Wednesday, 25 June 2008
Ceisteanna — Questions
European Council Meetings.
Question 5: To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting in Dublin with the French Minister for Agriculture, Mr. Michel Barnier; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19683/08]
Question 6: To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the recent European Council meeting in Brussels; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24261/08]
Question 7: To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the bilateral meetings he held on the margins of the European Council meeting in Brussels; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24262/08]
Question 8: To ask the Taoiseach his contact with other EU heads of Government since the referendum on the Lisbon reform treaty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24263/08]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 12, inclusive, together.
On 7 April, my predecessor, Deputy Bertie Ahern met the President of the European Parliament, Mr. Hans-Gert Pöttering. Discussions focused on the ratification and importance of the reform treaty and the European Commission's proposals on climate change. Deputy Ahern welcomed the European Parliament's engagement on the issue of climate change and the broad support MEPs gave to the Commission's proposals.
On 14 April, my predecessor met with Chancellor Angela Merkel on her first visit to Ireland. I joined my predecessor and Chancellor Merkel briefly before their working dinner. During their meeting, they discussed the reform treaty, arrangements for the referendum on 12 June, current EU issues and bilateral relations between our two countries.
I had a brief but useful meeting with the French Minister for Agriculture, Mr. Michel Barnier, when he paid a courtesy call to Government Buildings on 9 May. Mr. Barnier was in Ireland for a series of engagements with the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Brendan Smith.
Our discussions were dominated by the World Trade Organisation negotiations as Ireland and France share a position on a large portion of the negotiations, particularly concerning agriculture. Indeed, on 3 June, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Micheál Martin, and the French Foreign Minister, Dr. Bernard Kouchner, issued a joint statement expressing serious concerns about the balance in the current state of the WTO negotiations.
I attended the European Council in Brussels on 19 and 20 June and was accompanied by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Micheál Martin, and the Minister of State with responsibility for European Affairs, Deputy Dick Roche. As I will make a statement to the House on the European Council shortly, I will at this stage merely give a summary account of its proceedings.
Discussions at the Council covered the implications of high global food and oil prices, other economic, social and environmental issues, freedom, security and justice matters, the western Balkans, external relations including the Barcelona Process and the Union for the Mediterranean, which will be launched at a summit in Paris in July involving EU and Mediterranean Heads of State or Government. The Council adopted conclusions in the areas of justice and home affairs including immigration, asylum and visa issues. We noted progress on the EU's climate and energy targets by 2020 and welcomed progress on the internal energy market. The Council also adopted conclusions on external relations. A copy of the European Council conclusions has been placed in the Oireachtas Library.
A discussion on the outcome of the Irish referendum on the Lisbon treaty was held over dinner for Heads of State or Government on Thursday evening. I gave my initial assessment of the result and listened to the reactions of other Heads of State or Government. I outlined that the Government fully accepted and respected the result of the Irish referendum. We now need time to engage in serious and careful analysis of its outcome and implications. In response, our European partners showed solidarity with Ireland and undoubtedly saw that the outcome of the referendum posed a challenge for Europe as well as for Ireland. We agreed that we would come back to this issue at the next meeting of the European Council in October.
In advance of the European Council, I had separate scheduled meetings with the current President of the European Council, Prime Minister Janez Janša of Slovenia, the President of the European Commission, Mr. José Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Parliament, Mr. Hans-Gert Pöttering, and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany.
In addition to the scheduled meetings, I also took the opportunity to speak with many of my colleagues at Head of State or Government level. In each case, I gave a brief account of the outcome of the referendum and listened to the reaction. I am pleased to say that in discussions with the French President, who takes over the Presidency of the European Council on 1 July, we agreed that he will travel to Dublin on 11 July to hold discussions on the French Presidency programme as well as further discussions on the referendum outcome.
