Thursday, 12 September 2002
An Bille um an Séú Leasú is Fiche ar an mBunreacht, 2002: An Dara Céim. Twenty-sixth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 2002: Second Stage.
I congratulate you, a Chathaoirligh, on your election. I was impressed by the generosity and civility with which this House conducts its business, but that is not to say I wish to be back here. The tributes paid to you this morning were entirely appropriate.
I am pleased to open this debate on a matter of the highest importance. That the new Seanad is addressing this issue on its first sitting day underscores the significance of the forthcoming referendum on the Nice treaty. The debate on the issue has been raging in recent weeks and has very frequently lacked objectivity. Myths have been perpetuated and have become the basis on which much has been said and written to date. The people deserve truth and objectivity. I will address some of the myths.
The first myth is that there is a plan B and that the Nice treaty is of no great significance. The treaty is necessary for enlargement – the Treaty of Nice will collapse without Irish ratification. The real tragedy is that the collapse of the treaty will, at least in the short term, have a devastating impact on small European states which have much in common with Ireland. These small states regard Ireland as how a small state should operate within the Union. It would be a tragedy if they suffer because we vote "No". There is no plan B. There is no alternative set of proposals, either on the table, under the table or in the filing cabinet. This has been pointed out by the Commissioner with responsibility for enlargement and the President of the Council of Ministers.
The European Council meeting in Seville confirmed that the ratification of the Nice treaty is a condition for enlargement to take place within the scheduled timescale. The enlargement negotiations would be seriously disrupted if the Treaty of Nice was not ratified. The current timescale for the accession of the ten states would be completely unrealistic. Ireland would be regarded as having caused this crisis.
The forthcoming referendum on the Treaty of Nice is not just about enlargement and Europe, it is also about Ireland. We are at a crossroads; we are deciding what future we will have in Europe. We are making a statement as to how we conduct our political debates.
It is a disgraceful xenophobic myth that there will be a threat of a flood of migrant workers coming to Ireland. A wilful effort has been made by the National Platform and the No to Nice Campaign organisation to raise the spectre of a wave of immigrants coming to our shores. This is the worst and most unworthy objection I have heard to the Nice treaty; it is most "un-Irish" and speaks volumes about the level at which some are willing to conduct political debate. It is a shameful and distasteful piece of propaganda.
Xenophobic fears have been raised before. When Ireland was joining the EEC in 1973, the same National Platform warned of foreign skilled workers taking Irish jobs. False fears of mass movements of people at the time of previous enlargements were also raised, but, as we know from the Spanish and Portuguese enlargement, these fears did not materialise. There is no credible reason to believe enlargement will be accompanied by large movements of people. All the evidence points in the opposite direction.
While there is no evidence that Ireland will have a problem with free movement of workers on accession, it will have the same freedom as other member states to take measures to protect the labour market, should a problem arise. The agreement reached in June last year between the existing member states, including Ireland, and the applicant countries provides that member states will continue to apply their own national policies on free movement of workers to the citizens of new member states for a period of two years after accession. In Ireland our policy will be determined by the conditions in our own domestic labour market. After the first two years of enlargement Ireland, like other member states, will have the option of continuing to apply its existing national measures for a further three years. National measures may be applied for a further two years after that, with the approval of the Council of Ministers. The myth which has been perpetuated in recent times that member states have achieved a seven year opt-out is completely false. The myth that Ireland is not in line with the other 14 member states is equally false.
The suggestion has been made that we would be doing the applicant countries a favour by voting "No". This amazing argument has been brought forward by people who have been protesting their support of enlargement. It does not need me to labour the internal contradiction in this argument. It is also a strange argument to be brought forward by people who have, for many years, been protesting about national sovereignty. Do they not accept the sovereign right of the applicant countries to make their own decisions without help or hindrance from us? Above all, it is an incredibly arrogant argument. It is amazing to hear leaders of pressure groups and politicians arguing that somehow they have superior knowledge of what is best for the people of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Malta, Cyprus or any of the other applicant states.
Another myth is that a "No" vote is cost free and that we can vote "No" for fun, to give the Government a kick in the shins or teach the big boys a lesson. A "No" vote is not cost free. This is the most dangerous myth of all. A "No" vote in the referendum will be very costly. Political parties in the No to Nice Campaign which dismiss the suggestion that there is a risk to voting "No" are playing with fire.
One in six Irish jobs depends directly or indirectly on foreign firms. If the Irish shoot down Nice, rightly or wrongly it will be interpreted abroad as a move away from Europe. Investors will sniff uncertainty. More uncertainty means less investment and less investment today means fewer jobs tomorrow.
This is also the analysis of business and other civic sector leaders in the State. The IDA chief executive, Mr. Seán Dorgan, who knows more about job creation than most on the "No" side, has stated matters very clearly. He says, "The vote on the Nice treaty wil be seen by investors and potential investors as indicating the degree of our engagement in the EU, whether we are participating at the heart of its future development or whether we are marginalised." No serious person wants to marginalise Ireland in Europe.
Business community leaders are also clear. An extraordinary advertisement appeared recently in the Irish Examiner which read, "A "Yes" vote is good for Europe, good for Ireland and good for Cork." We could substitute counties Wexford, Wicklow, Carlow, Donegal, Kilkenny or anywhere else for Cork because a "Yes" vote and enlargement will be good for every county and community in the State. The president of the Cork Chamber of Commerce in the same paper observed:
The message was repeated by other business leaders. Mr. Humphrey Murphy, managing director of Global Stainless Steel, said in the same issue of the Irish Examiner, "EU enlargement will provide major opportunities across all industry sectors." Mr. Brian Molally, general manager of Janssen Pharmaceutical Limited, said:
This company originally established in Ireland because, apart from financial/ operational reasons we saw Ireland's membership of the EU community as being extremely valuable to our worldwide operations in Europe. Further development and expansion followed, taking into consideration Ireland's continuing commitment to participate to the fullest degree at the heart of EU affairs.
Most American foreign direct investment is here because of access to Europe. People argue about whether that would be affected if we achieve pariah status. Maybe it will and maybe it will not but as the representative of the workers in the factories funded by that investment I am not willing to risk voting "No".
The extraordinary arrogance of those in the "No" campaign is difficult to understand. I asked them in the other House if any of them had experience of creating one solitary job. The response was silence. To dismiss the prevailing advices is politically irresponsible and their irresponsibility will put jobs at risk. It is not many years since the best this country could offer our young people was the emigrant ship. I spent 21 years lecturing in Ireland's premier business school. Of the first BComm graduating class with which I dealt almost 80% had to emigrate in order to get a job. I feel sufficiently passionate about this matter not to let that happen again without a fight.
The proposals have been ignored in much of the debate on the treaty. The Nice treaty is a relatively modest, if technical, step. Its significance is that it prepares for enlargement. The sweeping allegations made against it are over the top. It does not transfer new competences from national to European level. It does not alter the basic nature of the Union, the balances between the institutions or the relationship between the large and small member states. It does not destroy independence and sovereignty or allow for the creation of a two tier Europe. Any careful or reasonable assessment will confirm that the Nice treaty is a good deal for Ireland and small states, present and future.
Second, as regards the Council of Ministers, it is true that the larger member states gained a little in relative terms to balance their loss regarding the Commission. However, one look at the figures shows how comparatively marginal the changes have been. Without the Nice treaty Ireland would have 2.24% of the total votes in an EU of 27 member states. Under Nice this would fall by less than one tenth, to 2.03%. One does not have to be a rocket scientist to work out that 2.03% or 2.24% is not a majority in the Council of Ministers. Our influence in the Council of Ministers has arisen because of the goodwill we have earned, goodwill we would now squander if we were to listen to the naysayers.
Third, on the issue of qualified majority voting, it is true that 30 new areas will fall under QMV. Almost all the new areas moving to QMV are of extremely limited significance. Contrary to another myth perpetrated by the "No" side, taxation, an issue of some significance in this State, remains subject to unanimity because we and our allies successfully fought at the Nice negotiations to keep it so. There is no threat to Ireland's tax status. We will remain the sole and sovereign deciders on our tax status.
Fourth, it has been alleged that the new provisions in the area of enhanced co-operation will somehow result in a two-tier Europe. I simply cannot understand the logic of this argument. It is false. Enhanced co-operation is not a new idea. It allows for flexibility. The concept has already been beneficial in the introduction of the euro and in overcoming the hiatus on the Social Chapter. Think back a few years to when the Social Chapter was literally being stymied by conservative forces from our nearest neighbour. If it were not for some form of flexibility the Social Chapter, with its attendant benefits to workers and promotion of equality, would not have been passed. It was because of flexibility that it was, and enhanced co-operation is all about flexibility.
The people will be asked to vote on the specific amendment to the Constitution contained in this Bill. The amendment allows for the ratification of the Treaty of Nice and enables Ireland to participate in enhanced co-operation projects under it where we choose to so do. Both these elements are in line with previous amendments to the Constitution to allow for ratification of earlier treaties. Indeed, one will recall there was a constitutional amendment inserted at the time when enhanced co-operation first arose. One will see it in Article 29, I am sure we will come to debate it in detail later.
The amendment also contains a new subsection that I regard as one of the most important steps we as a nation will ever take. It copperfastens our tradition of military neutrality. It will prevent the State from adopting a decision of the European Council to enter into a common defence without having the prior approval of the Irish people through a referendum. I regard that as a remarkable step forward. Bunreacht na hÉireann has served the people of this nation well since 1937 but it has been silent in terms of references to common defence or military neutrality or alliances. For the first time, by voting "Yes", the Irish people will be able to copperfasten what is our common belief about our neutrality. The best guarantee we can give to the Irish people is their own guarantee.
It is right to focus on the precise wording of the amendment and the specific contents of the Treaty of Nice. At the same time, a deeper question is being asked. Do we wish Ireland to remain at the heart of the Union as a fully engaged and active member, or do we wish to move ourselves to the margins? It is our fundamental approach to Europe which is ultimately at stake in the upcoming referendum.
There is an overwhelming national consensus that, over 30 years, our membership has been profoundly beneficial in all sorts of ways. In the course of this debate I am sure that Members of the House will bring their own particular perspectives to the story of our experience in Europe, but the headlines are clear and beyond doubt. European Union membership has been essential to our economic progress. The direct financial support we have received, and continue to receive, from Structural and Cohesion Funds has been a key factor in the development of our infrastructure, the promotion of industry, the training of young people and the building of an environment we can all enjoy. The Common Agricultural Policy has been crucial in developing our farming sector and in sustaining rural communities. Through our membership of the European Union we have seen higher standards across the board, including areas like environmental protection, workplace health, safety, protection, promotion of equal rights, women's rights and workers' rights.
It has been a win-win situation all the way for Ireland. Politically and psychologically our horizons have been broadened, helping us to place our own historic issues in a new and wider context. In particular, the European Union has been important in the maturing and development of relationships within these islands. It has been a steadfast and generous supporter of the search for peace and reconciliation in Ireland.
Ever since 1973, our membership of the Union has had other less tangible dimensions, including that of idealism. This is a dimension that is often disregarded in the debate and perhaps it is time we raised our sights and focused on the idealism of Europe. We have been proud to be part of a unique and unprecedentedly successful venture which has helped to bring peace and stability to a continent which has been a by-word for bloody conflict in terms of history. We have seen old adversaries leave behind enmity and suspicion and move to partnership and reconciliation, to working together for the common good in a community of sovereign nations.
Europe will be as important for Ireland in the years ahead as it has been in those gone by. We must play a fully engaged role, protecting our interests and trying to shape developments in a positive direction. We will only have any real influence if we remain at the heart of Europe and give nobody any reason to question our commitment. A failure to ratify Nice will seriously damage our standing. This is the broad context in which the debate should be situated. Those who know directly and at first hand just what is at stake – the farming and trades union leaders and business leaders such as IBEC and the chambers of commerce – are speaking for the first time and I welcome their participation. Civic society has a role to play in this debate.
Our decision will have major consequences for our future, and it is right and necessary that all be engaged in the debate. It is above all for these reasons that the Government has decided to hold a second referendum. Those who oppose the Treaty of Nice allege that this course of action is wrong. Some have even advanced the argument that somehow or other it is unconstitutional to return in a democracy to the people and ask them their wishes on an issue of fundamental importance to them, to their children and to their children's children. It is peculiar that those who present themselves as champions of democracy would seek to impede the efforts of a democratically elected Government to place a matter of great significance before the people for their democratic decision.
First, we are firmly committed to the enlargement of the Union, which we believe is in the interests of the Union, of the candidate countries and of Ireland. That enlargement cannot take place unless the Irish people say "Yes". The key is in our hands. The applicants have reached the gate. We can turn the key and let them in or we can say "No" and shut them out. It is as simple and as stark as that.
Second, the ratification of the treaty is essential for enlargement to proceed. It is not in our interests to obstruct enlargement or to put ourselves offside with the 14 existing member states or the applicant countries. Third, we remain convinced that the terms of the treaty represent a fair, reasonable and balanced deal. The treaty is particularly beneficial for the small member states, including Ireland.
Fourth, over the past year we have listened to the concerns of the people as expressed in the last referendum and have worked hard to address the issues that were raised. Fifth, Ireland's failure to ratify the Nice treaty would have the potential to do grave damage to our national interests, which no responsible Government could contemplate with equanimity. It is our moral responsibility to return to the people and allow them to reconsider this issue. If mistakes were made last year, they were made on the "Yes" side and in the manner in which we presented the issue to the people.
In June 1993, at the Copenhagen European Council, it was agreed that the relationship between the Union and the countries of central and eastern Europe would, in principle, develop towards full membership, provided that the candidates met demanding political, economic and administrative criteria and that they completed accession negotiations successfully. All these requirements have now been filled and Ireland's referendum is the last hurdle. The people of Ireland hold the key.
It is clear that Ireland has a great deal to gain from saying "Yes". There is no advantage to the Irish people in saying "No" to European enlargement. All the advantages – economic, social and cultural – reside with voting "Yes". By voting "Yes" the Irish people will keep Ireland at the very heart of the European Union, ensure that it continues to be one of the most attractive places in Europe for foreign investment and secure existing jobs.
By voting "Yes" we will ensure that when the review of the Common Agricultural Policy takes place, we will have friends and allies at the negotiating table. By voting "Yes" we will ensure that Ireland continues to enjoy the social and cultural progress that has been a fact of Irish life since we joined the European Union. By voting "Yes" we will protect our neutrality by putting a requirement into our Constitution that no Irish Government, now or in the future, can enter into a common defence without first having a referendum of the Irish people.
By voting "Yes" we will endorse a treaty that, for the first time, gives Ireland exactly the same rights as Germany, France, Britain or any of the large countries in the appointment of a member to the European Commission. By voting "Yes" we will ensure that Ireland is not sidelined into a eurosceptic cul-de-sac and that we remain in a position to influence the European Union as it develops.
By voting "Yes" the Irish people will allow states recently emerged into the bright sunlight of democracy from the tyranny of communism to re-integrate with fellow Europeans in a community of sovereign, independent nations dedicated to peace, democracy and prosperity. If we vote "No" we will deny them that prospect. By voting "Yes" we will endorse the courage which, after the horrors of the last world war, launched Europe into the longest period of peace and tranquillity in modern history. If we vote "Yes" we will all benefit. Nobody will benefit from a "No" vote.
The Government is fully aware that, during last year's referendum, we and others who wish to see Ireland stay at the heart of Europe failed to persuade or adequately inform the public either of the truth about the Nice treaty or its significance. We have since taken a range of major steps to address these concerns.
The National Forum on Europe has provided an invaluable platform for the sort of sustained and balanced debate on European issues that we have not previously enjoyed. The forum, as well as confirming widespread support for enlargement, explored a number of key issues of concern, most notably the question of parliamentary scrutiny of EU business and the status of Ireland's neutrality in the Union.
The Oireachtas has the capacity to rectify any perceived democratic deficit in the way we handle EU proposals. A new system of Oireachtas scrutiny of EU business is now in place, with arrangements for departmental reports on proposals for legislation and for pre-Council briefing of committees. That is a positive step forward, one which many in the House called for over the years during which I was a Member. It has now been realised.
During the last referendum campaign, the Government made clear that the Nice treaty would in no way threaten or undermine our military neutrality. Some disputed this assertion and made a number of exaggerated claims. These claims were without substance and the Government has acted decisively since the referendum to demonstrate that this is so. In the first instance, the Taoiseach secured agreement at the Seville European Council to two declarations which set out an agreed interpretation of the relevant provisions of the treaties. These declarations confirm that the development of the European Union's Common Foreign and Security Policy shall not prejudice Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality, make it clear that the treaties do not impose any binding defence commitments on Ireland and do not involve the establishment of a European army, and recognise that Ireland will not participate in a common defence arrangement without the approval of the Irish people in a referendum. They also confirm that Irish troop contingents will not take part in EU operations unless the triple-lock mechanism operates, which will require that the operations have the authorisation of the UN and that the deployment is agreed by the Government and approved by the Dáil.
This is the shared understanding of the governments of the 15 member states that negotiated the treaty. It is also the understanding of the legal services of the European Council. The Seville declarations confirm that these guarantees stand and that they will be respected by the member states. Of course the cynics say they are merely a political promise. The proposed amendment, however, goes further than a mere political promise. If approved by the people, it will prevent the State from adopting a decision by the European Council to establish a common defence policy where that common defence policy would include Ireland. In putting forward this proposal, the Government has not only changed the question that is being put before the people, but has eliminated any reasonable, outstanding doubts about the Nice treaty and its impact or potential impact on Irish neutrality.
It is clear that the Nice treaty poses no threat to Irish neutrality. There is no European army in the making. The fear of conscription, particularly given its source, is a fantasy. Ireland will not join a military alliance without the specific approval of the people. Those members of the electorate who hesitated last time can now vote "Yes" in the confidence that they are the guarantors of the future. Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality is safe because it is being put into the hands of the Irish people.
The Treaty of Nice should not be feared as somehow transforming Europe for the worse. It should instead be supported as a key to a better future for all Europeans. It does no harm to Ireland's interests, but protects them. That is why the Government and the major parties believe it should be ratified and why we are asking the people to reflect and to think again. The decision they will make is for them alone. However, I want it to be a decision in which the greatest possible number takes part, and a decision that follows sustained and informed debate. I support the Twenty-sixth Amendment of the Constitution Bill and commend it to the House.
Before I call Senator Bradford, I would like to inform the House that No. 6, the motion pursuant to section 23 of the Referendum Act, 1994 (No. 12 of 1994), prescribing a formal statement for the information of voters to be included on the polling card, will be debated in conjunction with Second Stage of the Bill which is now being debated, and will be formally moved when the debate on the Bill is concluded.
I congratulate the Cathaoirleach on his elevation to high office earlier today. Our political history goes back a long way. I am delighted to see he has reached this height in his career. I am sure he will carry out his duties in a calm, dignified and fair fashion and I wish him and his family every success. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, to the House. When I first became a Member of the Seanad in 1987, he was Chairman of the Joint Committee on Commercial State-sponsored Bodies. I found him fair, open and honest and I wish him well in the important role he is now taking on board.
It is a bit like "Back to the Future" for me because when I sat in Seanad Éireann for the first time in 1987 we debated the Single European Act. Now, in my resurrected political career, we are debating the significant issue of the Nice treaty. The vote on the Nice treaty is the most important electoral decision to be faced by the people for many years. Its outcome will shape the direction of Ireland and Europe for years to come. As we all know, general elections, Seanad elections, local authority elections and Governments come and go. However, the decision the people will take in the Nice referendum will set in stone the future direction of Europe and its people. It is as important as that. There will be no third chance for the Treaty of Nice as on this occasion our vote will be final. Therefore we must work strongly so that the people recognise the serious consequences of our decision.
