No. 10 Ireland
Economic growth, rising standards of living, an open economy, and excellent education system contribute to the overall happiness of the Irish. REUTERS

Ireland is bracing for a crucial referendum on the European Union's fiscal treaty, with the country about to decide if it will continue with austerity measures or reject strict fiscal control from Brussels.

Anti-treaty parties have gained significant support in the run-up to Thursday's vote, with nationalists Sinn Fein rising to become the second most popular party, according to recent polls.

Despite growing confidence among those opposed to the treaty, however, polls show that Irish voters are likely to approve the German-led pact.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Enda Kenny accused Sinn Fein of lying about the need to reduce the Irish deficit.

He also defended his refusal to debate directly with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams.

I am not going to be shoved around by Sinn Fein, Kenny said, according to the the Associated Press. I am not going to give a platform to somebody who I don't regard as the leader of the opposition, to propagate what are blatant lies and hypocritical assertions.

Over the weekend, Kenny added that a yes vote would also allow Ireland access to future EU bailout money.

Only a 'yes' vote will give Ireland guaranteed access to Europe's permanent rescue fund, the European Stability Mechanism, should Ireland ever need it. I want this country to have the same access as all other euro countries to this insurance policy. This is very important.

Adams countered, saying the government was trying to scare people into accepting the treaty and that an Irish no vote would be beneficial for the continent, forcing the 17-member euro zone into rethinking austerity measures.

If Ireland were to reject the treaty, it would further derail Chancellor Angela Merkel's push for EU-wide austerity budgets, boosting the recent rebellion, led by French President Francois Hollande, who advocates for governments to aim for growth instead of tax hikes and welfare cuts.

For Ireland, rejecting the treaty would also bar them from emergency funding under the European Stability Mechanism -- something the country has come to rely on as it struggles to manage its crippling national debts.

The fiscal treaty aims to enshrine into national law agreed-upon budget targets, with fines for countries that break the limits.

The treaty will come into effect when 12 out of the 25 participating member countries -- which excludes the UK and Czech Republic -- ratify it.

Ireland was one of the first euro zone members to require emergency funds after the housing bubble imploded in 2008.

In December 2010, the government accepted an €65 billion ($90 billion) loan from the EU and the International Monetary Fund in exchange for budget cuts amounting to €15 billion.

The money is set to run out in 2013.