Wednesday, 18 June 2008
Lisbon Treaty: Statements (Resumed)
I accept and respect the decision of the Irish people. However, I am not required to pay tribute to those who abused the politics of fear. This should be condemned. It was right that public representatives, Deputies and Senators, spoke out in regard to where they stood on the treaty. Unfortunately, not all did so.
There were presentational difficulties with the treaty. The idea of amending two fundamental treaties in a long document which was in fact a series of amendments had certain presentational difficulties. Enough has been said already in regard to the late start of the campaign. As my colleague, Deputy Joe Costello stated, the White Paper came too late. As regards anticipating the future, following the defeat of the constitutional treaty in France and Ireland, the European trade union congress suggested seven key social issues be covered in the Lisbon treaty. It succeeded in having included in the Lisbon treaty the position in regard to full employment, references to a social market economy, recognition of the social partners, full legal force for the charter on fundamental rights, the citizens' initiative, the legal base for services of general interest and the social clause. All of this was secured.
It is important in terms of the future that we do not lose what we already have. The Labour Party is part of the Party of European Socialists and subscribes to the values articulated by Poul Nyrup Rasmussen and others. The PES has emphasised the importance of having a region in world politics where there is a social floor. That is the distinction. This is not only about Europe being able to compete with every other region; it is about there being one region in the macro-political space of world politics after the unipolar moment which accepts a social floor and fundamental rights, sustainable development and takes as its aim the reduction of world poverty, makes a specific commitment in regard to climate change and so forth. These are important principles.
All I am saying, with no sense of recrimination, is that it is very important that that which was there is not lost in respect of the future shape of Europe. I said earlier that this is a European issue and not just an Irish issue. That is the exciting version of Europe. It would not be appropriate if across Europe were to be amplified the politics of fear, distortion and downright untruths that was depicted here on posters. No one should be able to blast their way into the decision moment of a referendum. If all the little right-wing groups from Austria to the United Kingdom Independence Party received a voice we would have a fearful Europe that is indistinguishable from the very thing they opposed, namely, a country always accepting international policy and the logic of a war on terrorism. It should have been understood, and I hope it will be, that foreign policy and defence — not going to war in the interests of peace — these things alone make up the definition of a peaceful region in world politics. That is totally different from a bloc that has declared a war on terrorism, that identifies enemies and axes of evil around the world. That was the choice, nothing else.
I am not required to say that we are finding fault here, there and everywhere. I believe it was a great opportunity missed. I repeat that and I reject not only the politics of fear, but also my colleagues in public life who are afraid to defend what was more than defensible and was highly recommendable.
I wish to share time with Deputy Chris Andrews.
Like the other speakers, I believe this is a very important debate. As a committed European, I am pleased to participate in it and express my solidarity with the European project which has served this country very well.
I express my respect for the verdict of the people. We live in a democracy and 53% of the electorate told us how they wished to vote. They did so and it is up to us as elected representatives to listen to those who voted.
The founding of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951, followed in 1957 by the formation of the European Economic Community after the Treaty of Rome, was intended to promote an economic reality emerging from the embers of two world wars. Those industries perceived as the greatest facilitators of further bloodshed were indeed coal and steel. Some 55 or so years on we find the issue of energy supply still high on our radar but in a different guise, with rising energy prices affecting citizens throughout the Union and calls by European leaders to tackle the challenges of supply, demand and price.
The threat of global war has long been stifled by concerted European effort but if the forefathers of European integration had known of the global challenges of climate change now facing us, they would repeat their view that European integration is the way to address these most serious challenges. However, the bright shining ideas of Schumann, Jean Monnet, René Mayer and others got a little bit stuck on the way. I have said before that sometimes there is more fudge in Europe than there ever was in Bewley's cafés. It is certainly not all paté and sprouts in Brussels. Some politicians in Europe have a great taste for political confectionery but many people in Ireland know more about Manchester United than they do about the European Union. I was in a public place recently where a man mentioned a politician named Charlie Haughey. A young boy replied: "And who does he play for?" Is there any hope that the same boy will ever know who José Manuel Barroso is? Perhaps the Lisbon vote may change that.
Today is not a day of reaction to the vote, nor will tomorrow's meeting of the European Council or the days and weeks that follow. The first step is to acknowledge the division that exists between what we want people to support and what they actually support. We must analyse the cold hard facts of poll findings and the evidence of such polling. These findings are reliable and are compiled by institutions that adhere to strict methodological guidelines. We can see where we are after that. If we are to respect and serve the people, we must first listen to the echoes from the ballot box.
Perhaps it is worth noting today that when the European Coal and Steel Community was being formed, a committed integrationist, Charles de Gaulle, opposed the pact because the common assembly of the Community was not ratified by European referendum. My colleague and party leader, the Minister for Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, alluded to the concept of a European Union-wide democratic mandate for further integration. While it might not be feasible, the lessons of history should be food for thought at this time.
My vision for Europe is one in which we recognise that the climate in the Union as founded has greatly changed. Our challenges are not those of the post-war world. Our Europe must be based not on fear, but on hope, on trust not doubt, people not bureaucrats, fair trade rather than free trade, peace not war. This is the Europe I want and in this period of reflection this is the argument on which moving forward as 27 countries should be based. I believe the people would listen to that message.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this issue. In many ways, I am very disappointed with the result. When a person puts a big effort into an event, he or she hopes that it will go in the desired way but, unfortunately, on this occasion that did not happen. My constituency colleagues, Deputies Ruairí Quinn and Lucinda Creighton, also put a huge effort into the campaign. I met them regularly on the ground, in and out of shopping centres and canvassing door to door. The last time I met Deputy Quinn was at canal bridges.
There was a multiplicity of reasons and issues which resulted in people voting "No". There is no simple answer and we can look at it in many ways till the cows come home. I picked up on a couple of main issues. One is that the treaty is a complex legal document made between 27 nations and it was extremely difficult to simplify. There were other issues completely unrelated to the European Union. In the country, people were concerned about not being able to cut their turf. Fishermen had difficulties too and farmers did serious injury to the "Yes" vote although they came out to support it in the last——
The IFA certainly built up a great deal of animosity towards Lisbon as the bogeyman of Europe. They came in on the last day but at that stage the sense among farming families appeared to be one of opposition and, unfortunately, the IFA could not turn back the tide as quickly as they had wished or had imagined they could.
One of the most significant issues I picked up on was immigration. It is a serious issue that comes up repeatedly. Somebody made the point earlier that immigration was "lurking". I do not believe it is lurking, rather that it is very much on its hind legs and about to cause severe problems unless we deal with it. Clearly, there is a disconnect between the European Union, the European project and the vast swathe of the inner city working class community. I noticed that most of the press releases for the "Yes" side were made out for The Irish Times. In many ways we were talking to ourselves and were not targeting the tabloids or trying to get our message to working class areas. We failed as a political group. All parties and all the European institutions failed and will continue to fail unless we recognise the challenges of immigration.
I imagine that most readers of The Irish Times supported the treaty but that paper connects with only a certain number of people. Such was the paper's enthusiasm and then its frustration when the campaign was not going in the way desired that I would not have been surprised to see the headline: "The People Have Spoken — The Bastards" , after the catch line of a former American politician. The Irish Times is talking to itself and, in a way, we, the Members of this House, are talking to ourselves. We must address that point.
There is an attitude of intolerance towards people who voted "No". We cannot dismiss them and we must address their fears. I do not believe for one moment that the Irish are racist. In Ringsend, a deacon will shortly be ordained who is welcomed with open arms in that area and is much loved by residents there. I do not believe for one minute that the Irish are racist, but we must speed up the appeals process. When people have no further recourse to the law, we must deport them quickly. Multiculturalism is not the way forward and strict integration is the best option. When one considers the examples of France and England, one will realise diversity has brought considerable problems. Ireland must address this matter. The European Union has received a wake-up call and if it does not heed it, we will be in serious trouble.
Fine Gael, along with all the mainstream political parties, the IFA and other farming organisations, most of the trade unions and the bishops all advocated a "Yes" vote in the referendum, yet 53.4% of voters voted "No". I fully accept this is the democratic decision of the people, but we must ask why.
I know why the people voted against the treaty in parts of west Galway. It is a typical constituency and had the same turnout and result as were evident nationally. The constituency comprises Galway city, a farming area to the east of the city and all of Connemara to the west. While all parties with the exception of one supported the treaty, there was a certain arrogance in the way they, including Fine Gael, some MEPs and others associated with Europe, presented the case for it. No longer can we say to the people that they should vote "Yes" just because we say so. The people have lost their trust in politicians and will not take them at face value. It is sometimes no wonder that they have lost their trust; it is a fact of life that they have.
It would be best if, before a treaty referendum, there was a completely independent assessment of the facts, after which voters could be urged to vote on those facts as they saw fit, bearing in mind that they would be voting in a referendum and not on a political issue. I can prove why this would be more effective. Two supporters of mine entered my office on the Monday before the referendum and asked if it would be any harm if they voted "No". I stated it would not but asked them to read an independently produced leaflet before making up their minds. I met them before voting on Thursday and both intended to vote "Yes". I did not ask them to do so; they made up their own minds as a result of me having presented to them a neutral view of the treaty. Not having presented such information was the mistake political parties made in the referendum.
Another reason the referendum result is a wake-up call is evident in Connemara. The people of Connemara, rightly or wrongly, reacted against EU directives. They reacted against one stipulating that they could not cut turf on designated bogs from 1 February this year and against another that is putting small fishermen out of business due to restrictions placed on their catch. Small inshore fishermen are being put out of business completely. The voters reacted in several other ways also.
About five weeks before the referendum, I was at a meeting in Maam Cross called by the hill sheep farmers over a directive stipulating that they must have their sheep off the mountains for five months of the year. Over 450 farmers were present. They invited the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to the meeting — I am sorry Deputy White is no longer in the Chamber — but his officials wrote to say he regretted that he must decline the invitation as there were alternative established procedures. They also stated: "It has also been our experience that convening mass meetings of farmers, particularly in the evenings, is not constructive to a good debate." I do not know when one can call mass meetings of farmers if not in the evening.
Let me outline two examples of vote results in Connemara. In Ardmore, Kilkieran, 37 voted "Yes" and 155, or approximately 81%, voted "No". In Ballyconneely, 56 voted "Yes" and 181 voted "No", despite the fact that a Minister and five Fianna Fáil councillors from the area were all promoting a vote in favour of the treaty. In Ballyconneely, for example, the local councillor, a very popular man and supporter of the Government, had his photograph on posters on all the poles advocating a "Yes" vote, yet the treaty was rejected by 76% of the voters in his area.
It is worth hearing the reason for this rejection. For 200 years there had been pony racing on Aillebrack beach at Ballyconneely but it was banned three years ago by the Office of Public Works because there was a danger of a rare plant being eliminated. The people reacted against this decision. The races had facilitated an annual family outing for 200 years in this isolated area of Connemara and they never affected the rare plant because it would not be there today if they did. The pony races only took up a 20-foot wide strip of the wide 600 acre beach or commonage. No wonder the people voted "No" against the wishes of the Minister, the local councillor and me — I have some say in the area because I get a good vote there.
The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government must take the Connemara and Mayo farmers seriously. There were many farmers from Mayo, including Westport, at the meeting in Maam Cross. Deputy Beverley Flynn, who is present, should note this. If the Minister and EU do not address the real concerns that exist, we will have no hope of ratifying a treaty such as that presented in the referendum.
I compliment Deputies Kenny and Gilmore on forcing this debate today. "Democracy" and "the undisputed right of our citizens to engage in the democratic process" are terms that are tossed about in everyday conversation and are taken as givens in society. However, an important part of any democratic process is empowerment through knowledge. Asking people to vote on something that not only they, but also their political leaders in Fianna Fáil do not understand is flying in the face of democracy as we understand it. To put in mildly, for the leader of a country and its EU Commissioner to claim not to have read or understood a treaty on which the electorate was being asked to vote was bizarre.
To compound their other mistakes, the Taoiseach and Commissioner Charlie McCreevy made the strange decision to admit that they had not even read the treaty. The Tánaiste did not even know the details of the Commissioners issue. At no stage was the Fianna Fáil alignment – should I say weak alignment? — with Europe highlighted on its posters. This omission points to its dissociation from the European Union. To base our economic future and wider involvement as a member of the Union on such shaky ground cannot be taken lightly. The bottom line is that we now have a Government that is effectively paralysed by the voice of a public that declined to be led by the nose into unknown and uncharted territory.
The information deficit that resulted from the Government's inactivity opened the door to the misinformation campaign of groups such as Cóir, which played on the fears of a public adrift in a sea of incomprehensible professional language. Rumour and counter-rumour abounded about the treaty and abortion, playing on the religious and moral feelings of communities. The Government handed the reins of power to groups running deliberately orchestrated misinformation campaigns. The Fianna Fáil Government failed us and failed to protect our citizens from abuse. There was no Government, there is no Government and we have been detached from Europe.
In the midst of the stirring of emotions, where were the Ministers? Where were their words of reason and reassurance? Where was the leadership we have a right to expect from the Government? This is a tired Government and we are suffering the consequences of its inability to lead and inspire. Government in this country is now just an illusion as we stand on the edge of economic fallout, rapidly increasing unemployment rates, rising crime rates and anti-social behaviour without viable or strong leadership.
I foresaw the result of the Lisbon treaty vote as far back as April and at that time slammed the Government for its lack of communication with the electorate and its failure to inform the public properly regarding the issues. On 29 April, shocked by the lack of input by the Government parties, I requested the adjournment of the House under Standing Order 32 in the hope of generating some Government activity that would lead to the proper and very necessary removal of the information deficit.