Fine Gael enthusiastically supports the treaty, as we did when in the previous referendum. It can claim to be the party of Europe and has, since the 1950s, been a champion of Irish participation in the European project and to the forefront in supporting the referenda which have progressed the European Union. We are willing again to play our part in building a bigger and better Europe.
We must challenge the Irish people to engage seriously in the political debate on the politics of Europe. As a practising politician, it was disappointing and depressing to see such little interest and involvement in the previous referendum. We were all to some degree to blame for the low turnout, the lack of understanding of the issues and the eventual negative result. There is a heavy onus on us to do better.
I concur with the Minister in viewing this as not just a political question but one with profound moral implications. We the people of this country, who have gained so much from European ideals and benefited enormously in economic, social and cultural terms since 1973, must ask ourselves if we want to afford the same opportunity to the 12 applicant countries, particularly those from the former Soviet bloc. Tens of millions of people, who lived behind the Iron Curtain where repression, fear and a lack of basic human rights comprised the staple daily diet, now have the opportunity of a new beginning in the broader European home. Our choice in a few weeks' time will decide whether or not these people will have the chance of a better future, which is essentially the question at the centre of the treaty. It would not just be bad politics but mean spirited, narrow minded, insular and politically immoral for us not to give the applicant countries the chance we were given in 1973.
My first overseas parliamentary visit as a Member of the Oireachtas, in 1987, was to Berlin, East and West, as part of a Christian Democrat tour led by the then Deputy Paddy Cooney, who was not noted for a sympathetic view of life behind the Iron Curtain. Even though I had read a lot about Eastern Europe, I was dumbfounded by the lack of spirit or optimism of any sort among the people of East Germany, which was in stark contrast to the vibrant, dynamic life of West Berlin with its buzzing thoroughfares. Little did I think that two years later the Berlin wall would fall and the people of Eastern Europe would pass their final verdict on the communist system. Since then, that part of Europe has made major strides, not withstanding the Balkan and other conflicts. Those people are charting a new political and economic course for future generations, but the success of that and the securing of long-term peace and stability across the entire Continent depend on EU enlargement. We must use our second chance for the Treaty of Nice to give a first chance to them. I enthusiastically call on the people to vote "Yes" to European enlargement, the hopes of the applicant countries and to Ireland, which has made great progress since we joined.
The fear is expressed that the Union's extension will hinder rather than further Irish interests and that the generous ongoing financial aid we enjoy will be diverted elsewhere, but that is as erroneous as the view that the expansion of the then EEC from nine to 12 and then 15 countries would be bad for Ireland. An expansion of the Union to include up to a dozen more countries and millions of people will obviously involve new challenges but it will also present new opportunities. Europe cannot and will not stand still and neither should Ireland. In a changing world, a bigger, stronger EU, with Ireland playing a leading role, can be an enormous force for good. The alternative Europe of the present EU, with perhaps one or two additional members on one side and a dozen former Soviet bloc countries on the other, would be a Europe of the "haves" and the "have-nots". One half of the Continent would believe that the other half had stopped its progress. We must say "No" to this by saying "Yes" to the treaty.
If the referendum is to pass, as I hope it will, the problems associated with the first failed campaign must be tackled. As I said, we were all to blame. Where there was disinterest in that campaign, there must now be involvement. The doubt of 15 months ago must be replaced by clarification. From the Government's perspective – and the current Minister was not responsible – the arrogant, dismissive attitude towards people who sincerely voted "No" must be replaced by a reasonable understanding of their fears. Not everyone who voted "No" represented the Flat Earth Society. Many were genuinely confused and decided that if in doubt it was wiser to vote "No" or not at all.
As the Minister and the Taoiseach have stated, the referendum must not become one on the state of the Government. I do not have to be party political, although I will be accused of being so, to say that already within the first few months of its existence, there is a deep anger, resentment and bitterness among a large section of the electorate at the Government's U-turns and about turns. The Government was re-elected on the spin of more boom and bloom but that vision has blown away in the gales of reality. There is an understandable perception of deception held by tens of thousands of people who see job losses, hospital cut-backs, college fee increases and extra health charges as the only reward for returning the Government, and that does not take account of the "Bertie bowl" fiasco.
With a disillusioned electorate believing that at best it was sold a pup and at worst was deliberately deceived, there is a strong possibility that the fight back against the Government will begin with a rejection of the Treaty of Nice. We must all address this and I urge the people, regardless of how much they feel let down and deceived, not to vent their anger by voting "No" because the treaty and its effects on Ireland and the applicant countries are of such profound significance that the consequences will be with us for decades after the Government meets it well deserved fate. I call on the people to cast aside temporarily their disgust and put their anger on hold for the next local, European or general elections and give the European project and the people of the applicant countries a second chance by voting "Yes".
Against the backdrop of the Government's weakened moral authority and the situation where the Taoiseach's pre-election promises are sadly – I say without joy – merely worthless bonds, there is a great onus on the pro-Nice parties to play a leading role in the "Yes" campaign. Fine Gael will be a willing participant and our director of elections, the former Taoiseach, Deputy John Bruton, has organised many meetings throughout the country to explain the issues. Every Fine Gael public representative will play a role in his or her own community in promoting the "Yes" side.
As members of the largest political group in Europe, the European People's Party with its strong tradition of Christian democracy, Fine Gael has a natural role in leading the European debate. We will leave no stone unturned to encourage the Irish people to vote "Yes". There are other political parties in Opposition and politicians of no party who support the Nice treaty. I am sure they will also play a role so that, together, the Opposition can make up for the lack of credibility on the Government side of the House.
The issues, concerns and fears which led to the referendum defeat last summer must be clarified and addressed. Fifteen months ago the main red herring was the issue of neutrality. Our neutrality was not under threat from the Nice treaty and it is certainly not under threat now, particularly with the Seville declaration. Anybody who attempts to draw the neutrality issue into the debate is deliberating trying to sow the seeds of confusion and doubt. The Government and all pro-Nice treaty parties must put this issue at rest clearly and early in the campaign. Ireland's neutrality has not been threatened by participation in the European Economic Community, the European Community or the European Union and it will not be threatened by an enlarged Union.
The changed structures that are proposed under the treaty to facilitate the better management of a larger Union are also causing doubts and confusion. There is, for example, the mistaken view that Ireland's entitlement to appoint a European Commissioner will disappear. This is incorrect. Any such decision could only be taken unanimously at European level and I doubt that Ireland would give its assent to any such proposal. Issues such as the number of seats Ireland will hold in a larger European Parliament and its voting rights under the qualified majority voting system need to be clearly explained.
Euro-speak or euro-jargon is not the language people speak each day so there is no point using it when trying to bring the European debate to the Irish people. The questions asked by the electorate in simple language must be answered in simple language. Brussels-speak, which is more often practised by Irish officials than Brussels officials, comes across as cold, arrogant and dismissive. We cannot afford to use it if we want the people to vote for the treaty. I urge the Minister and the Government to keep the debate clear and concise and to avoid the terminology which can make Brussels and the European Union so distant from everyday life.
We must ensure there is a large turnout for the referendum. Turnout for the last referendum was embarrassingly small – I found it depressing. The turnout was pathetic and the result was negative. The decision appears to have stemmed from confusion, apathy and disinterest not just on the part of the electorate, but also on the part of a large sector of the political establishment. None of us can plead entire innocence in that regard.
How can we increase turnout? Information on the referendum must be forthcoming. The Referendum Commission documentation prior to the last vote was, unfortunately, an addition to the confusion rather than a clarification. It made no sense to the majority of voters. Tens of thousands of people did not vote because they did not understand the issues. On this occasion, documentation from the Government and from political parties must be sharper and concise. I am aware that the McKenna judgment imposes certain restrictions on Government but it is vital that the key issues are presented in a transparent and understandable fashion. It is not patronising to say the people did not fully understand the issue last year. This year, all practising politicians must ensure there is no repetition of what happened then, when all of us knew hundreds of people in our constituencies who simply did not understand the issues and decided not to vote.
We must also facilitate the electorate and increase turnout by the choice of polling day. This is a vote of enormous importance. It is about the future of Europe and we can learn from Europe about improving voter turnout. The referendum should be held on a weekend to facilitate young people, students and the working population. Perhaps the Minister would discuss with the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the possibility of holding the referendum over two days of the weekend, for example, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday night and all day Saturday or all day Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday. If we wish to give people an opportunity to vote and to increase turnout, we must use every opportunity to do so. If Wednesdays and Thursdays were good enough for voting in previous years, they are not good enough now. In the recent general election there was a record low turnout. We must address that broad problem and we have an opportunity to begin doing that in the Nice treaty campaign. I urge the Minister to consider my suggestion.
I am a little disappointed that more progress has not been made with regard to electronic voting. A referendum is the ideal vehicle for the introduction of electronic voting, given its simple "Yes" or "No" choice. Apparently, only a few additional constituencies will have electronic voting. Even at this late stage I appeal to the Minister to maximise the use of electronic voting. It should not be impossible to have it in most constituencies on this occasion.
Undoubtedly, the Bill will be passed by the House but I wish the Minister well in his efforts to take its message in a positive fashion to the people. My colleagues will speak on issues such as agriculture, women's rights and the future for young people, all of which are crucial to this debate. I agree with the Minister that a "Yes" vote means everybody wins, but a "No" vote means nobody wins. This referendum is of huge importance to the people and it deserves the complete commitment of all Members. I can pledge that the Fine Gael Party will commit itself to ensuring that the referendum is carried and that Ireland and Europe can move forward positively into the next decade.
I congratulate the Cathaoirleach on his election. His friends and neighbours in Limerick, Tipperary, Munster and the nation are proud of him. I also congratulate the Leader of the House who brings great distinction and political experience to our deliberations.
I compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, on the exceptional vigour and intelligence with which he has prosecuted the campaign for a "Yes" vote. This referendum is about much more than the Nice treaty. It is about Ireland's continued full participation in the European Union. It is also about whether we should make a decisive shift away from our policy of the last 40 years, under all Governments, and repudiate our support for European integration, at least as far as the future is concerned.
EU membership has been the making of Ireland. It has enabled us to make a resounding success of our independence and to realise the potential of which earlier generations of patriots could only dream. Ireland today is respected around the world by countries large and small for its peace process, its spectacular economic progress of recent years, its positive international engagement, its cultural achievements and its values. We have nearly full employment for the first time in our history and net emigration has been reversed. Our living standards have caught up with the European average, having been about 60% at our accession. In place of almost abject dependence on the British market our exports have diversified, with a little more than 22% of exports going to Britain instead of over 90% some 50 years ago.
The European Union has provided us with a supportive framework which has levelled the playing field and enabled us to flourish. Much of this is acknowledged even by opponents of the treaty. However, they want the European Union to stand still and to evolve no further in political and institutional terms. They want Ireland to move from the fast lane to the crawler's lane and to stop all the traffic in the process. In reality, they will find a way around the obstruction and we will be left to catch up as best we can. It is like King Canute being told that he can hold back the tide. Have they not read the words on the Parnell monument which say that no man has the right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation? Equally, we do not have the right to fix the ne plus ultra to the progress of the European continent. We have the right to shape that progress, not to block it.
The Nice treaty is mainly about creating the political conditions and the necessary institutional adjustments for enlargement – not just the bare minimum but what will create the best chance of success. Enlargement contains significant but necessary risks if the European Union is to be true to the values of its founders. While there is considerable debate elsewhere about the future of Europe, no-one else is getting excited about the Nice treaty. It has passed without fuss in every other country. What is our problem? Most of us, if we get excited about something in ordinary life but find no reaction among our closest friends, realise, if we have any sense, that it is time for a reality check and ask ourselves whether we are making a mountain out of a molehill.
We are very fortunate to have a second opportunity to think out our position and inform ourselves better now that all our partners have ratified the Nice treaty without fuss or controversy. It is never undemocratic to consult the people again, if necessary. Padraig Pearse, in his essay The Sovereign People, provided an admirable definition of democratic decision making, once a nation had established its freedom, which would apply to the Nice treaty. It reads:
There is nothing divine or sacrosanct in any of these arrangements. They are matters for discussion and adjustment between the members of a nation, matters to be decided upon finally by the nation as a whole, and matters in which the nation as a whole can revise or reverse its decision whenever it seems good or in the common interest to do so.
It is suggested that the Irish people have a duty to vote down the Nice treaty on behalf of the disenfranchised peoples of Europe who would do the same thing if only their governments granted them a referendum – a sort of re-run of how the Irish saved civilisation in the dark ages. It is patronising and presumptuous to decide on the basis that elected governments elsewhere do not represent their peoples. All of our partners are fully-fledged democracies. There is no sign of popular agitation on the Nice treaty anywhere else. I have been present at bilateral meetings with applicant countries. Not one complained about the Nice treaty or asked us to vote it down – it was the contrary. The British Conservative Party twice tried to win a general election on a deeply eurosceptic platform. On both occasions, it suffered a crushing defeat. The same was administered to Mr. Jean Marie Le Pen by President Chirac in France, something that made me proud that Fianna Fáil is allied with the Gaullists.
When we seek support or understanding of our interests at the Council of Europe after a referendum, it is the governments that are our partners, not the scattered groups of eurosceptics across Europe. Their support for the Irish "No" will find no echo in the Council Chamber to relieve our isolation.
What is the advantage to Ireland of voting "No"? Sovereignty is repeatedly invoked. In the last decade, two of the most sovereign countries in the world have been Albania and North Korea. They are utterly sovereign with no ties to other nations, but also utterly impoverished. The period of the isolated republic in the 1950s was one of the least satisfactory in our history. It was then that the haemorrhage of emigration and our seeming inability to provide for our people called into question the viability of our independence and sovereignty. The turning point was the decision to seek investment by US multinational corporations and membership of the Common Market, two things still detested by old-fashioned ideologues who want to drag us back 50 years. The multinationals have been the making of modern Ireland and our wealth is now greater than that of any corporation.
One of the best statements ever made on the subjects of sovereignty and neutrality in the context of international co-operation was made by Éamon de Valera in the Dáil on 24 July 1946 regarding membership of the United Nations. Much of that statement would equally apply to the EU. He said that small nations are probably more attached to their sovereignty than big ones but it must be realised that, whenever we enter into any combination and accept its rules to an extent, we deny the right to decide for ourselves. It is not so much a surrender as a pooling and sharing of sovereignty.
Members should consider whether they really want to return to a 90% dependence on beef exports, full sovereignty on agriculture and re-nationalisation of the CAP. Do we want a return to sovereignty over trade policy and tariffs so that all our neighbours can impose tariffs on us? Do we want the Irish pound back with speculation and soaring interest rates during international crises or depressions? Would Ms Patricia McKenna MEP like us to have a return to full sovereignty on environmental policy so that she would not have to run in and out of the Commission offices each day seeking to over-ride national decisions? How would the whole country in the past, and the west today, have fared if we had full sovereignty over regional policy, and no Structural or Cohesion Funds? Would our scientists like full national sovereignty over research without funding from the EU? Would trade unionists and women be better off if equality and social rights were entirely decided by national rather than European norms?
On the one thing that matters, the freedom to set levels of direct taxation, the Taoiseach fought and won a battle at Nice. I was there as a member of the Irish delegation and in honour of that I am wearing today the souvenir tie that the French Government gave out on that occasion. The Taoiseach did not, perhaps, win that battle for all time but for a long time to come and certainly for the purposes of the referendum. If we place ourselves on the margins by voting "No" we will be in a much weaker position to defend such vital interests. Tax harmonisation cannot be imposed by enhanced co-operation and the increasingly ingenious and far-fetched reasons for voting "No" to the Nice treaty show that there are no compelling reasons for doing so.
If we vote "No" our neighbours will conclude that we have had it much too good in recent years. No party with experience of Government, no business group and no social partner is advocating a "No" vote. Most people will trust the experience of at least some of those who have been at the coalface. Fundamental sovereignty is not in question, for us or for others. Making the best use of it for our people in partnership with others is the issue. It is wrong to suggest that we must vote to veto the Treaty of Nice because of the democratic deficit. Leaving aside the issue that many of the cures involved increased powers for the European Parliament and less powers for member states and the Council, the Oireachtas can clearly play a more active role, and the public and media take a keener interest.
However, there is nothing intrinsically democratic about an individual veto, nor is it an effective method of running an organisation with a lot of members. What is democratic about one member state of four million people vetoing a treaty negotiated and agreed on behalf of 370 million people? Worse, it has been suggested that the Taoiseach should have attempted to use the veto to dictate to the rest of Europe. Such dictation would not have been accepted.
If Sinn Féin doubts my argument, let it reflect on its argument about the Unionist veto. Vetoes should only protect the most vital interests and not block progress unreasonably. The liberum veto of the Polish Diet in the 18th century, where every nobleman had a veto, led to the disappearance of the Polish kingdom from the map of Europe as it was unable to function. In a Union of 15, our interests are rarely unique. We find allies among states both small and large. We manage well to hold our own.
A veto exercised by one country on its own almost never holds. The last one exercised by Ireland on the milk quota super levy in 1984 was a source of acute embarrassment and lasted only a few days. There had been a better deal available at Athens in December 1983 which would have required no veto. Only people with no experience of diplomacy would advocate a "No" vote or excessive reliance on a veto.
I ask voters to consider the situation if any of them exercised a right to block, on a street or in a district, a plan previously agreed with all their neighbours, and administered a kick in the teeth to their best friends. How much influence or support could they expect the next time they were in trouble and needed help from neighbours?
I want to show doubters on the left from where their inspiration comes by quoting the gospel according to Margaret Thatcher. Speaking in Bruges in September 1988 the then British Prime Minister said, "We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain only to see them reimposed at European level with a European superstate exercising dominance from Brussels." Fourteen years on the so-called European superstate is so much Thatcherite drivel and I am astonished to see anyone purporting to be of the left, who presumably advocates an enlarged role for public intervention at all levels, spouting it. The European Union is not even a state, let alone a superstate, and both are inconceivable on the basis of a budget ceiling of a mere 0.7% to 1% of GNP. Most of the power and resources remain firmly in the hands of member states.
Many of those who want to see the European Union as a bigger power are not federalists and, in any case, federalism is shared sovereignty at levels in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity. It is not an issue in the Nice treaty. We should take our decision on the basis of what is before us, not what may or may not be put to us in future. To bring the issue nearer to home, I see as little cause for concern about a federal European superstate as there should be about the proposal for a united left front made by Deputy Séamus Healy, or should I say superfront? If there is an area where there may still be a necessity for deanglicising Ireland, pace Douglas Hyde, it is in the Eurosceptic attitudes fostered by sections of the British right-wing press. I sometimes wonder if the Green Party has taken out a subscription to the Sunday Telegraph in order that its members can repeat each week the latest European horror story – a European army being one of the favourites.
Neutrality is not an issue in the Nice treaty as the political declaration obtained by the Government at the Seville Summit and cleared by the European Commission's legal service makes clear. We should play our full part in UN or EU peacekeeping tasks recognising that security policy is far more based on what we are comfortable with and in keeping with our traditions than we could ever have expected in the Cold War era. Some draw the line at enforcement, but in that respect I quote what Éamon de Valera said in 1946:
The difference between a war such as may arise under the obligations of the charter and other wars is that that type of war would be a war of enforcement – enforcement of obligations and also enforcement of rights. If there is ever to be a rule of law, nations must make up their minds that they will take part in such enforcement because if there is not such enforcement then, of course, the duties and rights that are guaranteed will be thrown aside.
The "No" side want to reopen the decision on the Amsterdam treaty when, at the proposal of other neutrals, the European Union took on the functions of peacekeeping from the Western European Union. I admire and have worked closely, under the Taoiseach's direction, for many years with the Sinn Féin leadership in the peace process. Their opposition to the European Union, however, is misguided, has not been thought through and does no service to republicanism. One of the few things the Unionist business and farming community admires about this State is that, compared to themselves and even Britain, we have the inside track in the European Union. A further "No" vote will throw that away and seriously damage the economic case for a united Ireland by agreement some time in the future.
