Wednesday, 7 May 2008
Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2008: Report and Final Stages.
I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, and wish him well over the next couple of weeks. I assure him I will work closely with all the groups to which I have been assigned. We will win this referendum. Some 160 of the 166 Deputies and most Senators are working to have it passed. If we all put our shoulders to wheel, we will get it passed. I wish the Minister of State well in taking the lead and in fronting this campaign.
I thank the Minister of State and his officials for bringing this legislation forward. It is of paramount importance that the referendum is passed on 12 June. Most of us will be out on the hustings over the next four to five weeks to convince the people that a "Yes" vote is the right thing for this country and for Europe.
I acknowledge the work the Minister of State has done to date in promoting the Lisbon treaty. This needs to be a priority for all of us. The new Cabinet will be announced today and we should all focus on putting all the very positive aspects of the Lisbon treaty to the public because there has been much misinformation about, and misinterpretation of, some of the provisions of the treaty. It is up to all of us, including high profile Ministers, to push the treaty as much as possible in order that there will be no doubt in people's minds when they go to vote on 12 June that voting for the treaty is the right thing to do for Ireland.
I congratulate the Minister of State on the work he has put into having this Bill passed with such speed. I was unable to be here last week for the debate but I heard that he was able to respond and be sympathetic to the views even of those opposed to the Bill. I congratulate the Minister of State on the passing of this Bill.
Speaking on behalf of the Labour Party, I am glad this Bill has been speedily passed. I echo what Senators have said in that it is important that following today's events, the Government settles down and pushes the referendum as much as possible in a very concrete way. The Minister of State can be assured that the Labour Party will support the treaty 100% and will run an energetic campaign throughout the country. We will provide whatever support is requested from us.
Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to speak on the Bill but I put on record my strong support for the Minister of State's proposals. I congratulate him on his efforts and his personal commitment to Europe which we have seen down through the years. The Minister of State knows as well as I do that he, his Government colleagues and the rest of us face a difficult task ensuring the passage of the Lisbon treaty. There is no issue of greater importance to the people than the passing of the Lisbon treaty to ensure Europe works better and that Ireland continues to play a very strong role and benefits from its role in Europe.
Almost daily we hear and read much about the US presidential election which is of some significance to us but is insignificant when compared with the debate and vote on the Lisbon treaty. We must focus attention on that and I offer my full support to the Minister of State.
The farming community feels angry and threatened, although it would be the first to acknowledge that Irish agriculture has benefited enormously as a result of EU membership and can benefit to the same degree in the future. The World Trade Organisation talks are a separate issue but, unfortunately, politics brings events together and those talks are bearing down in a very negative way on what those in rural Ireland and the farming community are thinking. It is incumbent on the Minister of State, the Government and the new Taoiseach to give the strongest possible reassurance not only to the farmers but to the hundreds of thousands of people in rural Ireland whose jobs are so dependent on agriculture.
We must use every opportunity to reiterate that we will not allow Commissioner Mandelson to pressure the Government and the European Commission. We have one window of opportunity, which will last for a few weeks at most, and we must insist that the Mandelson proposals are not forced through. We must be willing to use the veto and to show our power in Brussels. It is a major issue in regard to this treaty vote, although I know there are many others.
I wish the Minister of State well. He will have the support of the majority of this House and the other one. As he said previously, the same forces said "No" in 1973 and during the debates on the Maastricht and Amsterdam treaties and they are wrong again. It is very important that Ireland votes "Yes" and that all of us apply our political weight to support the Minister of State and the Government in having this referendum passed.
Dick Roche (Minister of State with special responsibility for European Affairs, Department of Foreign Affairs; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Senators from all sides who participated in this debate. Picking up the points made by Senators Kelly and Bradford, there is nothing before the people over the next four weeks which is more important than this issue. We will make a decision not only for ourselves but for 500 million other people. We will make a decision which will not result in the world coming to an end on 12 June but which could make things work much better for us beyond that date. Picking up the final points made by Senator Bradford, it is critically important we deal with the fact the World Trade Organisation talks and the Lisbon treaty are two separate issues, and I will refer to that in a moment.
I am very grateful to the Opposition parties, in particular, for their support for the Bill in this and the other House because this is an issue which should unite us all and which goes to the heart of our well-being and our future. If Europe works well and prospers, Ireland undoubtedly prospers too. However, if Europe falls behind and if it is forced to continue to operate and to struggle on with decision-making processes which have been in place for 50 years, it will not prosper.
The debate has underlined the widespread support for Europe which exists in this country. The Lisbon treaty will provide for benefits to continue to flow to Ireland, despite what the detractors of the treaty say. To set ourselves apart from our 26 European Union partners by rejecting this treaty would be a highly risky move, especially at a time of global economic uncertainty when an effective European Union has such a key role to play in promoting the shared interests of all the people of Europe. An effective European Union is critical to this country.
Following our work today, the people will have their say in the referendum. The Government has worked very hard to produce a number of informative balanced documents, an explanatory pamphlet, a detailed White Paper and a 24-page bilingual guide, which is being delivered house to house. Phenomenal work has also been done by the Forum on Europe and we now have the Referendum Commission with a €5 million budget and a specific remit to explain the facts.