I highlighted the failure of the Government to ensure that Irish citizens were given the means to make an informed decision on the Lisbon treaty as the level of public understanding of the treaty was very poor and I pointed out that two thirds of the population did not understand the treaty text, which they were obliged to access themselves as the Government did not give them a copy. Considering the fiasco regarding the Nice treaty, this again constituted gross mismanagement by the Government.
The Government's shocking lack of input continued to the inevitable conclusion that we have seen, despite the early start by Fine Gael and the Opposition, which got under way after Christmas, in which Fine Gael held almost 60 public meetings and distributed 700,000 pieces of literature. Far from rushing into action, the Government waited, with its head in the sand——
——while "No" campaigners, including three persuasive monkeys, swung into action. Embroiled in the controversy surrounding Deputy Bertie Ahern, Fianna Fáil and the Government started their campaign extremely late, three weeks before the referendum, to be precise.
To add insult to injury, the Taoiseach, Deputy Brian Cowen, gave no personal backing to the treaty campaign as "Cowen" posters or billboards were noticeably absent. No one has told me that he or she has seen such posters at any location in Ireland.
At the outset, I agree with the comments of the previous speaker and Deputy Chris Andrews on the disconnect experienced by the Irish public in respect of Ireland and the operation of the European Union. I felt it was palpable and it came through to me quite forcefully during the campaign. As for the referendum on the Lisbon treaty, members of the public demonstrated to me many times that the concept of the referendum was intangible and there was nothing in it for them. All of us who were on the "Yes" side fell down collectively in demonstrating the positive aspects of the treaty. While everyone is aware of how much we have benefited from Europe, people also know of and have experienced downsides to our membership of the European Union. While the positive aspects obviously outweighed the negative aspects, the latter tend to stay in people's minds for longer. From that perspective, we should have sold it better, but we must try to move forward.
I greatly regret the result of the referendum on the Lisbon treaty. It now is being perceived as a major disaster in respect of Ireland's position in Europe and as a severe setback to the European Union as a whole, particularly when one recalls the seven years of great effort made by many to secure agreement on the contents of the treaty by the member states.
I accept the decision of the people, even though in many cases the "No" campaign was based on gross and dishonest misrepresentation of some of the issues at stake. The result certainly has shocked severely all sections of our community, as well as the peoples of other EU member states. On Friday last, even before the counting of votes concluded, the European Commission President, Mr. Barroso, called on the Taoiseach, Deputy Brian Cowen, to offer a way forward on Ireland's position to his colleagues at the Heads of State and Government summit in Brussels on Thursday, 19 June.
The position to be clarified now is whether Ireland stays at the centre of EU decision-making or moves to the sidelines as a marginal player with declining influence. The first question for us is how to protect Ireland's place in Europe. The second question for the EU and Ireland concerns the future of the draft Lisbon treaty. I believe that all the other member states will approve the Lisbon treaty in their own democratic fashion in the coming months. Consequently, Ireland will be on its own, with 26 states for and one against. In a joint statement, President Sarkozy of France and Chancellor Merkel of Germany have offered a conciliatory response to Ireland and this is most welcome, as far as it goes. However, one must question whether the 26 EU member states will be prepared to reopen or renegotiate the Lisbon proposals. The answer in this regard certainly must be "No".
The Taoiseach, Deputy Brian Cowen, is being challenged to put forward those difficulties that must be considered. However, as of now, no one from the disparate "No" groups has identified one or two legitimate concerns that come within the ambit of the provisions and which might be considered by the EU member states to help Ireland out of the position in which it finds itself. It is the responsibility of all those parties and individuals who rejected the treaty to clarify their demands immediately, bearing in mind the need for an Irish consensus on the issue, as well as a European consensus. The choice for Ireland might be to seek clarifications and guarantees that might go to another referendum but which might not get through with the support of the people. Then we could consider the consequences of opting out of the Lisbon treaty provisions voluntarily or, for that matter, we would be obliged to consider the option of being excluded from the treaty provisions, were the other 26 states to decide to pursue them in some other fashion.
Worryingly, there is an emerging scenario against which we must guard at all costs, namely, some form of two-speed or two-tier system developing, irrespective of whichever option is decided on ultimately. It would be an unmitigated disaster were Ireland to end up with second-class membership of Europe in a slower lane. Undoubtedly, it would be with reduced influence and goodwill and without the political firepower to defend our vital national interests. All those on the "No" side should note there is no conflict between being a good Irishman and a good European. I am sure the best wishes of a great majority of Members and the people in general will be with the Taoiseach tomorrow and on Friday in Brussels.
I also welcome the opportunity to speak on this debate. While Members in various constituencies will be able to put forward different reasons people voted "No", the single clear result of this campaign is that more than 50% of the Irish people took the time, via the ballot box, to indicate they would not accept the Lisbon treaty. This is the single matter on which one can be absolutely certain. One is uncertain, nationally and in respect of all the constituencies, as to the reason the Irish people decided to do so. However, for those who took the trouble to do so, it is important that Members should respect the wishes of the Irish people and should consider everything seriously before moving forward. I welcome the opportunity afforded to Members to state in this House that they absolutely respect the wishes of the Irish people. Members have heard their voice and will take the time to analyse the reason they made this decision before any move is made to try to bring about a resolution to the position in which we find ourselves.
Throughout the campaign, a number of issues arose, particularly in my constituency, to which Members on the other side of the House have alluded. I come from a coastal community in which there are many fishermen, farmers and turf cutters. Moreover, many local issues that had nothing to do with the Lisbon treaty certainly crept into the debate in recent months. Undoubtedly, the downturn in Ireland's economic circumstances also had an impact on people's sentiments at this time.
In addition, the major positive aspect of the Lisbon treaty, which was reform of the institutions within Europe, simply did not seem to excite or grip the minds of the Irish people. It seemed to be much easier for the "No" side to pick off different aspects of the treaty on which to make outlandish comments. The more such comments were repeated in the media, the more people seemed to take such issues on board and it was extremely difficult to break down the negative feelings that were brought into play with regard to the referendum. This was highly unfortunate because for something of such significance for the country, it was important to fight the campaign with accurate facts.
One of the great disappointments in respect of the Lisbon treaty's failure is that many of its provisions were far better for Ireland than the position in which we now find ourselves, particularly as we now will fall back on the Nice treaty. One issue that arose about which posters were put up in my constituency concerned the loss of a Commissioner. This issue gripped people, who were concerned that losing a Commissioner for five out of every 15 years would constitute a major loss. Undoubtedly, losing a Commissioner for five out of 15 years is not a positive development. It was already accepted following the Nice treaty that there would be a reduction in the number of Commissioners. However, that treaty did not clearly identify how that rota between the different countries would operate. One of the positives of the Lisbon treaty was that this issue was set out clearly and gave equality to smaller states like Ireland. Unfortunately, points like this were lost throughout the campaign.
It may be the case that the "Yes" side was not as vigorous as early as it should have been and that the "No" campaigners got their negative points out there very early on. "Yes" campaigners were fighting the negative comments throughout. We seemed to be on the back foot the whole time. We were contradicting and correcting negative opinions put out by those seeking a "No" vote. As a result, the benefits of this treaty did not seem to get into the minds of the Irish people, which is regrettable.
One positive aspect is that the vast majority of people on the "No" side have been at pains to point out that they are pro-Europe. We must look at this carefully because the way forward for Ireland must occupy our efforts. It is important that Ireland stays at the centre of Europe, which even seems to be the view of those on the "No" side. It is critical that the Taoiseach, when he is in Brussels this week, tries to bring the other countries in Europe on side to allow us the time and space to analyse the outcome and to maintain Ireland's position at the centre of Europe, and to find a positive resolution that can satisfy the needs of the Irish people, but also satisfy our 26 colleagues in the European Union.
It was said in this campaign that there was no plan B and it is clear that many people did not believe that at the time. However, there is no plan B and we must find a resolution to this issue. All sides of the House must do so. There is no point blaming different sides at this stage. We could all argue that in our own constituencies. The most important thing is that the vast majority of elected representatives wanted a "Yes" vote. Let us work to protect our interests and to protect the interests of the Irish people in Europe.
I am delighted to have an opportunity to speak on the outcome of the referendum that was held last Thursday. As a Deputy from Clare, I pay tribute to the Clare electorate as one of the few constituencies that voted in favour of the treaty. This was due to a united approach by the four Dáil Deputies from the county, and we had a very effective campaign. Clare people are very pro-European anyway. We have an international airport that is very dependent on Europe and other areas for flights.
There was a big turnout in Clare and 52% of those who voted did so in favour of the treaty. I was disappointed with the outcome of the national vote, but the people have voted and we must respect their views. I do not believe people want out of Europe. They want to continue to be part of the EU because it has been very important to us since we joined in 1973. We have done well out of it. We received enormous sums of money and built much infrastructure over the years, including 500 km of motorway.
Political parties will be doing their own post mortems on why the referendum was defeated. Personally, I believe that if a referendum was held in any of the other 26 countries, it would more than likely be defeated as well. I spoke to some of our colleagues at the Council of Europe last week and they echoed the same sentiments. Referendums are difficult because people often use them as a protest against the Government of the day. This referendum was quite different to previous polls as there was something in them for people. There was no new institution created by this referendum because it was really a house-keeping exercise. One of the founder members of the European project, Jean Monnet, stated that if he were to begin again, he would do so with education. That is the lesson for politicians here. We did not explain the treaty to the people sufficiently.
There was much information and many meetings were held by the political parties and the forum on Europe. However, the information was quite complex. Even the booklet presented by the Department of Foreign Affairs was quite complex; it was not very readable for the ordinary person. There was also a late start to the "Yes" campaign. The major Government party had its own domestic problems and we are getting to a stage where people do not believe what politicians say anymore. All the major political parties and most of the media were backing this campaign, yet we could not get it through.
It is important to point out that this treaty was not imposed on us. It was negotiated by the 27 member states and each government had to compromise. However, I believe that we got a good deal from the treaty. While it was not perfect, it took seven years to negotiate and it was not imposed on us. The "No" campaigners were saying that the eurocrats were telling us what to do, but who are the eurocrats? They must be blaming the Commission because the Council of Ministers represent the different governments and the European Parliament is elected by the people. They are blaming the Commission, but say that we will be losing a Commissioner.
There are many questions to be answered. Let us take some time to reflect on what has happened. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Martin, did well with his counterparts last Monday in Luxembourg. Let us hope the Taoiseach gets a good reception on Thursday with his counterparts in Europe. We may get one more chance, but that will be it. Let us wait and see what happens on Thursday, but I was disappointed by the result last week.
Deputy Breen began his contribution by saying how proud he was that the people of County Clare voted "Yes", and I am delighted for him that they did. My own constituency had the highest "No" vote in the country, with a 66% "No" vote, even though we also had a very united campaign among the politicians favouring a "Yes" vote. However, the more we united, the bigger the "No" vote grew. That in itself says something to us all.
It is very important that the House has this debate today and that people speak freely. They should not engage in the kind of tit-for-tat politics that some see as the repercussion of this. The country is facing a very serious issue and we need to reflect upon it and find a way forward. We need to be united in the way we handle it. There is a very important line in the Constitution which states that the people are sovereign and we should always be reminded of it. The people have spoken on this subject. They have clearly said that they reject the Lisbon treaty and not only must we respect their wish, we must now implement it. That is a very difficult task for the Government and for this House because even if the Government attempted renegotiation, where does it start? What does it look for to be included and excluded?
I hope that people in this House follow the excellent contribution made by Hans-Gert Pöttering in the European Parliament yesterday, when he sensibly stated that people should be given time to work it out and not get into the blame game. Where do we go from here? I want to know the views of the 26 member states about whether their parliaments want to ratify this treaty. It is crucial that the ratification process reaches a conclusion. I do not think Ireland should act as some sort of colonial power in deciding that one country should stop that ratification process simply because we voted it down. It is crucial that we come to the end of ratification to see how many countries have decided, in their own way, to ratify the process. It would be ludicrous to put the majority of this treaty, or an amended treaty, to the Irish public again, as happened in the case of Nice, on the basis that the people have voted in a substantial way. The next choice we face is inextricably linked with the European Parliament elections next year. That is the next mandate the Irish people will give when they send 13 men and women to the European Parliament on their behalf. I am sorry, it is 12 men and women. I was adding in another seat for Dublin.
That is the next direct mandate that Irish people will give to the European Parliament. One of the most important aspects of the treaty will be the new powers given to the Parliament. I do not see parliamentarians elected to the European Parliament next year wishing to throw away the new opportunities and powers they have. If the 12 men and women elected to serve the Irish people in the next European Parliament are minded to go forward with some aspects of this treaty, particularly when it comes to parliamentary accountability in the European Parliament, we would need to look at it again. If it comes to a stark choice at that stage between establishing a two-speed Europe, where Ireland will be on its neo-nationalist edge or going back fully into the new Europe as envisaged, I believe the Irish people will vote resoundingly for the latter position because they will see it to be in their interests to be at the heart of the European project and part of this new structure. I believe the Irish people will reject a two-speed Europe whenever and if ever that test comes. However, the next test, the European elections, will be crucial as to who we elect. Will we elect the likes of Mr. Ganley and his ragbag coalition or people who know exactly where we want to take this country in terms of the challenges it faces?
I wish to share time with Deputy Mattie McGrath, with the permission of the House.
I welcome this debate and regret the result of the referendum. As regards the campaign in County Galway, it was very united, with all the major political parties trying to secure a "Yes" result. When people say that Europe is irrelevant or a long way away, I always think of the issues of the day. One of the major issues that surfaced during the last number of weeks — and it is still very relevant — was the question of energy and energy supplies. The idea was strongly promoted as regards countries working together for security of energy supplies. This was very relevant and particularly apposite as regards trying to get foreign direct investment into Ireland, to create more jobs.