I am distressed that Sinn Féin seems to have such little sense of history that it does not appreciate the value and strategic importance of Ireland's full membership of the European Union as an alternative to a claustrophobic relationship with Britain. Was it for this the Wild Geese spread the grey wing upon every tide? Hugh O'Neill, Sarsfield and Wolfe Tone all sought help from European countries that have been friends down the centuries. Thomas Davis said:
Since my schooldays I had a deep emotional conviction that the only way by which Ireland could survive as an entity distinct from the Anglo-Saxon world which surrounded it was by identifying itself with the continent of Europe. Today it is a source of enduring pride for me to see our politicians and civil servants of a younger generation play an important role in EEC affairs.
It is not the European Union versus the Third World, both are complementary. It is encouraging for the peace process, if not the Nice treaty, that Sinn Féin is now emerging as the latest champion of the sovereignty of the State which it denied and derided for so long, and of Irish neutrality which the IRA persistently flouted, always taking sides in internal conflicts around the world. Is it not wonderfully ironic that the Kaiser's Germany, according to the Easter Proclamation, was our gallant ally in Europe? While help was sought and accepted by the IRA from Nazi Germany, at the end of it all it is the united Federal Republic of Germany under Chancellors Köhl and Schröder that allegedly constitutes the real militaristic threat to Irish sovereignty and neutrality – a Germany that incidentally and for the moment at least will not support a US war on Iraq.
I am also a little surprised at Sinn Féin's preference for sterling, Crown and all, over the euro in Northern Ireland, and that it dislikes Europe even more than Britain. This is not just my perception. The Frankfurter Algemeine Zeitung, writing about our referendum on 5 September, remarked, "Above all, the Dublin offshoot of the ideologues from the North behave in this matter as if they were British Conservatives." Jörg Haider, as quoted in The Irish Times of 24 June, crowed:
He has now collapsed the Austrian coalition government of Chancellor Schüssel because he refused to allow a party official to be disciplined over a fascist remark, because of a row over a meeting with the leader of the extreme right-wing Belgian party, Vlams Blok, and finally, because he wishes to veto EU enlargement, in particular Czech accession.
It would be a disaster if we had a "No" vote. We would not be forgiven if we were to delay enlargement. I fear an Irish "No" to the Nice treaty would create the ideal breeding ground for a neo-fascist advance in Europe. I have always wanted to believe that we are broad, generous, idealistic and internationally minded. Our honour as well as our interests are at stake. I appeal to everyone to lift the cloud over us by voting "Yes".
On a point of order, I am at a loss to understand the order in which speakers are being called. There are two groups of equal size on this side of the House, the Labour Party and the Independent group. I do not understand the reason a pattern has been established today by which the Independent group is on each occasion being called before the Labour Party.
I am aware that both the Independent and Labour groups have five Members each. I understand the rota of speakers can be referred to the first meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges for a decision. The Chair will call speakers in accordance with that decision as soon as it becomes available. In the meantime, under Standing Order 32, I am calling Senator O'Toole.
Under Standing Orders it has been the convention and tradition of the House that speakers for groups of equal status and number are called based on their seniority of service. The cumulative seniority of the Independent group is far in excess of that of the Labour group.
Perhaps I should not have said that, but it is now on the record. I compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, on his elevation and wish him well in his difficult task. The forthcoming referendum is an historic moment with which we will have to deal. The contributions of the Minister of State and Senators Bradford and Mansergh have been a tour de force. I wish to concentrate on one aspect of the referendum rather than try to cover everything because the debate is so broad. One of the reasons we lost the vote on the last occasion was that people were confused. I wish, therefore, to deal with one perspective of the Nice treaty, that is, the point of view of workers and trade unions. In a direct comparison, more voters voted against the Maastricht treaty than the Nice treaty. This reflects a very low turn out, which should be dealt with in the future. I have many ideas about electronic voting and have checked it out elsewhere.
The question of the veto, which has been raised time and time again, is specious. It is impossible to make progress in any negotiation, at any level, in any country, nationally or internationally, where someone can sit on the high stool, arms folded, and say no to everything. If we have not learnt that in the last 30 years then we have learnt nothing. I oppose this type of behaviour. People must make progress by engaging with and understanding each other. They must give and take to move forward. As President of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, I believe that representatives of workers, leaders of trade unions and the political left have a clear responsibility to point out to workers where we are headed.
We are at a juncture in European and world history which will not go away. Senator Mansergh referred to the move to the right in Europe. We have all been concerned about that over the last two years. It is very heartening and encouraging to see the possibility, which emerged during the last week, that Austria will move more towards social democracy. The social democrats have also peaked for the first time in the German election campaign and are ahead of the other parties. There may be an understanding of the importance of not allowing Europe to move to the right. Those of us on the Irish left should be saying this clearly.
There can be only one choice between Boston and Berlin. Have people looked at what is happening on the other side of the Atlantic? Do they understand what it is like for women working in the great US who are not entitled to maternity leave? Workers' holidays are on a grace and favour basis. People who left this island 20 years ago do not have time to come home on holidays because their holidays are not long enough to make it worthwhile. This is what we are looking at.
I do not know if it is recognised that Thatcherite opposition to Europe is rampant in the UK. I have just returned from the Trade Union Congress in Blackpool. The reality is that continued opposition to the Social Charter has always been led by the right wing in European politics. Margaret Thatcher is their great representative.
We have become dependent on many aspects of the American economy over the last six or seven months. It is important that we counter-balance this dependence. If we do not make the right decisions on Europe, if we lose the support of our European colleagues, if we lose European investment, if we do not join the greater European market, the country could become a slave state of corporate America. I believe that and workers should know it. Workers who are fighting for rights, recognition and social protection in large corporations should examine the past. It is very easy to forget what has happened over the last 25 or 30 years since we joined Europe and that in many parts of the American economy workers are exploited and there is little social legislation. That is the reality.
We must examine where we have come from. There are issues on which I and many others have made representations at European level to ensure that our views are heard. They have been. Many times I have said in this House that the only time legislation is completed is within a month of the two year period given for the implementation of European directives. There is an inertia in any government. We need to have this outside influence exerted on us. We must broaden our views and ensure broader support.
Senator Mansergh made the very crucial point that we are not unique. It is part the rabid nationalist approach to say that we are. We are different, not unique. There are many groups in Europe who are like us, maybe not in every way. They are not identical but we share their objectives. There is a coincidence of interests. Those of us involved in international negotiations have seen that when we sat around the table.
Over the last two or three years the minimum wage legislation was based on a European model. That is where it originated. It was finally introduced in the last national wages agreement. Maternity leave and the 1977 employment equality legislation, which was discussed in the House, came from discussion at European level between the representatives of both sides of industry and government. That is how it must work. Any protection we have achieved for Irish workers has come from a European model. My colleagues on the left should deal with that issue. It is incorrect to say that workers are threatened. The European project has been good for Irish workers and trade unionists and their families. The post-Nice Europe will be better. Trade unionists and their families here and in applicant countries cannot risk a "No" vote. We cannot take this risk. It is not demagoguery but reality and a pragmatic approach to where we have been, the challenges and the pressures from all directions.
I will argue with the Government another time about policy. There are issues, such as the liberalisation of the economy and deregulation, where my views are better supported in Europe that in part of the Government. I will return to that when we are discussing the economy. There are members of the Government and various parties who feel supported by being able to find others in Europe who share their views.
Maternity leave, parental leave and improvements for workers and their families are due to European directives and decisions. Legislation for pregnant workers came from a European model based on a directive – similarly with gender equality and equal pay which go back to the 1970s. The Employment Equality Act represents that sort of progress. Looking further than the effects on oneself, towards workers and their representatives, inward investment in this country has slowed down since we voted "No". This may be a coincidence or due to 11 September last year. It may be due to the slowdown in the global economy. However, there are other reasons.
Those of us who have met trade unionists from Poland and Estonia are being asked what they have done and why we have walked away from them. Those who sweated ten, 15 or 20 years ago in Solidarnosc and other groups in eastern Europe trying to cast off the shackles of a totalitarian, Stalinist regime did so on our promises that there would be a welcome, openness and support for them in Europe. We cannot turn our backs on them now; it would be disgraceful. It would be a betrayal of all we said in the late 1980s, up to the 1990s, up to the collapse of the Berlin Wall and around that time. This is where we are at. A sense of moral authority needs to brought to bear on this. The leaderships of trade unions, political parties and large organisations have a duty to indicate to their members where we stand on these issues.
We all have different reasons. I do not necessarily share the views of Government or IBEC on all these issues but we can all see the choice between "Yes" and "No". The choice is no choice. It cannot be correct for us to put the whole future of what we have achieved during the past 20 years at risk by a "No" vote. It is difficult to describe – and I do not use it in argument on this issue – our losing influence in Europe but we can say it to each other. Perhaps we should not bother. I agree with Senator Mansergh's view that we will lose influence in Europe. That does not go down well in the pub or wherever these matters are discussed because people do not believe the level of influence we have had in terms of punching above our weight.
Any reasonable person looking at the negotiations at Nice would have to view it as a triumph for Irish negotiators. That is not a pro-Government statement. As one who has spent my life negotiating, looking at the objectives, the problems, what was achieved, and how they began and concluded it was a triumph of negotiation. It can be called nothing else. If anybody wants an example of Ireland punching above its weight, that is it.
Whenever I hear people comparing where we were to where we are going and reaching certain conclusions I always ask what will happen if we do nothing. What is the scenario if we do not make a change? Where will we be in five years' time if we do not buy into managed, negotiated and controlled change at this stage? It is always a more negative option but that argument does not take place.
It is easy to erect posters that say: "A second chance to be a second class citizen", or "Vote No". On this island, those who seek a "No" vote will always find greater resonance. That is the nature of the rebellious side of the Irish psyche. It is always more difficult to get people to adopt the positive and pro-active line. We should put forward our arguments and trust the people by emphasising the need to vote. If sufficient numbers of citizens go out to vote, they will vote in favour of the Nice treaty.
The European trade union centres in the applicant countries are pleading for our support. That is the reality. I do not care what people say from the different parties and groups opposed to it. We will certainly bring that issue to the attention of the Irish people and Irish workers during the next few weeks. It is not a case of Ireland trying to pull a fast one on the applicant countries. The trade unions, workers and communities of applicant countries want to be in the Union. Countries such as Estonia and Poland have asked time and again for our support.
There is opposition in every country to Europe. I have met people in Slovenia who say they are doing so well now that perhaps they might be better off not joining Europe. That is the negative and selfish attitude reflected by people in Ireland who say we will not get any more from Europe and now that we have bled it dry, we should stay as we are.
The following point which I am about to make for workers should be used by politicians at all levels. It is the story one hears in every county, "We lost our factory because it has gone to eastern Europe." Let us spell out why. It is gone to eastern Europe because costs are lower. Costs are lower in eastern Europe because it has no health and safety legislation, worker protection, no minimum wage or support. While those countries remain outside the European Union, costs will remain cheaper and there will always be a problem. The only way to deal with that is to ensure the workers in those countries are brought into the broader European fold which benefits everybody. It improves their conditions and standards of living, protection, health and safety and their take home pay. It also broadens the European market and levels the playing pitch with everybody working from the same cost base. That is the reality. That factories move to eastern Europe is a reason for voting "Yes" despite the arguments put that we should vote "No" as a way of getting at those who take our jobs. It shows a lack of analytical thinking in terms of where we are going and a lack of concern for the future.
We need people of vision who will give their honest views on how we are to move forward. Those of us in positions of leadership have a responsibility to take on the begrudgers and those in the comfort zone who say, "No change, stay away from us". Those people have to be challenged and brought out into the open. A vigorous debate will expose these people. A comprehensive discussion at all levels in all organisations, each coming from its own perspective, will bring us to that conclusion.
In a world where there appears to be a certain instability with one super state owning 40% of the world's weaponry, a state which cannot be challenged by anybody, it would be useful to have a Europe that had an equal influence around the world and would insist that the European voice is louder, stronger and more influential than at present. That is in the interests of all of us. It gives greater balance to foreign policy and ensures there are more people in a better place in a better Europe. Wherever we are, we have a duty to convince people on this issue.
I congratulate the Cathaoirleach on his election, Senator O'Rourke on becoming Leader of the House and my colleague, Senator Dardis, on his position as Deputy Leader. I look forward to working with them in the years ahead.
I wish to make a number of points about the forthcoming referendum to permit Ireland to ratify the Nice treaty. In June 2001 the electorate rejected the Nice treaty. The initial reaction in Dublin, Brussels and most of the capitals of the EU member states was of disbelief and shock – disbelief that Ireland, the economic model of development in the EU, had rejected the Nice treaty and shock regarding what to do next. There was no plan B. There still is no plan B.
Since June 2001 the debate in Ireland has been on the second referendum, how to address issues of concern to voters then and to ensure that voters feel better informed. We missed the real message in the first Nice treaty referendum, that just 34% of the electorate turned out to vote. This is a serious issue and there is an onus on us all to ensure that such apathy does not exist in the forthcoming referendum. We should not think of this current debate as some intensive short-term campaign so that we can get back to the real business of national issues. Our role in the EU is the real business. I would hope that the healthy debate on Ireland's role in the EU would continue long after the next referendum.
I am also concerned at the low level of understanding of the EU policy-making process, especially among elected representatives. Any elected representative in Ireland must have a thorough working knowledge of the policy-making processes at local, national and EU level. If we do not possess these fundamental skills, we cannot truly represent the electorate.
The Seanad must have an active role in the following areas of the EU: interaction with individuals in EU institutions. It should be briefed by, and have the opportunity to brief, the Irish individuals involved in EU policy making. In particular, these should include the Council of Ministers, the European Parliament, the European Commissioner, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. The Seanad should contribute to debates on official EU documents such as Green Papers, communications and White Papers. Senators should be able to access the many reports, studies and evaluations which are undertaken by EU experts and advisers and which are relevant to debates in this House. I welcome the Government's bringing forward greater Oireachtas scrutiny of EU affairs and I hope that we will implement it in this House with energy and enthusiasm.
Many of us speak based on life's experience, knowledge and background and we bring our ideas to these debates but there has been much loose talk and scare-mongering about the so-called militarisation of Europe. Only 2% of Europe's national income goes on defence. This is the lowest ever level and half that of the final years of the Cold War just 15 years ago. The truth is that Europe is demilitarising, defence budgets are being cut, barracks closed and armies slimmed down almost everywhere.
During my 21 years service as an Army officer, I partook in peacekeeping duties with the United Nations. My colleagues and I worked with the vital knowledge that the Irish people supported us totally and were proud of the work we did. We never doubted that and we never felt that the people, by debating neutrality, peacekeeping and the role of the Defence Forces, were undermining us. Since then I have never felt that the people were neutral in the face of genocide and humanitarian outrages in the Balkans, Africa and East Timor.
I continue to have great confidence in the Irish people but not in those parties who are currently conducting a fear-mongering campaign against the Treaty of Nice. They are trying to stoke up the fear that Irishmen and women in the Defence Forces will be forced into an imperialistic war of no concern for us. That is completely wrong. They question the validity of the European Union having a military force that can be deployed for crisis management and humanitarian operations. They would want Ireland to shy away from involvement in this force, to hold our nose at democratically and UN-mandated operations with a peacekeeping or peace enforcement role. The worst and most hypocritical of this opposition comes from Sinn Féin. With its history and link to a private army, it is in no position to tell democratically-elected governments of the European Union how to protect European peoples by organising a military force for peacekeeping and crisis management.
The opposition from the Green Party to the EU's rapid reaction force is different and I often wonder what role the Greens see for armed forces. From what they say, it seems they would prefer us not to have any armed forces, like Costa Rica, which has no army. They do not seem to want us to have a modern military force that is trained fully and effectively. Maybe they want an army with no equipment, or guns but no ammunition. They certainly do not want Ireland to have an army that can be put at the service of UN-mandated operations internationally in an EU joint force and use their weapons in a just cause should they need to.
The EU rapid reaction force is not a military alliance – which NATO is – nor a latent army. It is effectively the same as the standby force available to the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan. This force is being peddled as some sort of war mongering army, seeking conflict when the opposite is the case. It will help prevent Balkan-type conflict and human suffering, economic chaos and the displacement of peoples that results. It will help secure the conditions of peace and stability so that people can make a living and develop their economies where they want – in their homelands, rooted in their own history and culture.
I suggest that the only way there will ever be the sort of large-scale immigration suggested by the "No" campaign is if Europe were to fail to prevent future conflicts as it did in the past in the Balkans. The bottom line is that Ireland, like each EU member state, will have the right to approve or not every operation of the EU military force. We will have the right to decide ourselves whether to participate or not in each and every operation. We will have to get Oireachtas approval on every occasion and, under the Defence Act, we can only take part in UN-mandated operations.
Furthermore in June 2000, at the European Council in Seville, declarations were made confirming that neither the Treaty of Nice nor any previous EU treaty affects Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality. There will be a new provision in our Constitution if we vote "Yes", that Ireland will not be party to a decision by the EU to create a common defence. Voting "Yes" to Nice this time will mean power to the people on neutrality. If that is not a guarantee of our own decision-making, I do not know what is. What more could we need?
The Irish people should not be fooled by the hypocrisy and fear-mongering coming from some of the opponents of the Treaty of Nice. They should not allow these false claims to obscure the real purpose of the treaty, which is to provide the necessary changes to accommodate the membership of our east European neighbours. We should give enthusiastic support for their entry to the EU. For decades they had to endure oppressive governments, which some of the extreme left wing Irish opponents to Nice would inflict on Ireland, if they had their way.
One of the enduring monuments to the European Union is peace, stability and democracy among its members for more than 50 years. Peace does not just happen, it has to be worked on and maintained. Those Members who have visited Normandy will have seen the thousands of European war graves, or in Germany the vivid images of extermination camps – relics of the old order. Contrast this with visits to Brussels and Strasbourg and witness the new order. For me there is only one choice between these two alternatives – that is the EU and its institutions. It is in all our interests to ensure peace, stability and democracy is extended to these applicant countries.
I urge the Irish people to remember their pride in our Defence Forces as they risk their lives for peace, when they take part in dangerous missions under UN mandates and when intervention in the face of genocide or ethnic cleansing is called for. I urge Irish people to think of the respect in which our Defence Forces are held internationally and the respect for the Irish people implicit in that, in contrast to the appalling disrespect shown by Sinn Féin and the IRA over the years.
Ireland needs to be an ally and friend to the candidate countries. We need to build on our proven ability to achieve results based on our ability to work in partnership with others. I ask the Irish people – are we so insecure as a nation that we fear working in partnership with these new applicant states? That is not the Irish nation I know but the one that the "No" campaigners want to foment.
There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more dangerous to handle than to initiate a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all who profit by the old order and only lukewarm defenders in all those who profit by the new order. This lukewarmness arises partly from the fear of their adversaries, who have law in their favour, who do not truly believe in anything new, until they have had actual experience of it.
I begin by taking ever so slight issue with my good friend and almost next-door neighbour, Senator Minihan. Ireland may well be a model of economic growth for the developing countries of Europe, but we are most assuredly not a model of development because we have singularly failed to use our affluence to develop civilised society. The models for the countries of eastern Europe are the Nordic countries with a strong social democratic tradition where they have used growth to achieve development. We have singularly failed to use growth to achieve development.
I wish to make an announcement for the record and to clear up a point. I voted "No" in every referendum on the EU, including the last Nice treaty. At that stage I was a member of a party which took a different view so I kept my views to myself. The party knew I voted "No" and I did not participate in the campaign. I will be voting "Yes" on this occasion for the first time in my adult life for two reasons.
