Thursday, 27 November 2003
Address by Ms Nuala Ahern, MEP.
On my own behalf and that of Seanad Éireann I welcome Nuala Ahern, Member of the European Parliament, and members of her family here today. Nuala was elected to the European Parliament for the Leinster constituency in 1994. Prior to that, she was also a very successful local politician and is a well known campaigner in the areas of environmental protection, consumer protection and nuclear radiation. In accordance with Standing Order 52A, I call on Nuala Ahern to address Seanad Éireann.
Ms Ahern, MEP:
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for his welcome and for the opportunity to speak here. It is important that Members of the European Parliament make this link. We are Members of the Oireachtas but we are very much out on a limb in our own spaceship. Sometimes we feel only very tenuous connections with home base or even with planet Earth.
Ms Ahern, MEP:
One of my colleagues, Mary Banotti, said that she has wanted this kind of opportunity for a long time, so I thank the Leader, Senator Mary O'Rourke, for making this concrete. Such an opportunity can be useful for Senators and MEPs alike. I will concentrate today on current issues, because I am sure that is what Members will most want to hear about.
Ms Ahern, MEP:
I am a member of the EU trade and industry, energy and research committee and the culture committee. The vast amount of legislation that comes at us from Europe goes through the powerhouses of the committees, which are very important. Members of the European Parliament are expected to be well up to speed at least on the issues they directly address. It has been a challenge and a pleasure to represent the people of Leinster and Ireland in that forum and to find oneself challenged to keep abreast of the issues in a very profound and technical way, as one is. I hope and believe I have represented my constituents in that way and I believe all the Irish MEPs are very competent, although one does not hear much about that. That is one of the reasons this link with the Seanad is important.
Ms Ahern, MEP:
I know the President of the European Parliament, Pat Cox, visited the Seanad today, as did Rosemary Scallon, so it is a big European day. That tells one that the Irish EU Presidency is looming. It will be tremendously important for all of us, and we all want to see Ireland put its best foot forward, as I believe it will.
It could fall to the Irish Presidency to handle the new European constitution, the new constitutional treaty, although the Italian Presidency is working hard at bringing it together before the final summit on 12 December. The current Presidency has not been noted for handling matters very well, but the Italians are great and skilful negotiators and it is quite possible that they will bring difficult issues together. However, it may well fall to the Irish EU Presidency to handle the vast work on the new constitutional treaty. In our permanent representation in Brussels, we are very well represented by the ambassador, Anne Anderson, and her staff. We are all up to the task, although if the constitutional treaty arrangements fall apart under the Italian EU Presidency, the job will be difficult.
I will say a few words about the Irish EU Presidency and then return to the issue of the treaty. One of the really innovative developments already announced is the 100% debt cancellation for poorer countries. This will be great for the Irish Presidency. Ireland has already stated that it wants to push this and to run with it during the Presidency. It will be very well received throughout Europe, Africa and the rest of the world. I welcome the initiative of the Minister for Foreign Affairs on debt cancellation. If it is a success it will earn the Presidency a great deal of respect.
There is too much euro-jargon. People talk about Lisbon and the Amsterdam leftovers. I work with such language on a daily basis and it is completely impenetrable and it turns people off. We are renowned for our use of English and culturally capable of doing away with bureaucratic language and avoiding jargon during our Presidency. Many people will be thankful if we do that.
As an anti-nuclear campaigner for over 20 years, I would like the Irish Presidency to get rid of the EURATOM Treaty if it is not tackled during the summits that end the Italian Presidency. I welcome the Taoiseach's initiative in joining Austria to seek a review of the treaty. It will be a huge issue for environmental and anti-nuclear groups during discussions on the new European constitution. If Ireland can steer a review of the treaty through with Austria, which took the lead, with the Swedes and Germans joining in, it would be another major achievement.
The new constitution might be completed by December but it is probable that it will fall to us to deal with it. I prefer the way it was drawn up to the manner in which the Nice treaty was cobbled together and the way business was done previously. Our citizens do not expect us to behave in that way. The Convention on the Future of Europe was inclusive and open and involved Governments from across the Union, which was a clear change. I also welcome the inclusion of human rights as a central element in the new constitution. I am inclined to be favourable towards it, although I will wait before making a final judgment.