I was reminded by many people during the campaign that there were over 2 million people working in Ireland, 1 million more that at the time we joined the EEC. That shows the good relationship that has persisted between Ireland and Europe and the quality of investment we have enjoyed since we joined. Our tax policies are very relevant to the whole job creation effort. There was an attempt to undermine the tax situation, which we have always maintained must be a matter for ourselves, and that should be made very clear.
One issue that is very relevant as regards Europe is the whole question of cross-border crime and the fact that Lisbon had proposals in this regard. In this regard, the question of illegal immigration and the trafficking of people, arms and drugs, affect all member states. Deputy Michael D. Higgins, in particular, made a very strong case throughout the campaign as regards the European Union's Charter of Fundamental Rights. This sets out the fundamental rights of citizens of Europe, including non-discrimination and equality, the right to life, prohibition of torture and respect for private and family life. This was an issue which was very important to put before the people. It was emphasised that the strengthening of national parliaments was important, as was the strengthening of the European Parliament. It is not just a question of the major players supporting the treaty. The Small Firms Association was very clear as regards Ireland's future in terms of Europe.
I was intrigued by the manner in which the issue of the veto was dealt with in the campaign. Libertas was saying there was no veto, while the IFA wanted it used immediately. Obviously, both organisations could not be right. To the credit of the major political parties, when they went out lobbying for a "Yes" vote they told the truth about the Lisbon treaty. There is no doubt that fears were raised as regards conscription. I heard it in Galway and on "Morning Ireland". People were asked what their worries were as they left polling stations and this issue came up. What was being said was totally untrue. Earlier today I heard someone quoting Frances Black's song, "All the lies you told me". Perhaps Leonard Cohen put it somewhat more subtly, when he said at the weekend in Dublin, "There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in". I certainly hope we shall find a way to let the light get in and find a way forward, but it is not going to be easy.
One of the issues people criticised was the fact that the treaty contained a few lines on climate change and overseas development assistance. As a Deputy who has worked in that area, I welcome the fact that there is a legal basis for including it in the Lisbon treaty, since climate change in particular is an enormous challenge facing humanity. It will impact and threaten the lives and safety of hundreds of millions, possibly billions, of people globally, through famine, flood and disease — and I am very glad that it is included. It was there at Ireland's behest and great credit is due to the people who negotiated the treaty and included that particular issue. I want to congratulate the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Micheál Martin, on his meeting last Monday. I hope that it is the start of some progress to be made by the Taoiseach and himself in the future.
I want to thank the Irish people for engaging in the debate and for the high voter turnout on this treaty. We must reflect on the results. I thank Deputy Micheál Martin for his meeting last Monday and wish the Taoiseach and his Ministers well in the quest for a solution.
People appear to have voted "No" for a wide variety of reasons and one cannot point to one issue. There was much scaremongering on the "No" side on issues such as abortion, euthanasia, taxation and neutrality. There was a suggestion from the "No" side that we could get a better deal by voting "No". The fact is that Ireland was party to this treaty. We have been given assurances on issues such as abortion, neutrality and taxation, and there is no panacea. Lisbon, in effect, was plan B.
The "Yes" side's argument was much more difficult because the Lisbon treaty did not seek to do anything radical. Rather, it was a document which sought to accommodate a 27-member EU that could be run efficiently and effectively. It was a document that was necessary for an expanded EU and made the Union more democratic. While I welcome the engagement of all the political parties — the majority of which were in favour of a "Yes" vote — Fine Gael is playing the blame game here today. Deputy Bannon, for instance, has said in this House exactly the opposite to what really happened in Country Longford. I have been asked to say this by my colleague. A good campaign was run in Longford and the Taoiseach visited the county and canvassed with Fianna Fáil supporters. Unlike Fianna Fáil, Deputy Bannon never even put up a poster, but I am not going to get into the blame game. I believe we should not do so but instead go forward united because the whole world is watching us. We need to focus on what we can do from here. There is no single message because of the enormous range of issues raised on the "No" side and the major differences between the campaigning groups. We need time to reflect on what the result of the referendum means for Ireland and its future direction. A majority of member states have already fully ratified the treaty. They have a right to say where they want this to go and we cannot dictate to them.
There is a lack of knowledge about the institutions of Europe and people need to be better informed. This is a fundamental reason that many people voted "No". There is a disconnect between the institutions and the Irish public. Business people feel particularly disconnected with the amount of bureaucracy and legislation that comes down the line from Europe. I believe that Ireland is too zealous in implementing EU regulations unlike some other member states. In many cases people said they voted "No" because they were not sure what the treaty contained.
Yesterday the Taoiseach stated that for 35 years much of Ireland's place in the international arena has been realised through membership of the European Union. Throughout that time, the people have been largely comfortable with the overall direction of the Union. While I respect the decision of the Irish people last Thursday, I believe the EU has been the most effective and advanced response to globalisation. If the train is leaving, we cannot afford to miss it.
The rejection of the Lisbon treaty means that Ireland must examine where it is going and consult and engage with those who voted "No". Most commentators agree Ireland has benefited from its engagement with Europe, but I am not sure the Irish electorate or those who campaigned for a "No" vote were aware of how much so.
The Ireland of 2008 is unrecognisable to the small inward looking country that first joined the EEC in 1973. The European Coal and Steel Community, established in 1952, was to help economic growth and cement peace between France and Germany, historic enemies. It worked well, with iron production increasing fourfold during the 1950s. When coal production declined, the ECSC made provision to retrain hundreds of thousands of affected miners. It was the systems of social management such as early retirement, mobility grants and training that greatly helped in times of economic crises. At the same time in Ireland, thousands were forced to leave their families, wives and children to seek work across the water. Ireland's only way forward is in the European Union.
We are faced with two questions, why "No" and how "Yes"? I am speaking in my capacity as a Labour Party Member and as chairperson of the Alliance for Europe, a civil society representing all "Yes" parties, business groups, trade unions, farmers' representatives and other activist groups. The alliance had the help of prominent personalities from all sides of the political divide such as Pat Cox, Garret FitzGerald, Brigid Laffan, Blair Horan and Brendan Butler. It was an active campaigning organisation and will publish a report on this shortly. For ease of reference, the alliance put up the yellow posters across the country.
There are many reasons people voted "No" in the referendum. The problem, as Deputy Brian Hayes stated, is that there is no coherent argument or reason to link them into a positive or constructive position. This is the dilemma we face. The first Nice referendum had a less than 37% turnout and there was a misconception as to what was contained in the safeguards regarding neutrality — Members will remember the "No Conscription" posters. After its rejection, we were able to deal with that because the second Nice referendum was an intelligible and comprehensive response. It allowed us to discount the perennial anti-European voters. We were able to fix the Nice treaty with the help of our European partners. A higher turnout in the second referendum also helped as complacency was manifest on the "Yes" side during the first referendum.
Last Thursday, there was no complacency, particularly with the 53% turnout. There was raw anger over many issues which I do not have the time to analyse — that is for another day. I want to concentrate on what will happen next.
The European Union has been examining its own institutional reform for the past seven years. I do not detect any appetite to stop this train to begin the process again. I agree with Deputies Collins and Brian Hayes that the remaining eight member states will proceed with ratifying the treaty. As we speak, the UK parliament is in the process of doing so.
In several months, 26 member states will have said "Yes" to the Lisbon treaty while Ireland has said "No". Where does that leave Ireland? What would Ireland do if it was part of the 26 while, say, Malta or Luxembourg had said "No" to the treaty? What would be the response from the House? Whatever politeness our European partners show us, the train of European institutional reform is far too important to be derailed by a vote that we cannot even explain.
I hope the Taoiseach will derive some comfort from the contributions on this side of the House when he meets Heads of Government tomorrow at the European Council meeting. I hope his departmental staff will equip him with the necessary array of quotes from across the spectrum of the House. I entreat the Ministers present that this request be conveyed because the Taoiseach will need all the help he can get.
There will be another time and place to examine what went wrong with the referendum and engage, if one wants, in the blame game. It would be a pointless exercise but it might massage people's consciences. Should we have a new referendum or a new relationship with the 26 member states? A new vote on the same issue, it seems more likely, would be a non-runner. The other 26 member states would not wait too long for that either.
We must live with the consequences of our negative vote. As my party's leader, Deputy Gilmore, stated, Ireland is now facing its biggest diplomatic challenge since the end of the Second World War. Both sides must recognise the extent and the scale of that challenge. We must find ways of working together. The alternative is that Ireland will become a semi-detached member of the European Union and I believe that even the most ardent "No" campaigners did not want such an outcome.
The language used by the institutions of the European Union is not understood by the general populace or politicians. A practical example of this would be to ask any Member what the co-decision procedure means. I am sure the majority would find it difficult to explain. If one cannot explain the co-decision procedure, how can one explain what the Lisbon treaty means for enhancing the powers of the European Parliament? How can one explain that the treaty would give more powers to the Houses of the Oireachtas? If that language deficit exists, it is difficult for the general populace to latch on to an idea of what the treaty means.
I supported the treaty because it aims to enhance the powers of the European Parliament, make the European Council more transparent in its dealings and give, by extension, more powers to the people. It would address the issues that turf cutters, fishermen, farmers and others have because the European Parliament, and by extension the people, would have extended powers. However, we voted "No" to that. Therefore, we need to ask ourselves how we should start to educate ourselves as to how the European Union works and what is the inter-relationship between the Council of Ministers, the European Commission and the European Parliament and how this inter-relationship and pooling of sovereignty affects us as citizens of the European Union.
The argument of sovereignty was used against the treaty. When we joined in 1973, we did so on the basis not that we were giving up our sovereignty but that we were pooling our sovereignty and becoming part of a decision-making process of which we were also members and stakeholders. This treaty was going to enhance that very provision but, as other speakers have said, we found ourselves on the back foot, rebutting arguments that were spurious in the main. I respect people's decision to vote "No". I have to respect that decision because if there is a fundamental lack of understanding as to how the institutions work, how can a person buy into and believe in the process? The question is how we are going to address this attitude and make people believe in the process. Will there now be a complete recasting of our relationship with the European Union? Do we now proceed backwards into a process of intergovernmentalism or do we enhance and deepen the process by means of inter-institutionalism? This is the question that needs to be asked.
I found it difficult to explain that very relationship to people on the doorsteps. We must wait for the time when the people of Ireland understand the positive aspects of that relationship and we begin to use a language that does not regard Brussels as some foreign entity but merely as a city in which decisions are taken by us as equal partners to a decision-making process that is the European Union. Until we begin to decipher the language and change the language we use and make it more amenable and understandable to people, we will continue to have this deficit.
I am delighted to have this opportunity to contribute to this debate. I was unable to participate earlier this morning as I was attending a meeting of the Joint Committee on Health and Children. One of the issues being discussed at the committee meeting was risk equalisation. I have made the point before in different fora that there are probably about ten people in the country who understand risk equalisation but most people know it is good for us and it makes health insurance affordable, particularly for sicker and older people. I can see a connection between risk equalisation and the subject we are discussing.
Due to the fact that we are democrats we accept the will of the people and this will be reflected in the Taoiseach's deliberations tomorrow. We got a result last week but we certainly do not have an answer. The challenge is to work with our colleagues in the EU to find an answer but it is not quite clear what is that answer. It is not just about treaty-making or law-making. It is about how we connect our citizens and our strategic interests of security and competitiveness, environmental issues and migration with the concerns and values of ordinary citizens.
We belong to a union of democracies. Unlike the United Nations, the European Union is a union of democracies, of people who share our values and our perspectives and with whom we share a common history. One would think during the debate that we belonged to this organisation that was always out to get us but the experience is very different. I stated during the debate — it was said by someone in Fine Gael which I repeated — that influence is worth far more than vetoes. We will never succeed in Ireland on the basis of our size, whether it is in the European Parliament, in the European Commission or in the Council of Ministers meetings.
We succeed because we have been strategic in the alliances we have formed with others who think similarly to us and those alliances change. For instance, our alliance in agricultural issues is with the French and in taxation matters we form alliances with the British and others. During the debate we were hearing arguments from people who had an opportunity to vote for Irish people — when David Byrne was nominated as Commissioner he was voted against by them or when Pat Cox as an Independent Member was proposed as President of the European Parliament, an Irish Member voted against him yet that former Irish Member was telling us all why it was so important to have the power to nominate somebody. This is a person whose record proves they have not the capacity to support somebody who did not seem to come from their particular perspective.
I do not wish to be drawn into rehashing the campaign because it is over and as a democrat I accept the result but I am deeply disappointed. As Deputy Quinn said we must all reflect on the fact it was a large turnout for a referendum. Unlike the first referendum on the Nice treaty where there was complacency on all our parts and where the turnout was poor we believed that a better campaign which was better organised and more structured would produce a better turnout and a different result and so it did. However, on this occasion there was a relatively high turnout and 300,000 more people voted "No" on this occasion and many of them for the first time. I accept it is too early to analyse the reason for a whole new group of 300,000 people who have now voted "No". We need to reflect on this.
It is often the case that when the courts interpret the law as enacted by this institution, they look to the debates that took place to discover the motivation. We need to have some robust research carried out in order to inform all of us on the exact reasons people voted "No". I agree there were domestic reasons and there were also confused reasons. I heard everything talked about from abortion to neutrality and I have heard those reasons in every debate. Migration is certainly an issue and immigration was an issue in some working-class parts of this city. However, other people voted "No" for none of those reasons and from the perspective of teaching "them" a lesson, whatever that means, or that we had the luxury to do so with the comfort of knowing we were still going to belong to the EU in any event.
It is difficult to see where we go from here. If the Deputies from 25 out of the 26 counties in the country wanted to proceed in a certain direction and one county was holding us all up, I can imagine that a poor view would be taken in this House.