Chancellor Merkel used her visit here to call for a "Yes" vote in the Lisbon treaty referendum. Has the Taoiseach had the opportunity to speak directly to the German Chancellor since the referendum result of 12 June? Has he availed of an opportunity to impress upon her and other European member state leaders, as he should do, that the process of ratification of the reform treaty cannot now proceed as clearly the required unanimity is not in place? Has he done that much, in the time since the Irish people spoke on 12 June?
The German Chancellor, the President of the European Commission and other EU leaders have, quite frankly, insulted the Irish electorate and true democrats across all of the member states of the European Union by, on the one hand, claiming to respect the Irish electorate's decision while, on the other, almost speaking at the same time out of both sides of their mouths, urging the continuation of the process of ratification by other member states. Does the Taoiseach agree that this is hardly showing respect?
Does he also accept that by his failure to make it abundantly clear that the process of ratification cannot now proceed, his claims of showing respect and acceptance do not translate into the required action that he should have taken at this point in time and should yet take, in order to give a true translation of so-called respect and acceptance of the Irish people's decision on the Lisbon treaty proposals? This is seen as deplorable not only by all of those who voted "No" on 12 June, but by many who voted "Yes". It is seen by a significant swathe of opinion in Ireland and beyond as deplorable that the Taoiseach has not taken a firm stand in making it abundantly clear that the Lisbon treaty cannot now be repackaged and put back before the people in order to force them into acceptance on a later date. Will the Taoiseach truly recognise, which is the language we want, the will of the people and take this opportunity to firmly rule out a second referendum on the Lisbon treaty?
How can the Taoiseach and other EU member state leaders claim that the EU is a partnership of equals and that treaties require unanimity when a member state electorate — the Irish electorate — has so clearly spoken? A significant majority of in excess of half of the electorate turned out, which was a considerable turnout on the day, as referenda go in this jurisdiction.
There is what I can only describe as an ongoing effort to force the Irish electorate to accept a second presentation of the Lisbon treaty at a future date. Does the Taoiseach not recognise that this is the clear and unquestionable intent of many of the EU leaders who have spoken on the Irish electorate's decision on 12 June and that his failure to act affirmatively and resolutely in line with the decision of the Irish voters on 12 June is giving oxygen to that particular purpose? I speak on behalf of all those who voted "No", and I do so with respect to all of the wide opinion that reflected, and many people who voted "Yes" who believe this effort to unravel the democratically expressed will of the Irish people is an absolute travesty of democracy, justice and fair play within the EU today.
I reject all the contentions the Deputy makes in respect of this matter as he ascribes them to me. There is full respect for and acceptance of the "No" vote. The Lisbon treaty cannot come into effect unless all member states agree to its ratification. That is accepted by everybody with whom I have met. No disrespect is being shown and there is no question of people being forced to do anything.
The only people I ever heard talk about coercion under the guise of democracy were those who subscribed to a theory that one could have the ballot box in one hand and an Armalite in the other. That is the only coercion I have ever heard of in Irish democratic circles, which the Deputy willingly supported.
The Deputy now comes in here and lectures me. As Taoiseach, I will not accept that.
The third point I would make to the Deputy is that in the same way as our decision not to ratify the treaty last Thursday week was an exercise in national sovereignty, other countries also have a right to exercise national sovereignty as they see it and make their position clear on the ratification process of the Lisbon treaty. They gave the collective commitment at the time of the signing and agreeing of the treaty that all countries would proceed with the ratification process not later than the end of this year.
In the same way as the Deputy expects and is entitled to respect for our national decisions, as would I as an Irishman, he must respect other people's national decisions. The basic position has not changed. Unless all member states ratify the treaty, it cannot come into effect. Therefore, the question of this country's decision not being respected does not arise. It is freely accepted and respected.
What we must recognise is that in the same way that it has implications for our position, it also has implications for other people's positions. I said at the Council meeting that we would need time to reflect on and analyse the various reasons, some of them contradictory, we find ourselves in this situation and that I would come back and report to them at the next Council meeting in October based on that reflection, analysis and work. I said that in the meantime, I would work with colleagues to see in what way we can progress matters one way or another. That is the position.