It is important to understand that while the new constitution seeks to clarify and make consistent previous legislation, and includes all of the other treaties, it has left out the EURATOM Treaty, one of the founding treaties of the EU. It is so old and unworkable that there was no way to include it in the new constitution. The constitution and the EURATOM Treaty will run parallel, leaving the promotion of nuclear power as a core value, a fatal blow to the new agreement. We must review and abolish the treaty as it stands and ensure that measures to protect citizens from radiation are introduced to the constitution while not allowing nuclear power to be promoted in the way it has been in the past. The EURATOM Treaty allows Britain to give millions to British Energy and BNFL under state aid programmes that would not be allowed for any other industry. It is complete nonsense under the rules for state aid and competitiveness. This is my hobby horse but I feel very strongly about it and there is an opportunity for Ireland to run with this. Austria has given us an opening and we should take the issue up during the Presidency.
I have never been in favour of the European Stability and Growth Pact. The way we were treated some years ago by the Commission on this issue was disgraceful and I defended the Government to the hilt at the time. I might not agree with the Minister for Finance's budgets but we were treated very badly and now we see France and Germany being treated in a completely different manner. It is outrageous. The stability pact is burying itself. For the Commission to say it will discipline France and Germany is nonsense. Germany has been hoist with its own petard because it demanded the stability pact. The treaties were more flexible. We do not want to run up large budget deficits but there is plenty of flexibility in the original treaties without hammering people under the stability pact. It should go and that would give us more room to fund infrastructure from our budget. If we learn one thing from this, it is to go ahead with infrastructural projects because that is what France and Germany do when it suits them.
Senators listened to my colleague Dana Rosemary Scallon on stem cell research. I have been a member of the research committee since 1994 and I have heard all the complex and intricate arguments. I have no objection in principle to stem cell research but we have different legal systems so it is unfortunate that we are trying to fund an area that is so contentious in various member states. It is a huge issue in Germany, where it is illegal to use embryos to extract stem cells, although it is not illegal for them to import stem cells for that purpose. This is an absolutely hypocritical position.
The constitutional difficulties the issue presents in Ireland are very complex because we have no legislation to deal with it. We are open to all kinds of events here that we would not be able to control under the law as we do not have legislation. It is for this reason that we should not fund this at European level now. We should leave this discussion until the seventh framework programme which we are already discussing. There are only about 12 projects and a very small amount of money. If this research was to be funded under the framework programme it should have been in the specific research programme. We avoided putting it there as we did not have the full ethical situation teased out. For many people in Europe it is not just a religious problem, even though that is what it tends to be in this country, as many people have ethical objections to the use of embryos who have no religious belief at all. The situation is very complex and it is a large step to take.
What has been of particular concern to my committee is to avoid providing an incentive for the creation of embryos for destruction by research. That is a very difficult and dangerous area to get into. That is where this discussion endlessly goes around in circles. People want to use these stem cells to alleviate suffering, which is an ethical question in itself, but how does one do it without a situation arising in which one would be creating life in order to destroy it? That is a real ethical conundrum on which I would welcome the comments of Members.
I have sat and listened to members of the US Congress on this matter, and run the gamut between those who believe it should be publicly funded, which in the US it is not, and those who believe that embryos should be adopted and grown into children, the believers in "creationist" science. It is a very wide spectrum of understanding. All our contributions on this should be valued. We are getting into a very strange new world in this case and we need to be quite careful in what we do. I do not think this is the moment to agree to the public funding of this in Europe. It is currently the case that this research is publicly funded by member states, for example the UK. It is not a question of stopping this research although we are ahead of ourselves. It is a complex situation on which I hope I have made my position clear, in as much as we can be clear on these difficult issues. I have tried to listen to all sides in this debate and have been prepared to sit and make legislation on it in discussing the framework programmes.
I know the President of the European Parliament has been here today. I am sure he was very good at briefing Members on the new Europe in which he is so involved. The coincidence of an Irish Presidency of the European Union and a President of the European Parliament next Spring will be tremendous for this country. I hope that we will ultimately choose Pat Cox as our next European Commissioner. He would make us proud, and has made us proud already. I hope Members agree that all Irish Members of the European Parliament are making us proud.