First, contrary to what those who are arguing the "No" side will say, at this stage in Europe's development and in the process of negotiations, to reject Nice would seriously impair enlargement. Regardless of whether I like that or whether I am happy entirely with many aspects of the treaty, there is no doubting the political reality, the momentum and the extraordinary work that has been done. I was an active and constructive member of the Committee on European Affairs in the last Oireachtas even though I have always described myself as a critical Europhile. I reserve and will continue to reserve the right to be so. I wish we had more critical Europhiles in Ireland because that is what we need for serious debate. We do not need daft Euro-scepticism of the wild-eyed Bill Cash variety, but serious intelligent debate. One of the advantages this country has and one of the benefits of the first rejection of the Nice treaty is that for the first time in our history we have had a debate about our position in Europe and in the EU. That has been very good for the country and I hope my party has taken a leading role in that regard.
Second, I reject the xenophobic fear of immigration that is being used by some people. I will return to that later. If I thought the flaws of the Nice treaty were of such fundamental nature, then perhaps I would have to live with some of those things. However, whatever I think about its limitations, none of them would justify me either giving any comfort to the xenophobes or putting the enlargement project at risk. I have met many of the parliamentarians of the applicant countries and know the sacrifice they have gone through. The sacrifices already being endured by their peoples are such that if they do not see the benefits in a reasonably short time, the public mood could turn against the EU and against the whole idea. The consequence could be serious instability all over Europe.
In addition, things have changed since the last referendum on two specific issues. They have changed on defence because of the proposed constitutional amendment, an idea that my party advocated most vigorously and insisted upon up to very late in the Government's thinking on the second Nice treaty referendum. It was impossible to get a commitment from Government that it would have such an amendment to the Constitution, but it has agreed to it. We welcome this and the Government's conversion to our point of view. There has also been a rediscovery of democracy in the whole European project. It was technically incorrect to say there was anything in the Nice treaty which changed our position on defence. However, there had been and there is a good reason to be wary about the defence issue in Europe. This is not because I have any problems with the issue being pursued, developed and debated, but because I am certain there are different agendas among different people in the European Union on this issue. To a considerable degree, until the debate was seriously launched after the defeat of the referendum, most people in Ireland were unwilling to acknowledge that process was happening all over Europe.
My experiences were that the presentation on where the EU was going on defence was entirely different in Dublin from the presentation anybody of significance or representative capacity in Brussels would give. In particular, I discovered this when I went with a group of Members of the Oireachtas in 1997 or 1998 and met the president or vice-president of the European Parliament and senior officials. On the issue of defence they had three consistent themes. They lamented that the European Union did not have the military clout that was consistent with its economic and industrial clout. This is not a lament I share. Even as it was being denied that such issues were being discussed, it was part of the agenda there and that is why people became wary.
Although it has now been solved by Javier Solana, Henry Kissinger was reputed to have asked who he could call if he wanted to deal with the EU. I was not too worried about Mr. Kissinger's telephone calls; he has bigger issues to worry about perhaps in terms of a criminal trial somewhere for some of his unpleasantness. This was supposed to epitomise the lack of institutional accountability.
The third theme, which was stated honestly to us by senior officials, was the need for restructuring of the European armaments industry, which would only happen if there were an overarching structure of a European army. As the gentleman said to us, it would then be possible to achieve economies of scale and compete with the United States in the world arms market. I can demonstrate to anyone that armaments and not armies have killed more people than the whole drugs industry. The only real difference is that drugs are made by poor people and sold to rich people. On the other side, we must consider who makes the arms and who buys them. I find the whole armaments industry among the most repulsive industries and it is impossible to justify it. A senior official of the EU wanted to sort that out so we could compete with the United States and have two big powers selling armaments to developing countries.
There is some validity in the people's concerns but at least the amendment to the Constitution deals with that aspect. I have debated the issue of a European arms industry with AFrI and various others. The real issue is whether the sort of protocol to allow us to opt out of all of this would do anything to stop this development in Europe. Whereas our presence along with civilised countries like Austria and other neutral countries at least ought to be a moral restraint, if we opt out, there will be one less ally for that moral restraint. The representatives of AFrI said it was a judgment call as to whether we are better off in or out, so at least we made some progress on that point.
The second issue relates to democracy in Europe. I remind the House that the European Union Bill now being considered by the Dáil select committee is a Labour Party Bill. My party recognised, as I discovered on the Joint Committee on European Affairs, that the classic position of successive Governments – I am not blaming the current Government – was that they decided it in Brussels and, therefore, we could do nothing about it, and that this was nonsense. It suited Governments and the bureaucracy to perpetuate that myth. There was no reason not to have a debate in the Houses of the Oireachtas on every European directive before it was seriously on the agenda. There was no reason that a Government should not have been given its instructions by the Houses of the Oireachtas about what it could or could not concede. There was no reason for any of that. It was just convenient to do so. Therefore, the issue of democracy, at least regarding Irish participation in decision making, is now being addressed.
It is worth stating that the process by which the Taoiseach knocked together the Seville declarations was a classic example of European secrecy because there was no public debate in Ireland about what should be included and we did not know what was going to be in them until they were unveiled. That is not the way to engage the public in a belief that this is, ultimately, a democratic process.
The issue of democratising the decision-making process is in our hands and it is up to us to push the European Union Bill, in whatever form it finally takes, into action so that the days of people going to Brussels in secret and coming back with draft directives which are 90% agreed are over forever. If they are not over forever, then what happened in Nice will continue to happen.
In its latter years the previous Government managed to speak out of both sides of its mouth about the European Union when it suited. We had the two de Valeras lamenting European directives that were taking away our democracy while, at the same time, it turned out that their records of attending Council of Ministers' meetings where these decisions were taken were abysmal. It is a little much to blame people for taking decisions over one's head when one will not go to the meeting where the decision is taken.
We then had the Tánaiste, Deputy Harney's infamous Boston and Berlin statement in which she effectively implied that some of the most dynamic economies in the European Union – the Scandinavian economies – were riddled with all sorts of regulations which were inhibiting development. I was taken with the reference to Mrs. Thatcher because the nearest view I heard to her version of the excessively regulated European Union was that of the Tánaiste, Deputy Harney. It did not help that the Minister contrasted our sort of economy with the European economy and then pretended that we are enthusiasts for that project.
It did not help to create a mood where people felt they were part of the project when senior members of the previous Government were playing games for political purposes with the fundamental values of the European Union. I cannot remember how many environment directives of which Ireland is accused of being in breach. There are a number of such directives regarding which Ireland is heading towards the European Court of Justice.
Nobody voted against the Nice treaty in the previous referendum because they did not like the secrecy. However, the secrecy created the conditions in which people felt free to stay at home, which is the major reason it was defeated. Let me point out again that Javier Solana, the person whom Henry Kissinger can telephone if he wants to find out something, introduced institutional changes which were the direct opposite of what the European Union needs. He instituted total secrecy in terms of his dealings by rushing a directive through the European Parliament late in the summer when nobody was around because he did not want anybody to know anything. He came to Ireland to address a joint meeting of the Joint Committees on European Affairs and Foreign Affairs but said he would only do so if the meeting was in private. We said we would not have a meeting in private and, therefore, he would not have a meeting.
The people who have genuine concerns about arms, defence and such matters are the sort of people I would like to persuade to vote "Yes". How do I persuade them to do so when the high representative has an obsession with secrecy regarding the rapid reaction force, an issue concerning which we are told there is nothing to hide? If it does what it is supposed to do, such a force is, in principle, a good thing. If the high representative is treating it as if we had new weapons about which nobody else knew wrapped up in layers of secrecy, how do I persuade young people to whom I listen about this matter? We must work it out. If, as I believe, it is an entirely innocuous positive project, then it does not need the layers and masses of secrecy in which Javier Solana has dressed it.
Let us recognise that the Nice treaty is imperfect, that it is not the end of the evolution of the European Union and that such a great evolution is about to take place that we cannot risk putting an end to the treaty. On this issue, as on many others, I agree with Senator Mansergh's view on the idea that we are the bastions of democracy in Europe. Given the degree to which other countries, such as the Nordic countries which I so admire, have transparent institutional arrangements which make ours look close to dictatorship, the idea that the Irish would give people such as the Swedes a lecture about democratic accountability is close to ludicrous. They have levels of accountability, transparency and openness that this country, even following the Freedom of Information Act, 1997, still could not imagine. Nobody says they are perfect, but the idea that we will protect the poor oppressed people of Sweden from this dreadful treaty is a little hard to take.
I wish to deal with the view that having a second referendum is somehow undemocratic. The leader of the No to Nice campaign came to prominence as a campaigner on the issue of abortion and spent most of the past 15 years, from the time he reached adulthood, continually demanding new referenda on issues which had been resolved. He was perfectly entitled to do so. I know many people on the liberal left who disagree with me on the Nice treaty who, on the day the first divorce referendum was rejected, started planning for the next one. They were perfectly entitled to do so because that is a reasonable course of action.
What would be scandalous would be to attempt to circumvent the will of the people. Some of the more detached academics involved in the European project in Ireland began to concoct dubious ways of getting the Nice treaty ratified without holding another referendum. It would have been profoundly undemocratic to try to circumnavigate a decision of the Irish people in a constitutional referendum. However, in this second referendum the people still have the absolute unqualified right to make their own decision. Nobody is taking that from the people. Therefore, he may hold a referendum every month, if he wishes, although it might be a nuisance and the public reaction would lead to the "No" vote progressing from 50%, to 60%, to 70% and to 80% as people became entirely fed up with it. However, it is not undemocratic to hold another referendum and it is nonsense to suggest otherwise. It is particularly rich to hear such cries from people who have persecuted this country for the past 20 years with an obsessive demand for referenda on abortion.
Many people have dealt with the issue of the treaty itself but I have never found most of the arguments very persuasive. The one exception is the argument about the decision to limit the number of commissioners. I have never understood how a Council of Ministers of 37 members can work, but a Commission of 37 members could not. How is it that a Council of Ministers which only meets occasionally can work efficiently, but a Commission with the same number of members which would meet often could not?
There is a coalition of forces in Ireland in favour of a "Yes" vote, but many of them must realise that they cannot get away forever with inconsistency. For example, the IFA which wants Europe to spend more money on agriculture demanded before the general election that our taxes would not rise. It is obvious that it believes German taxes should rise in order that Irish farmers should be better off. That is not an impressive credential for Europe. IBEC thinks the idea is wonderful and that we should all vote "Yes," yet it objects to every European draft directive seeking to increase workers' rights on the grounds that each one of them will ruin our competitiveness. None of them ever did.
Everybody says Ireland has done well out of membership of the European Union. That is true, particularly politically and culturally. Now we have a view of the world which we can assert independently of our neighbouring, overwhelming island. However, the economic arguments are never addressed. A question was asked in the Dáil in the mid-1980s about the value of fish caught in the Irish zone of economic interest by non-Irish registered EU trawlers. If the figure given was multiplied by our 29 years of membership, it would amount to between €20 billion and €40 billion. That figure does not prove anything one way or the other, but it should be part of our debate. It is not a small sum. It is a multiple of all of the Structural Funds and we gave it away.
I am pleased to see the Acting Chairman back and will be delighted tomorrow to see his position as Leas-Chathaoirleach formalised. I also welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Brian Lenihan, to the Chamber.
I am glad to have the opportunity to highlight some of the reasons we should vote "Yes" to the Treaty of Nice. When we evaluate Ireland's membership of the European Union, the benefits of membership since 1973 have been overwhelmingly positive not only in an economic sense, but also in a social, educational and environmental sense. I do not believe we should be looking at our last 30 years of membership alone as a reason to seek the support of the people.
There are many reasons the people should support the enlargement of the European Union when the referendum takes place. Our economic success is linked to our membership. We have done away with an isolationist and protectionist policy which may have served a purpose after the founding of the State, but which did not achieve a widening of our economic base. Jobs in Ireland depend on our access to the internal markets of Europe. The creation of future jobs will depend on access to an enlarged EU marketplace.
The Nice treaty is about guaranteeing that the enlargement of the European Union can take place in the near future. In 1999 EU leaders agreed in Nice to the text of this treaty. They were of the view that changes must be made within the key institutions of Europe if enlargement was to succeed. Fourteen Governments in Europe have now ratified the provisions of the treaty and Ireland remains the only country yet to ratify them. Rejection of the Nice treaty will mean enlargement of the European Union will be indefinitely delayed. It is not in our interest to reject it and it will not help our international image if we block the legitimate wishes of the people of eastern and central Europe to join the European Union. They have had to endure the brutality of totalitarianism and communist regimes for almost 50 years. They believe that joining the European Union will help in consolidating their democratic and civil structures.
Economically, it makes no sense for the people to reject the terms of the Nice treaty. Access to a new marketplace of over 100 million people will help us to entice more companies to locate in Ireland in the future. If we become more detached and isolated from the European Union, outside companies might view us as lacking commitment to the EU project.
It is not only in an economic sense that membership has been good for the Irish. I have been involved in the education field for many years. Ireland's membership has enabled Irish educators and students to participate in many training and education programmes throughout the European Union. From 1987 until 2000 about 750,000 university students across Europe have spent up to 12 months studying in another EU country as part of their education. A total of 15,000 Irish students have taken part in the ERASMUS programme during this period. Research has shown that the ERASMUS programme has been a successful European project. ERASMUS students have succeeded in finding jobs and work linked to the international skills acquired or reinforced during their study abroad. The second phase of the ERASMUS programme is now known as the SOCRATES programme. It incorporates 30 different countries, including those countries seeking to join the European Union.
Through the SOCRATES and ERASMUS programmes the European Union has funded teaching staff exchanges and assisted in putting in place a transnational curriculum. In the academic year 1999-2000, 145 Irish teachers spent periods teaching abroad. Irish schools have also participated in the COMENIUS programme which promotes co-operation in first and second level schools. Between the years 1995 and 1999 Ireland received over €5 million under the Leonardo programme as support for vocational training initiatives. Over 2,800 Irish people, mostly under the age of 28 years, benefited during that period from vocational placements and exchanges.
Ireland's membership of the European Union has broadened our horizons, both culturally and socially. Equal pay, equal opportunity, health and safety at work and other entitlements now taken for granted by workers have their origin in EU initiated legislation. European Social Fund, European Regional Development Fund and Structural Fund programmes have had a major impact on the improvement of education and training programmes in Ireland. Particular beneficiaries of such moneys have included our regional technical colleges and FÁS. In 1973 there were only just over 29,000 people attending third level education. In 2000 this figure had increased to 161,000.
There is a large body of EU legislation on social affairs. Ireland has made a very positive contribution to EU social policy. We have supported new initiatives to combat social inequality and poverty. The EU has provided anti-discriminatory legislation and many initiatives which help to improve the quality of life of disabled persons. Our relationship with the EU is a two-way process: the EU has helped to develop our economy but we have contributed to the development of the European Union.
It is very disappointing that opponents of the Nice treaty are seeking to scaremonger the Irish people about a possible influx of people from eastern and central Europe if enlargement goes ahead. This is an inaccurate and misleading argument. Previous enlargements of the EU were also preceded by similar alarmist concerns but did not result in disturbances in the labour market in Ireland or elsewhere in Europe. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions has made it clear that there is no significant threat to employment or employment conditions as a result of EU enlargement. EU studies show that enlargement will not result in different migration patterns from the countries joining the EU. Even opponents of the Nice treaty are now saying that immigration is not relevant to the treaty. Many of the countries joining could be Ireland's natural allies in an enlarged European Union. They view us a model member of the EU. We share many political positions and aspirations with the smaller countries of the Baltic region and from eastern and central Europe. We are at a crossroads on the issue of addressing our relationship with the EU. This referendum will decide whether we wish to stay as a key player within it or drift away from participation. The Irish people will not only decide the future direction of our country but also the future direction of the European Union.
The Nice treaty is designed to change how decisions are made in the EU in order to allow for enlargement. Ten countries from eastern and central Europe are due to complete negotiations to join Europe. Decisions in Europe are currently taken under a model that existed for the six original founding countries in 1957. This model must be modernised if the EU is to grow in size to become a community of 27 member states. If the decision-making changes are not implemented then log-jams will arise. The European Union's internal systems will simply not be able to cope under the existing arrangements.
The applicant countries are now waiting for the Irish people to approve the Nice treaty. The changes included in the treaty protect and enhance the interests of the smaller member states. Under the proposed reform of the European Commission Ireland will be given the same rights of representation as Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Britain. These five countries will lose one of their two nominees to the European Commission after 2004. It is beyond me how anyone can say that Ireland will lose its place on the Commission as Ireland and the other smaller member states are doing very well out of its reform.
The Seville declaration states clearly that the Nice treaty does not affect Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality. Moreover, it is now clear Irish troops will only be sent abroad on UN supported humanitarian missions and participation must also be approved by Dáil Éireann and the Irish Government.
Ireland's national interest is best served by remaining at the heart of the European Union. Enlargement of the Union offers great opportunities for Irish business and that means more jobs in Ireland. The issues of enlargement and the future of Europe should not be confused. The treaty is about enlargement. The future of Europe is a debate for another time and can be raised when we discuss reform of the Seanad. I will do everything in my power to urge a "Yes" vote in the referendum.
I passionately support the Nice treaty. It is in the interest of Ireland, Europe and the world that this treaty is passed. It is very important in the interest of peace and prosperity. Like my colleagues in Fine Gael, I am prepared to campaign vigorously for a "Yes" vote. We will have an uphill battle, a fact put into sharp perspective when one considers the defeat of the last Nice referendum. On that occasion there was a formidable alliance of powerful, influential forces in favour of a "Yes" vote.
The three major political parties urged their followers to support the treaty, as did the main churches. Joining the call for a "Yes" vote were IBEC, ISME, ICTU, the IFA and the ICMSA. Despite this formidable consensus the people rejected the treaty. Many of those who were of that consensus have yet to show their hand. I hope the majority will be in favour of a "Yes" result on this occasion. Despite what was said this afternoon by the Minister of State about the utterances of the president of the IFA, John Dillon, the IFA is already making ominous noises about certain conditions being met. ICTU may yet take a jaundiced view at the increasing unemployment figures and declining economic performance in the context of an enlarged European Union. There is also the possibility that the component members of congress might decide to go their own individual negative way.
The biggest threat to the passing of the referendum is the performance of the Government and the overwhelming belief on the part of a large tranche of the electorate that they were duped by the Government in the run-up to the general election last May. People were repeatedly reassured that the economy was in sound condition, that more jobs would be created and that there would be full employment and that there would be no cutbacks in the health service, the public service or in the national development plan.
Within weeks of the Government being elected, the chickens have come home to roost. The publication of the Exchequer return figures for the first six months of the year show a huge drop in income revenue. The Exchequer surplus predicted by the Minister for Finance on budget day has been decimated and there has been a prediction that if there is to be an Exchequer surplus it will be a very slender one.
Unemployment is steadily on the increase month by month. There have been cutbacks in the already crisis ridden health service. The chief executive officer and board of the Western Health Board have been told by the Minister for Health and Children that they must immediately shed 180 jobs. This job surgery will impact across the entire range of services with obvious consequences for the already hard hit patient services. It is not just the health budget that is being hit. Every Minister has been told by the Minister for Finance that savings must be made in each Department. The consequences are obvious. If we cut back spending we cut back services. The implications for key infrastructural projects and the national development plan are obvious.
The economic crisis facing the Government did not come as a bolt from the blue. The Government knew of the looming crisis in advance of the election but chose to conceal the truth from the public and to sustain the feel good factor by facing down legitimate doubts and questions about our economic well-being. Anybody in the private financial sector who perpetrated such a dishonest portrayal of the facts would be hauled before the courts and charged with reckless trading.