Our vote next month is vital, but not simply because the rest of Europe is watching. That is not a good reason to vote one way or the other. It is vital because the decision we take on 12 June will send a message about us to international investment decision makers observing us. It will send a message about what we believe about ourselves and our future in Europe. Our decision is vital because it tells us something about ourselves. I believe our decision will show the Irish people retain their underlying positive attitude towards Europe. It will confirm the view of the people that our interests as a nation lie in a vote of confidence in the Union. It will show also, despite or perhaps because of the insecurities and uncertainties that exist, that the people know we can best forward our interests in concert with our European neighbours.
It is vital that on 12 June we vote about facts, the future and not just the past. I say this because I believe past performance is the best indicator of future behaviour. I find it difficult to understand the conspiracy theories that somehow or other suggest there is someone in the European Union lying in wait to ambush us and do us injury. The European Union has done nothing but good for the country and being part of and at the heart of Europe has done nothing but good for the country. We have become a self-confident, progressive, dynamic economy because we are at the heart of Europe.
There is a need to respond to those events that have inspired the 27 European member governments to agree the Lisbon treaty. Eleven members have already ratified the treaty. In those countries where ratification has taken place, the process has been overwhelmingly positive. The vote for the treaty in the European Parliament has also been overwhelmingly positive. The vote of confidence in 27 sovereign governments has been unanimous.
We all know that Europe's future well-being and prosperity cannot and should not be taken for granted. We know there are challenges facing us today which Europeans can ill afford to shirk. Globalisation, decent employment, climate change, energy security and mass migration are only some of the challenges we face as we go into the 21st century. We cannot hope to deal with these challenges alone. Not one of the 27 countries in the Union can resolve these problems on its own. However, there is genuine hope that all our interests will be better reflected if we combine our efforts to deal with the challenges. The reform treaty will help us do this. It will make the Union more effective and democratic and ensure equality of treatment between member states exists as a reality. It will ensure the vital national interests of each member state are recognised and respected. The Government accepts that the treaty is complex in format. In this respect it is no different from any other treaty. However, its aims are simple: a more efficient, more effective and more democratic Europe.
I encourage members of all political parties to engage as strongly as possible in this vital debate on the future of Ireland and its future in Europe. We have a duty to do this, all the more so because of the unprecedented level of misinformation and confusion being sown about the treaty. Not all of that confusion or misinformation originated within our island or State. Eurosceptic media from another island are attempting to achieve a purpose they could not achieve on their own island in our debate. We listened last night on one of our radio programmes to a eurosceptic, a former Cabinet Minister from another Administration, saying he felt he had the right to ask the Irish people to vote "No" on his behalf. We spent 800 years getting to a point where we can determine our future. It is up to him to look after his future within his jurisdiction.
We have a responsibility not to allow arguments to prevail that have no foundation in the facts of the treaty. Never before have we witnessed such an assault on the Union or on any organisation which Ireland has willingly joined. In this debate, we have witnessed tactics and tabloid coverage of a variety which is out of step with past Irish norms. The electorate has been told by opponents of the treaty that it would abolish referenda. That is not the case and the people who put forward that argument know it is not the truth. The people have been told this treaty will end our national control on corporation tax. Opponents of the treaty have argued recently they never said the treaty would get rid of our veto but that it would damage it.
Opponents of the treaty have made extraordinary claims about Article 113, in particular about five words that have been added to the end of that article. They should take the time and the trouble to read that article. Even the busiest of businessmen must have time to read six and a half lines. If not, he should read the first five words of Article 113 which make it clear that the Council, when making decisions in this area, will make decisions by unanimity. Therefore, the veto is protected. What is even more damning in terms of the analysis is that people say they are worried about Article 113 having effect on our corporation tax. Article 113 specifically refers to indirect taxation. The additional words, therefore, do not have the connotation or outcome being suggested.
What disturbs me most is the suggestion being made to good and decent people that if they vote "Yes", this will allow abortion or abortion services to be introduced in Ireland. Many charges could be made that would irritate me but this one irritates me above all. Of all the untruths being told in respect of the treaty, this is the untruth I find most distressing. I have told the House previously that I am opposed to abortion but I respect the fact that others have different views. I happen to be a practising Christian and I believe this is not the way forward. I respect the fact that people have other opinions. However, it is wrong for people to set out to mislead the people and suggest that somehow or other we will lose the protection we have in our Constitution because of this treaty. This is a detestable tactic. I want to see factual debate on the issues in the coming weeks.
I respect the fact there are people who believe we should not be in Europe. Of course there are people with a view different from mine and as a democrat I respect that. However, there is a responsibility on us all that if we are conducting debate, it should be calm, accurate, dignified and, above all, truthful. I am convinced the people will weigh up the arguments and decide to renew their faith in the voluntary European project which has helped us to increase our prosperity. It has provided an environment in which our children could find work at home. It created some of the conditions for peace to blossom on this island. It has increased our own control over many aspects of our lives and has respected our national traditions and interests.
Fate more than choice has placed the key to Europe's future in the hands of the Irish people. We are the only people who will be asked to vote individually on the treaty. We should continue with what we know — a successful formula which has served the country and the people well. We should not contemplate rejecting the treaty for no discernible national advantage. We should stick with the European Union and with the course in Europe we have mapped for ourselves over 35 years. We have several times been urged to turn our backs on Europe, for example, to reject the Single European Act, to reject the Maastricht treaty or the treaties of Amsterdam and Nice. On each of those occasions the people voted "Yes", Europe benefited and Ireland gained. The same choice faces us now on 12 June. This is a major decision about our future and Europe's future. We need to get it right. The "Yes" vote is not just the best vote to make, but the only vote that will serve Ireland's purpose, Europe's future, and the future of all of our people.