Thursday, 11 December 2003
Address by Mr. Brian Crowley, MEP.
On behalf of Seanad Éireann, I welcome back to the House Mr. Brian Crowley, MEP. He has represented the constituency of Munster in the European Parliament since 1994. He comes from a very distinguished political family and I was a colleague of his father, Mr. Flor Crowley, in the Oireachtas. Mr. Brian Crowley was appointed to the Seanad by the Taoiseach in February 1993 and resigned from it when he became an MEP. Despite his short term as a Senator, he made an impact as an effective and well briefed contributor, particularly in the justice and equality areas. He continues to be active in those areas in the European Parliament and I wish him every success in the forthcoming elections in 2004. He is also a distinguished member of the Council of State appointed by President McAleese. I am delighted he is with us today and we look forward to his address.
Mr. Crowley, MEP:
It is a privilege to be back in this august House once more. Many people say they got their grounding in political life in local organisations or in local government but I had the great honour to experience public life for the first time in this Chamber, in the very seat where Senator Mary White is sitting. I occasionally threw barbs not only across the floor but at my own side.
Mr. Crowley, MEP:
It would be remiss of me not to mention two former Cathaoirligh of the Seanad with whom I served and who, unfortunately, are no longer with us – Mr. Seán Fallon and Mr. Liam Naughten. They gave great public service not only to this House but to their country and gave me great advice as a young politician beginning my career. I got a grounding here that has helped me to deal with many complex issues in the European sphere on both a political and personal level. In many ways the European Parliament is like the Seanad because it is a policy and issue-driven body, more so than the lower chambers in national parliaments. While people may find it hard to understand where decisions are made, the best decisions and results are formed through consensus and compromise rather than through antagonism or conflict between different ideologies. One of the great benefits of being in the Parliament is that without a formal opposition, such as exists in most national parliaments, it is necessary for all sides, from the far right to the far left, to find common ground to ensure that the Parliament's voice is heard within the co-decision procedure.
Mr. Crowley, MEP:
Today I will discuss some of the work I do on committees and some aspects of that work with which the Seanad will deal as legislation arises, and with important current issues such as those within the proposed constitution for the European Union. I serve on the legal affairs and internal market committee of the Parliament and on the employment and social affairs committee, and I am a substitute on the fisheries committee. The work of these committees is more proactive and involving than the media portrays. Mr. Ó Neachtáin has already spoken about issues with which the fisheries committee is dealing so I will not repeat that.
One of the two big issues under discussion at the legal affairs and internal market committee is the recognition of professional qualifications, to create a single European directive to allow for the recognition of qualifications across a wide range of professions and sectors. Hitherto, individual directives have covered doctors, nurses, teachers, physiotherapists, lawyers and so on but we are now bringing in one single directive which will include all professions and all sectors. From the outside this might appear to be a good way of streamlining legislation to avoid the overlay of bureaucracy which can occur with some European legislation but in reality it fails to distinguish between the inherent differences in professions. For example, there is a difference between medical professionals and librarians, which is not intended in any way to demean or diminish the role of librarians. Doctors and nurses have duties and obligations with regard to the treatment of patients who need certainty about the quality and standard of those people.
This directive proposes forming a single committee at European level, not necessarily drawn from the medical profession but which could determine the minimal standards for recognition of qualifications. This does not appear to present a problem until one looks at the different branches of medicine, for example, in Ireland there are cardiologists but this specialisation is not recognised in Germany. A doctor who had completed the necessary training for recognition as a specialist surgeon in any field could then be registered as a cardiologist in Ireland even though he or she may have no specific training in cardiology. Likewise, nurses and people who are delivering services daily on a more interactive level with patients do not have to be registered with the local registration or licensing body for a period of 16 weeks under this proposal.