This is the real obstacle to persuading the public to vote for the Nice treaty. The hundreds of thousands who made their way to the polling stations on 17 May to elect 81 Fianna Fáil and eight Progressive Democrats Deputies may well decide that the Nice treaty affords them a first and glorious opportunity to lodge an anti-Government protest vote.
I appreciate that this is a tempting prospect but I plead with these people to resist this temptation. There will be another day. Fine Gael will use all its powers of political persuasion to urge its members and supporters to resist the temptation. The Nice treaty issue should transcend politics and we will urge our supporters to do everything possible to ensure that the referendum is carried decisively.
The other dangers to the treaty are voter apathy, doubt and ignorance. We have seen the emergence of a negative lobby led by a misguided group of academic fundamentalists who are only too willing to roll out their anti bandwagon challenge, particularly to new and positive proposals, whether in the social or European sphere. They do this on the basis that each proposal threatens our independence, autonomy, moral fabric or sovereignty.
It is crucially important – and this has been repeatedly said – that the substance, implications and tenets of the treaty are spelt out in the clearest and most easily digestible language. This did not happen on the last occasion. If it does not happen on this occasion a negative result is on the cards. "When in doubt leave it out" is an understandable tendency which may cause many to vote "No". For that reason it is important that the core issues and arguments are clearly explained and spelt out in the most unadorned language possible. It is fine for Members of this House to be unanimous but who is listening to us? If we cannot communicate our message to the general public and face down and dismantle the fallacy of the anti arguments our unanimity is of no avail.
We must explain that the ten accession countries hoping to join the EU are very advanced and forward thinking countries who in the short time since they shed the shackles of Moscow domination have made quantum leaps forward, developing their democratic institutions and economies. The Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia have adapted and adjusted their political philosophies and economies in such a short time that they have every right to be part of the united states of Europe. Cyprus and Malta are credible candidates for accession. Membership of the EU is the perfect solution to the tribal tensions that have divided the island of Cyprus for so long, particularly if Turkey, which has been given candidate status, eventually succeeds in gaining entry.
Provided that that Kurdish human rights issue can be satisfactorily addressed and its economy is in a fit state, Turkish accession is desirable and should be strongly supported. We tend to forget the debt of gratitude the western world owes to Turkey. Since the emergence of the Soviet super power after the Second World War, Turkey has been the ever vigilant eyes and ears of the west. As it straddles the entrance to the Black Sea, Turkey has monitored the comings and goings of the Russian Black Sea fleet on an ongoing basis and has dutifully reported such movements to western governments.
Turkey is the only Muslim country on the European mainland. It is a country where reasonable Muslim influences continue to dominate over fundamentalist Muslim internal pressure. Despite enormous internal and external Muslim pressure, it provided the necessary facilities for United States and United Kingdom air strikes against Sadam Hussein during the Gulf War. At a time of huge international tension, Turkey continues to host United States air bases. Its associations and trade agreements with the EU have worked very well. Provided it can solve its human rights difficulties Turkey should be seen as a contender for EU membership. Apart from its strategic military importance the accession of a Muslim member would have enormous positive benefits for the EU in terms of diversity, plurality and stability.
We must address the institutional changes proposed in the treaty. These are membership of the EU Commission, the decision making process of the Council of Ministers and the make-up of the European Parliament and other EU institutions. The Commission is made up of 20 members from 15 member states, the largest five states have two commissioners each and the smaller states, including Ireland, have one. The Nice treaty stipulates that when the EU comprises 27 members, member states will lose their automatic right to a commissioner. Will this isolate or discriminate against Ireland? Certainly not. The rotation of membership of the Commission will not happen until membership of the Union grows from 15 to 27. Knowing our own tortuous experience and the detailed dialogue which must take place before a member gains accession to the EU, this will not happen for many years.
The anti-Nice lobby has played up the issue of reduction of the number of Irish MEPs from 15 to 12. The message being put across is that Ireland is being victimised and discriminated against. The European Parliament currently consists of 626 Members and the maximum after enlargement, in order to avoid it becoming unwieldy, will be 732.
Ireland is and will not be the only country to experience a reduction in European Parliament membership. Each existing member state will have a reduction, with the exception of Germany and Luxembourg. The sacred cow of neutrality, or the military implications, is one of the main trump cards in the anti-Nice lobby's war chest. Nice envisages the establishment of a political and security committee, with each member state represented. There will be a rapid reaction force consisting of 60,000 members, to which our contribution will be a mere 850 military personnel.
I urge everybody to resist the temptation to use this occasion to vote against the Government because of its performance over the past three months. I urge a decisive majority vote for Nice in order to save our blushes and redeem some of the odium and disgrace we brought upon ourselves on the last occasion.
I compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, on the tremendous job he is doing in selling the treaty. I have read his contributions, listened to him on radio and watched him on television. He has been superb and is certainly leading the debate. I am very grateful that he has unashamedly championed the cause of the Nice treaty, which was not done decisively on the last occasion. I am glad for him that his considerable talents have at last been recognised by the Taoiseach.
I offer my sincere congratulations to Senator Kiely on his election as Cathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann and wish him every success. I also pay tribute to the former Cathaoirleach, Brian Mullooly, for his excellent service to the House over 21 years. He will be sadly missed but he played a great role and I wish himself and his family every happiness in his retirement. I congratulate the new Leader of the House, Senator O'Rourke, who will bring tremendous experience to her role. We are very fortunate to have her here and I wish her every success in her term as Leader of this very important institution of State. I also extend my best wishes to Chief Whip, Senator Moylan, and others appointed to various important roles in this House.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, and wish him every success. I have no doubt he will bring tremendous experience to his task in the Department of Health and Children. I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Roche. As Senator Higgins said, he is putting tremendous effort into this particular campaign and it was a very good decision by the Taoiseach and the Government to appoint him as Minister of State with special responsibility for European affairs.
I wish to express how glad I am to be back in the Oireachtas and in Seanad Éireann and how delighted I am to see so many friendly faces here, some from the past and others from recent times. I know the Members of this institution will work very well together and it is in all our best interests to prove how effective Seanad Éireann can be. In the past, as a Minister of State, I often used the Seanad to initiate legislation. As a Minister it was most stimulating to be in this House. The respect I have shown in working with so many prominent Senators is on the record and it was a very worthwhile exercise. This House has provided tremendous service since its inception in teasing out Bills and improving legislation on many occasions.
We must not forget that the debate on the Nice treaty represents one of the most important of our time and the outcome of the forthcoming referendum will signify a defining moment in Irish history. On previous occasions the electorate has been asked to decide on Europe the people have consistently responded with a resounding "Yes". The benefits of these affirmations are clear to all. Once again we are faced with a decision on Europe and the best way forward, without doubt, is for the Irish people to say "Yes" to the Treaty of Nice. The debacle of the last referendum must be forgotten and the confusion and uncertainty that plagued previous debates must be expelled. We must talk about the facts, not fiction. We must expel the ghosts of the first referendum, with its exaggerated fears and suspicions, and instead debate the reality of our situation. It is our responsibility to ensure that a "Yes" majority is once again returned. To paraphrase the great Oscar Wilde, to lose one referendum may be regarded as a misfortune but to lose both would be downright carelessness. As a Member of this House I intend to campaign with my party to ensure that no such carelessness takes place on this occasion.
The Treaty of Nice facilitates the enlargement of the European Union, which will bring boundless benefits for Irish people, especially our young population. It will benefit employment, trade and businesses in every industry. It is necessary to spell out the economic benefits of enlargement, especially to Irish trade. As a former Minister with responsibility for trade and marketing, I want to emphasise this aspect of the Treaty of Nice. Enlargement represents the process of improving the standard of living throughout the Union, most particularly in eastern Europe. By improving the economies of the accession states, we too can benefit. Ireland can increase trade in goods and services with these new members, thereby generating jobs and increasing tax revenues. Enlargement will mean an increase of 130 million customers for Irish businesses.
Irish businesses have already recognised the opportunities for trade in eastern Europe. They have spent the last number of years establishing contacts and increased trade with businesses in this region. New markets have been accessed over the last seven years. Trade with accession states has increased seven-fold, from €170 million to almost €1.2 billion per annum. Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary currently represent our most valued partners, but the potential for increased trade with the other applicant countries is endless. By removing the final barriers to trade the Nice treaty will ensure Ireland can tap into these markets. A "Yes" vote will ensure that this potential will be fully exploited.
Enlargement will result in a significantly expanded Single Market of over 500 million people and will make the EU the most attractive location for trade and investment. Enlargement is predicted to further increase the pool of foreign investment from which Ireland has already benefited. Since its membership began Ireland has acted as a gateway to the European Union market for many multinational corporations and other overseas investors, especially from the United States. An enlarged Union will only serve to enhance this role further while at the same time enhancing Ireland's role within the Union and throughout the world.
If we do not go forward we will go backward. Having outlined these benefits, it seems ludicrous that some will continue to advocate a "No" vote. Opponents have outlined a number of concerns they have with the treaty and I am prepared to deal with those issues honestly, as is the Government. On this occasion we do not have the luxury of saying "No". It is too simplistic to take that stand and I believe we will do the right thing and vote "Yes".
I want to briefly discuss the effects enlargement will have on other sectors, particularly agriculture. Coming from a rural constituency, I have spoken to many farmers and am directly involved in the farming industry. I understand that many in the agricultural community have fears concerning the Treaty of Nice, which I wish to allay. I want to emphasise to farmers that enlargement and the Treaty of Nice pose no threat to the Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union, including the financial framework and funding arrangements agreed for the period 2000-06. In fact enlargement offers a number of opportunities for our agricultural sector, which must be outlined.
By ratifying the Nice treaty, Ireland stands to gain new allies in support of the CAP, allies who will surely fight to keep the CAP as it stands. Furthermore, the accession countries will provide a new market of over 100 million people for Irish produce. I am fully confident that Irish agriculture can exploit the opportunities of an enlarged market and maximise the benefits to Irish wealth, employment and the development of rural areas. Finally, although the candidate countries are dependent on agriculture, the Irish agriculture and food industries are very well prepared in terms of coping with any increased competition. We must remember that Ireland is at the cutting edge of technology within the agricultural sector. We can deal with the challenges of competition and we can face the future with confidence.
The issue of neutrality must be addressed. As we have heard in the public sphere and in the debates in the Dáil, many are concerned about the effect this treaty will have on our neutrality policy. However, contrary to popular opinion, the Treaty of Nice does not affect this policy in any way. Our neutrality has not and will not be diminished within the EU. Our experience thus far in Europe has shown this and, furthermore, the Seville declarations which the Taoiseach negotiated last June guarantee it. By reaffirming its commitment to neutrality and by receiving firm assurances from the European Council, the Government has ensured that our partners in Europe recognise and respect the Irish policy of neutrality. This is the vital difference in this referendum compared to the last one.
Neutrality has served us well and we must recognise that a founder of Fianna Fáil ensured our neutrality during the Second World War. This party will never renege on this commitment. From an economic point of view and in terms of the lives we saved during the last world war, we must respect that point. Neutrality has been a tremendous tool in terms of the expansion of our trade throughout the world.
I am fully aware that the EU is working towards a common foreign policy and this policy has made many advances in recent years. However, my experiences in Bosnia Herzegovina, where I acted as an election monitor, and in Kosovo, where we established the Kosovo Refugee Aid, have made me realise that neutrality and crisis management are not incompatible but go hand in hand. EU foreign policy also recognises this point.
What must be emphasised is that this is not a 14-against-one scenario. Rather, the EU's common foreign policy will incorporate and allow for all the traditional policies of every EU member state, including Ireland. Furthermore, Ireland, together with fellow neutrals like Finland, Sweden and Austria, is an equal partner in all decisions involving foreign policy and can even strengthen the place of neutrality within the Union. The Prime Minister of Finland is arriving in Dublin today to promote the Nice treaty within the Forum on Europe and to offer the hand of co-operation to Ireland. I welcome him to the country.
A "Yes" vote to the Treaty of Nice will guarantee that Ireland remains an equal partner in determining the future of Europe. It will enable us to co-operate with other neutrals in the Union and will make sure that we will uphold our neutrality within the European Union. We are truly one of the most outstanding neutral countries in Europe and always have been.
Like many, I have concerns regarding the Commissioner. Having researched the issue carefully, I believe the matter is clear. The Treaty of Nice guarantees Ireland a Commissioner until 27 countries join the EU, from which point on Commissioners will rotate equally between large and small countries alike. If we consider that it took the EU 22 years to expand from six to 15 member states, it appears that it could take anything up to 30 years before membership reaches this point. Only at that stage will full negotiations start over the Commission. In this way, a "Yes" vote will not mean the immediate loss of an Irish Commissioner. If we wish, we will always have the right to ensure, by way of negotiations, that the EU does not expand beyond 27 states. We have no fear in this regard.
The Council of Ministers is the most important issue of all because it is the bulwark in regard to the future. Having been a member of the Council of Ministers in respect of trade and having been around the table fighting Ireland's corner, let us be aware that Ireland has the best negotiators and the best team of civil servants in Europe. We have had good and great teams of Ministers and Taoisigh so we can have confidence in the work being carried out in this regard. If the work of the Council of Ministers was filmed and shown in public, it would show that we are very strong in respect of that work.
I am sorry about that. I have much more to say but I will have to leave it for another day. We have nothing to fear. I do not believe there will be mass emigration to this country and we will cope very well. Also, the opportunity we will have to travel in eastern Europe will be of great benefit to us and we will exploit it.
The Treaty of Nice is the best deal for Ireland and I recommend it strongly. Charles Stewart Parnell said "Let no man set a boundary to the march of a nation", which is inscribed on his statue on O'Connell Street in Dublin. Let that be the message of this campaign. Let us not set a boundary to the march of the Irish nation and let us not put a stop to the march of other nations throughout Europe. Let us vote "Yes". If this policy was good enough for Charles Stewart Parnell, it is good enough for me.
Before the Senator speaks, I want to protest at the way in which the Labour group is being so shoddily treated here today. As the Acting Chairman knows, we have an equality of numbers with the Independent group, which is not represented. I think only two of its Members have been in the House all day. The Independents are not here to take up the slot which was improperly allocated to them. Now, to my astonishment, I find that, even given the Acting Chairman's fair-minded approach to things, he has chosen to use his discretion – and it is a matter of discretion – to allocate the Independent slot to Fine Gael. In the circumstances, we cannot allow this to pass without protest.
I have heard the Senator's observations. The slot was due to be an Independent slot, as the Senator noted. No Independent Members are present and, therefore, on the basis that the Fine Gael Members were in the House before the Senator, I used my judgment to allocate the time to Fine Gael. Senator Bannon might indicate if he is sharing his time. He has 15 minutes in total.
I wish to share my time with Senator Cummins. As this is my first speech in the House, I thank all those who elected me to this position. I intend to represent them and the people of Ireland to the best of my ability and I thank them for affording me the privilege and honour of working on their behalf.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to contribute to this important debate. Today the Seanad has been recalled to discuss the Twenty-sixth Amendment of the Constitution Bill and putting another referendum to the people to ratify the Nice treaty, signed by the Government two years ago. I completely support the treaty and see it as another step in the development of the EU and bringing closer co-operation, peace and prosperity to all the people of Europe.
The Irish experience since becoming a member of the EU in 1973 has been one of a complete transformation of our economy. It has led us to having one of the strongest economies in Europe, with access to a large market for our produce, and to being members of a monetary union that has benefited all.
Since becoming members of the EU, Irish people have continually supported the many developments and closer co-operation that has led to the pooling of our sovereignty with the 14 other member states. This can be seen from all the previous referenda in which the people passed treaty changes with large majorities in their favour. Now we need to turn our attention to this treaty and what it means. My basic understanding of the treaty is that it relates to reform of the institutions of the EU so that it can grow in size. It will allow the work of the Commission, Parliament and Council of Ministers to continue to operate in an effective and efficient manner, rather than getting bogged down by too many people and being unable to function.
The negotiations for these changes were long and hard and the Government got the best possible deal for the people. This treaty was placed before the people in June 2001 for ratification, but, unfortunately, they did not agree with the Government. It is said this defeat was due to the small minority against closer integration in Europe because only they came out to vote. However, the people had a right not to vote as they chose and we, in the Oireachtas, must listen. Everyone agrees that the original referendum was not handled effectively by the Government and that not enough accurate information was given to the electorate to enable it to make an informed decision. As this treaty is returned for a second vote, I want to see the Government deal properly with the fears and worries which caused the people to reject it.
One of the main issues appeared to be neutrality. The majority want the country to remain outside of any military alliance, although we can endlessly debate the correctness of this position. To solve the problem, the Government went to our fellow member states and obtained the Seville Declaration, but will it be enough to calm people's fears? That depends on whether they trust the Government. In 1997 Fianna Fáil promised that the question of joining NATO's Partnership for Peace would be put in a referendum, but we joined without one. In the recent general election campaign we were told that there would be no cut-backs if Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats were returned to power, but these promises were not kept. Will the people, therefore, trust the Government on the declaration? If one wants trust, one must be honest.
Another area of concern seems to be the lack of accountability to the Oireachtas for decisions made by the Council of Ministers and the vetting of legislation proposed in Europe. There is talk of the Seanad's having a greater role in vetting such legislation, but I do not know if that is included in this Bill and the electorate probably does not know either. How will the Government be held accountable for decisions made at the Council of Ministers? Neither I nor the voters believe that this Parliament will be consulted in advance. It is a shame that the Government has not looked at other states, especially Denmark, and adopted a more open and democratic approach to how we deal with Europe and how decisions made there are held accountable. These concerns should be dealt with and any changes made should be explained to the people. The electorate is well educated and sophisticated and questions what we do as politicians. The information during the last campaign was dismal and the situation must improve for the forthcoming referendum. It is important that the Government distributes clear and accurate information on the treaty's implications. Where is the booklet explaining the treaty in simple, non-preaching language that was to be distributed by mid-summer?
Misinformation has been spread by the Taoiseach and Tánaiste, such as that direct foreign investment will fall, yet we have been misled for years by Governments claiming that policy was the result of one EU directive or another, such as that affecting turfcutters in County Roscommon and south Longford, who believe that their livelihood is being taken away because of an EU directive. There are countless instances of bureaucracy and red tape in agriculture, industry, planning regulations and proposals to leave the country derelict. When questioned about this, the local Fianna Fáil or Progressive Democrats Deputy says all this is the result of EU directives or legislation from Brussels. All such misinformation must be clarified in this debate. We must also clearly explain the reason other countries are not subject to a referendum, and what kind of democracy the European Union is which allows the electorate of one country to vote while others do not. We must give a guarantee that we will not lose our democracy or the right to a Commissioner. The Government must take the people's concerns on board.
In recent years I visited many eastern European states which want to join the European Union. If they join, the lives of their citizens will improve dramatically as those of the Irish have. The Irish are a charitable people and will not deny others the benefits that EU membership has brought us. Our EU partners believe changes to the organisational structure are necessary to ensure its effective operation as it enlarges. We, as a nation, have nothing to fear and can continue to make a worthwhile contribution to the European Union. If we reject the treaty again, it will affect our economic well-being and our future in Europe will be uncertain as it will sour friendships. We must move forward and learn from this.
At the Convention on Europe our representatives will do their utmost to share with the Oireachtas and the people the work done and the decisions made. My colleague, Deputy John Bruton, will continue to share and discuss his work with us as evidenced by his many newspaper articles. As we approach the next referendum, I will campaign in favour of the treaty for the good of us all. However, like Mary Banotti, I fear that the treaty may not be passed because the Government has not listened to the people since their fears are not about enlargement, but our future in the Union. They do not trust the Government and, therefore, will vote against the treaty, not because of the recent savage cut-backs, but because they do not believe its commitments.
