Premier Enda Kenny said Dublin was acting on legal advice from Ireland's attorney-general that "on balance" the fiscal compact requires a vote under the country's constitution. "It gives the Irish people the opportunity to reaffirm Ireland's commitment to membership of the euro," he told ashen-faced members of the Dail.
All three major parties back the treaty but analysts say there is a high risk of rejection by angry voters in the current fractious mood. The compact gives the EU intrusive powers to police the budgets of debtor states, and has been denounced as feudal bondage by Sinn Fein and Ireland's vociferous eurosceptics. The Irish voted "No" to both the Nice and Lisbon treaties before being made to vote again. Dublin has ruled out a second vote this time.
The Taoiseach's announcement sent the euro into sharp dive against the dollar, though it rebounded later. Europe's leaders thought they had tweaked the wording of the text just enough to avoid an Irish vote.
Ireland cannot stop the process since a quorum of 12 states brings the treaty into force, but it would be politically untenable to create a new eurozone structure that left one member in limbo.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel reacted with fury last November when Greece, which on Tuesday night approved €3.2bn of new budget cuts, unexpectedly called a referendum on the terms of its bail-out. Ireland's move may also rankle, even if deemed less capricious.
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