I welcome Ms Ahern to the Seanad. It is always a pleasure to welcome a psychologist to the House. I had the very great honour of serving on a local authority with her late father for a number of years. He was a remarkable man and one of the finest people I ever met.
We will not get into the stem cell research debate. The Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment had a very difficult job this week, which she carried out with a great amount of sincerity in trying to regulate this business. We should not be regulating it at all. We should be regulating stem cell research but not embryonic research as that should be banned, but that is neither here not there.
On the Green agenda, I am sure that within the Green Party Ms Ahern is opposed to genetically modified foods. What success has Ms Ahern had in Europe in doing something about that? It interests me greatly and I would like to hear her views on it before she leaves us.
I welcome Ms Nuala Ahern, MEP to the House, as a fellow Leinster person. I thank her not just for all the work she has done for the Leinster constituency, but for the entire country. I wish her every success in her retirement, although I am not sure I should use that word, but rather refer to the next phase of her life. I know Mary Banotti has difficulties with that word. I wish her well in her future endeavours.
On the subject of the 100% debt cancellation agenda, which Bono is pushing at every opportunity, it sounds great and makes sense, but unfortunately in life things that make sense and sound ideal often are not. Are there negative implications in doing that, in terms of economies around the world? Could one make a bad situation worse? I am not an economist, I am just thinking about this. While it may sound sensible to cancel the debt of poor countries one could disadvantage them further. Perhaps Ms Ahern could share her views on that subject with me.
I congratulate her on her work on the nuclear plant at Sellafield. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd, who is a constituency colleague of hers, has certainly done a lot of work in that area by highlighting the concerns of people in Leinster and Ireland about the nuclear plant in Sellafield. The recent strike in Sellafield, where the workers literally abandoned their posts and walked off, caused a few sleepless nights for everyone concerned. How will we ever get the Sellafield plant to close, unless we permeate the British Government and convince them to close it down?
I am aware of the German Green Party's success as part of the governing coalition in that country. They have agreed a programme of closing nuclear factories, in fact the first one was closed the other day with the press of a button. The Green Party minister was there for that event.
To build on a comment of Senator Lydon's about the Green agenda, it is fair to say that most political parties are now pro-environment. One thing that concerns me, not about the Green Party but the Green lobby, is that when they go looking for something and get it, such as the Environmental Protection Agency which they wanted established years ago, they query and do not accept the results produced. In this case they now want a new agency to be established. They tend to move the goalposts, which is damaging to environmentalists around the country as it damages their credibility. I ask for Ms Ahern's views on that issue. It is important to have agencies to control the environment and that when they make reports, we accept them and act on them. We should not be alarmist. For example, the EPA produced a report recently which showed a factory was in breach of emission levels, which proves the EPA is doing its work, but it should not be used for alarmist purposes in calling for factories to be closed, as some people might do. It proves the EPA is effective and doing its work and means we have to push resources to that agency to enable it to continue its work.
I welcome Ms Ahern to the House and I thank her for her address.
I want to deal with the stem cell issue first as it is very serious. Like Senator Browne, the reason I am so in favour of the Government's position, as expressed by the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, is because I look with dismay at what is happening in the United States of America where large profitable biotechnology firms are solely based on the development of embryonic stem cell lines. I do not know if Ms Ahern heard me asking Ms Scallon about her views on drugs which are produced using embryonic stem cells to test for toxicity, particularly developmental toxicity. I am sure Ms Ahern knows all about that. I also asked Ms Scallon about her views on pharmaceutical companies with plants here, which use such research methods in the United States.