The founding members of the European Union in the preamble to the Treaty of Rome in 1957 stated they were determined to lay the foundations of an even closer union among the peoples of Europe, pooling their resources to preserve and strengthen peace and liberty. These ideals have stood the test of time. The European Union enlarged to 15 members when Ireland, the United Kingdom and Denmark joined in 1973, Greece in 1982, Spain and Portugal in 1987, and Austria, Sweden and Finland in 1995. The greater co-operation and communication between the member nations have prevented war, strengthened peace and liberty, and created a common market. The Single European Act in 1986, the Maastricht Treaty in 1991 and the Amsterdam Treaty in 1997 were all ratified by the people. These addenda to the Treaty of Rome aimed to create a genuine single market, closer co-operation on security, economic and social cohesion, monetary union, a social charter, environmental protection and citizens' rights regarding travel and employment.
What is the Nice treaty about? According to recent opinion polls, almost 44% of the people do not have a clue. That does not augur well for a good turnout at the polls when the treaty is put to the people in October. The onus is mainly on the Government to ensure the treaty is passed. It seems to have learned some lessons from the last referendum. However, my party, which was the first to announce information meetings throughout the country on the Nice treaty, will try to persuade the people in a non-confrontational manner that the treaty should be passed.
In the preamble to the Nice treaty, the heads of member states and governments in December 2000 pledged to "complete the process started by the Treaty of Amsterdam of preparing the institutions of the European Union to function in an enlarged Union". That is what the treaty is about and all the red herrings which other groups and parties might introduce to confuse the electorate are irrelevant.
Over the last five years, as a member of the European committee of the regions, I have met with representatives of the local, regional and national governments of the applicant countries. They have the same aspirations for their citizens as Ireland had in 1973. They want closer links with their European neighbours, to shake off the shackles of the Cold War and communism and, through co-operation and negotiation, to build a lasting peace. They want to improve and expand their industrial and agricultural sectors, to give greater prosperity to their citizens and to share their culture, heritage and creativity with the EU.
Will the people of Ireland deny their fellow Europeans the opportunity to realise many of their dreams and aspirations, which we had before we joined the EU? I doubt it. Even though we may have become more selfish and materialistic as a nation, according to various reports, I believe there is great compassion and generosity in the hearts of the Irish people. We are willing to help the underdog and to embrace a changing Europe. Ireland must remain firmly at the heart of that Europe and be in a position of influence, which has been so important for our economic well-being, to ensure fair play and similar opportunities for the applicant nations.
A "No" vote will jeopardise the goodwill and respect which Ireland has earned over the last 30 years. Ask anybody who spoke to the political representatives of other member states after the last referendum. The reaction was frosty, to say the least. We risk being sidelined on the periphery of Europe should we reject the Nice treaty a second time.
Many decent citizens might wish to have a go at the Government over the fraud it perpetrated on the electorate through its promises before the election and decide to vote "No". The many thousands of people who feel betrayed in this way can be assured that they will have another day to judge the Government on this dishonesty. They should judge the treaty on its merits and vote "Yes" to ensure that the institutions of the EU will be prepared to function in an enlarged Union.
I take this opportunity to congratulate the newly appointed Leader of the House. I and the other long serving Members of this House, and I am sure I speak for the newly elected Members, value the expertise and experience Senator O'Rourke brings to the House. We are privileged that she has this position and I look forward to working with her during her term of office.
I wish to refer to a theme that appears to be running through this debate. It needs to be nailed because it is dangerous nonsense. It is the sideshow about alleged cuts, broken promises and fooling the electorate in the last election. It is dangerous nonsense in the context of the Nice treaty debate.
As Senator Cummins pointed out, we can argue about these issues in another context and at another time. This debate is much too important to allow that type of political chicanery and opportunism to creep into it. It is grave disservice to the country that these issues are being introduced into the debate. They have nothing to do with it. Members of both sides of this House have already criticised opponents of the treaty for introducing irrelevancies and claiming they had an impact in the first referendum.
Another matter needs to be dealt with. Senator Bannon referred to the other countries in Europe and asked why Ireland, alone of those countries, is holding a referendum. I am a member of the Forum for Europe and I came from the forum to this debate, as did my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt. At the forum we listened with great interest to the Finnish Prime Minister. He was asked by a member of the Green Party why he thought it necessary that the Finnish Parliament should ratify the treaty when Ireland had rejected it. The Prime Minister correctly responded that it was a matter for the sovereign people of Finland to decide how they would proceed with the Nice treaty. It was equally the sovereign right of the people of Ireland to decide how they would proceed with the ratification or otherwise of the treaty. We have taken a decision which we are now putting before the people with amendments. The fact that other countries in the European Union have not held a referendum is a flawed argument and it is also a patronising approach to the other member states who have, under their constitutions, taken decisions as they saw fit.
The French European Affairs Minister who visited the forum earlier this year explained that the French have two choices under their constitution for dealing with matters of this nature. One is to hold a referendum and the other is to put it to parliament. They decided to take the parliamentary route, a perfectly legitimate constitutional position to take. Other countries in Europe have taken a sovereign and legitimate decision to ratify the treaty as they see fit. The argument in this regard does not carry weight and does not advance the case that has been eloquently made by all sides of the House with regard to the passing of the Nice treaty.
Almost 70% of the electorate chose not to vote in the last referendum. Surveys carried out subsequently proved that the vast majority of them did not understand the treaty or found it confusing. It is a confusing and difficult treaty – as are all European Union treaties. I yield to the greater expertise in this area of my colleagues, Senator O'Rourke, and the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, who have sat on the Council of Ministers and negotiated elements of various treaties, but I am sure they will agree that treaties are, of their nature, complex documents. In this country we have somehow got hung up on various buzz words such as "qualified majority voting", "enhanced co-operation", "enlargement processes" and so forth. I do not suggest that they are unimportant but it is equally important to convey to the electorate the consequences of this country rejecting the treaty a second time.
I have listened to various Prime Ministers, European Affairs Ministers and Foreign Ministers at the Forum for Europe. The single word that repeatedly crops up, as it did again today with the Finnish Prime Minister, is "influence". In this context it refers to being part of the process, at the centre of the negotiations and being able to influence the direction of Europe – not on the margins. That is the key message the electorate needs to hear over and over again. Do we wish to throw away all that has happened over the last 30 years in a fit of pique about the Government's programme?
The Nice treaty is a compromise, as all treaties on Europe have been. As has been pointed out, every treaty since 1972 has been passed, with one exception. It is interesting to look at the reason Ireland is holding a referendum on this matter. It was the Crotty judgment in the Supreme Court that started this process. The Government in 1972 acted as it did because it believed it was right and proper to do so, although it had no constitutional obligation to act as it did. However, on all treaties, since the 1987 Single European Act, the people must be consulted. Mr. Crotty was and remains a champion of the people. He took a courageous decision against the establishment at the time, whether or not one agreed with what he did. The Supreme Court found in his favour and, as a result, Governments subsequently are legally obliged to put issues relating to amendments to the Treaty of Rome before the people. I wonder what Mr. Crotty would think today of a country that opts out of that sacred responsibility, or at least 65% to 70% of the people opted out. Less than one in five of the electorate – 17% – rejected this treaty. The rest of the electorate chose to stay at home, as is their right. It is the old story, as those who have campaigned in elections know. There is not much point in somebody who has been asked to cast a vote complaining later on if he or she did not vote. That is what democracy is about.
What is at stake in this treaty referendum? I was surprised at the time of the last referendum that, despite the support of almost 90% of the Members of Dáil and Seanad, there was a "No" vote, though by just 17% of the electorate. Why did the electorate choose to listen to those political parties and those outside the political process who would not normally command their support in the election of a Government? It is imperative that those who have the sacred trust to make these decisions in the national interest – the members of the Government – should alert the people when our vital national interests are threatened. I passionately believe a second rejection of the Nice treaty is not in the best interests of this country.
Europe, despite the bedrock foundations of its treaties from the Treaty of Rome onwards, is built on alliances; not on intimidation, but on compromise; not on force majeure, but on diversity; and not on uniformity. Ireland has always punched above its weight. I remember having the privilege of being a member of a parliamentary delegation to Cairo two years ago. I was in the company of the Deputy Foreign Minister of Egypt who said that, before he had visited Ireland, he thought it was a much larger place. The phrase stuck with me because we have punched above our weight internationally. We are far bigger in the world of international diplomacy, politics and economics than our geographical size suggests. When one compares our size with other countries in Europe, we are certainly a giant.
Ireland has successfully cultivated a positive image of a young, dynamic country bringing to the European table a thousand years of cultural and literary heritage, and a more recent history of political and military domination which reduced us to the status of a Third World country within the European family. I do not think I will be challenged when I say that, since entry to the European Union, we have become a First World country within Europe. Are we prepared to throw away this carefully constructed relationship with our EU partners, all of which have agreed to the articles of the Nice treaty? They have done this in the interests of all European peoples, but especially those of the former colonies of the Soviet Union, which is what the countries concerned were.
We must keep this process in perspective. It is about completing another aspect of the unity of the European family. However, for an export-orientated trading entity such as Ireland Incorporated, it is also about the expansion of the EU market by 100 million extra consumers, as Senator Leyden mentioned. These consumers will very quickly be the target of every manufacturing and service economy in Europe wishing to sell its goods. In the event of a further rejection of the Nice treaty, where will rejectionist Ireland fit into the new world of an enlarged European Union? It will be on the margins, bemoaning lost opportunities.
The 14 other EU countries have invested heavily in this great vision of a united Europe from the Urals to the Atlantic. They will not give it up easily. There will be an enlargement process of sorts; it is unstoppable. The Nice treaty is one more station on the way to the terminal of a Europe of diversity, prosperity and human rights. We hear regularly that there is no plan B. There is no plan B as the only game in town is the Nice treaty. What happens if we reject it? Do the people of Ireland seriously believe that Europe will stand still, that it will applaud us, or that the applicant countries will sit by and say: "Well done, Ireland. You have done a good job for us?" They will not. There will be a realignment and a sitting down at the table as has happened at every level.
I am sure that former and current Ministers in the House could testify to late nights where the midnight oil was burned, compromises were made and alliances formed and reformed. They will remember coming out into the early morning light having made agreements, perhaps not getting everything, but most of what they wanted. That is how Europe works and I have no doubt that, if we reject this treaty, Europe will continue to evolve along the lines it has set itself.
It was interesting to hear the Finnish Prime Minister today reveal something concerning neutrality of which some of us were not aware. We are all very much aware of the concept of the Rapid Reaction Force. There is a view on the "No" side that suggests that we, as a small country, are somehow being sucked into a super-military European state. The interesting revelation was that the initiative for crisis management under the Petersberg Tasks that eventually led to the Helsinki Declaration of 1999 came from neutral Finland and Sweden, not militaristic Britain, France, Germany or otherwise. That is another myth that has been disassembled.
Europe has been and continues to be a bastion of human rights. It is also one of the largest donors of overseas development aid in the Third World. I realise that the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Tom Kitt, has responsibility in that area and will, no doubt, refer to it. We should keep in mind this carefully constructed alliance within the European family that not only helps to enhance and improve the prosperity of its members, but also has been and is reaching out to the former colonies of the Soviet Union, the emerging democracies waiting to join.
As the Polish Foreign Minister said at the forum last week, Poland – a country that lost its sovereignty in 1941, was invaded, colonised and had its freedom snuffed out – re-emerged in the early 1990s and, in the short time since coming into the light of freedom and sovereignty, has said it wishes to be part of the European family. When I asked the Foreign Minister the reason this was so, she said it was because Poland wants to be at the centre of the decision-making process and did not want decisions made about it and Europe's future while it was outside.
This is the reason it is vital that those who sat at home on the last occasion and opted out motivate themselves sufficiently to realise that Ireland, although it may be geographically an island, is part of a European family with a much larger vision of the future for our children and our children's children. This is an opportunity that must be grasped. It may not come again. I have every confidence that the people will rise to the challenge.
I am glad that the Acting Chairman is able to facilitate my contribution to this debate. I am an enthusiastic supporter of what has come to be known as the European project. I have always believed that the construction of a socially progressive, stable and peaceful Europe is nothing less than the single most important political project of our generation. We should state this frequently in simple, idealistic and positive terms because when we become bogged down in the details of referendum discussions we can lose sight of the bigger picture. All Members present in the Chamber were born after the Second World War. I am hazarding a guess in saying that, but the Leader will correct me if I am wrong.
We have a clear folk memory of a conflict which, slightly more than 50 years ago, rent asunder our continent. Other conflicts did likewise in the 50 years preceding that war. During the past half a century, however, we have been blessed to live in a continent that has been largely, although not entirely, at peace. We should strive to ensure that continues to be the case for the foreseeable future.
The issue of neutrality was central to the debate on the Nice treaty and was part of the reason the referendum was lost last year. We must ask ourselves whether or not we are facing the same questions in this debate. The Treaty of Nice has not changed but several additional and genuinely important factors have to be taken into consideration in the Irish context. I applaud the declarations made at the Seville Summit by the Government and our EU partners. When one looks at the response to those declarations by those who claim to champion Irish neutrality, it is remarkable that they can happily dismiss them as if the words mean nothing. Many of those who claim to champion neutrality are naysayers whose thinking is entirely negative. They will never be persuaded that their concept of neutrality can ever be maintained by anyone but themselves.
The wording of the question is important and it is well known that my own party had an input. The Government is to be applauded for seeking to obtain a broad basis of agreement in this regard. It was agreed that if there were to be a proposal for future mutual defence obligations as part of the EU treaties, Ireland would, of necessity, have a referendum. It is only right that we should do so. I am not quite sure what my reaction would be to such a proposal. I may support it but, nonetheless, it would only be right to have a debate. We are, however, some distance away from any such scenario. Those who argued a year ago that our neutrality was in danger have little or no basis on which to reiterate the same arguments.
Our definition of neutrality has changed on more than one occasion over the years. I do not intend to provide the House with a history lesson in this regard but, currently, neutrality is most often defined as military neutrality, or put more simply, non-membership of a military alliance or a joint defence agreement. That is the most meaningful definition that can be given to it. The opponents of the Nice treaty seek to define neutrality in a way that would exclude our participation in the European Rapid Reaction Force. I strongly support our participation in the Partnership for Peace as well as the Rapid Reaction Force in most conceivable circumstances.
Over the years I was sceptical about Irish participation in offensive actions abroad but I changed my mind decisively during the break-up of Yugoslavia. It became painfully clear then that Europe was incapable of giving any real meaning to its foreign policy. The EU could agree that certain things should be done in Bosnia, for example, but until the former US President, Bill Clinton, gave his say so, we were quite incapable of putting them into action. That situation reached its most grotesque and brutal zenith when the EU forces present at Srebrenica and Goradje proved incapable of preventing the wholesale slaughter of the menfolk of both Bosnian towns. This was notwithstanding the fact that both areas were designated as UN safe havens.
Unless we want to hand over the implementation of Irish and EU foreign policy lock, stock and barrel to US President George Bush and his cohorts in Washington, we have no choice but to make available the capacity to enforce – and I use that word advisedly – EU foreign policy within our continent. That is something in which we should wilfully and actively seek to participate. We have an effective veto and do not have to participate in the Rapid Reaction Force unless we so choose, and we can opt out at any stage, as can any other participating nation. For us to stand aside from it completely, however, would be to abdicate any responsibility we have to the people of the Balkans and it is not difficult to think of other places where similar circumstances could arise.
Some people argue that we should not be re-running a referendum which was decided last year but, notwithstanding what some noted academics have claimed, I do not believe there is any such thing as the end of history. No political argument is ever over and cannot be revisited. If that were the case, why would one be involved in politics which is about cajoling and persuading people to move in the direction of which one approves. It is about trying to put legislation in place to bring about change in society. More often than not one cannot win but one must continue to try to bring about the change in which one believes. If that involves fighting referenda and elections then so be it, because that is what politicians do. If a referendum decision goes one way one year, it will not necessarily go the same way the following year, or ten or 15 years later. That is part and parcel of the ordinary cut and thrust of democracy. It is how decisions are made and there is nothing wrong with us revisiting a decision, not only once or twice, but ten times over if we so wish. I would be more than happy to put certain core issues in which I believe to referendum after referendum until such time as I can persuade over 50% of the people to go along with them. The same is true of the Green Party, Sinn Féin and most of the others who deplore the fact that we are revisiting this issue. We are entitled to revisit it and we should do so.
The result of the forthcoming referendum will tell us a great deal about ourselves. It will tell us what sort of people we are and whether we have the generosity and breadth of vision to take into account the concerns of poorer countries. It will also tell us whether we have a sufficient grasp of history to understand what it was like for east European countries to live under totalitarian regimes for almost 50 years after the Second World War. Will we be able to rise above our own narrow interests to appreciate the interests of others? What entitles us not to do so?
Earlier in the debate we had an interesting discussion about the process that is being used to make this decision. Because of the Crotty judgment we are required by law to have a referendum and so we should be, but do we have the political or moral right, to put it bluntly, to screw up the future of the rest of Europe? What gives us the moral right to say to people in Estonia or Latvia, "We have decided that we know what is good for you, although you, your government and your public representatives may not"? We have no such political or moral right, even if we are required to ratify this treaty from a legal standpoint.
Maybe there is a lesson in this for the future which would oblige us to examine how treaty changes are dealt with. If Ireland's national interests were at stake we should be entitled to a veto and I and others would be happy to use it, but nobody can seriously argue that Ireland's national interests are at stake in the Nice treaty. Would we like to be sure of retaining our Commissioner for ever and a day after 2007? I suppose we would. Is our national interest really at stake? Will it be damaged very much if we lose three MEPs in a few years? I doubt it. I do not think that the people of Connacht-Ulster will be marching in the streets if they suddenly find they have two MEPs rather than three.
It is, however, crucially important to people in Eastern Europe. Their national interest, their individual interest, the security of their homes are clearly at stake because of the decision which we will make. If we have doubts about the institutional changes we should be aware of the greater consequences to others of a decision to vote "No". If we think about it in those terms then we can come to no other conclusion than enthusiastically to vote "Yes".
One of the primary reasons for voting "Yes" is to anchor democracy and the rule of law in eastern Europe. In the recent past democracy and the rule of law have shown themselves to be very young children in eastern Europe. They are scarcely developed at all in some parts of it. It is not necessary to look too deeply in Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and even Poland where there are substantial ethnic majorities to see the potential for instability in the future. There is the virtual certainty of political unrest and perhaps worse in those countries. There must be a mechanism to resolve these matters in a democratic framework. The framework must be anchored firmly within the European Union. We have a responsibility to play our part in providing that anchor.
I will examine some of the institutional changes which are suggested. There is, as yet, no agreement that we will lose our Commissioner. It is vital to Ireland's interests that there is a strong Commission which is capable of functioning. It has traditionally, and properly, been the guardian of the interests of all members and therefore disproportionally of small member states. It is not in our interest to have an unwieldy commission, incapable of making decisions and virtually the poodle of the Council of Ministers. I do not favour strengthening the inter-governmental side or strengthening the Council of Ministers at the cost of a weaker Commission.
On the question of qualified majority voting, why do those who oppose the treaty always assume that we will be in a minority? Why do they always assume that we will be outvoted? Why does it never occur to them that we are occasionally looking to get things done, to make progress, to move things on and have decisions made? Why must they always assume that we are the one country, beside Britain in the corner, whose interests are being trampled upon? Ireland's national interests in a serious issue have never been trampled upon by the use of QMV. We have nothing to fear from QMV. There are many countries with which we can form constructive alliances provided that we do not put ourselves offside with them by blocking their entry into the European Union in the near future.
Likewise, there are many qualifications secured within the treaty regarding enhanced co-operation. It cannot be used in all circumstances. It can only be used as a last resort. It requires the active co-operation of eight member states and there must be at least another six who assent to its use within a community or union of 27. There are plenty of safeguards. Why do we always assume that we will be among those who would not choose enhanced co-operation? We chose to be part of ERM, EMS and the single currency. We did not choose to be part of Schengen. I regret that sometimes, but we did not. It cannot be argued that our membership of the EU was diminished by not participating in Schengen.
