Seanad debates

Thursday, 13 October 2005

3:00 pm

Photo of Noel TreacyNoel Treacy (Galway East, Fianna Fail)

Ba mhaith liom buíochas a gabháil leis an Seanad as ucht an díospóireachta iontaigh maidir leis an Aontas Eorpach a bhí againn sa Teach inniu. Táimid an-bhuíoch don Taoiseach as ucht teacht anseo chun páirt mhór a ghlacadh agus ceannasaíocht a thabhairt don díospóireacht. It is always a pleasure to come to the Seanad. I followed the earlier part of this debate from my office before I came to the House to listen to the contributions of Senators. I thank Members from all sides of the House for the positive contributions they have made this afternoon. It is obvious that the European Union is of great importance to all Senators. It is clear they are focused on and committed to the European project and have a fine understanding of it. They seem to have a clear vision of where the EU is going and what it should be about. Senators have lauded the contribution the EU has made to the development of Ireland since it joined the Union in 1973.

I pay tribute to the Taoiseach and thank him for coming to the Seanad to lead this debate, for making a significant contribution to it and for officially launching the White Paper on the European Constitution on behalf of the Government and the people of Ireland at this important time of reflection for the European Union. The European Council of the Heads of States and Governments has decided that we need to reflect on the failure of the proposed EU constitution to be accepted by the electorates of France and the Netherlands. It is important at this time to reflect on the progress that has been made by the Union and the path it should take into the future. We need to consider how quickly the EU has reached its current status. There has been a substantial expansion not only of the EU's membership, but also of its population. We should think about the EU's future borders. We cannot continue to expand the EU in an ad hoc manner without considering the ramifications of such machinations on the existing member states. The period of reflection should be used to ponder the many changes which have taken place as well as the great challenges and opportunities which are faced by all member states.

As the Minister of State with responsibility for European Affairs, I had a very small input into the White Paper on the European Constitution, which is a fine document. I pay tribute to the work done in this regard by the Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the management officials within the Department of Foreign Affairs. I refer in particular to the outgoing director general of the Department's European affairs division, Mr. Montgomery, who is now in charge of the Department's political division. He played a key role in writing, co-ordinating and putting the final touches to the White Paper. It should be noted that the officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs worked on the White Paper without any external assistance — it was an in-house operation. I pay special tribute to the Department's political director, Mr. Montgomery, who made a huge contribution to the White Paper. It is an outstanding document that is a credit to him and his colleagues in the Department who helped to compile the document ahead of its ultimate analysis and ratification at Government level. Now that it is a public document, the citizens of this country have an opportunity to engage with it and I hope they will do so. In particular, I would like those of us involved in political life, such as the Members of the Oireachtas and the members of local authorities, to examine the White Paper.

Although the European Union is critically important, we seem to take it seriously only when a crisis or a problem is developing, as the Leader of the House said. It is a part of our everyday lives that has a key role to play. It is critically important that we recognise that it makes a massive contribution to equality, economic development, market opportunities and the transfer of resources. We need to continue to speak about the EU and to get our message across in primary schools, secondary schools, third level institutions, business organisations, voluntary bodies and political movements. That is also critically important.

We must all embrace this debate. Nobody has single ownership of it because it is a collective responsibility. European meetings are held throughout the country and in this regard I pay particular tribute to the Forum on Europe under the outstanding leadership of Senator Maurice Hayes. It is important that we all support the forum and, as elected political representatives at national and local level, that we engage with the public so they have a better understanding of what Europe is about and where it is going. I appeal to everybody to use this opportunity for reflection to study the document. We must engage with and support the forum in its efforts to get the message across to the people, which is important for us all.

I wish to reinforce Ireland's strong and outstanding leadership pertaining to European issues but particularly to the Common Agricultural Policy. It is in this regard that the Taoiseach in particular has given such outstanding leadership. He is a former President of the Union, universally respected within the European Union for his negotiating skills and wonderful leadership, and probably the most respected leader in Europe at this time, when leadership is critically important. The CAP has been critical to Ireland with regard to the massive transfer of resources we receive, the modern agricultural industry we have developed, our production capacities and our ability to supply not only European but world markets. It is critically important we maintain the CAP and speak with a united voice.

I am pleased to represent Ireland in an observer capacity as part of the Friends of Cohesion group of countries. At this stage some 20 countries have reached agreement that the financial perspectives negotiations which took place up to 30 June last indicated the best way forward for the future. The 20 countries believe we should get a decision during this term, under the UK Presidency. I hope this can be achieved in December so Europe will have the financial and political leadership and sustainability that is critically important for the future, and that any uncertainty will be eliminated as a matter of urgency.

On behalf of the Taoiseach, I thank all Members for their contribution to this debate on the European Union. I hope that, collectively, we can encourage the citizens of the nation to engage with regard to the critical role that Europe has played in the development of our country, the critical role Ireland can play within Europe and the great challenges and opportunities ahead. Working together in a consensual way, I hope we make our contribution to Europe and, in turn, that Europe will continue to support us in our economic development and the creation of equality of opportunity for all of the citizens on this island and across Europe in the decades ahead, which will be challenging, exciting and rewarding.


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