I know our European colleagues will express solidarity because it is a union of democracies, of people who understand the importance of elections and of consulting the electorate and accepting the outcome. However, they will equally be impatient to move forward because we all know that the manner in which the Union operates with 27 member states is not effective. It has taken us seven years, more than 200 politicians and 27 governments, to be able to succeed in negotiating the Lisbon treaty. We know how difficult treaty-making is within the European Union.
Tomorrow the Taoiseach will reflect the will of the people. It is traditional on occasions like this that all parties who have been in Government will support the Taoiseach when he is on the international stage. I have heard of possible efforts being made to gazump what is going to happen there and I hope that does not happen. If there is anything we need to do now it is that we need to move forward together on a realistic basis, recognising our limitations and our strengths.
Colleagues in the European Union from member states which have recently joined, who remember vividly as young adults growing up in countries where Communism was the norm and where today they take their children to museums that were formerly torture chambers, in particular know the significant developments that have taken place on this Continent over the past 50 years. They, more than most, appreciate what the European Union signifies.
I do not believe the vote was a vote for isolation or a desire to become more insular or to disconnect from Europe. However, I do not see a simple solution to the dilemma we face. I said during the campaign and I believe it to be the case in terms of investment and dealing with investors. It queers the pitch and makes it more difficult to explain Ireland's position within the European Union.
Deputy Quinn mentioned the alliance which had good posters, but many of them alleged things about the Lisbon treaty that were completely and utterly false. I would like to see us fighting election and referendum campaigns on the basis of facts. While it may be arrogant to suggest this, if we had concentrated on the facts, we would have won but we had to deal time and again with the issues of neutrality — that our young people would be conscripted — abortion and euthanasia.
One of my Dáil colleagues said a woman had told him, "I trust you, but I don't trust those other people, as they will give us abortion." These serious matters were alleged by people who were well funded to put up posters throughout the country. That is a great pity.
I wish to comment on the Commissioner issue. There are 27 members of the Commission and, to be frank, there is not a substantial job for all of them. That is the reality. It would be much better for Ireland to have a Commissioner for ten out of every 15 years with a substantial portfolio. The Commission operates on the basis of qualified majority voting. The idea that having somebody there, regardless of what portfolio they hold, is a success is naive. The United States of America which has a population of 300 million has 15 departments of state. Commissioners need to have a meaningful role, whether they are nominated from Ireland or elsewhere.
It is good that we are having this debate. It is good from the Taoiseach's perspective and that of the country. This matter has been debated elsewhere, including in the European Parliament, although I regret some of the comments made there today about the Irish Commissioner, all of which is unhelpful. The last thing those who are pro-Europe need to do is turn on each other. We need to work together as good colleagues in a spirit of solidarity to find an answer to the result that the people delivered last Thursday. The sooner we can turn our collective minds to this, the better.
I, too, am happy we are having this debate. It is important to have it before the Taoiseach goes to Brussels to meet other Heads of Government tomorrow. I hope we will have another when he returns.
I could not agree more with the final remarks of the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, that those who care about the future of the European Union and Ireland's place in it need to work together. This is not a time for recrimination or a petty blame game in terms of playing party politics. This is a crisis that Ireland caused, although people are perfectly entitled to vote "No". That is how democracy works but it is not always convenient. It challenges us. In addition, it requires leadership, direction and trust. Many of those aspects were not sufficiently in evidence on the "Yes" side during the campaign, for various reasons on which we may touch. However, I would prefer to focus on what needs to be done, rather than what has happened.
Last Thursday the people made a definite choice and said "No" to the Lisbon reform treaty package on offer. The treaty took six or seven years of negotiation to put together, involving significant involvement by Ireland in the process. Ireland made a mistake last week, although I may be accused of being arrogant in saying this. Of course, I accept the decision. For what it is worth, the people also made a mistake in the last general election but that is a decision l must respect also.
What makes me so deeply disappointed with the outcome last week is that the "Yes" campaign failed. My party suffered a loss and will have to address those concerns. The depressing reality is that the people's trust in politics and their political leaders simply evaporated in the campaign. It is depressing that many simply did not understand the treaty but decided to trust another side rather than the mainstream political parties. The most depressing element, however, is that 500 million people in the European Union are struggling to bring about the necessary reforms to prepare the Continent and this country for challenges that lie ahead. That process has suffered a big setback and in that context, Ireland is in the eye of the storm but we have chosen to be there. While many realise the consequences of a "No" vote, many others who voted "No" did not realise them. We need to be at the centre in finding a solution. If we do not find a path forward, what happened last Thursday will mark a fundamental change, a watershed and a new direction for Irish foreign policy in terms of how Ireland is viewed not only at European level but also globally.
The foreign affairs brief is dismissed by some as being irrelevant to their lives. They may ask what is has to do with the people of Carrigaline, Castlebar or Donnybrook. This foreign policy decision, however, will have a huge influence on the life of every person in the country and his or her children when they grow up. This is about where Ireland and the European Union will be in five or ten years' time. The potential threat is that Ireland will be the catalyst for significantly damaging the way in which the Union does its business and the way in which large and small member states interact. It can also damage the consensus building that has been the basis for so many positive developments in the last 50 years in the European Union, and in the past 35 years here.
The European Union has delivered a quality of life that we take for granted. We take it for granted that countries will come to one another's assistance when necessary. When there are natural disasters such as floods or the outbreak of disease, we take if for granted that countries will help one another. Whether we like it, countries have come together to agree that if the European Union is to continue to be successful, reform is necessary to maintain that momentum.
The first 50 years of the European Union were all about the idealism following the trauma of two world wars in which 67 million people were slaughtered. During the campaign I saw posters with the words, "People died for our freedom, don't give it away", but 67 million people died on the continent of Europe.
They are often written out of Irish history because of party affiliations in this country. What the European Union has achieved economically for Ireland is put in the shade when one considers what it has achieved by way of peace, trust and alliance-building between European countries. It is an example to other parts of the world. That is not in my script, but I am saying it because I am passionate about the issue. I spent three years of my life — a substantial chunk of it — working in Brussels. The Minister, Deputy Harney, is correct that Ireland's power and influence in Europe is not based on our voting strength, which at any rate is not reduced in the proposed treaty. Even if that were the case, whether Ireland has 0.8% or 1.1% of the population of the European Union is irrelevant. The Union works by countries working in solidarity with one another and trying to understand the problems of citizens and member states. That is the great power of the European Union which has brought us this far and will enable us to overcome the current crisis at the centre of which this country lies.
While some have used diplomatic language, there is deep dissatisfaction, frustration and anger that a treaty which has taken so long to develop is under threat. However, as democrats there will be a recognition in other countries much larger than Ireland that action must be taken to try to solve the problem Irish people have with the treaty. We, in this country, must work together to try to produce initiatives and ideas to facilitate this process because we cannot expect the problem to be solved by Brussels.
Anyone who takes the Sinn Féin attitude that we will say "No" unless we secure everything we seek or believes the European Union would have got off the ground with that type of mentality is being naive.
European integration is a constantly evolving and adapting process which finds new solutions to challenges countries cannot resolve alone, including cross-border crime, climate change, energy security, development aid and many other issues on which the European Union must give leadership. It must do so without undermining the sovereignty of member states or evolving into a federalist super state.
Rather than ignore the "No" vote, we need to recognise and respect it and try to establish in the most scientific manner possible the reasons people voted against the treaty and how we can address their concerns in the context of the reality that the European Union needs to reform. It is in Ireland's interest to be part of the reform process at the heart of decision making in Europe. We must avoid changing our attitudes towards the European Union by somehow aligning ourselves with British Conservative Party thinking, which views the European Union as an economic opportunity but a political headache. If we go down that route, perceptions of Ireland will be badly damaged and none of us wants that.
Martin Mansergh (Minister of State with special responsibility for the Arts, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Minister of State with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Department of Finance; Tipperary South, Fianna Fail)
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I congratulate Deputy Coveney on a fine, passionate speech.
One is tempted to echo the answer given by a local to a visitor requesting directions — "I wouldn't be starting from here" — or perhaps one should take more encouragement from the hoarding at the entrance to the Dublin Port tunnel bearing the words, "There isn't just a choice of A or B. There is probably a C." The question is to find a resolution to the potentially very difficult situation in which both Ireland and the EU find themselves following the result of the referendum last Friday, which everyone has to respect and proceed from.
Apart from a certain Europe wide disconnect between the Union and its peoples, with which nearly all of our partners are familiar, there is perhaps an element more particular to Ireland, one with which the Acting Chairman, Deputy Johnny Brady, as Chairman of the Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, will be familiar. At a livestock market, almost invariably the response, even to a relatively good initial bid, is "No". More is needed, even if a second offer, often little different from the first, if at all, is then reluctantly accepted. Walking away altogether seldom happens.
It is with good reason that all our other European partners chose to seek parliamentary ratification of the Lisbon treaty and the ruling party in France won a mandate to do that last year. Referendums on something as general yet as complex as this treaty are vulnerable to all sorts of cross-currents, some quite unconnected with it. While many people passionately cherish the right to vote directly on such treaties now and in the future, I encountered many others who implicitly and sometimes explicitly resented a matter this complex being referred to them.
While I am certain the decision to hold a referendum was based on both clear legal advice and sound political considerations, it could be argued that since 1987 we have taken an expansive interpretation of the Crotty judgment. While no longer relevant in relation the referendum just past, it is an issue that needs to be looked at carefully if we are not continually to be hampered in the future vis-À-vis all other member states. While our strict constitutional requirements must be respected, we do not necessarily have to go well beyond them.
There will be many analyses of both the campaign and the outcome and our EU partners as well as ourselves are uncertain as to how to interpret them. The "No" camp in its various manifestations had more dramatic stories to sell and threats to embroider against a backdrop of a deteriorating economic situation. There were also genuine concerns, as the Taoiseach has outlined, about ongoing negotiations and discussions at EU and global level, where total reassurance was difficult to provide. The only way to win support, apart from through the media, was door-to-door canvassing which could have been more effective if there had been more of it. I was not greatly impressed with "Yes" posters obviously designed more to promote the local or national politician than the treaty.
The credentials of most on the "No" side are well known and of long standing. Libertas was the new factor and its origins, inspiration and funding have been a matter of much speculation. A Danish colleague at the ASEM Finance Ministers' meeting in Korea told me over the weekend that there is also a right-wing organisation called Libertas in Denmark. It would be interesting to know if there is any connection. While one should not exaggerate the significance of this factor, it was notable that every right-wing British owned newspaper group in Ireland, not a few British-based old left trade unions and our own Tory commentators, including a couple of Senators from the unreformed university constituency, all lined up against the treaty. The irony is that, despite the endemic euroscepticism which we love to scorn, Britain is in the process of completing its ratification of the Lisbon treaty, while we have put ourselves, temporarily at least, further out on a limb. Our European engagement has hitherto served to enhance our independence from British and now Anglo-American influences, to which we could otherwise be overwhelmingly subject.
I praise, however, the National Forum on Europe, RTE, The Irish Times and the The Irish Catholic, in particular, as well as the Alliance for Europe and many social partnership organisations for their exceptional contributions to the debate. It was notable that not a single retired diplomat, senior public servant or Minister who ever attended a Council meeting on behalf of this country advocated a "No" vote. Perhaps all of us in that category have a more idealised view of Ireland's commitment to be at the heart of Europe than the people of this country understand or are at present fully willing to support. That is a matter on which we need to reflect.
I regret some natural pro-European organisations chose to make their support conditional, for a while at least. It would be an extraordinary, though at present highly improbable scenario, if Ireland were to need to add to its negative to the Lisbon treaty another unilateral negative to a concluded Doha round negotiation supported by the rest of the world. We need to repair a situation where we have already used up most of our credit in case we should need it to protect interests much more immediate and palpable than the issues at stake in the Lisbon treaty.
Certain contributions from the rest of Europe — one statement by Valéry Giscard d'Estaing was endlessly quoted — were extremely unhelpful in suggesting that elites were manipulating the public and leading the people without their being aware of it to certain desired goals, deliberately making the treaty obscure and incomprehensible to that end. That unappealing vanity, which dates back to Jean Monnet unfortunately, is very destructive of public trust. Ironically, the vision that many on both sides of the argument have of Europe and Ireland's place in it does not differ all that much, only our very different assessments of the significance of the changes in the Lisbon treaty.
While there is a lot of dismay at the result, there is still a fund of goodwill and understanding for Ireland among our partners, on the basis that there will be a shared search for asolution.
The reality that everyone needs to understand, borne out by the history of the EU over 50 years, is that, notwithstanding the unanimity requirement, it is never possible for one member state, small or large, to block for any prolonged period the onward evolution of the European Union because the price of attempting to do so would be too high. It is stated with regard to future treaties in Article 48 that "if four fifths of the member states have ratified it and one or more member states have encountered difficulties in proceeding with ratification, the matter shall be referred to the European Council". In other words, the spirit is that serious efforts will be made to resolve any impasse that arises, without a large majority dictating to a small minority or vice versa.
The Constitution clearly entrusts the conduct of Irish foreign policy to the Government, subject to the Dáil. The Government, with respect, would have a much better appreciation than individuals or organisations outside the Dáil of the diplomatic and other realities of negotiations in a European Union of 27 — MEP Mary-Lou McDonald's shopping list of demands would be what Dean Swift would have called "a modest proposal". Treaty opponents pretend to believe they have strengthened the Government's negotiating hand, whereas in reality the Government's main challenge is to avert the real potential for disaster for this country's interests and for Europe's from last Friday's result. The Taoiseach and his Cabinet Ministers will need space to work out a viable solution, and I have every faith in their ability to find one with the help of our partners.