Some Senators may recall that recently a group from England came to Ireland offering a single vaccine instead of the three-in-one MMR vaccine. There was some concern about the effects of the three-in-one jab. Without any determination of their qualifications or professionalism to deliver those jabs or any recognition of the type of vaccine they were creating they would, under this directive, be entitled to operate in Ireland for 16 weeks without ever having to register with An Bord Altranais, the Irish Medical Council or any other organisation. This is a retrograde step because it does not give certainty or guarantee to the patient on the quality of care or training that professional has undergone. In Ireland we have been successful in establishing through our regulatory authorities, be it the Law Society, the Medical Council or An Bord Altranais that a standard of care and professional training was available that gave some certainty and guarantees to patients and clients.
In addition, there is the issue of where the power of the member state lies to protect individuals because if something goes wrong with someone who has come in under one of these recognised qualifications and there is a mishap, against whom does one take action? These people are not necessarily registered with the local authorities and there is no European authority to which one has recourse. Under the civil law they can be caught as individuals but the professional and criminal law may not be able to deal with them. One of my Italian colleagues, Mr. Zappala, is bringing a report to the Parliament with 452 amendments on which we will have to vote in the plenary session next week. The Oireachtas will have to deal with the transposition of that law into the national law.
The second important area is employment and social affairs. In recent years we have seen an explosion in the regulations and directives controlling the rights of workers particularly with regard to health and safety concerning maternity or adoptive leave or individual worker's rights vis-à-vis the employer. That has been to the good, not only for the individual worker but also for industrial relations and the development of social partnership at national and European levels. Without wishing to be parochial, Ireland is a very good role model for social partnership because it gives the individual representatives of employers, trade unions and other social partners the opportunity to sit down and chart a course for future national development. The partners do not take account merely of the self interest of the sector or group but look at the wider national interest and ensure that people's opportunities and rights are protected. At times, however, we become too technical and detailed in the areas of legislation in which we are involved. While I do not want to minimise risk or danger and believe that people should be protected, we are dealing with a report on the carcinogenic properties of wood dust. Senators may be interested to know given the nature of the room in which we are sitting, that mahogany has the highest density of carcinogens in its dust than any other type of wood available. Certain protections must be put in place for workers dealing with this kind of dust.
I am not a scientist but I know there are people in this House who are and who have strong scientific backgrounds. How do I know to what saturation level of air by wood dust it is safe to expose a worker? These areas of legislation are best dealt with by and left to experts. Our role should be to lay down the guiding principles and general law not the specifics of what that law should be. In one sense we in the European Parliament tend to shoot ourselves in the foot by the types of laws and proposals we bring forward. This relates to the interaction of the balance between the various institutions. We do not propose law, we merely respond and react to the proposals brought to us from the Commission. The European Commission is the only body of the European institutions entitled to propose legislation. Since the passing of the Amsterdam treaty in particular, the Parliament has been a co-decision maker in 70% of the areas of law coming forward. We have a significant and strong role in bringing forward amendments to those proposals.
I wish to deal with a matter related to legal affairs. I do not wish to be too controversial or dogmatic on some of the areas about which I am speaking. One of the proposals in the new constitution for Europe relates to the harmonisation of criminal codes in respect of criminal laws and that there be a single criminal procedure across the European Union. Coming from a common law background and as one who has some small understanding of the common law procedures, I am firmly of the opinion that we cannot and should not harmonise criminal law or criminal prosecutions across the European Union.
I hold that view for a number of reasons, although primarily for two main reasons. Within the Irish judicial system we have established rights, through judge-made law as well as through constitutional rights, on the protection of individuals, protection from harassment, false imprisonment and wrongful arrest and on other such areas. We also have a clear prosecutorial system whereby the prosecution service is independent of the State and even independent of the arresting authority or the determining authority, the Judiciary. If there was a single harmonised system across the European Union, it would undermine the rights which exist here for individuals who are arrested or brought before the courts. It would also undermine the independence of the prosecution service because it may be forced to take a prosecution on foot of a request from another member state or another institution. It would also undermine the independence of the Judiciary not only to take account of the facts in the case, but also to mitigate the sentence imposed.