I am aware of Ms Ahern's interest in the nuclear industry. I was glad when the Taoiseach met Silvio Berlusconi and told him we were not as enthusiastic as he was about President Putin's control in the former Soviet Union. We strongly objected to its human rights record in Chechnya and other places. I was extremely glad the Taoiseach did that. However, I do not know if he spoke to him about the proliferation of nuclear material under President Putin's reign. We talk about Iran, but Russia has sold material to some dodgy governments, such as the Burmese Government whose human rights record is appalling. We do not have any idea what the Burmese Government is doing about anything or what it proposes to do with the nuclear material it has bought. That is not the only country to which it has sold such material. A big problem is that President Bush is in the process of developing what he calls small nuclear bombs, which will only attack bunkers. This prevents criticism of President Putin for allowing so much nuclear material to be sold to other countries. Does Ms Ahern think we should highlight during our Presidency that this dispersal of nuclear material is wrong and ask the United States to pull back from what it is doing in terms of nuclear armaments?
Ms Ahern, MEP:
I hope I remember all the questions. The first question was asked by Senator Lydon and it was about the Green agenda and genetically modified foods. The issue of genetically modified foods involves the World Trade Organisation and its rules. European consumers – I will not refer directly to the Green lobby which has been a strong campaigner in this regard – have been suspicious of such food finding its way to the table following the BSE problems and food scares throughout Europe. However, it is difficult to ban some things outright, as many of us would like to do, because of the rules of the World Trade Organisation and because we could be accused of protectionism when we query these matters under our health legislation. The European Union proposed stringent legislation on traceability and labelling of food and foodstuffs, which was adopted earlier this year. That is a sensible approach, which is welcome.
Ms Ahern, MEP:
Two other things must happen. The first is that there must be clear rules on liability if anything goes wrong. It is important that small farmers, for example, who use or produce such material, are not left holding the baby. The bio-technology companies, such as Monsanto, which produce such material, should be held liable if things go wrong. This is an extremely serious issue. As in the US, if we started to grow genetically modified food in Ireland, we could find ourselves in a difficult legal position. It would be stupid to do that because this is an island. Consumers throughout Europe are crying out for non-genetically modified products. We could easily provide them if we agreed with the producers in the North of Ireland to keep the island of Ireland free from genetically modified products at least until we could determine the adverse effects. Studies in the UK have shown that there are bad effects on the environment and these could lead to problems with further trials and licensing of crops.
I have always advocated that the same type of testing should be done on new genetically modified foods as is carried out on drugs. Otherwise, it will not be possible to feel safe about eating them. That is not currently the case. The US Food and Drug Administration accepts the studies done by companies. It will consider if Monsanto, for example, has successfully grown Round-up ready beet. It does not test the food in the same way it tests drugs for their effect on human beings, which it should do. It says there are not any ill effects, but how does it know that? As Members realise, unless something is tested in a controlled manner, one does not know the effects it could have. There is a serious question about putting such food on our tables and feeding it to our children. I have always been concerned about that, but I have not received a satisfactory answer as to why we should allow it. The legislation, although stringent, does not go far enough in terms of liability and testing of foodstuffs.
I was part of the delegation to the US. US Senators and members of Congress protested because they regard this as protectionism. However, we did not want to allow the US or the World Trade Organisation to unravel good public health, consumer and environmental legislation which we have taken years to enact in Europe. We stood over that and they respected us for it. The American consumers are looking with envy at what we have done in Europe. We would like to see the introduction of similar protections in their country.
I have much respect for my colleague, Deputy O'Dowd, who is interested in the Sellafield issue. The nuclear industry will only be driven out of business by some type of economic sanction. It is a nightmare economically. The UK Government has spent the past year pumping millions of pounds into the nuclear industry. It is a black hole. I have demonstrated that on my website which shows an analysis I did of BNFL's accounts in 2001. The Minister responsible subsequently admitted that BNFL was technically bankrupt. It needs to hive off the liabilities from BNFL as a semi-private company and try to deal with them. That is why the EURATOM Treaty is important. The only legal basis it has for giving such large amounts of state aid is that treaty, which should be taken from it. Nuclear power is incredibly expensive. We should create an infrastructure to deal with renewable energies, which would be a better way forward. In the medium term there is plenty of gas, which is currently the fuel of choice – more gas power stations are being built than any other kind. It is an intermediate fuel and we have been making the environmental argument for years. There is a strong economic argument for its use and it is simply nonsense to say otherwise.