If there are clarifications or modifications that can be obtained, without reopening the whole negotiation, and that will make the content of the treaty more acceptable to the Irish people, whatever about the "No" organisations, that will be good because few openly dare to dispute that full EU membership has been exceptionally good for Ireland. We should not seek, as far as can be avoided, to accentuate Irish exceptionalism in the European Union. Those who contribute most to an organisation are also those who will get the most out of it, and that has been the experience over most of the last 35 years. However, let us be under no illusions. We could quite soon be faced, like the farmer in the box at the auction ring, with deciding whether we are willing to be in and on the market, or let it continue without us by taking ourselves home without a deal and the living standard foregone which that implies. It would be a sorry end to a beautiful dream.
I am glad to have an opportunity to say a few words. I agree with other speakers that there is no sense in looking back but we should learn our lessons from the recent events.
Other speakers referred to the recognition of the sovereignty of the people in the exercise of their democratic franchise. That is certain, but it is a little confusing from time to time as well. Just a year ago the people exercised their franchise and they voted for the Members of this House. In the recent referendum the people went against the advice of the elected Members of this House and voted for a series of advices that they received from persons, many of whom were not elected at all and all of whom proclaimed to have a much superior knowledge of the workings of the European Union. That is difficult to understand.
I am not trying to second guess the people. A study of fairly recent European history would show that the people, in the exercise of their universal franchise throughout Europe, were not always right. One can think of a certain part of Europe in the 1930s. The modern generation might say that a certain individual was elevated to political prominence by virtue of a seizure of power. He was not. He was elected by universal franchise.
I am not one of those who state that we will never get another chance, that the Lisbon treaty is dead and buried. That is a dangerous route to take. The treaty has been rejected by the people in the way it was explained to them. We may come to a situation — this is from my knowledge of the European institutions — whereby there are changes and we may be lucky to have another chance to look at it.
One matter worries me. I have reasonable intelligence — I am not Einstein. However, I find it difficult to engage in a public debate, for example, on a programme live on air, where it is incumbent on the station to call on somebody with a directly opposite view who contradicts what I, as a public representative, have to say. We are told we are bound by the McKenna judgment in so far as these matters are concerned. In fact, the Joint Committee on European Affairs received a letter from RTE explaining it was bound by the McKenna judgment in covering the affairs of the committee long before the referendum was announced. I do not accept that. There are strict rules laid down on the separation of powers in so far as the courts can exercise their power in the operation of the Oireachtas. If we were to go down that road, it would be a serious matter.
There are those who say that this is a rejection of the political establishment, for want of a better description. There are those who say that it has come to this point and that the public has no confidence in politicians for whatever reason. That may well be, but I advise those who say so to ask themselves what other professions in this country have come through the past 25 years with their reputations untarnished. I will be discreet by not mentioning any profession, but each and every one, whether we like it or not, must take its fair share of the blame for not being able to deliver what it professed to deliver in terms of public accountability, clarity etc. There are a number of issues in that regard we need to look at carefully.
Incidentally, we need a great deal more time to discuss this issue. I am so sorry that we did not have this kind of debate before the referendum. We did not have time for it. We should have had time for it. It is hugely important.
The Lisbon treaty is a complex document. It must be. It is made up of the hopes, worries, fears, aspirations, prejudices, hatreds and loves of 27 member states. That must add up to a complex document. As those who were involved in the Good Friday Agreement, where there were only two or three groups involved and in which no doubt there are many contradictions, will be aware, in all such agreements there are contradictions and in order to bring the people on board it is necessary to put them into it in black and white and argue about it afterwards. That is the way it should be.
Deputy Coveney made references to posters and misinformation. Of course the people did not understand. Of course the people were confused at the end of the day because they received contradicting information.
It was the day after the referendum count when we realised who they were. It was most extraordinary. There were posters stating "People died for your freedom. Do not throw it away." Who were they?
Who were the people who went over to London in triumphant procession to lecture the Tory eurosceptic colleagues across the water in the past couple of days and on whose behalf did they do it? What really galled me was to see the collection of eurosceptics from all over Europe rolling around laughing at the scene as it unfolded, that Ireland, an influential driving force within the European Union, should find itself to some extent marginalised. Let those who say they know better show us how the better deal can be achieved and let us hope it does not take 30 or 40 years to do. We only get opportunities once or twice in our lives. This opportunity came up but we failed to take it. I hope that another opportunity will come up and that we will be able to explain matters better and get a different result.
I am pleased this debate is taking place as it is very important we express our view on what the people said last week. It was a very good exercise in democracy that the referendum was held. It was important that people discussed issues but I am not sure the issues on which they decided were related to the treaty. That is a problem. When I went to Tipperary town with the Minister of State, Deputy Martin Mansergh, people wanted to discuss everything but the treaty. In two hours, almost nobody asked about the treaty.
Nobody has addressed the way the farmers were led. The Irish Farmers Association was very irresponsible in the way it led its members, and I speak as a member of that organisation. Farmers could not understand why they were told to vote "No" one week and were told some weeks later by Padraig Walshe, president of the IFA, that the treaty was good and that they were to vote "Yes". They did not believe that so they voted "No" in their droves. These people, who were getting huge concessions from Europe, did not understand. The role of the organisation must be called into question. As a farmer, I have benefited hugely from Europe. I have been a farmer from a very young age and I know of the changes that have taken place. It was not the IFA's best day out.
We must address this issue again because people did not vote on it. The morning after the vote people accused us of not giving them the information. We must address that issue and go back to the people at some stage in the future with a clear message on what this is about and not with the bungled message that was given. I hope we get a chance to have a real referendum with proper posters and not the ones with incorrect information which were put up all over the country for very disingenuous reasons.
I wish to share my time with Deputy Edward O'Keeffe.
The result of the referendum represents a major disappointment for those of us who advocated a "Yes" vote in the certain belief that this treaty represented a good deal for Ireland, an Ireland at the heart of Europe and an Ireland shaping events in Europe for our benefit in the way we have done for 20 years.
That said, we live in a parliamentary democracy and the voice of the people is sovereign. One of the ironies is that the "No" camp has said consistently in every referendum we have had for the past 25 years that we were throwing away our sovereignty and democracy. The greatest expression of our sovereignty and democracy was the "No" vote last Thursday, which was the people's right. However, it gives the lie to all the threats of loss of sovereignty that have been articulated by those who are basically anti-Europe, and I count Sinn Féin as being at the heart of that anti-Europe campaign.
I regret we did not have a proper and informed debate on the consequences for this country of "Yes" or "No" vote. We did not have a real debate on Ireland's strategic position in Europe and, more importantly, in the world in the event of a "No" vote. That did not happen because if one was to engage in that debate, one would have been accused of scaremongering and of being negative.
The debate turned mostly on issues which were not in the treaty. That is a source of great regret because when the legislation was passing through the House, I said we had to have this debate and present a choice to the people. The people needed to know that if they voted "Yes", consequences would flow from that and that if, in their wisdom, they voted "No", certain other consequences would flow, consequences that are negative, long-lasting and very disadvantageous for our country. It is unfortunate we did not have that debate but the people spoke and the decision is respected. We must now reflect and then move forward in a constructive manner.
This debate presents an opportunity to begin to tease out the reasons for the decision. We should be clear that the treaty represented a very delicate balance of the interests of 27 member states and came at the end of a long process. The idea that it could be readily made better and this very simplistic and populist approach adopted by the "No" campaign that it could be easily renegotiated were very far off the mark, very fanciful and very misleading. It cannot be renegotiated, it is not as simple as that.
In a hard-fought campaign, many issues which had very little to do with the treaty were debated. This treaty was not a rejection of the European Union or a desire by this country to reduce our engagement with our partner countries in Europe. We continue to share the goal of a Union that is equipped to meet the challenges facing Europe in an increasingly competitive and troubled world.
The European Union has faced enormous crises since it was founded over 50 years ago but it has the genius, capacity and imagination to overcome crises in the spirit of partnership. If we do not deal with those crises and engage with the European Union, the 27 member states will not able to tackle one issue which represents the greatest threat to Ireland and with which we are not equipped to deal because of this vote, that is, what is at the end of a very long pipeline from Siberia. As a pool of countries, we are not equipped to negotiate a secure energy supply. In a week in which we have seen energy prices go through the roof, that represents a very dangerous turn.
It is with great disappointment that I speak on the Lisbon treaty. The European Union, which we joined in 1973, has been good to Ireland. We voted in favour of the Rome treaty in 1973, the Single Market in 1987 and the Maastricht treaty in 1992. The Nice treaty was rejected in 2000 but we voted in favour of it in 2002. We voted against the Lisbon treaty last week.
European Union funding has been very generous to Ireland. We qualified under CAP regional funding, social funding and the Cohesion Fund which was very important to our infrastructural development. The European Union has contributed €85 billion to Ireland since 1974. The Irish people seem to have forgotten that but the Europeans may not forget. That generosity has driven the Irish economy, given us an education system, third level colleges and a very modern infrastructure and road network and has developed agriculture from subsistence to modern agriculture, with exports in the region of €8 billion to €10 billion today.
The people were misled by the "No" campaigners who, after 34 years of membership of the EU, have achieved their goal. They misled the people by saying we could renegotiate from a different position, which is false. I believe there are very few options and we are now damaged goods in Europe. I have no doubt there will be time to resolve the problem, but if the 26 countries have ratified the treaty by Christmas, Ireland will be left as the odd one out. The European Parliament elections will take place next year and it is the policy of both the Council of Ministers and the EU Commission to have all procedures in place for these elections. There is not much time left. Europe has sympathy with our problem but it does not have the answers. I congratulate the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Micheál Martin, on his fine performance in Brussels on Monday. I wish the Taoiseach every success tomorrow at the Council meeting where he will be accompanied by Deputy Martin. At this meeting the Taoiseach will have the sympathy of his colleagues in Europe, which is good. However, deep down they will all want this issue resolved to make progress and to put a proper consolidated Europe in place.
Europe has done much good for Ireland. As a rural Deputy I wish to refer to the threat and criticism that the IFA put in place on the WTO talks which had a bearing on the outcome of the referendum. Farmers were told their cattle would only make half the price they currently make, that cheap South American farming produce would flood Europe and that one litre of milk would only be worth 24 cent as opposed to today's price of 36 cent. These are the issues that were not addressed. People outside the farm gate who provide a service to Irish agriculture and supply goods to it, supporting jobs, heeded this message and voted against the Lisbon treaty. These people have seen many unnecessary business closures and rationalisation taking place in Munster and especially in County Cork in the past four years. There is a tendency for people to privatise companies in the public market, whether they are co-operative or private companies. Such companies are either to be traded on the stock exchange or on the grey market where a small number of people get rich quick. This is not good enough. This affects Irish farmers and workers and this tendency comes from Europe.
There is another reason people voted down the treaty. I campaigned vigorously in 1974 as a young farmer for entry into Europe. It was a very successful campaign. The vast majority of people and organisations who campaigned against entry at that time are still around and are more or less the same people, with the exception of Mr. Ganley and Mr. MacEvaddy who come from the business sector. We had the same organisations with more faces. We had a vigorous campaign in 1974. The Treaty of Rome came under threat, people did not understand it and so on.
I urge the Government to give leadership in this area and for a further referendum called Lisbon II to be held, as we cannot remain outside looking in. The benefits of Europe speak for themselves. Ireland is a small peripheral nation on the Atlantic which has no future half-in half-out. We can see the advantages of the single market and single currency. There would not be the stability on dairy goods today were it not for the single currency. We have the lowest interest rates ever, springing from Europe and our membership of the single currency. I ask the Irish people to vote "Yes" to Lisbon II and bring us into Europe, which is our rightful place.
Gabhaim buíochas as ucht an deis labhartha ar an ócáid seo. Is trua é go bhfuil daoine fós ag lorg go gcuirfí conradh Liospóin arís. The people have spoken and they have said "No" for several reasons. With that, the Lisbon treaty is finished and a new deal must be negotiated. One of the confusing matters for me looking back on the campaign is the reason so many people voted "Yes".
In my view this was a bad deal, and a better deal was possible. I am like Deputy Hayes who spoke earlier, wondering about the IFA and the its leadership. Why was it that one week it argued one position and the next week it argued another? The IFA said it was seeking a "No" vote originally and it then capitulated to the three monkeys, Cowen, Kenny and Gilmore. The veto that Mr. Padraig Walshe and the IFA sought was to disappear in the Lisbon treaty and yet he capitulated.
The dream of this Lisbon treaty to which the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, referred is over and we must put together another treaty. Undeniably there are issues in Europe which need to be addressed. Sinn Féin has been constructive in this regard. Today, we sent a lengthy document to the Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen, in the hope that he would use it. It is based on much of what was in the treaty but goes further in the context of the vision that is included in the EU treaties. We set out the changes we believe reflect the reasons for the "No" vote and which address the issues raised with us and by us on the treaty. There is no suggestion of a reheat of the treaty with minor alternations. Significant issues of concern were raised by the people over the past few months and they must be listened to. The more people gained an insight into the contents of the Lisbon treaty, the more inclined they were to vote "No". An examination of the polls leading up to the referendum bear this out as did the final poll which rejected the treaty overwhelmingly.
Over and over we have had to listen to representatives of the House accuse those who voted "No" of being cut from the same cloth as the contemptible Mr. Jean-Marie Le Pen. That is a shameful accusation. Such shameful arrogance is perhaps the best example of the reason there is a democratic deficit in Europe, why that deficit is so great and the reason so many of our people do not trust the political parties. This was evidenced by the vote. The world has not collapsed, as predicted, because of the "No" vote. The Minister of State, Deputy Peter Power, is incorrect to say that the consequences will be negative. He is already starting on the wrong foot. The Minister of State should take the significant mandate against this treaty as a positive sign. It shows the Irish people are standing firm and saying "No" and that there is a better deal possible. There is a need to close the gap between the citizens of Europe and the EU institutions. Future treaties should be written in clear and accessible language so that nobody can say that people did not understand and so there will be no doubt afterward. I believe the people did understand, they are not stupid and they said "No". I congratulate those who came out and took the time to vote "No". It is a pity more people did not turn out and vote "No".