The only coercion I have ever heard to rapturous applause is the one to which the Deputy subscribed some years ago.
When we use the opportunity here to engage in debate about issues such as the Lisbon treaty and the Taoiseach resorts to that type of response in terms of a physical force background, it is a sure indication that he has lost the argument and that he has no answer.
With respect, I have addressed the issues here. As presumably the only person in the Chamber at the moment who voted "No", I am telling the Taoiseach that I have the right to put my case to him. He resorts to raising the issue of physical force backgrounds. There is no party represented here which does not have that.
I have offered the Taoiseach a very clear and straightforward analysis of what should be done by a Taoiseach in his position on the back of the Irish people's decision of 12 June. I ask him again with respect because I have never shown disrespect to his position——
That is not the case. I ask him again whether he will translate that respect and acceptance that he claims to hold for the Irish people's decision of 12 June and affirm that the ratification process cannot conclude because, quite simply, unanimity does not exist. That is the very least that the Irish electors, not only those who voted "No" but many who voted "Yes", would expect of a Taoiseach in affirming his people's right to make a democratic decision.
What does the Taoiseach say to attempts to promote the idea of a two-speed EU with this State in the second rank? We have heard remarks that are clearly purposeful in their intent gearing towards such. This is in all the context of scaremongering and trying to force the Irish electorate to accept that if a referendum re-presents——
Does the Taoiseach not accept if a referendum presents again, it would be on the issue of whether Ireland remains within the EU? Does he not accept that the Irish electors did not vote in respect of Ireland's position within the EU and that it was not an issue on the agenda on 12 June? Quite clearly, the overwhelming body of Irish opinion, including elected opinion, is absolutely committed to working within the EU as first-class citizens who deserve first-class respect from every other constituent member state.
The Irish people got that. They need have no worries in respect of the fact that I formally brought to the attention of the Council the fact that the Irish people had voted "No" in the referendum and that, therefore, we were not in a position to ratify the treaty as matters stand, which it already knew. I made that point, which is accepted, and the Deputy does not need to hammer it to death. There is no issue about it. These are intelligent people who know what the rule is in respect of international treaties. If all member states do not ratify it, it does not come into effect. It is a statement of the obvious.
The question for us, as politicians, is where do we go from here? That is the issue. The Deputy should not be surprised if people have an opinion on that.
The Deputy's party has offered it. It has its view. As I pointed out to the Deputy last week, this is a 27-way street where the agreement of everybody is needed rather than the Deputy's view being imposed on everyone else. It must be agreed by everybody.
It did not achieve it so let us get real here. The situation is simple. As matters stand, we are not in a position to ratify the treaty, but the ratification process is proceeding in all the other countries. They wish to discuss the situation with me. I can only discuss it with them on the basis of analysing the outcome on the conclusion of the vote and considering if and how we can proceed from here. That is what emerged from last week's meeting. If the Deputy looks, he will see those are the agreed conclusions and that is the position.
If someone wants to project beyond that, it is a free world, a free country and a free media. They can say and do what they like and print what they wish. They can have an opinion, and need not take umbrage if someone disagrees with them. That is the way it is and there is no more to it.
I will work within my constitutional remit to defend our interest as I see it to the best of my ability and the people will always be the arbiters of whether I continue in that job. There will be no coercion, threat, implication or ambivalence about where the sovereign will of the people resides. It resides with the people as all true republicans know.
When the Taoiseach was attending the summit meeting last week, I attended a parallel meeting just before it of leaders of Labour and Social Democrat parties from the 27 member states. Surprise was expressed there that the Irish Commissioner and the Taoiseach had, during the course of the campaign, stated they had not read the treaty. Was that issue raised with the Taoiseach at the summit meeting he attended?
The Taoiseach said the Lisbon treaty cannot come into effect as a result of the decision of the Irish referendum. That is a fact. There cannot be ambiguity about that. The treaty requires unanimity and, therefore, cannot be ratified and come into effect without our agreement. Arising from the discussions he had, what is the Taoiseach's assessment of the prospects of ratification in the remaining member states that have yet to make a decision? Is it the case that it is not a foregone conclusion that all of the remaining member states will ratify the treaty?