We give a good deal of leeway to our judges to take into account circumstances related to the individual as well as to the crime. While that may be difficult for people at times because of so-called lenient sentences being handed down, on the whole it has been to the good not only of the individual and the victim of the crime, but also to our society because it shows mercy and clemency. Our criminal system is not simply about retribution or revenge; it is also about rehabilitation and giving people a second chance. We are best able to deal with those issues ourselves and we should not hand over responsibility for them and be bound by a strict and rigid civil code, as is in place in Germany, France and Italy.
A second point regarding that area of the new constitution is that a constant battle has been taking place at European level concerning the creation of a new post of European public prosecutor. The public prosecutor would undertake the same work as the Director of Public Prosecutions, but the language in which the creation of that post is buried or cushioned is to the effect that it would only be in place to protect the financial interests of the European Union. If one notes the development of any institution or new body within the European Union, irrespective of its original intention, it has always expanded and broadened.
Many people want to see the creation of a federal Europe, whereby there would be a single police force, prosecution service, judiciary and investigation service. Due to the differences not only between the common and civil law as regards Ireland and Britain as against the rest of the Europe, but also the differences in the certainty with regard to the independence of the prosecution and judicial services in other countries, it is best that such services are dealt with at a national level. There are already ample laws in place to protect the financial interests of members states and the European institutions without creating another body to do so.
Another aspect concerning the proposed constitution relates to the difficult area of defence. Some Members may have seen recent media coverage on negotiations whereby there is a move to create a defence structure within the European Union. I am opposed to this move. Ireland has shown through its involvement with the United Nations and other organisations that by being neutral and non-aligned it can act as a bridge maker or peacekeeper between different countries without putting this country into the eye of the conflict and putting its people at risk. With a new contingent of our troops having gone to Liberia on a peacekeeping mission, it is even more important that in terms of our actions we are seen as an independent, honest broker. I am heartened that the other neutral states in the European Union have already come together.
As Members may be aware, last Friday representatives of Ireland, Sweden, Finland and Austria came together and signed a joint letter to the Italian Presidency of the European Union concerning negotiations that will take place this weekend on the proposed constitution. In that letter they emphasised the constitutional obligations not only on the Irish Government and its people with regard to their non-aligned and neutral status, but that the role of those other three countries is still seen as independent, neutral and non-aligned and they will not support a mutual assistance or mutual defence clause as exists in the charter for NATO or for other organisations around the world.
I wish to deal with another aspect of the proposed constitution. I do not wish to insult anybody by what I say but it is important to point out that in the previous referenda held here, much discourse and debate took place on the basis of fear – fear of losing our independence, of losing our sovereignty, of being a party to a mutual defence clause and of immigration. Surely, as a country we have developed so much, particularly during the past 20 years, not to mind since our independence in the 1920s, that we can stand up and be proud of what we have achieved and be confident within our wit, intelligence and skills to be able to face any challenge put before us. Why should fear be used as an argument not to do something? I am reminded of the words of Edward Kennedy at his brother's grave. I think he was quoting George Bernard Shaw when he said: "Some men see things as they are and wonder why. I see things as they should be and say why not?" Why should we be fearful of any change even in industrial development terms?
I must be careful in my expression, but when this country was on its knees economically, we could attract industry and investment to Ireland. We are now fearful that with the enlargement of the European Union we may lose out in the future to so-called lower cost economies in eastern Europe when the reality is that the accession countries not only represent what is the true idealism of the European Union – creating an area and zone of peace, prosperity and harmony across the Continent of Europe which has so often been divided and in conflict over the past 100 years. Such countries will be future allies, the people in those countries think in a similar way to us and they look to Ireland as a model and example of how a small country on the periphery of Europe can still be such an influential character and actor within the architecture of this new Europe. If anything, we are at fault as elected representatives in not communicating that message strongly enough to people and not involving them more in the day to day detail of what takes place at European Union level, but as Members are aware it is even difficult to get people to hear what they say in this Chamber. I remember sitting in this House in 1993 listening to Gordon Wilson, one of the foremost Senators of our time and the truest example of what human forgiveness can be, speaking of his loss and hurt while reaching out the hand of friendship and forgiveness and attempting to see another way forward. I remember him one day quoting St. Francis of Assisi who said "Where there is war, let me sow peace". If anything, Europe has achieved that goal of the founding fathers, of sowing peace where previously there was conflict, mayhem, division and war.
