Irish voters headed to the polls Friday to decide on a referendum on the European Union's Lisbon Treaty. Observers say turn-out has been slow on a vote that will affect the whole of the European Union.
The Lisbon Treaty is set to tighten the existing structure of the European Union to strengthen its leadership and international clout. All 27 EU members must ratify it before it can come into force. But last year Irish voters rejected the treaty. Now, they are back at the polls for a second vote.
Hugo Brady is from the Brussels-based research group Centre for European Reform. He says last time round the details of the treaty were not made clear to the Irish public and there were many issues which led to the 'no' vote.
"One of which was the treaty would bring in conscription to foreign armies in Ireland, which was not true. Also that Ireland would lose its veto over taxation, over its abortion policy, and that the country would no longer have a right to nominate a commissioner to the European Commission, which is the EU's kind of chief legislative body," he said.
Brady says many of those issues have now been resolved.
Most importantly, he says, Ireland has been guaranteed continued representation at the European Commission.
And certain issues close to the heart of the Irish public have been safeguarded.
"Ireland's traditional vote bearers of family law, neutrality, and taxation - the Irish received legal guarantees that nothing would affect their prerogatives in those areas," he said.
He adds that the global financial crisis has convinced many Irish people that they can benefit from being part of the EU.
"Europe has been good for Ireland because Ireland is in the midst of a very painful recession and its economic reliance on the EU has been revived in people's minds," he contninued.
But Brady warns the possibility of the referendum failing cannot be ruled out.
Marco Incerti, from the Brussels-based Center for European Policy Studies, says this vote is crucial to the European Union.
"If it is a yes it will remove one of the last remaining obstacles on the road to ratification of the treaty," he said.
But he says Ireland is not the last obstacle. He says another big problem is that the president of Czech Republic Vaclav Klaus has also not signed.
"even if there is a yes in Ireland there may be additional problems for the treaty of Lisbon because it would be necessary to wait for President Klaus of the Czech republic to finally put his signature to this treaty for it to finally come into force," said Incerti.
The Lisbon Treaty is intended to speed up decision-making in the EU. Leadership will be centralized with a long-term European Council president and stronger foreign policy chief.
Irish polls close Friday night and counting will take place across the country Saturday.
A final national result is expected to be officially announced in the capital Dublin on Saturday.