DUBLIN - Irish voters have approved the EU's Lisbon Treaty, Ireland's foreign minister said on Saturday, reversing last year's shock rejection and pulling the bloc's ambitions for greater global influence out of the deep freeze.
Irish approval, after a fraught and often nasty referendum campaign, turns the spotlight on Poland and the Czech Republic, whose eurosceptic leaders are now the only obstacle to the reform charter's introduction across the 27-country European Union.
I am delighted for the country. It looks like a convincing win for the 'Yes' side on this occasion, Foreign Minister Micheal Martin told national radio.
In the main Dublin counting center, a cavernous building in the capital's embassy belt, officials shook hands and slapped each other on the back. Preparations were made for celebratory drinks.
Foreign media crews, expecting a tighter result, shrugged their shoulders at an anticlimax.
The referendum marks the first major victory for Ireland's beleaguered Prime Minister Brian Cowen and his center-left coalition as they try to pull Europe's once fastest-growing economy out of one of the worst recessions in the West.
We are in a very difficult economic position and this is an essential first step toward economic recovery, Finance Minister Brian Lenihan said.
Analysts said Irish debt yield spreads should tighten by around five basis points on the result, offering some relief to a country borrowing 400 million euros ($581 million) a week from international markets.
The official result will not be released until around 12:30 p.m. EDT (1630 GMT). Informal tallies put the Yes camp ahead at 60-40 percent, a marked turnaround from last year's 53-47 percent rejection as voters apparently heeded warnings that a second dismissal would isolate the country economically.
WILL KLAUS HOLD OUT?
Anti-treaty groups, which had hoped deep anti-government sentiment would yield a second No, accepted the tide had turned decisively and prayed eurosceptic Czech President Vaclav Klaus would fight against ratification.
I absolutely hope Klaus will hold out, Declan Ganley, one of the leading figures in the No side, told reporters. I'm surprised how big the 'Yes' vote is.
Foreign-exchange specialists said Ireland's thumbs-up would be marginally positive for the euro currency but the focus would quickly refocus on Prague.
It will be a marginal positive (for the euro) but I think the editorials will pretty quickly switch to the other areas to be resolved such as the Czech response, said Daragh Maher, deputy head of global foreign exchange at Calyon.
The Irish government called the second referendum under pressure from EU leaders and the executive European Commission in Brussels.
The vote followed warnings from celebrities, politicians and business leaders that a second No would cost Ireland European goodwill at a time when support from the European Central Bank is crucial for the country's economic future.
The treaty creates two new posts -- a long-term president of the European Council of EU leaders and foreign policy chief.
This is intended to increase the influence of a bloc representing 495 million people as the balance of power shifts following the global financial crisis to give China and other emerging powers more say.
EU leaders are now sure to put pressure on Poland and the Czech Republic to ratify the treaty.
Regarding the Polish and Czech presidents, it is a matter for them and it is a matter for their people. The ball is now firmly in their court, European Affairs Minister Dick Roche told Reuters at the main Dublin counting center.
All I can say is that Ireland has lived up to its responsibilities and it is now up to them to live up to theirs.
Polish President Lech Kaczynski has said he will ratify the charter if Ireland votes Yes. Czech President Klaus could delay approval to await a ruling on a constitutional complaint against the treaty by 17 senators.
(Additional reporting by Andras Gergely and Paul Hoskins)
(Writing by Carmel Crimmins; editing by Timothy Heritage and Dale Hudson)