In many ways we have become complacent because peace has existed for so long. Nevertheless, the risks of fraction, war and conflict are as great, if not greater, today than they were 50 years ago. The more we can co-operate and co-ordinate, the better it is not only for us in Ireland but for all of Europe. Let us not be afraid to say what we believe in, but let us not fear to take on new ideas and proposals for the future. We cannot have stagnancy. We either move forward or die. If we do not move forward, holding on to what makes us uniquely different as Irish people, we will be left to squander the success of the past.
I am delighted to be here today to welcome our MEP, Brian Crowley, to this Chamber. As he said, he began his political career in this House in 1993, I believe, when I started myself. It was here he cut his teeth although, knowing him, he probably cut his teeth in politics the day he was born. He did not pick it off the ground. He tidied up the loose ends of his thinking in this House and moved on to greater things. It was a pleasure to listen to his speech today and to hear his insights into his briefs in legal and social affairs during his term as an MEP.
I could speak on many of the subjects on which Mr. Crowley touched this afternoon, and ask many questions. I will focus on the area of harmonisation of professional qualifications and the directive about which Mr. Crowley rightly expressed apprehension, asking how it will work in the member states. I too am apprehensive when considering the example of a doctor with a primary degree perhaps practising as a cardiologist in some member states. In Ireland, we are not yet generally aware that such situations exist. We know nothing about them. Mr. Crowley said the matter will eventually be discussed in Ireland, but that might be too late. Have representatives of An Bord Altranais and Comhairle na nOspidéal been invited to a discussion on the matter? I welcome the harmonisation of primary degrees as that is overdue. In postgraduate courses, however, member states should lay down their own ground rules regarding requirements and quality of care. There might be an overview of the quality of care in the medical and science area, but the role of individual member states should be taken into account. Mr. Crowley spoke of the fear that postgraduate courses could be harmonised and that we could see a doctor with only a primary degree practising as a cardiologist if this legislation is fully implemented. One can understand there would be fears in this area.
I cite this merely as one example of the issues touched on by Mr. Crowley. I agree with most of the sentiments he expressed about opening up, not being afraid and moving forward. We have come a long way over the past few decades. It would worry me, however, that as a member state we would not maintain controls where necessary. I look forward to hearing Mr. Crowley's comments.
I welcome Deputy Crowley to the House. We were advised earlier that the proper term was "Deputy". He is very welcome back to the House in which he served with distinction some years ago.
Many of my colleagues have questions so I will keep to one or two areas. One of those is defence, the matter with which Mr. Crowley concluded his speech. He gave us his personal view and made the point that in broader terms, the more we co-operate and co-ordinate, the better. I agree, but where does that leave us in the broader defence and security context? It is doubly difficult now in the post-Iraq war situation, with Europe sidelined as a political grouping or body. Europe was to some degree divided during that war. It then became politically divided and did not have a common voice. Currently, some countries within the EU, led by France and Germany, are talking of the need for some sort of central defence and military planning. That concept is being very strongly opposed by the United States which wants to ensure that NATO is at the core of such defence and planning. What is the thinking of Mr. Crowley on that matter? If we want a strong, cohesive Europe, and some European countries want to look after their own defence and security planning, do we distance ourselves from that argument, and by doing so allow an external body, the United States, to be at the core of that development and planning? Do we want Europe to plan its own future in defence and security? Should we play a part in that or stand aside? We must ask ourselves these basic questions.