The answer to the question "what now?" is obvious. The Government must use the mandate to negotiate a new treaty. It needs to view the current situation as an opportunity to return to the table with our EU partners and secure the best possible deal for all the people of Europe, not any old deal as was put to us on Thursday last.
It is not acceptable for EU leaders to seek ways of avoiding or circumventing the democratically expressed wishes of the people. The ratification process must end just as it did following the rejection of the EU Constitution. Some of the people who demanded that ratification process end immediately now demand it continues. Some of the leaders of Europe are speaking from both sides of their mouths.
The people must be listened to. Throughout the referendum campaign several issues arose time and again. These included Ireland's loss of power in Europe, EU militarisation, workers' rights and public services, and the treaty's impact on the developing world. These issues must be addressed. It is now the responsibility of the Government, particularly the Taoiseach, to listen to the people. The Taoiseach should commit himself to the task of securing a better deal in a new treaty which reflects the points I have made. These practical and reasonable demands can be delivered, despite the hoopla and palaver. Sinn Féin is committed to engaging in this process in a constructive manner. As I said, we have submitted a lengthy document proposal to the Taoiseach's office. It details the important changes which must be made if the people are to have confidence in any new treaty. We believe the short-term strategic reforms outlined in the document are reasonable, practical and deliverable. They represent the minimum that will be required in any new treaty. I am prepared to circulate a copy of the document to any Member of the House who wishes to read it. Perhaps I will furnish all Deputies with a copy of it in order that they can understand where we are coming from. Many seem to think we need to discover why the people voted "No". The reasons were made clear, in black and white, throughout the campaign. They are being clarified again today.
Sinn Féin intends to meet representatives of the trade union movement, the farming lobby, the business community and civic society to encourage them to use their influence to ensure the Government secures the best deal possible. Any new deal must address the European Union's democratic deficit which has been the subject of much discussion. It must fundamentally secure Ireland's neutrality and protect workers' rights and public services. Such sensible and rational concerns emerged on the doorstep, in the local media and from interest groups throughout the campaign. Issues such as the retention of Ireland's permanent Commissioner, its current voting strength at the European Council and its key strategic vetoes such as its veto on the outcome of the international trade talks were regularly outlined during the campaign. The controversial "self-amending" articles need to be removed from any new EU treaty.
A specific protocol is needed in the new treaty to protect Ireland's neutrality. We need to be given opt-outs from certain aspects of the European Union's emerging Common Foreign and Security Policy. Taxpayers' money should not be diverted to the European Defence Agency or used for any EU military purposes. We need a protocol to opt out from the EURATOM treaty. Explicit amendments are required to ensure greater protection of workers' rights and to stop the opening of vital public services to competition. Measures that will strengthen the social content of the EU project are needed if economic competitiveness is to be balanced with social cohesion and sustainable development.
A better deal is possible for Ireland, the European Union and the world if the Government steps up to the plate by acting in accordance with the outcome of the referendum. There are concerns about the Government's approach in the light of its total opposition to the loudly voiced wishes of the people on this issue. The other 26 member states need to acknowledge that the Lisbon treaty finished on 12 June. It cannot be reheated and put to the people again. If the Government is serious in its commitment to listen to the people and uphold democracy, it must secure a better EU treaty for Ireland and Europe.
While I acknowledge and accept the result of last Thursday's referendum on the Lisbon treaty, I do not underestimate the damage done to Ireland by the result. The discontent that has arisen from the result is clear from the reports of newspapers and television stations across Europe. I noted it when I listened to the debate in the European Parliament earlier today and when I followed the debate, from the margins, that has been taking place on the diplomatic side of Council meetings. I wish the Taoiseach, the Minister, Deputy Martin, and the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, well tomorrow as they start the process of dealing with the result and tackling the issues we face as a consequence of it.
Many of the issues about which people are concerned such as military affairs, social issues and taxation are not even mentioned in the treaty. The campaign of the "Yes" side may have been unsuccessful, but at least it was honest. We promoted the virtues of the treaty and the European Union. It is unfortunate that Deputy Ó Snodaigh has left the Chamber. Nobody on the "Yes" side is associating the "No" side with Jean-Marie Le Pen or others on the far right in the United Kingdom or continental Europe. People on the far right, including Jean-Marie Le Pen, are associating themselves with Ireland. Irish people who saw the scenes in the European Parliament this morning, when some MEPs wore green t-shirts bearing the slogan "respect the Irish vote", cannot have been happy. There have been many unusual coalitions in this House during the years, but the coalition on the "No" side of Sinn Féin, the Tories and the UK Independence Party must be one of the most unusual we have seen. Groups with no strategic interest in Ireland, which have never shown any interest in the people of Ireland, are wrapping their flags around our "No" vote and appropriating our values as a country.
We need to address the concerns highlighted by the "No" vote. We need to put in place a process by means of which that can happen, while allowing the European Union to move on. We cannot stop the whole European project. We must help to find a solution quickly. As Deputy Ned O'Keeffe has said, in the year to come we face European elections and the appointment of a new Commission. We do not have much time to work on the development of an inclusive process. That process starts tomorrow. I am sure we will have many more debates on the matter. The House will send its good wishes with the Taoiseach, the Minister, Deputy Martin, and the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, tomorrow. I do not doubt that the House will debate the consequences of tomorrow's meeting. If we delude ourselves by telling ourselves that damage is not being done to our interests across Europe, we will weaken our national position.
If our experience of canvassing for the Lisbon treaty referendum teaches us anything, it should be that the people have relatively little understanding of the structures and procedures of the European Union. Many people I met while canvassing were not familiar with the three pillars of the Union — the Parliament, the Commission and the Council of Ministers. When I tried to explain that structure on the doorsteps, I was often confronted with opinions and assumptions that had little or nothing to do with the Lisbon treaty. Many people I met told me they did not know anything about it. Some of them did not intend to vote because they were confused. Many of those who were planning to vote told me they were going to vote "No" as a result of their confusion. As the post mortem continues, we hear more and more about the factors that led to such a strong "No" vote. As the Taoiseach said yesterday, one of the great falsehoods — there was no legal basis for it — was the idea that Ireland would keep its Commissioner if it rejected the treaty.
During the campaign I found it necessary to explain the structures, rules and procedures of the European Union which the treaty proposed to change. That is not easy to do on the doorstep. Reasoned and reasonable debate on matters of this nature cannot be fostered without a better understanding by society of the workings of our political systems. Debate and discussion on such matters should not be confined to the last month or two before a referendum. In the last couple of years great strides have been made in our schools to improve the standard of political and social education. The availability of such courses at post-primary level should be expanded. I propose that civic, political and social education programmes, including a module on European studies, be taught up to leaving certificate level. They are already being taught up to junior certificate level. Such a move would ensure future generations will be better informed when they reach voting age.
The referendum is over. We need to move on by recognising that we can learn not only from the result, but also from the experience of the campaign. We must find ways of involving people of all ages in engagement in the political system, even in a small way, if we are to raise the level of understanding of our political systems. This is a question not only for Ireland but for the European Union as a whole. We should broaden the systems in place such as the Forum on Europe and develop new systems of educating the public on political and social affairs in a manner that engages as many as possible on an ongoing basis. That is the right thing to do, regardless of whether we have another referendum. The better informed we are, the better the decisions we will make and the less likely we will be to be taken in by spurious arguments on either side of any future debate. Our democracy can only improve in such circumstances.
I thank my colleagues for sharing time. I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak on the Lisbon treaty.
I do not understand why Members feel the need to say they accept the decision made by the Irish people. I am satisfied if the majority of people had voted "Yes" they would not feel the need to express such sentiment. There is an implicit withholding of some support for the decision when we feel we must formally state we accept it. I do not believe it is necessary for us to say that. The people have spoken; they are sovereign, we are not.
The people did not, in my opinion, say "No" to Europe or even to the Lisbon treaty. It was a vote against many other issues, most of which were not covered by the Lisbon treaty. Many issues were raised. One needed to be well-up on politics to discuss the treaty. Not only were representatives asked about the Lisbon treaty but they were asked about many other issues, most of which were not covered by the treaty.
I wish the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs every success as they commence the process of addressing the difficult decision taken by the Irish people. It is the right of the people to deal a difficult set of cards to Government. It is incumbent on the Government to move forward now. There will be no quick decision in this regard. We must take our time, reflect on the matter and ensure we get it right next time. It is too early to speculate what will be the outcome of the process but I have every confidence the Taoiseach and his Ministers will find a solution that will be acceptable to us at home and at European level.
We must examine how we conduct our campaigns. It will be difficult in the future to get this type of referenda through. We pass complicated legislation in this Chamber every week. I have no doubt that if legislation such as the criminal justice Bill or Finance Bill were put to the people there would be absolute confusion in the country. People expect us to legislate and other countries expect us to get on with the job. However, we are constitutionally obliged to obtain the people's imprimatur before we ratify treaties of this nature.
We need to re-examine the role of the Referendum Commission which did an improved job this time as compared with previous occasions. Also, the media position is difficult in that it must provide equal time to both sides of a campaign. There will be institutional confusion in debates on referenda from here on in. If there is not absolute contradiction of one speaker by another, people will say there is a lack of balance. I am not suggesting only one side of the argument should be heard. However, we must seek a more workable and practical formula. Having to listen to debates by so-called experts on both sides of an argument is making it difficult for people to make up their minds. This adds to people not voting, notwithstanding the reasonable turnout we had on this occasion.
I begin by expressing my regret in regard to the result though, of course, I accept it. Some 800,000 people voted "No" and 700,000 voted "Yes". It is important not to forget that 47% of the people voted "Yes" and that they remain committed to European integration.
What we have seen in recent days is indicative of the reality of the campaign. We were told by Sinn Féin, Libertas and the other "No" groups that a plan B existed which was waiting to be signed off on. We now know that was untrue. It was a deceit of the Irish people on their part and there is no plan B. There is a number of possible options, none of which is particularly attractive.
We also know the claim that we would lose our Commissioner as a result of a "Yes" vote was bogus because we stand to lose our Commissioner next year when that position would have been guaranteed had we voted "Yes". It has been suggested by some in Libertas that we can use our veto to block the appointment of the Commission. We have already vetoed one treaty and cannot now veto the establishment of a new European Commission. The reality is that organisations on the "No" side are pretending to be pro-European. While they have very cleverly adopted pro-European language, they are wreckers. People from this country and from overseas are using these organisations to wreck the European project and are doing well, unfortunately.
The question arises at to where we go from here. Ireland has voted "No" twice in seven years, which is hugely significant. We may have another referendum next year and it is possible it too will be rejected. Ireland will then have voted "No" to Europe three times in eight years. If this were to happen, Ireland's position as a core member of the European Union could not continue. That is the reality of what is happening.
As a result of the "No" vote last week, our influence at European level is diminished. While it may be unfair to say this, people will interpret the "No" vote as meaning Ireland was only interested in the benefits it could obtain from Europe and was unwilling to show solidarity with other countries when asked to vote for enlargement and on key issues such as trade, energy security and climate change. People will assume we wanted to go our own way on all these issues and that we were not prepared to offer solidarity when asked for it. This is how the result of the vote will be viewed in many European capitals and that is bad for us.
While I am not sure of Government policy on this, it would appear we are moving some way towards a 26:1 scenario with other countries ratifying the treaty and Ireland being left out on its own. It is likely we will be asked to vote next year on a new Lisbon treaty or to choose external association thereby becoming a little like Norway or Switzerland which are in some ways attached to the European Union but are not full members. We cannot vote "No" three times in eight years and expect to continue as a member of the European Union.
I believe in a democratic Europe; I am a federalist. I believe we will have to have a different debate during the coming months. We must decide whether we want to be in or out of Europe and must examine the merits and demerits in this regard. We could opt for external association if the Irish people genuinely do not want to be part of this European project, part of an ever-increasing, ever closer Union of people and states. We need to consider that. That is the reality of what is before us. It might not be a bad option to take. We could then at a later stage decide to engage more fully in Europe.
The night before the referendum, I received a telephone call from an RTE journalist inquiring how I thought people in Donegal would vote. I told him given the soundings on the doorsteps it was obvious the majority of people would be voting "No". I also told him this was a good omen because while Donegal has consistently returned a "No" vote in European referenda, the opposite has been the case in the remainder of the country. I remained hopeful the "Yes" vote would win despite the fact that people in Donegal were voting "No". I was sure when standing in the count centre in Buncrana when the "No" side was winning 3:1, that the result in the remainder of the country would be different.
However, we must respect the result returned. We must persevere and ensure we take care of vital Irish interests. On the other hand, however, we must inform the Irish electorate about Europe and how we have benefited from it and can benefit again in the future.
The Ceann Comhairle has taken the initiative of inviting secondary school students to visit the Dáil and Seanad Chambers. We need to adopt this model at European level where so much is happening, yet the Irish electorate does not know about it.
It was a referendum based on fear. There were elements of fear in the "Yes" arguments but within the "No" camp there certainly was fear. When an argument sets fear against fear one cannot be confident of a positive outcome. Among the plethora of arguments one element was the Catholic church. Many priests were involved and in County Donegal one of them went public in the media to advocate a "No" vote.
There were many elements to this treaty and no single entity was responsible for returning a "No" vote. One thing is sure — we have a job to do. There are elements within the EU Committee of the Regions that have worked hard for 12 years in the area of subsidiarity to give more autonomy to regions and local authorities. That message must be got out to the Irish public and we still have an opportunity to do that. We must work hard and I know the Minister will persevere through his office in this regard. We must respect the vote and look after the vital Irish interest.