Was there any discussion about what would happen in the event that all the remaining member states ratify the treaty and we finish with 26 states having ratified the treaty and one not having ratified it? Was there any proposal, suggestion or indication given of the thinking of the other 26 members states in that scenario?
There was much press speculation around the meeting the Taoiseach attended that there would be a second referendum. That cannot be. We had a referendum and got a decision. We cannot go back again and ask people to vote a second time on the same proposition on which they have just voted. Apart from whether that should be done, it would not succeed. One of the suggestions floating around was that the Commissioner problem would be resolved and that all 27 member states would end up with a Commissioner. Was that proposal discussed at the meeting or suggested to the Taoiseach? Is there a proposal that there will be a Commissioner for all 27 member states?
I am glad to hear that and to hear that some traditions and conventions are respected here. On that issue, I made the comment to colleagues in answer to a question on the first day of the campaign that I had not read the treaty from cover to cover. The point I was making was that I did not need to read it from cover to cover because I had negotiated 95% of it as Minister for Foreign Affairs during our Presidency of the EU and had seen more drafts of it than, perhaps, some of the people asking about it. Of course, that was used as part of the honest campaign we had to contend with on the other side. That said, I do not regard my comment as a determining factor.
The issue of concern is the question of the position in other states. The treaty has been passed in 19 parliaments and others are proceeding with ratification. There is an issue with regard to the Czech Republic, where the matter has been referred to the constitutional court, which is not expected to hand down its decision until October. The Czech Prime Minister set out that position at the meeting and it was accommodated in the printed conclusions which the Deputy will have seen.
On the question of what happens if 26 states ratify the treaty, the concerns being raised relate to the current position under the Nice provisions, where there is a commitment to proceed with a new Commission, which would have fewer than 27 Commissioners. That commitment requires unanimity. There is also an issue with regard to the Lisbon treaty and the question of the Parliament and the numbers to be elected to it and the division of seats under the Lisbon arrangement as against the current situation under the Nice arrangement. That is a cause of concern for member states.
On the question of a Commissioner, there is no formal proposal in play. What was agreed in Nice was misrepresented by the "No" campaign. Apart from conscription and everything else, we had to contend with the idea that if people voted "No" to Lisbon they would be sure to keep their Commissioner. There was no legal basis for that. If one voted for Lisbon, the current arrangement would have stood until 2014, with the possibility of maintaining that arrangement, subject to unanimous decision, thereafter or one would apply the principle of equal rotation, which would be as good as any member state could negotiate, namely, equality with everyone else. This was portrayed in a certain way also, to suit the "No" argument. There is no formal proposal other than what we know the two positions to be.
During the course of the Lisbon negotiations, we and other member states sought to maintain the position of one Commissioner per member state implicit there, which would have retrieved the situation to a pre-Nice treaty provision. Others regard the question of the size of the Commission and its efficacy and everyone having a substantial role to play being determined by the need to reduce the number while at the same time having a compromise agreement to the principle of equal rotation thereafter so that the question of equality of treatment and respect for all states, regardless of size, is maintained in that compromise. As we know, this was also misrepresented during the course of the referendum campaign. That is the current position and there is no proposal on the table for amendment.
Much of the post-referendum and post-summit speculation focused on the idea that there will be a second referendum. Let us put that aside for the moment because I cannot see how we can have a second referendum on the same proposition. Let us say that the other 26 states proceed with ratification. I heard what the Taoiseach had to say about the situation in the Czech Republic but let us assume that the 26 states proceed to ratify when we have not. The Lisbon treaty cannot come into effect. A range of issues relating to the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the change from unanimity to qualified majority voting, the common energy policy and other matters provided for in Lisbon will not go ahead. The immediate issue that arises is the membership of the European Parliament and the Commission. Was consideration given to the European Parliament elections, which are less than a year away? On what basis will European Parliament elections take place — on the basis of the Nice or Lisbon formula? It is a pressing issue.
