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Support for Lisbon 'Yes' vote plunges

Support for the Lisbon Treaty has dramatically faded in the Republic of Ireland amid new fears that there could be a repeat of the turnaround in the first referendum campaign.

A new opinion poll shows there has been a plunge of eight points in the 'Yes' vote (to 46pc) over the summer. That delivered a resounding wake-up call last night to the pro-treaty campaign.

The 'No' side is now at 29pc, up 1pc, but the number of 'don't knows' has risen by seven points to 25pc. In the referendum result in June 2008, the 'No' vote came to 53.4pc with 46.6pc voting 'Yes'.

The poll findings show the referendum is far from over and mirrors the pattern in the Lisbon I referendum when the 'Yes' vote was initially in the lead, but still lost.

At the same time, four out of five voters agree that Ireland is better off as a member of the EU in the current economic crisis.

The findings prove the political parties and other groups campaigning for the treaty still have to convince the public to vote 'Yes'.

The slippage on the 'Yes' side in the past three months comes despite the emphasis being placed by the Government on the guarantees the treaty will not interfere with the country's position on tax, abortion or neutrality, and for the return of a permanent European Commissioner.

Apart from potentially major implications for our role within Europe, rejection of the treaty would threaten the end of Taoiseach Brian Cowen's tenure in office. Although he says he does not contemplate defeat, Mr Cowen's position would be under severe pressure if there was another 'No' vote.

The poll figures are another setback for Mr Cowen and Fianna Fail, which has plunged to new depths of unpopularity. But Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny told his party supporters yesterday not to use Lisbon to kick the Government.

Mr Kenny said he would not "cross swords" with Fianna Fail over the Lisbon referendum, despite wanting them out of office.

He appealed to his own party supporters not to punish the Taoiseach or the Government when they vote on October 2.

Mr Cowen, Mr Kenny, Labour leader Eamon Gilmore and Green Party leader John Gormley met yesterday to discuss the co-ordination of their campaigns.

In a bid to avoid alienating voters, however, the four party leaders will not be campaigning together in public to call for a 'Yes' vote.

"I don't get a sense there is any particular appetite for that. The party leaders appearing together create an obvious target for anti-establishment groups," a political source said.

Former European Parliament president Pat Cox said the results showed there was a lot of work still to be done.

The Ireland for Europe campaign director said the poll results gave him "cautious confidence" but the 'Yes' side will be leaving nothing to chance.

When asked if it was better to be part of the EU in the current economic crisis, 80pc of voters agreed, 9pc disagreed and 11pc had no opinion.

Of those polled, 74pc said they were very likely to vote, 13pc fairly likely, 2pc fairly unlikely, 6pc very unlikely and 5pc had no opinion.

Of 'Yes' voters, 91pc said they were very likely to vote, but among 'No' voters the figure was 70pc.

Meanwhile, senior ministers Dermot Ahern and Micheal Martin have rallied to the Taoiseach's defence amid unprecedented low levels of support for Fianna Fail.

In a robust defence of his leader, Mr Ahern, the Justice Minister, insisted he was not a "liability".

"We don't have a history of changing our leader because of political polls. The Taoiseach is working extremely hard on these difficult issues, as are the Government. We are united in dealing with these serious issues," he said.

Belfast Telegraph