A more political issue relates to engaging the Irish public in European politics. The European elections will take place next June, and going by recent voting trends, notwithstanding the local elections taking place on the same day, at best some 51% or 52% of Irish people will vote. Although Mr. Crowley may well be unwilling to advise us on how he gets so many votes for himself, could he advise us on how we might engage the public to a greater degree so that they would see the European elections as relevant? Regrettably, the majority of people who will vote next June will have the European elections in the backs of their minds. The big issue for them on the day will be either the local town council election or the county council election. These bodies are important politically, but we must focus the attention of the Irish public as best we can on the politics of Europe, the political choices facing Europe and the European elections.
We have considered this issue in this Chamber without getting any answers. Mr. Crowley might suggest how we might engage the people so that they will at least discuss the political choices, options and groupings, and when they vote will then have as much interest in the European elections as they may have in the more local elections.
I welcome Mr. Crowley and thank him for his speech. I was introduced to him just a couple of weeks ago but met him a few years ago during one of the Cork by-elections either in Cork North-Central or South-Central. I knew from the reaction of people meeting him that day that he was well thought of and well liked in his constituency and nationally.
I found Mr. Crowley's contribution very interesting. His perspective is particularly interesting because he has also been a Senator. He raised the issue of the criminal code, which is an issue the Oireachtas is examining in the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights, of which I am a member. We are asking if we should reform the criminal code and also consider the civil code. For me, the jury is out on that issue, if the pun may be excused. I fully agree that the criminal code is something that Irish parliamentarians must decide. We must look at the issues closely and consult the public before making any decision. It should not be imposed from Europe. I agree with Mr. Crowley on that point.
Many of the issues raised by Mr. Crowley are being examined in the Oireachtas. How can we do more to create structured relationships between the European Parliament and our national Parliament? Visits from MEPs are useful but we must develop this with a more structured approach. Could the European Parliament not sit in different member states? There was considerable involvement in European matters during the debate on the second Nice treaty referendum. This was largely due to the fact that the Houses of the Oireachtas were engaged in discussion of the topic and to the meetings of the National Forum on Europe. This debate brought a media focus onto Europe and encouraged national discussion of European matters. We must find ways of making the European Parliament more accessible to people in Ireland. We might do that by fostering an engagement between the two parliamentary levels.
Mr. Crowley, MEP:
I thank Senators for their questions. I share Senator Ormonde's concerns about the professional qualifications directive. One of the first votes taken in the legal affairs committee of the Parliament was an effort to separate the medical profession from other professions in the directive because medical professionals take life and death decisions. I have had several discussions with An Bord Altranais, Comhairle na nOspidéal, the Irish Medical Council and the representative bodies of physiotherapists and pharmacists in an effort to arrive at a common platform on these issues. All the representative organisations of the medical professions have come together with a single voice and with amendments to the different areas of the directive. We have attempted to submit those proposals and to gain support for them. We have been successful in some but not in others.
Mr. Crowley, MEP:
This will be coming back to the Oireachtas for discussion in both Houses. I do not know if that will be done by ministerial order or by new legislation, but I presume the directive will be discussed in these Houses. I remember that ministerial orders are laid before the House for a period of 21 days during which time they can be challenged or brought forward for debate. That could be the opportunity to debate the issue.
Mr. Crowley, MEP:
One of the suggestions for the new constitution is that national parliaments would play a greater role in European legislation. They would have an opportunity to refer specific areas of law or proposed legislation back to the Commission if there was a difficulty or dispute. This would be an extra block. This touches on what Senator Tuffy said about closer involvement by the different institutions. The purpose of this directive is to facilitate the Internal Market and the free movement of people, goods and services. Many countries have placed restrictions on the recognition of qualifications and that is why there was a necessity for legislation to put in place common standards and rules across member states.