The Nice formula provides that membership of the Commission is to be reduced from 27 to an unspecified number from next year. The Lisbon formula was that the Commission would be reduced to 18 from 2014. We are operating with the Nice formula on the basis that the Lisbon treaty cannot be ratified. In 2009 the Commission membership will be reduced. Is consideration being given to the way in which that will be done? If it is not done, by having a reduction of zero, where do we stand on the appointment of a Commissioner next year? Has there been discussion on how portfolios would be allocated?
No, there has not been because we are in an uncertain situation. The agreed conclusion that emerged from the discussion was that we would analyse the situation because it was only a week since the referendum result and that the October Council meeting would see the matter discussed further to see if there was a way forward at that stage. The point is that there is uncertainty as to how to proceed. We operate under the Nice treaty provisions at present. These are ratified and form the basis of our work. Until there is a change to that, the Nice treaty provisions operate.
What is the view of the Taoiseach on enlargement? There seem to be different views from some leaders. Croatia has complied with all requirements for formally joining the EU. There appear to be different views on this matter. Is there an Irish view? What are the arrangements for President Sarkozy's visit? France is taking office of the EU Presidency on 1 July. What is the purpose of that visit? Is it to discuss how the Taoiseach and the Government see the way forward beyond October?
There is a real problem in identifying the underlying reasons why people voted "No". To me, as a public representative, they cover myriad things from bogs to ivy, local hospital closures and everything else one could think of. There must be a real assessment of the reasons. Has the Government considered the arrangement it will make to determine that accurately over the next few months? Will there be consultation with other parties in the House?
There were a number of cases regarding the eminent personalities serving on the Referendum Commission, where people wondered how they could know whether the commission could not answer a question. The Referendum Commission was constrained to the extent that it was not in operation until the Bill was published, which was late in the day. Does the Taoiseach have views on the position of the Referendum Commission for future referendums on some form of a Lisbon treaty or others? The Referendum Commission was given €6 million to explain the facts of the treaty. Some European leaders told me that if they had read the Referendum Commission booklet they would not have been inclined to vote "Yes" because they thought it did not deal with the concerns and anxieties citizens would have when they vote.
Ireland has always supported various phases of enlargement of the EU, once the Copenhagen criteria are met and the negotiations and accession treaties are agreed. That requires unanimity. The issue for many member states is how they see the effectiveness of the EU in the future and, in the absence of arrangements contemplated in the Lisbon treaty, the impact enlargement will have on the efficacy of the activities of the EU. I can only speak for Ireland and we support enlargement.
Regarding President Sarkozy's visit, the offer was made to come as the incoming Presidency and to give concrete expression that colleagues wish to assist in whatever way they can to help us see how matters can be moved forward. I welcome the fact that the incoming president wants to come to Ireland. He is more than welcome. He wishes to discuss his Presidency's programme and to have preliminary discussion on the background and circumstances of the "No" vote, which I welcome.
Deputy Kenny's comments on the Referendum Commission have been somewhat critical since the outcome of the referendum. I am not critical of it, it did a good job.
I do not know what message Deputy Bannon got but the only time I saw him, he was going into Kilbeggan races. The Referendum Commission did a good job. Issues arose when some questions were asked at a press conference and it took some time to get the reference in the treaty and this was regarded as a major indication of a problem. It was a marginal question and I am not sure the answer was immediately available to anyone. In the interests of correctness and accuracy, the Referendum Commission took time to obtain the information and take advice. That was played up. There was a bit of a game going on in terms of how that was portrayed, that because a member of the Referendum Commission did not know the answer, he did know what he was talking about. The man is a capable judge who was conscientious about his task. The members of the Referendum Commission worked well and did a good job. Their job was not to advocate on one side or the other, they put the case properly and appropriately and I have no problem with the Referendum Commission. There is always this indication that if one can find a chink in an issue which arose in an interview or press conference one can draw 25 conclusions from it, which is unfair. It should be stated that this is unfair, particularly when those who use the answers afterwards misrepresent the matter anyway. It is hard to listen to this type of argumentation.
