. But on the prosperous south side, the suburban port of Dun Laoghaire voted 72 percent for the treaty, Dublin South 66 percent in favor. Significantly, turnout was much higher in more affluent districts.
Overall, about half of Ireland's 3.13 million registered voters participated in Thursday's referendum, typical in an officially neutral country that is constitutionally required to hold a referendum on each European treaty.
Public rejection could have blocked Ireland from receiving new EU loans once its 2010 bailout money runs out next year. It also would have sent political shockwaves through other eurozone members, where anger against austerity and bank bailouts runs similarly high but citizens are denied the chance to vote on the treaty.
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.
The treaty, signed in February by leaders of 25 countries including Ireland, proposes that all members who ratify it should reduce their annual deficits to no more than 0.5 percent of gross domestic product. The current eurozone limit is 3 percent.
Ireland, already four years into a brutal austerity program that has slashed around 15 percent from many workers' incomes, is committed to reaching the 3 percent threshold by 2015. Opponents of the treaty argued that the tougher new deficit rule would force Ireland to stay on the austerity road until 2020 at least.
Ireland has posted the EU's worst deficits since 2009, including an EU-record 32.4 percent in 2010 and 13.1 percent last year. Both figures were greatly inflated by the exceptional costs of Ireland's decision to nationalize five of its six banks rather than see any collapse _ a debt burn that pushed Ireland itself to the brink of bankruptcy in 2010. Repayments to international bondholders, central banks and interest on decades-long loans are expected to cost Ireland's taxpayers (EURO)68 billion ($85 billion), equivalent to (EURO)19,000 ($23,500) for every man, woman and child.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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