Senator Bradford obviously is not thinking of standing for the European elections if he is asking me for advice on achieving voter turnout. I know there is a difference of opinion between political parties in the Oireachtas regarding Ireland's role in defence arrangements. The Constitution states that we cannot be part of a defence alliance to which a mutual defence or solidarity clause is attached. It would require a referendum to alter that position. I do not believe there is a public willingness or support for Ireland to be part of such an organisation. We already have involvement at European level in the co-ordination of security. Representatives of the Defence Forces, the Garda Síochána and Departments meet their colleagues from other countries on a regular basis to discuss issues of mutual concern, co-operation and co-ordination. We will see standardisation of weaponry among European armies to create a European arms resource. This is being pushed by a number of countries in Europe not so that more countries will be able to buy more arms, but so that there will be certainty of supply from European manufacturers of weaponry and arms.
The current debate regarding a defence clause in the new constitution and the organisation of an independent defence planning organisation within the European Union is led by France and Germany. This debate has been going on in the European Union for 30 years, led by Germany and France. The financial investment required to bring up an organisation capable of taking over NATO's existing role would amount to 20% of EU GDP as well as 20% of the GDP of each member state. I do not believe there is the political or financial willingness to make that kind of investment. I also believe it would be wrong.
One of the protections proposed in the letter written by the four neutral states and part of the proposals for the constitution being discussed this weekend would allow for co-operation or co-ordination to take place between individual countries, but for that to be referred back to the European Council as a whole if the parliament of any member state objected to it. The European Council would then be obliged to take a unanimous decision before it could go ahead. We will see small rather than large steps in those areas.
We will see more European co-operation with regard to undertaking UN mandated missions. In a speech in New York last week, Kofi Annan said that the UN is looking more and more towards regional forces being available for deployment to regional areas rather than deploying multinational and multi-continental forces. When Irish troops were in the Lebanon there were, at one point, representatives from four continents and 52 countries in the UNIFIL group. Such a force is not easy to organise logistically or in terms of language or command and control structures.
The question of voter turnout is an ongoing problem at European and national level. A graph of voter turnout from the 1920s to 2002 shows a continuing downward trend at European, national and local level. The continuation of this decline is one of my greatest fears. Democracy is a precious jewel and people must recognise that unless they take their responsibility to vote and to participate in the democratic process seriously, extreme viewpoints will succeed. I am a great believer in the intelligence of the electorate and in their willingness to understand what they are doing or not doing. By not participating they may be making an objection and expressing the view that they are not involved enough and do not have enough on-hand interaction with their representatives. One reason I regularly tour different parts of Munster is to maintain that local involvement. I do not see my role as an MEP as different from that of a Member of the Oireachtas or a member of a local authority. We are elected as public representatives to be the voice and the advocates of the people. If we are good advocates the people will support us and if we do not represent what they say, they will not.
Senator Tuffy asked what is the best way to ensure people are involved. My answer is that I do not know. If this House can find an answer to that question I would be delighted to hear it. Voting is compulsory in countries such as Australia and Belgium and perhaps that could be the answer whereby people are forced to vote. However that then takes away the freedom of choice which should be enjoyed. If a system of compulsory voting were introduced, it might be necessary to allow for a situation whereby people could abstain from voting by indicating on the ballot paper that they did not wish to vote for any of the candidates. The introduction of electronic voting will mean that those who are dissatisfied will not be able to write the usual comments that are found on ballot papers. One may criticise those people for making those comments but at least they took the time to go out and vote.
The most important vote that took place on the island of Ireland since 1923 was the vote on the referendum on the Good Friday Agreement yet nearly 30% of the electorate did not participate in the vote. It was one of the most important issues for the country, for the saving of human life and for the creation of new institutions, yet there is still a body of people who do not wish to be engaged. I do not think that problem can be overcome.
Senator Tuffy asked about the questions raised on the issue of reform of the criminal code. The more involvement I have at a European level and the more I see some of the criminal and judicial practices in other member states, the more certain I am of how good the Irish model is and the less inclined I am to allow any changes. Our system has its faults and mistakes are made at times because, to be fair, we are dealing with human beings who are interpreting law and who are influenced by other issues so mistakes will be made. On the balance of probabilities, our system is the best system.