We have an enormous opportunity to do good in this vote, not just for ourselves, although we would enhance out standing in the European Union, but for many others at no cost to ourselves. We should not lose sight of the fact that we have an enormous capacity to do harm, not to ourselves but to the future of the over 350 million people who are waiting, rather more anxiously than people in some parts of the country, for the result of our referendum next month.
I congratulate the new Cathaoirleach, Senator Rory Kiely, and the new Leader. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, to the House. He has experience in these fields. The speech by the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach with responsibility for European Affairs, Deputy Roche, was very apt. The appointment of such a Minister highlights the Taoiseach's commitment to the European process.
Many Senators have outlined the benefit of voting "Yes" and the negative effects of voting "No". Why are we here today? We are planning a rerun of the referendum on the Nice treaty in the hope that the treaty will be approved. There have been many complaints about this. We have rerun referenda on abortion and divorce with no complaints, although these referenda concerned a different type of amendment.
This referendum includes the Seville Declaration which changes the treaty to some extent. It protects our neutrality, a matter which gave rise to fears. There has been scaremongering by some people that there will be a huge army and their sons will be killed in this European army – they never mention their daughters – and widespread abortion will be imposed on us. I do not believe the best way to stop the implementation of the undesirable is to bow out of the process. We must stay in and fight our corner. Some countries may want to foist abortion on us. What about it? We will not achieve anything by not staying the course. Running away from debate is not the answer. Can we imagine in the future all the countries of Europe in a room negotiating something with Ireland sitting out on a bench in the corridor? They all come out and we ask how we got on. They say, " You weren't in were you? You did all right, I suppose." We should play on the team, sit at the negotiating table. It is not the size of the dog that is in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog.
We have been active participants in the European process so far and have benefited greatly from this. Senators have outlined in speech after speech the cultural, social and economic benefits from our participation in the European process. I would like to continue this and see our future enhanced, not stifled. Do we really want to throw away all of the progress which has been made at a time when we can influence the future of the European Union? What is the risk? What are we afraid of? We must be heard and we must stay the course. We will not go it alone. Make no mistake, if we vote "No" this time we will find ourselves alone in the future. We have nothing to fear. Let us have confidence in our abilities. We can hold our own, we have done it so far. We have been up against big nations, ten times our size, with many times our population and huge economic power. Have they wronged us? They have not. They have been fair to us. We have benefited and done well. We should give a little back.
This is not just a Government issue, it is a national issue. Everyone in the country is involved in it. When anything to do with Europe is debated it is important to remember what it is all about. It is essentially about peace in Europe, which was riven by wars for centuries. Country after country fought one another. The Germans fought the French; the French fought the Spanish; the Spanish fought the Belgians; the English fought everybody. The First World War followed. It began with the assassination of one man and for the first time we saw the reality of war and all the pictures coming back from trenches showing thousands of people dead. We saw mustard gas being used but we still did not learn. There was another war, the Second World War, when 45 million people were killed and 147 million were injured. Millions of animals and wildlife were destroyed. Infrastructure, bridges, houses and homes were destroyed. Cities were bombed and priceless art was destroyed.
We have had peace for over half a century in Europe. It is essential to remind ourselves time and again that this is about peace. If we have peace we have economic prosperity. We can travel from one end of Europe to the other, from the Twelve Pins to the Urals, which is what it is all about. Many in this House are too young to remember anything about the war. It was an horrific experience and a terrible time. We need to constantly say this European experiment is about peace in Europe and about maintaining peace in Europe. If we have peace everything else falls into line.
What about the former communist states, the satellites of the Soviet Union who are clamouring for entry into the European Union? Some are small with small populations. Are they afraid they will be swallowed up? They are praying that they will be swallowed up. They are praying to get into an organisation where they can have free elections, free press, vote a government in or out and not be shepherded away in a truck in the middle of the night or tortured, where they will have jobs and can say whatever they want and not be arrested or slaughtered. This is what the European Union is all about. This is what the experiment is about and so far it has worked. As many Senators have said we do not have a right to stop these people from joining.
I have listened to people debate this matter on radio and television. They see it as some kind of myth, that we will be swallowed up. We have not been swallowed up for 20 years. Does anybody realistically think by voting "Yes" to the treaty that somehow our Irishness will disappear? Does anybody realistically believe that the Spanish will stop bull fighting, close all the tapas bars from Seman®a Santa and stop flamenco?
We will not get everything we want. If you are in a club or organisation you do not get everything you want. You have to play by the rules. When somebody has an idea and you have a different idea you debate the matter and do not go to war. You do not pull out of the club, you stay in it and get what you can out of it. That is what this is all about.
I cannot understand people who want to vote "No". They can see the benefits of European Union membership, which are measurable, real and tangible and are not aspirational – you can reach out and touch them. Do we want to throw those benefits away? In voting "No" we will stop people who have suffered for 40 or 50 years from joining. I listened to Senator Mooney, who spoke about Poland and the other countries. Do they want to join the Union as quickly as they can to be swallowed up or to have their Polishness destroyed? People in this House are united on the matter. There are obviously voices and movements that may have legitimate concerns but we must put them to rest. The Government and other parties are working to put these fears to rest because they are not realistic. If we continue like this we will be the Roy Keane of Europe, we will be a brilliant player but we will not be on the team. That is not what I want. I am advocating a "Yes" vote because I want to be on the team with the rest of them and fighting our corner as we have always done.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate and to express a timely warning to the Government on the reality facing it on this issue and all supporting a "Yes" vote. Whether it is known to the Government parties and the Minister responsible, there is a latent anger among the electorate. It will not be a case on this occasion of vast numbers not expressing an opinion. There will be a substantial increase in the numbers coming out to vote. Behind that anger is an expression of mistrust in the Government and many of its members. It is unfortunate that it may manifest itself in a "No" vote.
I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, what has happened since the last opportunity to vote on this issue that the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, has changed his mind. Sceptics would say he changed it because he is now a Minister. Others would say he changed his mind immediately after the result was declared on the last occasion. He said he voted "No" because he wanted to be on the winning side like Senator Lydon said. We all want to be on the winning side. If the electorate see a sincere and genuine effort being made and a request for the electorate to respond positively to Europe we will get a "Yes" vote, but the anger among the electorate is unquantifiable.
The Government in its first few weeks in office announced severe cutbacks in basic services and those affected will remember it. The most severe were the health cutbacks. I am a member of the Western Health Board where 169 front line support jobs in the health service are about to be lost and the Government does not care. No doubt there are similar job losses throughout the other health boards but they may not have been highlighted. These cutbacks affect people, who will respond accordingly.
In education, as I raised here this morning, a 70% increase in registration fees has been announced for young people for the duration of their stay within the system. It is an extreme burden for parents who strive to send one or more of their children to a third level college. At the same time the Government emphasises the need for a well educated workforce who are experts in various fields to assist with R&D. The increase in registration fees is not a positive response to our needs in the current climate.
A latent fear exists within the farming community because many of the directives issued by the EU are implemented by our Ministers and civil servants in a punitive manner. Many are unworkable and are driving more and more people off the land. Young people are totally disenchanted with agriculture and older people are unable to cope with the magnitude of red tape. This manifests itself, for example, in the necessity to tag every sheep on a farm and record the information in triplicate in order to satisfy the officials in Agriculture House who insist upon it and who penalise even simple human errors. These penalties are excessive given the simple errors involved and it is often suggested that they are fraudulent. The only alternative for many farmers caught up in this system is to forget about these schemes –supports that are vital to the everyday running of farms.
On my way to the House this morning, I heard Professor Matthews of Trinity College declare on radio that we have too many farmers and that small, uneconomic farms should be eliminated in favour of good, commercial farms. Is it possible to link that with the fact that Commissioner Franz Fischler has been asked to postpone his visit to Ireland until after the referendum in order to prevent him disclosing his planned so-called "reforms" which will lead to a reduction in the incomes of many Irish farmers? This is a serious situation. It is suggested in some quarters that the Government has asked Commissioner Fischler not to come until after the referendum because his visit could create further disenchantment with Europe and, perhaps, a swing towards a "No" vote.
In the 1970s, Mansholt stated that it would be better to take small, uneconomic farmers off the land and pay them to live in towns, rather than subsidise them in a productive way. All this is a contradiction of what we embraced when we first joined the EU – more production, more income and better lifestyles. Suddenly the entire project has gone wrong. It is for that reason I advocate an early warning system to tell us what is out there. The Government must show its determination to win back the electorate.
I suggest that the Taoiseach restrains himself from comment because, to date, he has described elements of the "No" campaign as "whingers" and "scaremongers". One cannot insult the electorate and expect it to vote "Yes", yet that is what the Taoiseach and some of his Ministers have done. The Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, has insulted the electorate by campaigning for a "No" vote and voting "No" on the last referendum yet campaigning for a "Yes" vote on this occasion. Where is the consistency in that tactic and how can we expect the electorate to support such actions?
Ireland has benefited greatly from the EU and the standard of living of many people has risen. A reversal of emigration took place and people can now return to live in the country. However, through an arm of the Government, we are told we cannot live in rural Ireland. I link this fact to Deputy Ó Cuív who is a Minister in a Government whose policy dictates that there will be no one-off rural housing and yet he says there can be such developments. He blames An Taisce and other organisations in Dublin 4 for objecting and declares that, as a Minister, he will ensure that rural housing is allowed. This is a contradiction. Did the Taoiseach appoint him as Minister as a tactic to control a man he regarded as a loose cannon? Did he do so expecting him to return the favour by saying everything is alright with Europe and that everyone must support the Treaty of Nice?
The electorate is angry. The Government parties are urging a "Yes" vote but the electorate must be able to trust them and the people who front the campaign on its behalf. They must be seen as reasonable people who accept that others have views and that they will not be ridiculed as they have been on three occasions. Commissioner Byrne said the "No" camp was scaremongering on neutrality and immigration. If the Government criticises people who express opposition, how can we win over the electorate to bring about a successful conclusion to this referendum?
There are people who say that a "No" vote will tell the applicant countries that we do not want them in Europe because we do not want to share. I do not think it is relevant to use this argument to win people over on the basis of our image abroad. My experience of the applicant countries suggest that they look at Ireland as an example of the benefits that can accrue to them if they can follow our example as a small country. That is why it is so important that the message communicated by the Government to the electorate is put in the context of the reality of the benefits we have enjoyed. We cannot tell people that they are whingers or anything else.
We are entitled to demand the highest possible standard of living for our people. We have a highly educated workforce and a high percentage of young people in third level education which was not the case 15 years ago. We want this situation to continue and increase. We want the EU funds we received to initiate progress in this area and for that progress to increase rather than diminish. I do not believe it will diminish, even in an enlarged Europe.
We are sending out the wrong messages and I call on the Government to change its act. It has now called in the western guru and the other campaign managers that it had at the last election, which was so successful. If we have reached that stage, what does the rest of the campaign have in store for us? I hope the Government will change its tack and become more positive towards the electorate that we are asking to vote "Yes".
I congratulate the new Cathaoirleach, Senator Kiely. I also congratulate the new Leader of the House, Senator O'Rourke, our Chief Whip, Senator Moylan, and everybody else who achieved promotion. I also congratulate my colleague, Senator Ulick Burke, who is the Fine Gael Whip.
There has been much debate about the role of small nations in relation to Ireland and the smaller countries that wish to join the European Union. On listening to the debate, there has been much misrepresentation of the role of small nations. People are saying the large member states will dominate the decision making process. If that was the case, Ireland as a small member state could not have been a major net beneficiary of the European Union budget for about 30 years. The large member states like Germany and the UK are net contributors to the budget.
The Treaty of Nice is about the decision making procedures of the European Union and the adjustments needed to ensure the European Union can continue to function with a greatly increased membership. It is in Ireland's interest that the European Union is able to function as well after enlargement as before. It is vital the decision making process is improved and as other speakers have said, there is no reason to believe that Ireland will be outvoted. Enlargement will give the same opportunities to some of the smaller countries in eastern Europe which come into European Union. I hope they will also receive the same help and benefits Ireland received 30 years ago. Enlargement will share the benefits of European Union membership with the applicant countries that are coming in and it will lead to stability, peace and prosperity across the Continent. Maybe we take those words for granted. Enlargement will also lead to opportunities for Irish business by opening up new markets with 100 million customers. I feel the Treaty of Nice gets the balance right. It prepares the European Union to grow while protecting Ireland's national interest.
Enlargement will strengthen the small member states as a group. At present the European Union consists of five larger and ten smaller member states. After enlargement there will be seven larger and 19 smaller member states, with the Netherlands somewhere in the middle. The relative weighting of member states voting powers in the enlarging EU will continue to favour heavily the smaller member states. For example, Ireland with a population of about 4 million people has three votes on the Council of Ministers while Germany with a population of 82 million people has ten votes.
The Treaty of Nice is of particular interest to agriculture as has been mentioned by many Senators. Of the 12 applicant states, nine are more dependent on agriculture than Ireland and a further two are equally dependent. These states will be useful allies in defending the interests of agriculture within the European Union. It would be ironic if by rejecting the Treaty of Nice we were to keep out of the European Union those states that would be allies in defending the Common Agricultural Policy. In the last Dáil and Seanad there were many visits from Members of Parliament from eastern European countries. Those members pointed out to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs the benefits of the Common Agricultural Policy. I refer particularly to the smaller countries like Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania whose parliamentarians talked about the political domination of the Soviet Union of which they were in awe.
I know some farmers may be tempted to vote "No" to Nice to register a protest about the current state of the dairy market, the difficulty with sheep tagging, perhaps the beef policy or some other issue that is adversely affecting them at present. If they look at the bigger picture, Ireland is better off inside the EU. We could not afford to finance the Common Agricultural Policy ourselves despite our economic progress.
Between 1973 and 2001, Irish agriculture received €30 billion in supports, including market supports and direct payments. We have seen European Union assistance of €2.5 billion for investment in our farms and the food industry. Our farmers and the food industry have benefited from access to the European market where food prices are among the highest in the world. In the rural development area, there is the Leader programme, co-funded by the European Union. Measures like REPS, the rural environment protection scheme, have made a major contribution to environmental protection and enhancement. The mid-term review proposals are being negotiated by the Minister for Agriculture and Food and he should not have to negotiate with his hands tied behind his back. We could strengthen his position in the negotiations by agreeing to the Nice treaty.
European Union membership has provided us with huge markets for exporting our products. Membership has made Ireland an attractive base for American and other non-EU companies to the European Union market. It is very difficult to understand the attitude of Sinn Féin, which talks about the fear of other countries joining the European Union. Does it want to put Ireland back to the time before the 1970s when it had few markets and Great Britain was our main market?
Ireland attracted 2.5% of all foreign direct investment in the European Union in 2000 and 3.2% in 1999. More significantly American investment was $7.4 billion, up from $4.6 billion the previous year. In per capita terms, Ireland receives the highest level of American and foreign direct investment in the European Union at about $2,000 per head and over three times the amount received by the Netherlands. There are now more than 300 American companies established and giving valuable employment in Ireland.
There are also direct benefits such as the European Union Structural Funds, where €16 billion has been provided over the years. We have built up our infrastructure much faster than we could have done on our own. We have received very important funding for research, marketing and training. The Border, midlands and western region – the BMW as it is known – has been established to increase development of infrastructure in those areas.
I was interested in the comments of the former Minister and Deputy, Mr. Alan Dukes, who asked why 13 countries wanted to join the European Union. He was referring to the ten countries of central and eastern Europe along with Malta, Cyprus and Turkey and I welcome the fact that they have all applied. He made the point about the eight countries of central and eastern Europe coming from a different background. He referred to the fact that these countries might be escaping the Soviet political domination and looking for independence, particularly political independence which they would cherish. Their best guarantee of political independence is to join the European Union. They wish to become part of a highly successful economic and political entity and membership gives them influence over the activities of the European Union.
Another guarantee lies in economic and social development. The European Union has a good track record of effectively supporting the less developed new members. Candidate countries are very enthusiastic about membership of the European Union. I have heard the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs speak of the long hours spent by the candidate countries introducing legislation in preparation for joining the European Union over several years.
Some people have asked whether we need the Treaty of Nice for enlargement to proceed, pointing to the fact that five new members could join under the Treaty of Amsterdam. In that treaty it was stated that further issues were to be addressed before any enlargement took place. Questions on the size of the Commission and the weighting of votes at the Council of Ministers had to be decided. Enlargement negotiations have been very positive and it is now accepted that ten applicants should be allowed to join by 2004. There is no other agreed basis on which enlargement could proceed.
The questions about Ireland losing a Commissioner are also of the scaremongering variety. The Treaty of Nice gives Ireland exactly the same rights as any of the larger countries in the appointment of a member to the European Commission. As everyone will be aware, at present the larger countries have the right to nominate two members to the European Commission while smaller states such as Ireland have the right to nominate one member. Under the Treaty of Nice, Ireland, which has a population of about 4 million people, will have the same rights in the appointment of a commission as Germany, which has a population of over 82 million people.
There is no point in scaremongering and creating uncertainty about Ireland's future in Europe. The Taoiseach and the Ministers, and particularly the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, have asked those campaigning for a "No" vote to outline the economic alternative to the Treaty of Nice. There has been a deadly silence regarding any alternative.
The opportunities for Ireland are in an enlarged Europe which will be of benefit to every person in Ireland. If we ratify the Treaty of Nice, we will be able to go in and fight on issues such as agriculture to which I referred. The Minister for Agriculture and Food is doing that at present. If we ratify the treaty, the Government will able to say it has a democratic mandate to make its case regarding agricultural policy. If we do not ratify the treaty, the Government can certainly make its case and make the arguments, but nobody will listen.
I would hope that the referendum will be held on a weekend. We have had previous experience of this in that one of the Tipperary South by-elections was held on a Saturday. I do not think there would be any danger in the autumn of clashing with sporting fixtures. It would certainly suit people, such as students, who are away from home during the week and who would have time to travel to vote. It is important that people come out and vote in large numbers, unlike what happened at the previous referendum and on other polling days which were held in mid-week.
This treaty certainly has my full support. I will be campaigning strongly for a "Yes" vote. Ireland's future is secure in Europe where we have enjoyed success. With so many countries, and particularly smaller countries, wanting to join, we will have many allies to help us secure a brighter future in Europe and a brighter future for the Irish people.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, to the Chamber. I also wish to add my congratulations to the new Cathaoirleach, Senator Kiely, and to the new leaders and whips of the groups.
I support the Bill. This referendum is being held in a different context to the previous one because of the work that has been done to address the issues of military neutrality and the democratic deficit. It is fitting that the question about the ratification of the Nice treaty can be put to the people a second time. The Labour Party raised these two issues in that we sought constitutional protection for our military neutrality and highlighted the need for parliamentary accountability regarding EU decisions through our European Union Bill. I welcome the fact that the Government has conceded these two issues.
Before and during the previous referendum on the Nice treaty the Labour Party called for a national forum to debate the future of Europe, a call which was also subsequently conceded by the Government. The forum to which I have been a delegate has played an important role in bringing to the table all sides of the debate on the Nice treaty. However, its importance goes beyond the treaty. It must continue debating the future of Europe and engaging people on questions such as how we can make the EU more democratic and relevant. However, it should also ask what kind of Europe we want, to what social model should we aspire, and how can we ensure social inclusion and justice. Ireland must be in the forefront of that debate on the future of Europe at a European level. In an enlarged Europe, Ireland will have many new allies in this debate.