I do not want to cast aspersions on the eminent judge who chaired the commission. My point is that it was only established after the Bill was published and it was very late in the day. If the Bill were published earlier, the commission could have been established earlier. Be that as it may, I hope when President Sarkozy comes here he will be welcome. However, the proposition of Madame Lagarde on tax harmonisation halfway through the campaign did not help matters and nor did the French Foreign Minister's comments that Ireland would be the first to suffer if the people voted "No". At an early stage, the French Minister for Agriculture, Michel Barnier, made his position clear on the right to use the veto in the WTO talks which might have been helpful had we had the same response from Government earlier.
We amend our Constitution on individual issues and have done so over the years on a variety of matters. We have an individual issue with an information campaign informing people on it and then the question is asked. The Attorney General as legal officer advised the Government of a requirement to hold a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. Is it possible for the Taoiseach or the Attorney General as legal officer to provide us with the areas within the treaty which require a constitutional referendum? If the Taoiseach does not have the information to hand perhaps he will supply it to us formally. A number of these areas exist and it might be helpful to separate the issues. The people were asked to approve the treaty which, within it, contained the transfer of a number of competencies which would require a popular vote to amend the Constitution. It was like a bus passing by to which every person having a dissident view could attach themselves. This is what happened.
What is the Taoiseach's view on the future of the Forum on Europe? It has been running for a number of years and is chaired by former Senator, Maurice Hayes. It introduced a number of pillars to allow people have their views for and against and carried out a remit by travelling throughout the country. Admittedly, many of the meetings were filled with people who had a particular point of view and were not as vigorous as the political meetings which were organised. Does the Taoiseach see the forum continuing in its current or another form?
The common consolidated tax base is a dossier which has been in European circles for many years. The current Commissioner for Taxation and Customs Union is László Kovács. I have attended a number of ECOFIN councils where the issue was discussed and I put the Irish case clearly and succinctly. It requires unanimity. We should not ascribe the fact that the dossier was mentioned in dispatches as being a determining factor as to why people should be frightened of it.
The bottom line is that the Commission has right of initiative since the Treaty of Rome. However, decisions are made at the Council of Ministers. In this regard, taxation matters require unanimous decision. We are not alone in having a view on this matter. Sometimes because an issue is raised we are supposed to run away from the horses. There is nothing to be defensive about in terms of what Ireland's position is with regard to this matter. Because it was raised it was suggested that matters could be coerced upon us and we had the demonising of the Union. Nothing can be coerced upon us in respect of these matters.
If a politician from Europe makes a comment in the course of a campaign here it is turned into a situation where Ireland will be penalised. The person is expressing his or her opinion. If it is a mark of frustration or a view on how things are, the person is entitled to his or her view, the same as we are entitled to ours. As we robustly express our views why should we be worried about what anyone else has to say?
I do not buy the argument that people should step back and say nothing about anything for fear they might offend us. I do not believe the people should listen to those who try to portray this as in some way inimicable to our interests. We live in a union of 27 member states with varying views on various matters all of the time. I do not agree with the contention that everyone should say nothing and I never suggested it to anybody. People can express their robust views any time they like and once it is done in a mutually respectful atmosphere I have no problem with it. I do not see it as something about which we should be concerned.
Regarding the WTO issue, we saw until the final day of the campaign a contention by Libertas that it would be decided by qualified majority vote. It claimed it could quote from text when everyone else, including the Commission, was able to confirm it requires unanimity. It never stopped Libertas continuing to assert the contrary. At no stage did anyone seem to be able to state Libertas was wrong. The argument was allowed continue as though it had validity.