Moving slightly off the point, our electoral system is the best electoral system in Europe. Ireland is the only country in the European Union where MEPs are individually elected. In every other country, a party list system or form thereof is in place. People vote for the party and not for the individual. There is no obligation on those individuals to report back to their constituents. These are two glaring examples of the way our system is better than the systems available at the level of individual countries or at a European level.
I have been involved with cases of individuals who have been incarcerated in European countries for two years without being brought before a judge to see whether or not there was prima facie evidence for a case to be heard or for a prosecution to be taken. There may be difficulties in the Irish system but that would not happen. There was no legal mechanism whereby appeals could be made to a court to release those people. The protections that have built up, such as free criminal legal aid, which are judge-made creations in one sense, are good, positive measures that should be maintained in this country.
I do not believe we should harmonise or reduce those protections for the individual or the independence of the Judiciary or of the prosecution system. I am aware of prosecutions being taken in member states against elected representatives purely on the basis of their political standing or position. Members of the European Parliament in this position must come before the legal affairs committee which also deals with the immunity from prosecution of members.
I thank Mr. Crowley for his attendance. He was one of the first of our party members to reply to the invitation. The House has listened to his vivid description of his life and the committees of which he is a member. One of the benefits of this initiative was that the House was given an insight and learned more about the operations of the European Parliament.
I wish to ask a simple question which follows from Mr. Crowley's answer to Senator Bradford's question. He said he was elected by the people and spoke about the fragile nature of democracy. Has the Deputy a system for keeping in touch with his constituents? Does he meet them on a representative basis, individually or in groups? Does he have a clinic and keep an office in County Cork? How does he marshall his potential votes, hold on to what he has and prepare for the forthcoming election?
I welcome Mr. Crowley and congratulate him on his work in Europe for the Munster region. I thank him for making himself available to public representatives, schools and colleges in the Munster region. I congratulate him on his fine address to the House which detailed the achievements of Ireland during its 30-year membership of the European Union.
The issue of the open skies policy is regarded as very important in the Munster region. Will this be dealt with at EU level in order to safeguard Shannon Airport which is very important to the Munster region. What does Mr. Crowley regard as the main challenges facing the Irish Presidency?
The scrutiny of EU documents is carried out by the Joint Committee on European Affairs. I have noticed in my short time in the Oireachtas that much detail is lost in that scrutiny. Reams of paper with information about directives and proposed changes are produced. The recent debate about stem cell research was a recent example. Only 1% of the population realised that this topic had been discussed and passed three years ago. Has Mr. Crowley any thoughts on how the jargon can be simplified?
I congratulate Mr. Crowley on all his achievements. I often wonder what he would be now if he had stayed in the band or continued in the law. He would probably be incredibly successful because he is such a versatile person. He could be down in the Four Courts doing goodness knows what.
Mr. Crowley, MEP:
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach and the Senators for their kind comments. Senator Henry asked a very pertinent question. Fortunately, I had the wisdom to know that I was never going to be good enough to be in the next U2 or the next Beatles and other career opportunities would have to present themselves. I do not think I have the skin type necessary to survive in the Law Library for too long.
Mr. Crowley, MEP:
I have been given opportunities in my life and I have grown and developed as a result. Each has played a part in making me what I am today and I am quite happy with that. Hopefully people will continue to allow me to do what I am doing.
Mr. Crowley, MEP:
The Leader, Senator O'Rourke, asked about my system. I must be very careful and cautious about telling the House everything I do. This is a public hearing and I do not wish to give out all the information. From day one, it has been my duty to report back to the people and I do so every weekend in different parts of Munster. I do it at clinics and at meetings with different groups of people, including sectoral groups such as the IFA and trade unions. I also visit schools and colleges regularly and, in addition, I have a network of offices around Munster, in Cork, Kerry, Tipperary, Waterford and Limerick. I had an office in Clare until that county was taken out of the Munster constituency. I also have a freefone number that people can call to contact me, as well as being on the Internet. I am amazed at how the number of requests for information and representation increases when I visit a given area, although it tends to level off afterwards. That shows that the more one works, the more work one will find.
