A day of national reckoning is looming for the Irish state as it faces an economic collapse and a debt crisis.
The European Union and IMF warned that Ireland was on the brink of a “crisis of confidence” that would trigger a “catastrophic” failure of the economy, as well as an “unprecedented” banking crisis.
They have called for a fresh debate on how to ensure Ireland is a responsible member of the EU, and have also said Ireland should pay its debt, to help pay down the nation’s outstanding debts.
The EU has said Ireland’s financial position would collapse in the event of a vote on its bailout package in Brussels.
In the run-up to Sunday’s vote, the Irish government has said it would pay back the EU “within two weeks”, in a sign of the deep political divisions and financial fragility that are threatening to undermine its efforts to hold on to its sovereignty.
But the government has faced pressure from all sides of the political spectrum, with the main opposition Fine Gael (Fianna Fáil) calling for a no-confidence vote and leading the government in the country’s biggest parliamentary party to call for a snap election.
“This is an election for people in Ireland.
If we don’t take our responsibility to our people, this country will end up being a country that is in financial ruin,” said Finance Minister Michael Noonan.
“We will have a crisis of confidence.
This is a very, very important day.”
The referendum will also determine whether Ireland will be allowed to join the euro or join the eurozone.
Ireland is already a member of Europe’s single currency, and its citizens have been able to trade freely with other EU countries, though it does not participate in the euro.
This week, the country will also be allowed a further two years to negotiate its own new agreement with the EU.
But some of the country, including those in the ruling Fine Gael party, have called on the government to call an early election to force a new vote on the bailout package.
“The government must come back and give people confidence and have a referendum to decide on what the deal is.
The question is when.
This will be a decision for the people,” said Fianna Fail leader Micheál Martin.
The Irish government is trying to negotiate a deal that would save the country money, but many of the public feel that it does too little to secure the long-term future of the Irish economy.
The government has also faced criticism for its handling of the bank bailout, which the government says is necessary to prevent Ireland from going bankrupt, and for failing to take in more of the €20bn bailout money needed to avert a banking crisis in the first place.
The referendum is set to be the first time in Irish history that the population has been asked to vote on whether or not the state should be in the eurozone, and will also decide whether or it should pay back €1.6bn of EU aid.