Regarding our position on setting out the situation, I do not agree with Deputy Kenny. I reaffirmed existing policy. The fact it did not come any sooner was because I did not change the policy. As I pointed out in the statement it was a reaffirmation of policy. I understand the point was raised that it did not come any sooner. It did not come any sooner because I would not change the policy. I can provide clarification to anyone at any time about the policy.
The Deputy wishes.
The Forum on Europe has done good work in trying to bring to public attention the role Europe plays in our domestic affairs and politics. It has been scrupulous in its efforts to take into account all bodies of opinion regardless of what democratic mandate they have. This is fair enough to take account of the voluntary sector and advocacy groups. There is an issue about the need for this Parliament to reappraise how it brings the relevance of European issues to the floor of the House more regularly and how they impact on every aspect of policy. There is an idea that our interests are defended solely on the basis of whether we have a Commissioner, which in itself is important in terms of the institutional architecture of the Union. However, when one considers the workload and the 90 diplomats and public servants employed in our permanent representation office in Brussels who, on an ongoing basis, defend and monitor our interests, put our points of views and persuade in policy areas and myriad other areas throughout the Union apparatus, this is a far greater example of the resources and the efforts Ireland makes on a daily basis to influence what happens in Europe for the benefit of its people.
Too often we have not properly thought about how we reflect that in our national debate in every policy area and whether we should have more regular debates on the Union in the House on specific issues to bring to people's attention in real time the benefits that accrue by reason of our participation in Europe. That would bring into our domestic debate in a more real way for the electorate the importance the Union plays in their daily lives.
We have allowed a system to develop where we have been recognised as punching above our weight and as a flexible, constructive and persuasive partner in the Union over many years in a parallel universe within the negotiating fora of the Union and its institutions while not reflecting it in the body politic at home sufficiently. I consider this the more I reflect on the comprehension of how much a role Europe plays in the modernisation of this society, the economy we are building, the rationale behind our investment and industrial policies and the development of our social policies. The Union has been an integral part of the development of national policy and, in some cases, the genesis of policy has emanated from Brussels, much of it to our benefit and progression, yet the idea that, in some way, the Union demonises us and is there to overwhelm us and do us down continues to resonate. Suggestions were made during the campaign that the Union was trying to do us down and it was critical of us. We need to have a more mature debate in the House on a more regular basis on all aspects of policy and how Europe has helped shape our political thinking and the policies we implement in ways that are of real meaning to the lives of our people.
That has been a failure on all our parts, even since Ireland became a member of the Community. The rejection of the Nice treaty was a call to us and we responded by providing the forum, which served its own purpose.
Within Parliament, we have established the EU scrutiny committee. This is a critique of how we need to bring Europe more into the body politic of our discussion in order that it is not seen as an optional extra or something that happens to be a benefit separate from——
This morning's national newspapers reported the French European Affairs Minister, Jean-Pierre Jouyet, as saying he sees the hand of American neoconservatives in the Irish referendum on the Lisbon treaty. Will the Taoiseach comment on this?
The Taoiseach uttered words we could support but we only had five hours last week to debate the referendum, during which I had a minute and a half. The Forum on Europe needs to be revamped and reformed, as it is a glorified talking shop comprising the in crowd meeting in the confines of the grandiose setting of Dublin Castle. It should be more relevant to the people. The Taoiseach should seriously examine the forum and revamp it. The Seanad, in the context of its reform, should be given a greater role in dealing with European affairs by inviting Commissioners to the House and giving it real work to do along with support for legislative work. There is huge potential in the context of Seanad and Dáil reform. Rather than talk about it, the Taoiseach should do it.
I do not have any comment to make on other people's views on the referendum. They are entitled to their opinion. Let everyone give their opinion on it if they wish.
I take Deputy Allen's point. In response to Deputy Kenny, we need to try to improve the way we project the work we do in the House as having a greater connection with what goes on in Europe than we portray currently because of the way our political culture has developed. We have not brought that into our narrative for whatever reason and we should try to consider how we can do that, including examining all these issues. We need to develop our thinking in the coming weeks and months.