Dáil debates

Tuesday, 20 January 2004

European Presidency: Statements.


3:00 pm

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)

I wish the Taoiseach and the Government well in the responsibilities entrusted to them under the EU Presidency. I offer him and the Government support from this side of the House where it is appropriate. I wish him well in the onerous task he has undertaken for the next number of months.

There are four key issues I wish to raise regarding Ireland's Presidency of the EU. First, there is the constitution for Europe. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, so too must the EU. The over-zealousness of some member states in pursuing their own national agendas saw us fail to reach the necessary agreement on a constitution for Europe. I urge the Taoiseach to persuade the more recalcitrant member states that it is time to put Europe first. Cohesion and singularity of purpose are what will keep the Union strong. It is in all our interests that we reach agreement and prevent the emergence of a multispeed and multitier Europe.

We must avoid adding new fault lines to those that appeared during the Iraq war. Certain member states are still unconvinced on the constitution for Europe. However, agreement can be achieved and Ireland is the one member state that can do this. Ireland is the one country that can bridge the gap between the old and new, the aristocrats and poor relations, the first speed and second speed, the tier one and tier two. This is a marvellous opportunity for us and we must not be found lacking.

Bridging that gap will come from belief, leadership and principle. Regrettably, these three commodities are notably absent in this Administration. I hope for the sake of Ireland and our European partners, old and new, that the Government will be able, even in the short term, to acquire the necessary strength of purpose to achieve the desired agreement. The future direction of the EU now lies in its hands.

When it comes to reaching agreement, the Taoiseach would do well to remember that, though we are a small country, we are not inconsequential. If Ireland, a tiny island on the Union's western edge, can broker the conclusion of agreement on a constitution for Europe, it would offer hope and example to the many small nations joining us. We could be a perfect example of the strength of Europe, showing how a small nation can help redirect the path, even the destiny, of an entire continent. I wish the Taoiseach well in brokering an historic agreement for the peoples of Europe.

Second, there is the latest crisis in the Middle East. Since becoming leader of Fine Gael, I have said repeatedly that the European Union should play a more direct role in resolving what for the Arab thinker, the late Edward Said, was the crux of the Middle East crisis, the Palestinian issue. Europe has shown a modicum of solidarity with the Palestinian people, for example, by financially supporting the Palestinian Authority but with 2005 fast approaching and not a glimmer of the Palestinian state proposed under the EU supported road map to peace, it is time for Europe not just to give but to act. It is time for real European diplomacy, and I commend the Minister for Foreign Affairs for travelling to the region recently.

Right now, Gaza alone is a tinderbox with 1.2 million people packed into an area of 365 square kilometres but even as they are, the so-called new "Berlin Wall" is exacerbating the situation. I believe Europe has a duty to actively address this problem. For Israel, the wall is a security fence created by Yasser Arafat, the terror of Hamas and the Al-Aqsa Intifada. For the Palestinian people, the wall is an attempt by Ariel Sharon to further annex their territory and redraw the boundaries of 1967. They fear, too, that the wall could define the border of any new Palestinian state, making it a prison where Israel would control access.

Of course, our motives would not be just altruistic. There is also pragmatism involved here. The Middle East, and all its complexity, is coming closer all the time: Cyprus will join the EU in May and within 15 to 20 years, Turkey's possible accession will give the EU a border with both Iraq and Syria for the first time. That is quite a prospect.

The Council of Europe took good positions in the Gulf Wars. Europe, particularly Mediterranean Europe, has always been open to the Arab world, both in terms of culture and migration, but in the end Europe's vision, empathy and understanding of the Arab world counted for nothing. We failed to prevent a war there because while individually countries did their best, collectively we failed to bring a more enlightened view of the global interest. Europe cared but we never acted as a community. In the end, we were split and sidelined — again, a salutary lesson.