In references to the Green lobby I detected a sense of "us and them", a suggestion that those in the Green lobby are the baddies. I do not agree with that – Senators would not expect me to. It is important that citizens raise issues that affect them directly. As legislators, we must take a wider view, but if something is coming down on somebody, he or she has an absolute right to protest. What we need is implementation of good laws that already exist. The EPA was set up under weak legislation. Its staff do a very good job and try their best but the Green Party has criticised the legislation under which they operate. If we were to take seriously the implementation of European environmental legislation and stop paying fines for infringement, we would be moving a long way ahead.
In the 21st century we must realise that economic progress and a clean environment are not mutually exclusive. They can and must go together. Much work and investment can go into clean technologies of various kinds. I have the job of rapporteur on the industry committee for the electronic waste directive, in which we try to encourage good design for the environment – including environmental provisions from the beginning of projects so that environmental consequences will not have to be dealt with at the end. It is rather like turning off the tap instead of mopping up the floor when the bath overflows. That is the principle that should apply in the future. There will always be lobbies and they will always use every issue in a political way. That is their right; it is part of democracy. Sometimes we do not like it – some may not like the Green lobby, I may not like the liberalisation lobby – but we must all live with each other. I hope that is sufficient answer to the question.
Senator Henry asked about nuclear proliferation. Ireland had a wonderful track record on the non-proliferation treaty years ago in the UN so her idea is an excellent one. What is going on in Russia would make one's hair stand on end, although the Senator obviously knows this. The trafficking in nuclear materials throughout eastern Europe and the East is frightening. Proliferation in south Asia and Iran is frightening. The next state to go nuclear will be Japan, which is a serious development. If Mr. Bush announces that the USA intends to develop strategic nuclear missiles, of course Japan will move in the same direction. We should be pulling back from the brink. It would be an excellent idea to do something about this under the Presidency. We should give a lead in the EU because although we talk about illegal trafficking, the EU trades in nuclear materials – we export them all over the world. We should stop doing that. How are we to deal with illegal trafficking of this material if we are providing the base technology for other countries to use, as has happened in Iran? It is obvious – we should not be trafficking in women, we should not be trafficking in heroin and we should certainly not be trafficking or trading in nuclear materials.
On the question of funding for stem cell research, I do not like to see private squalor and public affluence or vice versa, so we must regulate whether this is done through the private sector or with public funding. The only grip we have in the European Parliament is over the budget and therefore over public funding, so that is where we should direct our attention. I believe in an open economy but it should be well regulated, because without regulation one ends up with criminal activity instead of business, as has happened in Russia. We are on the verge of that with stem cell research. The mass production of embryos for research in the USA is abhorrent. Mr. Bush has said that the research will not be given public funding but that the private sector may go ahead with it. That should not happen in Europe. We should regulate the sector. With respect to Senator Lydon, this research is happening anyway; it is legal in a number of member states. We must bite the bullet and try to achieve some agreement on regulating it. I hope I have answered the Senators' questions as fully as I can.
On behalf of the Labour Party, I welcome Ms Ahern to the House. Whatever our differences, our parties tend to find themselves on more or less the same side of the argument on most issues, both here and on a European level. In a sense, that is reflected in her own family background; her father was to the fore in progressive politics in both our parties at various times. I offer belated condolences on his recent death.
I agree with almost everything Ms Ahern said about the Stability and Growth Pact and about EURATOM. She led off with the issue of the European constitution, saying positive things about the Convention and the process that has almost led to the draft constitution. I will go along with that. However, I am conscious, as I am sure is Ms Ahern, of a report produced subsequent to the Convention entitled Alternative Report: The Europe of Democracies. It is a relatively short report and is extremely critical not only of the constitution but of the process, which it says was wholly undemocratic and did not involve the grass roots in Europe. It then goes on to set out principles for a Europe of democracies. If any selected half dozen of these principles were applied, the EU would come to an end because it states, for example, that laws should only have effect if national parliaments pass them and that national parliaments can veto any law which is deemed of national interest. It calls for an end to activism at European Court level.
