FRIDAY'S vote on Lisbon is as important a decision as the one taken on EU entry in 1973, Taoiseach Brian Cowen has told leading business people in the Mid-West.
The Taoiseach was speaking in Dromoland Castle on Monday as special guest at the Shannon Chamber president's lunch.
"I don't lead the most popular Government this country has ever seen. That is true. But this is not a politics-as-usual issue, this is a national issue that is going to determine the direction of this country not only in the coming months or years, but the coming decades. This is a national decision of the same import of the decision we made in 1973," the Taoiseach said during an impassioned, unscripted 20-minute speech on Lisbon.
Asked what would happen if the referendum is defeated again, Mr Cowen said: "We would still be members of the EU and we would still go to meetings but if people out there who believe there are no consequences to voting No, I think they are very naive".
A "two-speed Europe" was a real possibility arising from a No vote, he added.
"We'll still be in the union, yes, but will we be effective? Will we be influencing events? Because there are issues that will affect Ireland anyway in the 21st century.
"Are we going to be in there having our case heard on the economy?
"Will the Minister for Agriculture be in a stronger position when the mid-term review of CAP comes up?"
"I'm not saying we should vote Yes because of what others might think of us. I'm saying its in our interests to vote Yes. We have to deal with the EU on an ongoing basis and let's do it from a position of strength rather than weakness."
Shannon Development chief executive Dr Vincent Cunnane said not only would the Mid-West risk losing out on future investment if the result is No, it could put existing jobs at risk.
"There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that our ability to attract new investment is predicated on a Yes vote. I would go further and say that our ability to hold on to existing jobs and existing foreign direct investment is also predicated on a Yes vote," Dr Cunnane told the Limerick Leader.
"These companies are here because of access to Europe. Okay, we say we have English, good tax systems and so on but if we are not seen to be part of Europe; at the centre of Europe, then these companies are going to re-evaluate their investment decisions. That is the real problem. I would urge everybody to allow me to my job, allow other agencies do their jobs, let's get on with it. Let's be at the heart of Europe and let's vote Yes."
Chamber president Ian Barrett said he saw nothing wrong with the "Yes for Jobs" posters criticised as meaningless by anti-Lisbon campaigners.
"Since 1973 and entry to the European Union we have seen one million new jobs created and wages increase from 60 per cent of the EU average to 138 per cent," Mr Barrett said.
Meanwhile, the Taoiseach told over 200 local business people who gathered for the lunch at Dromoland that he expected banks to up their business lending in early 2010 once the NAMA legislation is passed.
"We have to legislate by the end of this month...so that coming in the new year, we will start to see an improvement in the availability of credit in our system so that business can get on with doing business. Business has had to contend with a far more difficult trading environment in recent times and business, as it always does, has to swiftly adapt to those changing circumstances. Some of our businesses unfortunately haven't been able to stay the course because of what has happened and that is deeply to be regretted."
NAMA and a difficult budgets were necessary painful measures he was determined to take, the Taoiseach said.
"A full year of growth will return to Ireland in 2011 if we take the necessary measures now and I intend to lead an administration in the coming weeks and months for that purpose."