Dáil debates

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Other Questions

Intergovernmental Conference.

3:00 pm

Photo of Martin FerrisMartin Ferris (Kerry North, Sinn Fein)
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Question 91: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position regarding the upcoming Intergovernmental Conference detailing the Government's and his Department's priorities; if they will be seeking any opt-outs, protocols or declarations during drafting negotiations at the IGC on the proposed new treaty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18766/07]

Photo of Paul KehoePaul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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Question 126: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs the nature of the opt-out secured by the Government regarding human and civil rights in the European Union; the reason this opt-out was sought; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18691/07]

Photo of Olwyn EnrightOlwyn Enright (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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Question 135: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs the number of European Union member states that have secured an opt-out in respect of the Charter of Fundamental Rights; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18692/07]

Photo of Brian O'SheaBrian O'Shea (Waterford, Labour)
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Question 156: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs if, in the context of a referendum being held on the European Constitution, there are plans to seek a derogation on the European Charter of Human Rights; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18657/07]

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister of State with special responsibility for European Affairs, Department of Foreign Affairs; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 91, 126, 135 and 156 together. Ireland is satisfied with the outcome to the recent European Council which agreed a mandate for a forthcoming Intergovernmental Conference to finalise the proposed reform treaty. The mandate secured political agreement on a range of issues connected with the new treaty. The purpose of the Intergovernmental Conference is to turn this political agreement into a legal text that can be signed before the end of the year. We will approach the upcoming negotiations in a constructive manner with a view to creating an effective European Union that is equipped to serve the interests of our citizens and meet the many challenges facing Europe in the years ahead.

The new reform treaty, when it is concluded, will contain a series of important amendments to the Treaty on European Union and the treaty establishing the European Community. These amendments will be drawn very substantially from the draft constitutional treaty agreed during the Irish Presidency in 2004. The reform treaty will allow the Union of 27 member states to function more effectively. Its principal innovations will include a president of the European Council; a high representative of the Union for foreign affairs and security policy and a newly constituted Commission.

The treaty will increase the influence of the European Parliament and also give an enhanced role to national parliaments, thus strengthening the democratic legitimacy of the European Union. It will introduce the use of qualified majority voting across a range of issues, which is necessary in a Union of 27.

Ireland fully supports the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which was a key feature of the draft constitutional treaty. The reform treaty will contain a clause confirming the legally binding status of the charter. When the UK delegation introduced a protocol at a late stage in the European Council negotiations, we considered it prudent to seek an opportunity to study its implications.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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Last week I asked the Minister of State if the Government would pursue the right to an opt-out of State aid provisions at the upcoming IGC. What point has been reached? The Minister of State said: "In general we do not like such clauses for the simple reason that it makes the process extraordinarily cumbersome. It is far better to be part of the mainstream and to negotiate positions." Will the Minister of State ensure that such an opt-out is part of the mainstream and that other countries will also benefit from an opt-out or the section will be taken out altogether? I refer to the opt-out on State aid provisions, which are overly restrictive and make it impossible for member states to use redistributive tools, such as targeted State funding, to full effect in order to achieve objectives.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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There is barely enough time for the Minister of State to reply.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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He should be able to. Last week I asked about the opt-out on police and judicial co-operation, which Britain has achieved. The Minister of State replied that Ireland must consider the implications of those arrangements for Ireland. Can he provide an update on the Government's intentions?

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister of State with special responsibility for European Affairs, Department of Foreign Affairs; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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The last point is important. Given our common legal system, it is important that we consider matters of justice and home affairs very carefully. There is no conclusion to that because the mandate was perfected in recent days. It is an issue we will continue to consider.

I do not recall Deputy Ó Snodaigh's intervention on State aids last week. When discussing the opt-in and opt-out we were referring to justice and home affairs. We have clarified the position on the charter. The point, with which I agree, has been made by several Members that the Charter of Fundamental Rights is one of the most important elements and will be an important issue in the referendum some time next year. I look forward to Deputy Ó Snodaigh giving his express support to the charter and supporting a "yes" vote in the referendum.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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It is not the charter, it is the rest of it.