Ms Ahern is probably familiar with the document. The reason I am asking about it is that it was endorsed by my good friend and her colleague, Deputy Gormley. I know the Green Party is working through a process of locating itself on these issues and I do not want to go down that road. I invite Ms Ahern, however, to comment on the document. Does it represent her personal views as she heads into retirement, to use Senator Browne's unfortunate phrase? Is she party to it, and does she endorse the views endorsed by Deputy Gormley?
I join with previous speakers in welcoming Ms Ahern to the House. I will be brief because I am conscious of the time and I know others want to ask questions. The humanitarian mission in Macedonia is operating under the auspices of the EU. We found ourselves in the unique position of being a great contributor to humanitarian missions but ineligible to partake in this mission because of the triple-lock mechanism. Given that 99% of Irish people would support our participation in the mission, does Ms Ahern find that at a European level it is something of an embarrassment that we are participating in its funding but cannot participate in the mission itself?
As we are on the subject of defence, considering Ms Ahern's views on the solidarity clause and the mutual defence commitment, how does she see Europe evolving? Will we be able to maintain the status quo we achieved in the Nice treaty vis-à-vis our future defence commitments?
I welcome Ms Ahern to the House. I am much in sympathy with what she said about the nuclear industry. If the Government wanted to invest €36 million in Aer Lingus, the EU Commission would quickly point out that it was entirely contrary to laws and rules of competition etc. and would constitute unacceptable State aid. It is extraordinary that no one blinks an eyelid when €36 billion is used to write off the debts of Sellafield in particular, and the British nuclear power industry in general. When I think of what an investment of €36 billion could do in other spheres, I am amazed at the passivity of the British public. Nuclear power retains an aura of prestige politics and no one seems to treat it as a public issue. There seems to be a total contradiction between the general ethos of the EU and the way the nuclear industry is treated economically. I have long held the conviction that it is the sheer economic lunacy of nuclear power rather than safety arguments that will get rid of places like Sellafield.
I know a debate on attitudes to future European developments has been under way in the Green Party in the period since the second Nice treaty referendum. While I appreciate that the European constitution has not been finalised, we can see what are the likely variations. I am in favour of Ireland fighting its battles in Europe and doing so from within. However, I do not see how we can serve our interests by stepping outside the frame, which is what using the nuclear option of voting "No" to these developments would seem to be.
I welcome Ms Ahern and recognise and thank her for the work she has done over the years. These exchanges have been valuable to the Seanad and I hope the MEPs have found that too. It is a bit unfair to ask Ms Ahern or her colleagues to expound a position on extremely complex issues in a short period of time, or to respond to equally complex issues in a "Yes" or "No" manner. Does Ms Ahern have any thoughts on how we might structure events like this in the future?
I welcome Ms Ahern to the House and compliment her on her work. While I might not always share her views, she has always expressed the views of a large number of people at the Parliament. Several MEPs have told me about the raft of legislation that comes before them. Can we make more use of the Irish members of the Committee of the Regions?
Regulations and laws have been foisted upon us in the past; I am thinking particularly of those on NHAs and SACs. A farmer may have valuable assets, such as an esker deposit of gravel, lying within such areas. While the reason for designation – perhaps an endangered species of flower – may lie within only a small part of a townland, the full townland must be designated. If a farmer's land is designated, he may lose his valuable asset. Legislation does not allow us to subdivide a townland or DED. Those are simply points I wish to make although I realise Ms Ahern will not be able to reply to them.
Ms Ahern, MEP:
The Green Party is thrashing out this issue in considerable detail. I think we have defended neutrality to the hilt during the referendum campaigns on various treaties. We should have a separate discussion on neutrality, as this country clearly does not know the meaning of neutrality anymore, if ever it did.
Ms Ahern, MEP:
While many members of the Green Party are pacifists, I am not and I believe in defending people from aggression. However, I am an anti-nuclear campaigner and I abhor the use of nuclear weapons. I do not want us to enter a treaty that is nuclear armed. I also abhor the proliferation of armaments, which is particularly marked in the developing world. For example, Sweden is a neutral, nuclear state and a producer of armaments. There are many contradictions in the debate and we must sit down and try to address them.