I am a hard-core European who believes that Ireland should be part of any collective EU foreign and security policy. Ireland is no longer neutral, we are merely unaligned. In the meantime, as we have not had a debate in the House on this issue, I urge the Government to make resolving the Palestinian issue a critical part of Ireland's Presidency of the EU. An apartheid 25 foot high wall, of what will be eventually 720 kilometres of fences, ditches, patrol towers, wire and concrete, should not be allowed snake along the West Bank and the Jordan Valley. The wall has met with the most serious international concern and criticism, and I look forward to a hearing of the issue by the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

The third issue I wish to raise with the Taoiseach under Ireland's Presidency is the rise of paedophilia and the research into the causes of it. Child pornography and paedophilia facilitated by the Internet is of particular concern. Ireland's last Presidency took a number of very important initiatives and the Taoiseach could do the same under his Presidency. As a father, I found it horrifying that according to Professor Max Taylor of UCC's COPINE project, it is often children who are lonely and unloved who most fall prey to paedophiles in Internet chat rooms. I am sure I speak for everyone in the House when I express outrage that every six weeks, Professor Taylor's team download up to 140,000 pornographic images of children, many of them, horrifyingly, images of babies and toddlers in terrifying, sadistic situations. These images are available publicly without charge on Internet websites. It is even more disturbing that organised crime in certain areas of eastern Europe is now controlling much of the charged child pornography Internet trade.

I want to see Ireland's Presidency take an initiative and start an investigation into what causes adults to have a sexual interest in children. There appears to be little research into what causes paedophilia. I propose that Europe push for research into this issue as a matter of urgency. This is a transnational problem of the most insidious kind and the EU could usefully take the initiative here. The Union provides resources for Internet monitoring and other activities, which is welcome. However, under his Presidency of the EU, the Taoiseach could bring this issue to a higher level.

The fourth issue I wish to raise is to suggest, respectfully, that the Taoiseach should move immediately to have EU recognition for our native language. This is not a big deal. It is merely pushing an open door. Come 1 May there will be 20 official languages in the EU, among them Slovak, Estonian, Lithuanian and Latvian. It is not the case that every document needs to be translated into the language, but we will arrive at a position where Ireland will be the only sovereign state in the European Union not to have its first official language recognised by the EU institutions, and that is quite a distinction.

Cuireann sé sin isteach go mór orm. Bhí mé thíos i gclós Chaisleán Bhaile Átha Cliath ar an gcéad lá den bhliain nuair a bhí bratach na hÉireann ag dul suas ós cionn an fhoirgnimh. Bhí mé ag ceapadh go labhrófaí abairt nó focal amháin as Gaeilge, ach níorbh é sin an rud a tharla ag an am sin.

Just before Christmas the EU advertised in the national newspapers for 350 English language secretaries. It was clear from all the advertisements that, while all duties would be carried out through English, prospective candidates were required to have knowledge of another European language. In that way, an English person with a small degree of French, or a Maltese person who speaks the official languages of Malta — English and Maltese — would easily qualify, but not so in the case of Irish people. The reason being that, in effect, unlike the Maltese, being bi-lingual in this country is no good. We must be tri-lingual, because Irish, one of Europe's oldest and richest languages, is not recognised as an official EU language.

In Ireland approximately 380,000 people speak Irish every day. Incidentally, the same number speak Maltese in Malta. In effect, under EU law, these genuine Irish speakers are deemed to speak only one language — English. More than 1.4 million people have a knowledge of Irish, yet when we apply for EU jobs, all of which require knowledge of two or more official EU languages, Ireland is caite ar leataobh, as they say. It would be hard to invent a better way of discriminating against genuinely bi-lingual Irish people in the European job market.

I was mystified by the Taoiseach's recent comments on television to Charlie Bird that his job, as he saw it, was to start out with 15 EU members and to end up with 25. Accession is already a done deal. The new members will join on 1 May. I suggest that, in his Presidency of the EU, the Taoiseach should apply himself to the real challenges, namely, the EU constitution, the Middle East, curbing paedophilia and gaining EU recognition for our native language.


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