The Vatican has made an unexpected last-minute intervention on the eve of Ireland's Lisbon Treaty referendum with a warning the European Union threatens the country's "identity, traditions and history".
As Irish voters go the polls for a second time on the treaty, "No" campaigners have seized on comments made by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican Secretary of State, during the Pope's visit to the Czech Republic.
The comments followed unhappiness in the Vatican that the EU refused to recognise Europe's Christian heritage in the text of the Lisbon Treaty.
The EU has also upset Catholics in the past by ruling abortion provision should be treated as a "medical service" no different from any other treatment.
"Individual European countries have their own identity. The EU prescribes its laws or views to them and they do not have to fit with their traditions and history. Some countries are logically resisting this – for example, Ireland," said Cardinal Bertone.
"If Europe recognised homosexual couples as equal to marriage, for example, it would go against its own history. And it would be right to stand against it. The Church wants to encourage states in this."
Coir, a Catholic group that has claimed that religious faith and Ireland's anti-abortion laws are under threat from the EU, welcomed the comments.
"We are very pleased that Cardinal Bertone has come out and said explicitly that the EU is imposing secular values on Ireland," said spokesman Brian Hickey. "It is because the EU has a secular agenda that we are resisting the Lisbon Treaty.
Noel Treanor, the Bishop of Down and Connor, last week lined up with mainstream political parties to tell churchgoers that they could vote for the Lisbon Treaty "without reserve and in good conscience".
But Declan Ganley, the leader of Libertas, which is campaigning for a No vote, said Cardinal Bertone represented the Church's true position.
"I welcome these comments and encourage all practicing Catholics to take them on board before they cast their ballots," he said.
The Irish are voting on the treaty for a second time after rejecting it in a referendum last June.
Brian Cowen, the Irish Prime Minister, has promised voters that he has secured "legal guarantees" from the EU that Ireland's traditional Catholic stance on the family and abortion will remain untouched.
"Europe has listened to the concerns of the Irish people as expressed by them in last year's vote," he said.
Many shoppers in Galway, which registered a strong No vote last year, yesterday (THURS) rejected the claim that Europe, or Mr Cowen, had listened.
Sean Boyle, an unemployed man, aged 27, from Donegal, said: "It is still the same treaty, nothing has changed. We have already had our say – it was no."
Sorcha O'Sullivan, Magaretta Cooney, Georgia Bull, Michelle Daly and Eimear Costello, five Galway based female students, agreed.
"Why don't they listen? No still means no," said Miss Costello.
Irish bookmakers have predicted a pro-treaty vote, a verdict backed up by opinion polls which give the "Yes" camp 55 per cent of the vote.
"It is looking like a foregone conclusion at this stage," said Leon Blanche of Boylesports, which has already paid out to Yes vote backers.
Michael Martin, Ireland's foreign minister, said the government would beat off popular anger over its handling of the economic and resentment over a rerun referendum to win the day.
"We are confident and hopeful that we will win the vote," he said.
"Moreover, you scorned our people, and compared the Albanese to sheep, and according to your custom think of us with insults. Nor have you shown yourself to have any knowledge of my race. Our elders were Epirotes, where this Pirro came from, whose force could scarcely support the Romans. This Pirro, who Taranto and many other places of Italy held back with armies. I do not have to speak for the Epiroti. They are very much stronger men than your Tarantini, a species of wet men who are born only to fish. If you want to say that Albania is part of Macedonia I would concede that a lot more of our ancestors were nobles who went as far as India under Alexander the Great and defeated all those peoples with incredible difficulty. From those men come these who you called sheep. But the nature of things is not changed. Why do your men run away in the faces of sheep?"
Letter from Skanderbeg to the Prince of Taranto ▬ Skanderbeg, October 31 1460
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