Like many other Deputies I express my disappointment. In accepting the will of the people it must be said that those of us on the "Yes" side felt passionately the treaty offered Ireland an excellent deal while also allowing the European Union to make progress and be better structured to confront the great challenges facing the Continent. These include global terrorism, global warming, poverty and the current food crisis which engulfs the globe. The tragedy of the situation was that a mixture of the failings of the "Yes" side and the absence of scruples on the "No" side resulted in many of our citizens feeling unsure about what they were voting for.
It must be acknowledged that the treaty itself was somewhat mundane. It did not have the spark of controversy that the divorce referendum had, for example. It had no single exciting issue that could be used as a selling point. We all know, of course, that politics is rarely exciting and is often just a mundane hard slog. The "Yes" side canvassed openly for the treaty, admitted that we would have to make some sacrifices but pointed out that all member states of the EU were making similar sacrifices, some far more than others. Comparatively speaking we were doing very well. What we were confronting on the "No" side was quite shocking. The sheer scale of the lies peddled by some of those who opposed the treaty was mindboggling. There were threats that the EU wanted to microchip babies, that it wished to force Ireland to legislate for abortion, that it wanted to conscript young people into a European army, that the EU wanted to raise our taxes and threaten our democracy. Those claims were so ludicrous that it was difficult for those on the "Yes" side to know how to deal with them.
Arising from that I object to the Taoiseach's decision to engage with the myriad of "No" campaigners about what kind of shopping list he should now bring to Brussels. We already had the shopping list and had secured everything on it. The defeat of the treaty should be not seen as a plebiscite that bestows an electoral mandate on the "No" campaigners. I urge the Taoiseach not to engage with people on the "No" side. We do not know which element of that side actually won because it is clear no particular group on the "No" side won the referendum. It is laughable that the people who accused the EU of lacking proper democratic structures should fashion themselves as the voice of the people.
The truth is that Ireland lost last Thursday. I hope something can be salvaged from the wreckage so we can have an honest and informed analysis of our attitude to and relationship with the EU and other European countries and decide then whether our hearts really lie with Boston rather than Berlin.
I thank all Members who contributed to this debate. I will emphasise one reality immediately. The outcome of the referendum was clear and must be respected. Clearly, the people were not persuaded of the necessity of the treaty or of the benefits to Ireland and Europe which it contained. A limited few at home and abroad have suggested the vote represents a questioning of our relationship with the European Union. This is not my view. I am absolutely convinced the people remain strong supporters of Europe and the European Union and of our place at the heart of it. It was a notable feature of the campaign that in the main even those opposed to the treaty professed their commitment to the European Union.
In their reaction to the referendum result, our European partners have once again demonstrated the solidarity and understanding which have been the watchwords of the development of the Union. At the same time, our European Union partners have made it clear they do not want to halt their own processes. They wish to continue to ratify in line with the undertakings they have previously given. On that matter, we exercised our sovereign decision as a country and we cannot deny others the right to do the same in accordance with their constitutional provisions and procedures. That is fundamental and we must respect it.
The key elements in our national reflection on the outcome of the referendum must be not just to find out what were the reasons for the "No" vote but also to examine underlying attitudes to the European Union, to Ireland's role in the future of the Union and how we see that in years to come. We must use that survey, research and analysis as a platform to inform the future and to map out how we intend to take this issue forward. How can we insure that Ireland's essential interests are protected in the coming period? These questions will occupy the Government in the months ahead as we seek to chart the best way forward.
Our people are instinctively European in outlook. Our history inclines us to see the rest of Europe in a supportive light. We travel regularly to other European countries and build a rich vein of personal and professional ties there. Our young people study in each other's universities under the excellent ERASMUS programme and in the many research options of the Marie Curie programme. We have many links in different codes of sport. In trade we export over 60% of goods and services made by Irish-owned companies to European markets.
The Union has shown solidarity with Ireland and continues to do so. To give one example only, France has been Ireland's strongest supporter in terms of the Common Agricultural Policy. Such alliances are repeated across all policy areas. It is important also to point out that the European Commission, in which so many Irish people serve with distinction, has always been a friend of Ireland and the other smaller member states.
A frustrating element of the debate was the sense that Ireland would have to rely on vetoes or qualified majority voting modalities to survive in Europe or to gain recognition in terms of negotiations and so on. The reality has been the opposite. On the issue of qualified majority voting, QMV, for instance, the "No" side argued the new system weakened our position whereas it actually strengthened it. They concentrated on the 65% of population factor in QMV, ignoring the 55% of member states element whereby 15 member states would be required for a proposal to be passed.
In any event, in the old regime we had about 2% of the votes. Did they honestly think we depended on those votes to gain progress in negotiations? We did not. Brain power, the capacity to generate alliances, the 35 years of accumulated goodwill that Dr. Garret FitzGerald wrote about recently — it is all of that which enables Ireland to prosper and progress, to get its voice heard and to shape and influence policy. We have rarely attempted, indeed did so only once, to shape policy on the utilisation of a veto. We have always welcomed the utilisation of qualified majority voting because it meant things could happen in Europe. The single internal market which has been such a catalyst for Irish economic development happened because of the QVM system. If it had not been in place this development would not have happened. In many ways, therefore, the debate became too negatively and narrowly focused and did not really reflect the reality of the daily dynamic that is the European Union with regard to policy development and formulation.
Equally, I regretted somewhat the character of the debate on security, militarisation and so forth. Some of the "No" side were misleading to some degree about the Union's activities in security and defence. The word "militarisation" was bandied about and suggestions were made that conscription would result from a "Yes" vote. Again, that allegation was without foundation but it gained a certain currency. What I really regret in that respect is that the other dimension of the international and external role of the European Union was hardly profiled or acknowledged. Europe is the single largest donor in the world to development aid, something we in Ireland hold very dear in our foreign policy and in our international role. Europe and member states allocate up to €50 billion to 150 of the poorest countries. The humanitarian interventions that the Union has sponsored, all of which were mandated by the United Nations, including the rule of law missions in areas of conflict and the EUFOR mission in Chad, are all illustrative of a Union that, far from wanting to declare war or be confrontational, wants to be a force for peace, good, reconciliation and the eradication of poverty. This was rarely acknowledged on the "No" side. One heard that the Union was just a military project or conspiracy. This was wrong, disingenuous and not balanced in terms of the overall debate.
Many have argued that our involvement in the European Union represents a loss of national sovereignty. I take a different view and believe that, by joining with others, we share our values and actually strengthen our hand and promote our interests. In practical terms, our profile, voice and sovereignty have been strengthened dramatically since 1973. I would not be naïve enough to suggest every aspect of the Union is perfect, nor would I argue that membership has always been plain sailing, but I contend that the overall Irish experience has been very positive.
I strongly endorse the Taoiseach's comments that this debate should be part of the national discussion we must now undertake. This debate is also about being honest with ourselves in the light of the decision we have taken. It is about reflecting not only on the events of last week but also on what they might mean for the nation in the years and decades to come.
We can certainly learn lessons from the debate that took place. There is clearly a need for the European Union to reconnect with its citizens. This came across in the General Affairs Council debate on Monday. Many Ministers referred to the need for the Union to concentrate on policy and substance as opposed to institutions and structures all the time. There is a need to better focus the message on the laws and treaties of the Union and concentrate on the facts and reality.
Above all, there is a need to generate renewed excitement and enthusiasm for the European Union project. Some of results of the Eurobarometer survey of young people's attitudes to the Union raise issues of concern. Have younger generations become altogether distant from the Union? The generation which joined in 1973 and, to a certain extent, subsequent generations regard membership of the Union as a given and a no-brainer. Clearly, the youngest generation does not share this attitude. There is a need to re-engage with people on what the Union is about and how powerful a force it can be for good.
Last Thursday's vote was not a rejection of the European Union. My view remains that Ireland's future is bound inextricably with that of the Union. We face uncertainty and a great challenge and it is incumbent on us to respond carefully and with the interests of Ireland at heart. We will be able to rely on the support and goodwill of our EU partners, as was clear at the meeting of Ministers for Foreign Affairs in Luxembourg. There was a strong sense that we must work together to find a way forward. There was certainly anxiety and concern but no impatience. There was a willingness to afford the Irish the time and space needed to reflect on what had happened. There was awareness that the problem created by the referendum was a European one, not just an Irish one. There was an acceptance that the issues underlying the vote of the people arose throughout the Union and that our concerns and preoccupations were shared widely.
Several of my colleagues noted the troubling failure of the European Union to sustain, at times, the trust and affection of all its people, which its achievements and founding principles have developed. The Union faced many challenges in the past and managed to overcome all of them by adhering to its core values of solidarity and consensus. Regardless of the precise details of the treaties, it is this European spirit that has sustained and developed the Union. Ireland, as with every other member state, has benefited from the Union and I know we can rely on it in the future.
I implore interested parties to consider the options calmly. We have discussed them frankly and openly as two partners should and will seek collectively to agree a solution to the current problem. This will not be easy or straightforward. As the Taoiseach stated, we are in uncharted waters, but even if those waters are choppy, we will be able to steer eventually to a safe harbour. This will be in the interest of the people of the European Union, including the Irish.
I am sharing my time with Deputies Allen and Burke but I am not sure it is worthwhile.
All politicians must accept some responsibility for the outcome of the referendum. On the face of it, the treaty was rejected but the vote was also a message to the Establishment telling us that we were never really persuaded of the intrinsic value of the European project and that we never really considered ourselves to be enthusiastic or committed members of the Community, working together in the Irish interest. If we really were convinced, people would at least have been predisposed to voting in favour of every treaty and listening to the exhortations of political representatives. Such goodwill in favour of the European project simply is not apparent. We discovered, in respect of a treaty that was not momentous in any way, that we had to start from scratch and persuade citizens again of the value of the Union and overcome very deep-rooted suspicion and genuine concern regarding anything that smacked of more of the European Union.
As a committed European, it does not give me any satisfaction to outline these facts. Citizens may have fears concerning geographical separation or our history of foreign domination and may be innately suspicious of sharing hard-won self-government but politicians have fed those fears during the years. They have taken credit for the popular decisions of the European Union and denied responsibility for those that were unpopular, although they were part of the decision-making process.
People are disengaged from the European Union. The constant, insidious distancing of ourselves from responsibility for jointly made decisions has had its effect on the Irish psyche and helped to reinforce pre-existing reservations about the European project as a whole. We, as politicians, have a responsibility to stop making utterances in the interests of short-term expediency that distance ourselves from responsibility for EU decisions.
Ministers have a responsibility to talk to us about decisions made in the European Union such that those people in whose names they are made will know what is happening. The media have a role to play in this regard. The Irish press corps in Brussels is smaller than that of Croatia. RTE devoted a couple of minutes to this matter after midnight. The reality is that we are not serious about the European Union. If we really believe we want to be part of the Union, we must stop pussyfooting. We must make a committed decision as politicians and ensure the new Oireachtas channel will cover proceedings in the European Parliament.
Trying to make a contribution in a minute and a half is like writing the treaty on a postage stamp.
It will not be practical or credible to put the treaty in its current form before the people in a second referendum. It would be foolhardy to believe that, after a "No" vote last week, they would simply say "Yes" the next time on the grounds that they really needed time to think about the treaty. The dilemma we face concerns how best to obtain a package in a new round of negotiations that will be sufficient to sell the treaty to the people, while at the same time reaching agreement with the other 26 partners. It will not be easy but there are enough smart people in Ireland and other member states to achieve that objective.
All the talk from the other member states last weekend about having a second referendum the day after the result of the first was so inappropriate as to make them diplomatically naïve and democratically clueless. We need time to focus people's minds on the necessity to find a way forward without contemplating another referendum for now.
We must examine our own consciences. The leading players in the whole debacle, from the Taoiseach down, would want to do so. Trying to insult members of the Opposition in the middle of a referendum campaign was not wise. The former Taoiseach did so much to damage respect for politicians and also torpedoed the campaign because of his failure to nominate a date for the referendum. Owing to the conflict between his duties to the Mahon tribunal and his political duties, he took his eye off the ball.
I appreciate the Ceann Comhairle's leniency.
To an extent, the referendum result must be understood to be the people's judgment on the Government's handling of current national issues. The referendum took place against a backdrop of unemployment rising above 207,000 and massive increases in the cost of living. The result also must be seen as a product of the Government's inept campaign. I refer to the delay in naming a polling date, the Government's aggressive and arrogant campaigning style and, in particular, that of the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Roche, which was vote "Yes" or else, as well as the outburst of the former Taoiseach. The elementary factual errors of several Ministers undermined public trust in the campaign for a "Yes" vote. The Tánaiste twice asserted that the larger member states would still retain two Commissioners.
Other factors included Irish people's frustration with EU bureaucracy and the plight of fishermen. Members are aware that due to European directives, large renewable energy projects have been delayed or abandoned. Moreover, the habitats directive prevents people from using domestic peat as a source of fuel. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government must reconsider the derogation that will expire at the end of the year in this regard. The loss of a Commissioner also contributed. Members must learn from this, listen to what the people have said and provide an opportunity to go about our business in a proper way.
I thank all Members who have contributed to the debate thus far and have some initial questions for the Minister. Although I appreciate he stated we were in uncharted waters, I believe he also stated we would arrive in a safe harbour. While I admire his confidence, he should explain how he proposes to arrive in a safe harbour if we are in uncharted waters.
I seek confirmation of a few matters. Can the European Union sign the treaty and exclude Ireland? Can the 26 countries come together, sign the treaty and tell Ireland it is not part of the deal as it has not ratified it? Can they go ahead and ratify it? Alternatively, are they be obliged to agree a new treaty, be it a second Lisbon treaty or whatever it may called? Can the Minister provide an outline of a timetable in this regard? While a period of reflection has been mooted, for how long can we reflect before the Government will be obliged to decide on how to further this issue? Alternatively, does the result of the referendum constitute a decision by the people to stop? Does it mean they want to keep the European Union as it is, do not wish to integrate any further, do not want a change and wish to operate under the rules as laid down under the Nice treaty? If that is the case, does the Minister have an idea as to how the other 26 countries would take to this?