Tá mé thar a bheith sásta a bheith anseo inniu mar Sheanadóir nua. Is onóir mhór í seo dom féin agus do mo chlann. Tá súil agam go mbainfidh mé úsáid mhaith as mo chuid ama sa Teach seo. I am proud to be here today. It is a great honour for me and my family that I have been elected to Seanad Éireann. I am the second generation of my family to be involved in national politics. My father, John Browne, was a Member of Seanad Éireann from 1983-87 and of Dáil Éireann from 1989-2002.
I compliment you, a Chathaoirligh, on your appointment and look forward to working with you in the House over the next few years. The membership of the current Seanad is an interesting mixture of young and old, and of those experienced and inexperienced in politics. The four or five years ahead of us promise to be interesting, lively and educational.
The Government ensured its re-election through deceit and half-truths. In the space of a few short weeks we have seen, in effect, the re-introduction of third level fees through the back door, cutbacks in health services and the Stadium Ireland dream turning into a nightmare for the Taoiseach to the point where it looks like we will not have a new national stadium as promised before the election. Insurance costs are crippling drivers of all ages, home owners and businesses, and the proposed hike in ESB charges are resulting in our economy becoming less competitive. Unfortunately job losses are beginning to mount, which is a reflection on the Government's incompetence and general neglect of the major issues.
However, it is vitally important to distinguish that the vote on the Nice treaty is one for the future of this country, not one which would be used to protest at this Government. Therefore, like previous speakers, I would plead with the electorate to look on the forthcoming referendum in the context of what is good for the future of this country and to vent their anger on this Government in the local and European elections in 2004.
Having been born in 1973, a significant year in the sense that Ireland joined the EEC that year, I feel it is vitally important that the referendum is carried overwhelmingly in October. I belong to a generation of people who know no life outside the EU.
The Nice treaty boils down to the question of whether we want to be an active player in the EU or left out in the cold. It is important that we would look back at the past and see what Ireland was like before we joined the EEC. It could be said that in 1972 Ireland was still part of the United Kingdom. Even though we had gained our independence in 1921 and declared a Republic in the late 1940s, in effect we really were still a part of the United Kingdom. Two thirds of our trade was with the UK and we shared a common labour market. Our currency was simply a derivative of sterling and, consequently, we had no need for separate monetary or exchange rate policies. Interest rates were determined in London. Agriculture was almost totally dependent on the British market. Manufacturing exports went predominantly into the UK and our external commercial policy was designed to accommodate that of Britain. Ireland was isolated from the rest of Europe and we were a politically independent region of the British economy. On the eve of EEC membership, Irish living standards were 62% of the European average and, more graphically, about one third of what they are today. Even going back to the mid-1950s, emigration was so high that an American socialist wrote credibly of the vanishing Irish.
The Nice treaty is merely the follow-on from the Amsterdam treaty in which many of the major decisions were taken. There is nothing new in the Nice treaty. It enables further enlargement of the EU which presents Ireland with new markets and new opportunities. We are now a senior member of the EU and, as such, we should be leading the way instead of being led. We need to believe in ourselves and have confidence in our abilities.
As I explained earlier, before we joined the EEC we were almost totally dependent on the British economy. Who would have thought that 29 years on we would be in a position to determine our own fate, as evidenced by our successful transition to the euro currency, without having to wait for Britain? A result of that transition is the low interest rates we now enjoy. Many foreign companies come to Ireland because of our EU status. A "No" vote would diminish our role in the EU and therefore make Ireland less attractive to multinationals. We would be seen as a weak player on the EU team, which would not be good for jobs.
I referred earlier to the improvement in our quality of life. As European citizens we have obtained improved rights through EU legislation. For example, employment equality, maternity and minimum wage legislation have brought improvements. Everyone must accept responsibility for the debacle of the vote in the last Nice referendum but most responsibility lies with the current Government which failed to lead and conducted a campaign of utter confusion as proven by the last minute delivery of the information leaflet to households.
I regret the public is being asked to vote twice on the same issue. This should be avoided in the future as it demeans our democratic process and is an insult to the intelligence of the people. No doubt Dublin football supporters would hope the same rules could apply to their team's recent defeat by Armagh. I urge the Minister to set a date, as soon as possible, for the referendum. It should be held on a weekend to enable the maximum number of people take part in the democratic process. We need to make Europe more relevant to our daily lives. Millions of lives have been saved since the foundation of the EU and thankfully we have not had a third world war. Many countries have turned from communism to embrace democratic politics and they should be rewarded for this progress.
The Nice treaty will not threaten or undermine our military neutrality. After the referendum we should look at our so-called neutrality. It is questionable whether Ireland has ever been neutral in the true sense of the word. If something is worth being in it is worth defending and protecting. It is in Ireland's interest to have a proper EU defence force to protect us from possible attack. Who knows where the Ryanair jet would have landed had the Swedish police not reacted so quickly. We are quick to condemn the atrocities of the Second World War yet in the recent past history almost repeated itself in the Balkans and the EU was powerless to defend the millions of victims who lost their lives.
I urge people to study the referendum issues carefully and to remember the benefits we have enjoyed as members of the EU. They must realise that a "Yes" vote will mean Ireland will continue with a strong voice to play an active, constructive role in Europe. There is no alternative. A "Yes" vote will ensure that Irish Governments of the future will be in a strong position in EU negotiations.
This referendum is not a rerun of the previous one. We want the people to make a decision. Many people said to me that if they had known more they would have voted differently. A change is proposed to the Constitution and changes have been made to the Bill because of the Seville Declaration. What is the problem in asking people if they are happier and offering them an opportunity to make a decision? That is the essence of democracy and I am proud we can do that. Many countries might just simply walk away.
What are the consequences of walking away? Many people say the consequences would be dire. However we should focus on the positive aspects of accepting the Nice treaty and on what it will mean for us and for our children's children. What will it mean for the economy, jobs and growth? What will it mean too for neutrality, defence and other such issues? It is quite right to seek answers to those questions.
I am delighted to support the treaty and I look forward to hearing people's views on the key issues during the remainder of the debate. The Treaty of Nice is necessary. All the countries involved came together to come up with an agreement that would allow for enlargement of the EU. It must be accepted that we cannot continue to allow new members into the Union without making changes to the institutions that were set up at a time when a Union of 25 or 27 states was never envisaged. It is time to change the original structures.
People may not have noticed that this treaty brings a change that will suit smaller countries more than the larger ones. I wonder how the people of Germany or France, who will change from having two commissioners to only one, and that one on a rotating basis, would feel about the treaty if they had a referendum. This treaty will be better for Ireland and we will be more equal in terms of access to a commissioner. People seem to think we are losing out. Everybody is losing out but that is what happens. With enlargement we cannot all have the same share.
We need to be at the heart of the European Union. If we vote "No" and if we do not support change we will create doubt in the minds of our European partners. Everybody accepts that Europe has been good to us. Without moving forward in Europe Ireland would suffer in terms of economy, jobs and our future. We must ensure that Ireland continues to be one of the most attractive places in Europe for foreign investment. We need to be seen as the country on the periphery of Europe which is a base for those who want to break into the European Union, bringing manufacturing industries, jobs and investment. They must continue to see Ireland as the place in Europe to set up investment. The next stop after Galway and the Aran Islands is America. We want American companies to look to Ireland and see it as the nearest place for them to base themselves for R&D and manufacturing. We want them to continue to create jobs in the facilities that have been set up by various Governments over the last number of years. We will then see a return to the growth we need for the continued success of our economy.
We must ensure that we have friends and allies at the negotiating table. People often do not realise what negotiations involve. Anyone involved in industrial relations negotiations knows that a negative mode puts a person on the losing end of a confrontation. We need to maintain the types of relationships we have had with all of our existing EU partners and to do the same with new members. Many of the new countries who have been working hard to get their economies in shape so they will be accepted as members felt aggrieved and upset when they felt Ireland was closing the door. We must show them that we are not closing it and that we want them to have the same opportunities we have had and to achieve the same success. They look to us as a role model and mentor. If we can do it, they can do it. We must accept the Nice treaty if this is to happen. These small countries will become our allies during future negotiations. We must ensure that the Europe of the future will continue to deliver the type of economies and social policies that will make all our countries good places in which to live.
We must ensure a continuation of social and cultural progress. Much of the social and cultural progress achieved in the past would not have happened without the EU. Senator Mansergh referred in his contribution to the improvements in equality for women. I am very proud of our achievements in that area. We are an example to other countries when it is seen that equality of treatment for women does not diminish national success, growth and global competitiveness.
This referendum offers another choice to the people of Ireland. This is a democracy and people have a choice to vote "No". I hope that will not happen and that people will respond differently to the referendum this time. I hope the voters will not be fooled by the type of campaigners who do not have the responsibility to be honest in their statements about the "No" campaign, the type of people who encourage people to vote "No" as a sign of dissatisfaction with the Government. I ask people not to use the Nice referendum as a stick with which to beat the Government. That is not the purpose of the referendum. The purpose of the referendum is to make a decision on the continued progression of our country and how we see our future in terms of education for our children, social policy and economic growth. Our agriculture and fisheries industries are dependent on our decision and anxiously await the results of the Nice referendum. Europe anxiously awaits the result of the Nice referendum. A "No" vote should be a vote of disagreement in principle with the treaty but should not be used as a stick with which to beat the Government.
There will be huge difficulties if Ireland votes "No". We do not know when enlargement will take place. The applicant countries have been working hard to meet the deadlines for 2004 and they will not be happy to see their hard work go for nothing. We will be forced to go back to the beginning and try to hammer out another agreement. Anyone who has been involved in negotiations will know how difficult that will be. It is not fair to say that enlargement will go ahead despite a "No" vote. It will be a big issue to be faced.
Change is not always bad; it can be managed and negotiated. We are fortunate to have excellent officials and government teams working in Europe. We have always been able to get a good deal for Ireland. Our economic success is a measure of the continued benefits of membership of the European Union. We must not be seen as mean. We should give other countries a chance and give ourselves a bigger chance. Enlargement will open up a bigger European export market. Irish companies have already been successful in Eastern Europe and it would be even better if they were working in an area that was part of the EU. We can export and sell skills in order to create jobs and growth in these new countries. Enlargement of the EU will give us a chance to develop our relationships with other countries.
Ireland's neutrality will not be compromised by the Treaty of Nice and this is ensured by the Seville Declaration. I urge voters to inform themselves about this referendum and to understand what the Seville Declaration confirms. I hope people will support the Nice Treaty and give us the opportunity to continue to contribute to the European Union. We should allow the applicant countries who have worked so hard to come on board and to benefit from the type of success we have enjoyed. We are a generous people and our generosity has often been an example to others – as was the case with Bob Geldof's Live Aid. I hope that Ireland will vote "Yes" on this occasion for the benefit of Ireland and for the benefit of the European Union.
I welcome this debate even though we are all supporting the passage of the Nice treaty. It is unusual that both sides of the House are ad idem on a subject. This consensus is not present in the general population. We should not be under the impression that our well-informed views on the Nice treaty and its implications are also shared by the population at large. The same problem which was encountered last year is still very much in evidence – people still do not know what the issues are, despite the considerable amount of work done since the last referendum. I respectfully suggest to the Minister that there is still a huge job to be done in explaining the issues, in particular our relationship with the European Union.
The decision of the people in last year's referendum has forced us to debate our role in the European Union, our relationship with the other member states and our potential relationship with future applicant members. This debate is long overdue and must be seen as a positive move. Coming at a particular time in our political and economic history it allows us to reflect on the level of change in Irish society, the extent to which that change has been influenced by our membership of the European Union, the extent to which it is reflected in our own institutions and attitudes and where we go from here.
The result of last year's referendum raised huge concerns in my mind about how we would be perceived within the European Union and about the attitude of the Irish people to our membership of the Union. We know the long list of benefits Ireland has derived from membership. We have bought into the vision of Europe but, given the result of last year's referendum, we must ask whether the majority view in Ireland is supportive of the central values of the European Union.
I am concerned that there may be a view abroad that we do not want to share our prosperity with a larger number of states. Having arrived at the position of contributing financially to the Union are we prepared to share the prosperity we have gained as a result of the generosity of other member states? At a critical time in our economic development major investment in infrastructure and third level education – the Leader of the House will know this from her past ministerial experience – gave us a well-educated population which attracted foreign investment and has transformed our economy. It seems churlish, petty and selfish, having taken the advantages of membership of the European Union, to refuse to share it with others. This impression was inevitably created by the result of last year's referendum. I hope the innate generosity of the Irish people will be evident when we vote again this autumn.
I hope people will be reassured by what has taken place in the interim on the issue of neutrality. I do not believe the general public is aware of the effect of the Seville declarations or the fact that a "Yes" vote will copperfasten neutrality in the Constitution. I hope people will soon be made aware of this fact because the issue of neutrality is at the heart of the debate on the Nice treaty. I welcome the process which has led to this happening. It is one of the positive outcomes of the debates which have taken place since the last referendum. It should be publicly acknowledged that the Labour Party led the debate on neutrality and proposed the establishment of the Forum on Europe, which continues to be a success. We now have the opportunity to lock our traditional concept of neutrality into the Constitution and I hope that opportunity will be taken. I hope the people will trust the Government on this issue but much work remains to be done on this question in the next number of weeks.
As members of the European Union we accept and actively support the value system at the heart of the Union. The EU is not a mere economic union. The world has other economic unions which do not have the social dimension of the EU. It is this dimension which has driven the equality agenda, to which other Senators have referred. This equality agenda has transformed the lives of women and workers, introduced a legislative framework for worker, trade union and environmental matters and placed social cohesion at the heart of the economic activity of the Union.
One can see why former members of the eastern bloc would want to be part of this. I visited Hungary several years ago at a time when it was assumed that the Nice treaty would be passed. Like others I witnessed the deep seated hunger in that country to be a part of an economic union which was seen to be so successful and in which small member states were supported and assured of the full benefits of economic union.
The Berlin side of the Boston and Berlin equation has served Ireland extremely well. I hope that fact will open a debate about how we do business within our own economic space and about whether we are neglecting our social dimension. Given the decisions the Government is making it is clear that it is looking to Boston rather than Berlin. Is it possible to look in two directions at once and what would the effect of that be, particularly in the longer term?
I come from a farming background and I can look back to 1972 when we joined the EEC. My father, who is a good age now, can reflect on the significant changes that have taken place in agriculture as a result of our membership of the European Union. We have seen a great cultural change in rural Ireland. Some people would say we have lost much. We have gained economic prosperity but we have lost a large farming population. The number of people engaged in agriculture has dropped to a great extent. Many question the effect of the Common Agricultural Policy and one must look at the future of the CAP and of Irish agriculture. These are challenges which must be faced. In doing so I hope the agricultural population will be generous and will see the bigger picture.
Two or three years ago I heard from RTÉ's European correspondent that there were a million more poor farmers in Poland than in the entire European Union. This fact might strike fear into the hearts of Irish farmers who wonder how the entry of such a large population of small farmers will affect Irish agriculture. I would hope that, in a generosity of spirit, they will view it, in the words of former IFA president and farm leader TJ Maher, as a bonzana. It did turn out to be a bonzana for Irish agriculture but we are at a turning point in that regard. We are now asked to extend a spirit of generosity to an expanded Europe and I hope we will do so.
I have spoken in very positive and glowing terms about the benefits to Ireland of the European Union but we have to accept also that there are downsides and that there are serious doubts in many people's minds about the democratic deficit in our future in Europe. It us up to us as political leaders in our communities and at national level to reassure people that we are capable of ensuring that Ireland's interests are heard at European level, that we are not silent on the big debates in Europe, that we have a view on the future of Ireland within Europe and are not simply going along willy nilly with everybody else. I hope the deliberations in the Forum on Europe and our own deliberations here help us to form a genuinely Irish view of our own path within a future European Union and to ensure a genuinely Irish dimension to the future of Europe.
I am delighted to be a Member of this House and feel privileged to be able to take part in this debate. I come before this House today to urge the Irish people to vote "Yes" to Nice. This referendum has been referred to by the Taoiseach as being a crossroads, and he is right, but it is much more than that.
Nice is the gateway to a new Europe, to a new peace and a new, undiscovered future, a future that not long ago would have been unimaginable. Cast your mind back through the mists of time, contemplate our shared European history. It is a terrible scene, centuries of hatred and unrelenting war as in each generation the armies of Europe marched. The age of kings gave way to the wars of the age of enlightenment, on down through the era of revolution, each stage more bloody than the one before until we reached the nadir of the European experience – the horrors of the trenches in 1914-1918 and the genocide of the Hitler years.
Yet it was from the ashes of a war-ravaged continent that a new hope emerged, a bright, shining belief, a vision of a Europe at last at peace, of nation states for so long enemies co-operating and building a stable, peaceful and prosperous common European market. This is the European ideal that became the EEC and ultimately the European Union. The European ideal has brought an end to centuries of war, hunger, poverty, deprivation and repression in Western Europe.
While we progressed and developed, our brothers in Eastern Europe remained trapped behind a curtain of iron, held in bondage by repressive Stalinist regimes, impoverished by a slavish devotion to a failed economic philosophy. These countries now look to us to turn the key and open the gate to admit them to our co-operative society. Let them emulate the Irish, give them the advantages that were granted to us in 1973 so that they too can, by their own endeavours, generate prosperity for their people so that they too can have stability and peace.
The applicant countries are like the Ireland of the pre-EEC era in so many ways. They have recently thrown off the yolk of foreign domination, they have struggled with a lack of infrastructure and dire poverty. It should remind us of the Ireland of the 1950s with its soul-destroying poverty, the Ireland of Angela's Ashes, the Ireland of the gombeenman and of the emigrants' wakes. These were dark times, and not just in economic terms. This was the era of censorship, of public policy being subservient to the will of Maynooth, of the scandal of the Mother and Child Scheme, an Ireland full of towns and villages of squinting windows and, yes, of the Magdalene laundries.
All of this was swept away by the tide of fiscal and social progress that membership of the EU brought. The old Ireland of social repression, generations of unemployment, of grinding and unbreakable poverty for so many – a nation convinced of its inferiority – was confined to the dustbin of history. In mere decades we have used the dynamo of the EU to prime the pump and to make a quantum leap from agrarian nation to industrialised trading nation which has exported its way to a level of prosperity not even dreamt of by preceding generations.
Our people are now outward looking and cosmopolitan. We exhibit self-confidence and maturity. Nothing is beyond us. Our children believe in themselves and their future. They know that all they have to do is to reach out and they are increasingly successful in doing so. Nice is the key to the continued success of this great experiment. Let the benefits of peace, stability and prosperity flow east to the applicant nations. Let Nice ensure against another Yugoslavia, against another Balkan war. Let Nice guarantee Ireland's continued success as a trading nation. Let us welcome the applicant nations as future customers for our goods and services and as future allies in the councils of Europe.
"Yes" is right for Europe, right for Ireland and right for the applicants. In short, "Yes" is simply right. Like Senator O'Meara I too came from an agricultural background, and when I go back to the country and see how the countryside has developed I see at first hand the benefits of EU membership. From running a business here in Dublin I know the benefits of foreign inward investment. Possibly 40% of my business is export-led and comes from American multinationals in the first instance and onward into Europe. There are many people and many families in my constituency of Dublin 15 dependent upon those businesses. I ask those who vote "No" what is the alternative. Do we choose mass unemployment, as we had in the 1950s and 1960s, or do we continue to be a central part of Europe and increase the customer base for our good and services? "Yes" is right for Europe, right for Ireland and right for the applicants. In short, "Yes" is simply right.
This is a very proud day for me, particularly as I have a few friends up from Donegal. I believe I only have one minute now, so I will get the opportunity of having an early night tonight and will be back tomorrow morning. I will be sharing my time with Senator Brian Hayes, with the agreement of the House. I will expand upon my presentation tomorrow. I would like to talk about my role as a member of the Assembly of European Regions.
The Seanad adjourned at 8 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Friday, 13 September 2002.