Wednesday, 10 May 2006
Chairperson of Joint Committee on European Affairs: Statement.
My comments are directed at the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Treacy. I would like his opinion regarding the formation of one Department to deal with immigrant affairs. I listened to the contribution of the Minister, Deputy Martin. It is not good enough to say there is some co-ordination between Departments and that this may be sufficient. In the committee's experience there is very little co-ordination in some areas for dealing with immigrant affairs. It is not good enough to say it might not be a good idea to take responsibility from a Department just because it has particular expertise in an area. The committee made a unanimous decision with regard to the way in which immigrant affairs should be dealt with, whether that be the collection of data, information on working rights or an integration policy. There was clear concern that enough was not being done. The committee does not believe there is sufficient joined-up thinking between Departments to deal with an issue that is complex and diverse and which is growing daily.
Our society is undergoing enormous change. The committee believes the traditional methods of administering these changes are not evolving quickly enough and this must be stressed. There is a need for a centralised approach for dealing with issues which affect immigrants. Over the course of approximately nine months the committee had many hearings on this topic and listened to many people. It became clear to us, week after week, on an all-party basis, that there was not sufficient joined-up thinking between Departments. The Minister of State will need to come back with a more acceptable answer than just stating it is not possible to infringe on another Department's jurisdiction because it may have expertise in a particular area.
At the very least the EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development was given a taste of the passion and concern that is present in this country regarding farming issues, and this will be helpful at the very least in any negotiations with the EU Commission from now on. She will understand the real concern in this country about the future of farming. It is curious she can point the finger at representatives in this House and almost accuse them of being responsible for some of the problems in farming while in the same breath agreeing that excessive EU regulation is directly responsible for some of the concerns of farmers. This is not so. Knowing this has been the case for ten or 15 years, one would need to come up with some solutions to deal with it because it is an extremely difficult issue for farmers. Farming is in massive decline and EU directives are contributing to that decline. It is not just as a result of globalisation and the Brazilians.
With regard to the format for Europe Day, this House is a very conservative place and change of practice makes for a very lonely figure. At the least this House has demonstrated it can do things a little differently. However, with regard to justice, I still have my doubts whether this Government would go along with changes in the format of the debate. This was a change in the right direction and we have demonstrated we can do things in a different way but I still have my doubts as to whether there is an appreciation that changes in the format of debate are needed in this House. Debates in this House are usually set pieces. The format is formalised and there is very little spontaneity. The last couple of hours have not been too bad but the House needs to think long and hard about the involvement and interaction of the public. If the purpose was to reinforce the notion that European policy underlines domestic policy matters, then we have had a relatively successful day. National parliaments of member states were, for too long, the poor relations when it came to European matters. They have been the missing link in the European institutional architecture.
I thank the members of the Joint Committee on European Affairs for their assistance and contributions, in particular Deputies Andrews and Quinn. I also thank the public for their contributions over the past couple of weeks.