I am a great believer in maintaining that link with democracy. I have been fortunate that, during my nine years as a Member of the European Parliament, local and national representatives in Munster have been very co-operative and helpful to me in arranging meetings and in facilitating groups to see me. I hope they feel that their assistance has been reciprocated. I do not see myself as working in isolation in the European Parliament, but as part of the tripartite partnership between local, national and European representatives to provide the best possible deal for Ireland and for the people I represent.
Senator Brady asked about European legislation. When I receive these vast tomes from the European Commission concerning proposed legislation, my first thought is what it will mean for Cork, Munster or Ireland generally. If the proposed legislation concerns an area in which someone at home is involved, I will ring him or her to ask his or her advice about what might happen if the legislation is introduced. People may say that is very anti-European and I should be looking at the proposed legislation from a European perspective. However, in my experience, if such legislation is wrong for Ballymagash, it is equally wrong for Paris or Berlin. This is not a Boston versus Berlin style argument because if it is wrong in one place, it will be wrong everywhere. Therefore, if we make a mistake and it is not right for Ireland, it will not be right for any other country, although there are specific areas, such as taxation, agriculture and fisheries, where clear distinctions can be drawn between what is right or wrong for different areas.
There is no way to streamline or reduce the amount of information that is being given out because we are legislating for 15 countries with a combined population of 350 million people. That will rise to 550 million when enlargement takes place next year so nuances have to be taken into account, particularly with regard to directives more so than with regulations. Regulations are directly applicable as they are written and no changes are made to them. With directives, however, there is a little more leeway for national interpretation in transposing them into domestic law.
The Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs has done a fantastic job in scrutinising EU legislation. Unfortunately, however, there is so much of it and there is no way to reduce it unless member states take back from the European Union the right to initiate certain legislation, which may happen. I will not get into the question of stem cell research, unless Members wish me to do so.
Mr. Crowley, MEP:
There is a European negotiating position on this issue and the Court of Justice has given the European Commission the right to negotiate it on behalf of all member states. I believe the Commissioner for Transport, Loyola de Palacio, will be sympathetic towards ensuring the continuation of the special position of Shannon Airport. Shannon is unique in Europe not just because of what it represents as having been the first airport of its type and because it is our nearest air link to the American Continent, but also because of its important role in industrial development in the mid-west. I am sure special allowances will be made for it. People may have concerns but, as I said at the outset, we should operate to our strengths, not our weaknesses. Shannon will prosper and grow provided it adopts the right attitude to the opportunities that will be presented to it.
Mr. Crowley, MEP:
The first big challenge for the Irish Presidency next year will be the new European constitution. They could achieve a deal this weekend and I may be proven wrong, but I believe that it will overlap into the Irish Presidency. Even more important is the enlargement of the EU to include ten new countries. It will be phenomenally difficult logistically and economically, but we know in our hearts that it is the right thing to do. It will provide the greatest impetus for the development of the new European Union for the 21st century and will be as important as the creation of the European Community back in the 1950s.
Mr. Crowley, MEP:
The Irish Presidency will have to guide us through many sticky pieces of legislation that are currently being discussed by the European Parliament and on which no agreement has yet been reached. Last week, I met a delegation from the Parliament's legal affairs and Internal Market committee, which had discussions with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Michael McDowell, and the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Michael Ahern. The week before, I met with a delegation from the Parliament's committee on employment and social affairs. A number of issues arose from both meetings that will arrive on the desk of the Irish Presidency for decision next year. I have great respect for the capacity not only of the Irish officials involved, but in particular the Irish Ministers to find the political compromise that will be required to get that legislation through.
Mr. Crowley, MEP:
I realise that Senators have other matters to deal with and I wish to thank the Leader for inviting me to address the House.