Dublin: Irish voters have endorsed the European Union`s Lisbon Treaty in a referendum, informal tallies suggested, raising EU hopes of greater global clout.
Voters seemed to have heeded warnings by political and business leaders that if they delivered a "No" again as they did last year it could spark a foreign investment exodus and isolate Ireland as it battles one of the worst recessions in the West.
Last year`s "No" by Ireland`s three million voters stalled the introduction of the treaty, designed to speed up decision-making in the 27-nation bloc of nearly half a billion people.
The treaty, which would also give the EU a long-term president and a stronger foreign policy chief, needs to be ratified by all 27 member countries in order to take effect.
"There are very encouraging numbers for the `Yes` side," said Billy Timmins, director of elections for the Opposition Fine Gael party, which conducted a preliminary survey showing a 60-40 percent margin for the treaty in Friday`s referendum.
A source in the governing Fianna Fail party said a pick-up in turnout on Friday evening, particularly in middle-class parts of the capital Dublin, had favoured the "Yes" camp.
"On what we have seen at the exit polls, we would see a vote in favour of in or around 53 percent," said the source, who declined to be identified.
Manual counting of votes starts at 0800 GMT on Saturday, with indications of the outcome likely a few hours later.
Central Dublin, where street lamps were plastered with campaign posters for weeks, had a turnout of around 57 percent when voting ended at 2100 GMT.
A turnout above 50 percent is viewed as a plus for pro-European campaigners but officials cautioned it was relatively strong last year and that there was a risk of this vote being used to protest against an unpopular government.
However, there were signs voters had listened to Prime Minister Brian Cowen`s call to set aside their anger towards him over the economy and vote "Yes" to cement Ireland`s position within Europe and help it recover from recession.
"It has to be a `Yes` because of the way the country is at the moment," said Dave McKeever, a 45-year-old roofer, after casting his vote in south Dublin.
Analysts have said a second "No" could cost Ireland valuable goodwill from overseas investors who it relies on to fund a ballooning budget deficit.