I refer to the other 26 countries and a scenario in which the Minister tells them that Ireland has decided the sovereign decision has been made by the people who wish to operate under the existing rules and institutions as laid down in the second Nice treaty. Can the Minister indicate how other countries might react or respond to this? While I have heard much talk of renegotiation, the Minister may be able to confirm or refute my belief that the other countries are not in a mood to renegotiate the details of the treaty. He should indicate what he sees ahead and the timeframe. Is one talking about the summer or autumn or must we come to a conclusion by the end of the year? He should outline a timetable.
The Minister should deal with one specific issue. My understanding is that on foot of the Nice treaty, the size of the Commission must be reduced by November 2009. This is definite and no one can veto it, as it already has been decided, although there must be unanimity on what the reduction will be. How are we going to break this impasse? If the Lisbon treaty is not ratified and the issue of the Commission arises, can the Minister indicate what the Irish position might be? Will the Government adopt the position as outlined in Lisbon with the rotation of Commissioners or what will we do? The Minister should provide an indication in this regard because this must happen. If no agreement is reached, what will happen to the Commission in November 2009? Will it be disbanded or will it have any legal status?
My experience since I was a child in the city of Cork means its motto, Statio Bene Fide Carinis, or safe harbour for ships, is embedded in my subconscious. I apologise for the reference to a safe harbour.
Great challenges lie ahead and the Government is by no means understating them. Ireland and the European Union are in a very difficult position. The Deputy asked about the timetable but I do not have one, as there is none. The Government has asked for time and space to analyse the underlying issues, both in respect of the campaign and underlying attitudes to the European Union. This will enable us to map our way forward in consultation with the European Union members. Similar problems have arisen in the past, going back as far as 1992, and the European Union, working collectively, has managed to overcome such scenarios and setbacks.
The Deputy asked whether the others could sign. They cannot. The Lisbon treaty requires ratification by 27 member states. That is the legal position and the British Foreign Secretary has made this clear on a number of occasions. Moreover, this is acknowledged across the European Union. At the General Affairs and External Relations Council meeting earlier this week it was refreshing to hear articulated a genuine sense of solidarity that there is no desire to opt for 26 and to leave one behind. People want to find a solution to this issue. That is the position.
Deputy Timmins asked a question on the second Nice treaty and the Commissioner. He is correct in that the Nice treaty, under which we operate, provides for the number of Commissioners to be reduced in the first Commission to take office following the accession of the 27th member state. As the Deputy suggested, this means the Commission which will take office at the end of 2009 must have fewer than 27 members. Moreover, as he correctly stated, this must be done by unanimous decision of the Council on the basis of equal rotation between the member states. However, in contrast to the Lisbon treaty, the Nice treaty does not detail how the Commission will be reduced. This means that under the present treaties, the number of Commissioners must be reduced from next year. This was articulated at last Monday's meeting and is the first piece of work that will exercise the European Union at the end of this year.
Yes, although the Lisbon treaty would have postponed this development until after 2014.
Deputy Timmins then asked what was Ireland's position in respect of negotiations on this issue. To be frank, the Government is trying to draw breath. Obviously, like in all negotiations, it will try to represent Ireland's best interests and achieve the best we can from that scenario, but it is unclear.
The Deputy asked what would be the attitude of our colleagues, were matters to remain as they are, and how they could go ahead without us. As I noted, this is not their desire. They certainly cannot proceed with the Lisbon treaty. However, a point that a number of commentators have been trying to make for some time is that the real issue should not necessarily be about the legalities, although they are important. The real issue is what will happen to the good will we have built up over 35 years and the sense of constructive partnership between Ireland and the European Union. Where does that leave Ireland for the future? How will we be viewed? This exercises me more than the legalities about vetoes and so on and it is an issue we will have to consider. The challenge is to ensure we stay centre stage and at the heart of the European project.
Will the Taoiseach oppose any move towards a two-tier system at the summit tomorrow? Will the Minister give his approval to the remaining countries which have not yet ratified the treaty to so do? I presume the Taoiseach will not accept the request made by Mr. Martin Schulz to remove Commissioner McCreevy, but the Minister might comment on the reasons for making such a request. Does he have any proposals to make to conduct surveys or research or engage in consultation on the outcome of the referendum? He said there was currently no timescale, but has he thought of any practical steps to take?
I asked about the advice of the Attorney General on the constitutional impediment to the treaty, and whether he could identify the innovations in it that impacted on the Constitution, as distinct from merely administrative and logistical innovations that did not impact on it and would be subject to parliamentary action.
The Minister has stated there is a disconnect to a certain degree arising from the "No" vote. The proposal was made by the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny that we put in place mechanisms to discuss European affairs in this Chamber, especially given the enhanced role to be given to national parliaments. This cannot be done legally now that the treaty has not been approved, but would the Minister consider doing this on an informal basis? This Parliament and its elected representatives could be brought closer to the people. The second proposal from the joint committee was that an information centre be established in Dáil Éireann. Would the Minister consider establishing such a centre?
The Taoiseach would not countenance in any way a two-tier European Union. Many other member states would be against such a scenario. At the Council meeting on Monday many member states clearly articulated that it was something they would not entertain under any circumstances.
The Deputy spoke about those countries that had ratified the treaty and those that were in the process of so doing. I said we had exercised our sovereign right to decide on the Lisbon treaty through a referendum. Other countries respected that decision and they are entitled to exercise their sovereign right to proceed with the ratification process. The British Foreign Secretary said it would be an erosion of British sovereignty if they were denied their right to discuss the treaty in their Parliament. I am very supportive of that view. We are not in a position to interfere with the sovereign right of other member states to ratify the treaty in their own parliaments.
The Deputy also mentioned Mr. Martin Schulz. That is an old engagement and has a history.
I really do not want to do so.
We do not have a timetable for the consultations and practical steps to which the Deputy referred. We can obtain legal advice on the constitutional issue and those matters which merited a referendum and those which did not. However, there are always grey areas in a treaty. I will come back to the Deputy on the matter at a later stage.
I agree with the Deputy's point that there is a disconnect to a degree. One of the negative impacts of the "No" campaign is that the recommendations of the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny and the Joint Committee on European Affairs cannot now take effect. The element of the Lisbon treaty that provides for a role for national parliaments in terms of greater scrutiny cannot now take effect. That is something I regret. However, I am still very anxious to work with both committees to mainstream EU issues in this House. That is an issue on which I will engage with them.
Some have suggested the Lisbon treaty is dead. The UK Foreign Secretary has said it is up to the Irish to give the last rites to the treaty. Is it still the policy of the Government to ratify it? If it is, when will it tell the people? If it is not, when will it tell the other EU member states that we do not intend to ratify it? They will then not have to waste time going through an unnecessary process.
It has always been at the centre of Irish foreign policy that there should not be a two-speed European Union, but that if it were to happen, Ireland should be in the fast lane. It is clear that is not the view of the people. Is that policy now under reconsideration, or is it still a core policy of the Government?
Government policy is to ensure Ireland remains at the heart of the European Union. Arising from the vote and the decision of the people, we are examining how best we can ensure this. The legal position is that the Lisbon treaty cannot go ahead without 27 member states supporting it. However, rather than rush to hasty conclusions, we will have time to reflect and then map a definitive way forward. I am not so sure that the vote means that we no longer want to be at the centre of the European Union. That is one of the reasons we want to carry out this analysis. The Eurobarometer, carried out in conjunction with the Department of the Taoiseach, indicates that 80% of the people who voted still want to be part of the Union. One can form a judgment——
I have three questions. Will the Minister say whether the Government accepts the will of the people since they voted "No"? Can any part of the treaty be brought through the Dáil and is the Government considering such an approach? When talking to his European colleagues, did the Minister ask them the reasons they did not hold referendums in their respective countries? I asked a politician that question in France last week and he told me that if they had held a referendum, it would have been rejected by the people. If the treaty is so good, why did the rest of the member states not put it to the people and give them an opportunity to vote on it?
They did not have to put it to the people, constitutionally. The way the debate emerged indicated that somehow the people had been denied. The degree to which parliamentary democracy was undermined in the debate was astonishing. Parliaments in parliamentary democracies are democratically elected but throughout the campaign during the last six weeks it was as if they were pariahs, unelected elites, yet they had been elected by the people. The Members of all those parliaments which may ratify the Lisbon treaty will have to go before the people in two or three years time.
Germany, for example, has legitimate historical reasons for not holding a referendum. Therefore, we cannot insist that the way we do things is the way everybody else should do their business. In the context of our written Constitution, there was an obligation on us to proceed in the way we did, but that does not mean we have to impose the way we do things on the rest of Europe.
As I said in reply to Deputy Costello, these are issues that we are examining. I shall put it this way to the Deputy: we have not decided on any option. We are examining and reflecting, but obviously shall take on board whatever is warranted.
Does the Minister agree that, notwithstanding the fact that the treaty stands on its merits, one of the most disappointing aspects of the vote was that 75% of those entitled to vote either could not be bothered to vote or voted against and that this indicates a serious disconnect between Ireland and the EU project? Leaving aside the question of whether the treaty or parts thereof may be put to the people again, does the Government have any plans to structure a re-engagement of the people with the European project? The PAYE sector, women in particular, environmentalists and the farming community have all gained significantly from it, but the widespread conclusion arising from the vote on 12 June was that wide tranches of these communities had disconnected from the European Union and forgotten about the benefits that the Union continued to bring to them. Has the Government given any consideration to the future of the National Forum on Europe, perhaps in a revised format, to re-engage people on what the Union has delivered for them?
The Deputy makes a fair point. It will be part of my policy to conduct a fundamental review, take steps and develop a programme that will facilitate an engagement with people on the European Union. I again stress that the barometer survey is preliminary, but it indicates that young people, apparently——
It will be published when all the data are finally put together. It seems young people voted against the treaty, two to one. That rings an alarm bell in terms of what Deputy Creed said about a disconnect. There is also a sense that, notwithstanding the fact that the campaign was very much conducted on the back foot, there was no instinctive enthusiasm. It appears that the European project has lost some of its excitement and people do not have that connection. I take the Deputy's point. Over and above the treaty, I shall come back to the House on that issue.
The Minister may not be able to give me an answer tonight, but is it possible that member states, acting unanimously, could, in fact, decide to implement some of the provisions contained in the Lisbon treaty, which would not infringe our constitutional position, for example, those under which the Commission would simultaneously communicate, albeit on an informal basis, with the scrutiny committees of national parliaments and respect their responses in the spirit of the treaty as regards subsidiarity?
What we are discussing is hypothetical as regards what could happen and how other member states might proceed. At this juncture member states are seeking to resolve the issue in the best interests of the European Union, including Ireland. They value our continued membership of the Union. That will be the focus in the coming months to see whether we can find a way forward to resolve this issue in the best interests of the Union.
As I said, we are examining and reflecting. When the Taoiseach said we did not have immediate answers, he was telling the truth, because prior to the referendum, we had said a "Yes" result would mean certainty, while a "No" result would mean genuine uncertainty. It was not the case, as I told a journalist, that we had the Lisbon treaty in one hand and an alternative to it in the other that we could produce after the referendum. That is not the reality. Therefore, we are genuinely saying there is some work to be done as regards how we can make our way through this. That is the way we are proceeding.
Does the Minister accept that the onus is primarily on Ireland to try to charter a way forward? There has been considerable commentary in other member states to the effect that they want Ireland to bring forward ideas and potential solutions. I know it is very early days and the vote was taken less than a week ago, but can the Minister indicate to the House some timeframe as regards when he plans to put the analysis together and draw some conclusions? The treaty was supposed to be in place from next January. Clearly, the timescale is very short. Can the Minister give us some idea of the framework he intends to put in place to come up with some solution to move the process forward? I do not expect him to outline the exact timeframe.
I have dealt with some of these questions already. On the fundamental question of whether the onus is on Ireland primarily, it is on both Ireland and the European Union. We shall have to consult domestically and in the House. That is why I welcome this debate. I shall also be consulting the committees of the Oireachtas. In our examination of the issues involved, to be frank, the primacy of the Oireachtas has to be asserted. We have to be creative in finding solutions, but even if we come up with ideas, we will have to engage with our colleagues elsewhere in Europe, the incoming Presidency, the Commission and other member states. The exercise has to be undertaken on a collective basis. Obviously, we are conscious of the timeframe. However, it is important to get it right and to try to arrive at a sustainable solution, rather than being overly focused on the timeframe at this stage. The Taoiseach will discuss these issues with the Heads of State tomorrow.
I have been listening to the argument about the disconnect with the electorate to which the Minister refers for ten or 15 years. I do not know what one has to do to manage it and do not have the answer. I am not sure the Minister has the answer either. Otherwise, we might have had a different result last Friday. Perhaps something is dramatically wrong in this regard.
One of the questions addressed to me most frequently during the campaign was the reason Ireland could not have a Commissioner at the table all the time. We do not have time to go into the matter now, but what is actually wrong with having 27 as opposed to 18 Commissioners if the people in each member state believe their best interests would be served by having a Commissioner at the table? Will someone explain that to me?
Deputy Creed and other Members raised the issue of a disconnect which our European colleagues understand. It is not only an Irish issue. Across Europe there is a particular perception of the European Union and the need for it to get more into substance and policy.
The Lisbon treaty which addresses the institutions of the European Union has taken seven years to negotiate. Several issues were raised during the referendum campaign which must be analysed to determine how we should proceed.