Senator Minihan talked about humanitarian issues and I certainly believe in the triple-lock – it would be strange if I did not. Nevertheless, we must ask ourselves if we address real issues when they arrive. We failed to do this in the early 1990s in Bosnia. I felt my party failed to seriously address this issue. We are constrained by other serious issues, such as nuclear proliferation and armaments. Many of our members and the public hold strong views on this, as do members of Senator McDowell's party. While it is difficult to see us shining light in the area without generating heat, we could do it more seriously than we have done in the various referenda.
Ms Ahern, MEP:
This is another issue for my party to address. My colleague, Mrs. McKenna, is close to some of the euro-sceptic Tories and I do not share her views. I am not a euro-sceptic. I have been critical but constructive and this is one of the reasons I have seen the Convention as a constructive progression. While the Convention has not been ideal, it is certainly much better than what has gone before. Deputy Gormley has played a constructive role in the Convention, trenchantly putting forward views precisely on the issues surrounding the proliferation of conventional weapons and how this can be controlled in Europe. He has done that seriously—
Ms Ahern, MEP:
Ms Ahern, MEP:
We are in agreement, indeed. I hope we will continue to have further trenchant exchanges in my own and the Senator's party.
Ms Ahern, MEP:
The debate on the new constitutional treaty is going to be trenchant. We must await what comes out of the Intergovernmental Conference. It is difficult to see what will emerge and it may be for the Irish Presidency to make the final call. I am not going to look into the crystal ball to see whether I can stand over the final decision. I am going to make trenchant representations in my own party on the usefulness of the Constitution in clarifying existing legislation and in having human rights as a core value.
Ms Ahern, MEP:
I am going to campaign basically on the question of the EURATOM Treaty. If I see progress on that I will have a positive approach to the issue. I believe I am well respected in my party. It is well within the capability of the Irish Presidency to do something serious on the review of the treaty, which must be up and running by spring 2005. That would be before the holding of a referendum in this or any other country throughout Europe. We have a window of opportunity to push this during the Irish Presidency and I look to the support of the House in that regard. I am glad the Taoiseach has already said that Ireland looks to Austria on this. If anyone wants further information on the issue I would be happy to provide it, as time is short.
Senator Mansergh mentioned the distortion of markets. I agree it is beyond belief that the nuclear industry, unlike any other, is allowed to distort markets, particularly when attempts are being made to rescue airlines in trouble. Anything that a Member of the Seanad can do to highlight this distortion is welcome. Again, I am at the Senator's service and will provide information if it is needed, although the Government side is not short on this.
The committee of the regions has a tremendous role to play because we sometimes feel ourselves to be in a spaceship. We are reliant on a two-way flow of information and we need to ensure our communication systems are working. For that to happen people from all over Ireland, particularly those involved in local government, need to know what is going on as regards issues that deeply concern them. It may be only one or two issues, but they can contact the Commission. It is one of the reasons I am a determined supporter of each member state having its own Commissioner. While in theory Commissioners are supposed to represent the whole of Europe, there is no substitute for each member state having one, together with his or her cabinet, so that detailed problems can be brought to light, thus enabling the kind of exchanges that are necessary which will ensure that those in Brussels understand the impact of legislation at the grassroots. They are interested in this in theory but we must make it a practical proposition. I hope I have answered all of the questions.
Ar son Seanad Éireann ba mhaith liom ár buíochas a ghabháil leatsa, cé gur tháinig tú anseo mar baol do Parlaimint na hEorpa chun ábhair tábhachtaí a phlé inniu ar cúrsaí atá suimiúil do mhuintir na hEorpa agus don Teach seo freisin.
I thank Ms Ahern for coming along today. The applause shows that Members found her address to be both interesting and informative. From talking to some of her former colleagues on Wicklow County Council, I know she was a constructive contributor there. Her address here, which was incisive, informative and constructive, has been a hallmark of the common sense approach that she takes as a Member of the European Parliament. She has said she is stepping down from the Parliament next June. We must compliment her for her contribution to that body while she has been there, particularly on behalf of the people of this country as well as the wider Europe. All of the issues she took up have a wider European context and impact. We wish her well in her future endeavours, both in public life and privately. Go raibh maith agat.