Wednesday, 18 June 2008
Lisbon Treaty: Statements
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)
Link to this: Individually | In context
I thank Members for inviting me back to the House. I seem to have spent more time addressing this House in the past two years than when I was a Member of the House. I hope that is not a sign of things to come.
It goes without saying that all of us who supported the Lisbon reform treaty are deeply disappointed with the outcome of the referendum, not just for ourselves but for Ireland. We are in uncharted waters and it is difficult to know where this takes us. However, one fact is absolutely and crystal clear — the people have made their decision, which must be respected. The Taoiseach made that clear last Friday and again today in the Dáil.
The Government strongly supported the Lisbon treaty on the basis that the 27 member states had reached an agreement which we all believed sincerely would allow the European Union to work more effectively, efficiently and democratically in the interests of the people in all member states, including Ireland. We also believed sincerely it would equip the countries of Europe to deal with the global challenges facing us collectively and individually, big or small. We also believed that Ireland's national interests would, as they are now, be best served by being at the centre of the Union playing a constructive, realistic, engaged role.
As I have stated, we are now in uncharted territory, and that must have some question mark over it. Whatever else we disagreed on in the recent campaign, there was close to unanimous agreement that Ireland's place is at the heart of Europe. It is interesting that the Flash Eurobarometer poll reported in today's The Irish Times demonstrates that the majority of those who voted "No" — some 80% — support Irish membership of the European Union. They felt positive about such membership.
In our support for the treaty we were joined by all but one of the political parties, representative groups, ICTU, IBEC, chambers of commerce and other business organisations, the IFA, ICMSA, Macra Na Feirme, ICOS and others who played a committed part at national and local level. I am very grateful for this support.
As has been clearly stated by the Taoiseach, we will need time to analyse the result properly and to look for an acceptable and practical way forward. The result of the referendum brings about a position of considerable uncertainty, significant difficulties and in an uncertain economic period, it brings very distinct potential problems. It will not be resolved easily and the Government and our colleagues in Europe understandably will need time to reflect.
We must reflect not only on the way forward for Ireland but also on the way forward for the EU, which will take time. There is a need to avoid snap judgments and hasty decisions at what is a very important point in the history of Ireland's hugely successful engagement with the European Union. This engagement has been a central pillar of our national development since 1973.
Along with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Micheál Martin, I attended Monday's meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council, where our counterparts were briefed on the referendum. There was an understanding of our position and of our need to reflect in light of the result of our referendum. There was also a wide degree of disappointment. On the positive side there was no attempt to isolate us.
There was a real sense of solidarity at the meeting and in the bilaterals which the Minister and I had during the course of the day and half in Luxembourg. Members of the House will be aware from media reports that there is also a general and very strong desire that ratification should continue in other member states. Member States do not want to abandon what they all see as the very real advances made in this treaty.
In my contacts with my counterparts I stressed the need for us to take sufficient time to analyse what has happened and to consult, both domestically and with our European partners, in order to find an agreed way forward. I recalled the Union's record of success in overcoming past setbacks of this kind and expressed the hope that, working together, we can do so again on this occasion. As has been stated time and again over the weekend, we are very distinctly in uncharted waters and it is very hard to see where we go from here. As of today, 18 member states have ratified the treaty and the 19th will ratify it within the next 48 hours. The others are on the cusp of ratification and they want to move forward with a treaty they believe is in the interests of their citizens.
The European Council, which begins tomorrow, provides an early opportunity for the Taoiseach to give his initial assessment of the referendum result and its implications. An important point which the Government will stress in the period ahead is that the Irish people continue to be committed to the European Union and Ireland has not turned Eurosceptic. It is interesting to reflect on the European Commission survey mentioned earlier, which was taken immediately after the referendum and which was reported today. It provides some interesting insights.
It showed very high levels of support for Ireland's membership of the EU among those who voted against the treaty. Some 80% of people who voted "No", as I mentioned already, support Ireland's EU membership. It is reasonable to suggest that 100% of those who voted "Yes" also support Ireland's EU membership. Where do we go from here? This is a very positive and important place for us to begin our analysis and understanding of the outcome of Thursday's referendum.
Another very interesting point which was also reported in the press was that approximately three quarters of those who voted against the treaty believed the Government can somehow renegotiate exceptions. At this point, 18 member states have effectively ratified the treaty and it will not be long before 25 or 26 have ratified it. The Government will have to work hard to reflect the Irish people's concerns as we move forward. At the same time we must respect that there are 26 other parties to this agreement.
The point was made in the Dáil today that we should stick with the facts. That is correct but it is not what happened in the recent campaign. Every conceivable distortion of facts was used by some element or other of the "No" campaigns to demonise the European Union. We were warned about conscription, abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, the incarcerations of young children — nothing was too outlandish to put into the mix.
One fact that is undisputable is that the sight of Monsieur Le Pen and his ilk, the United Kingdom Independence Party and the virulently anti-EU foreign-owned newspapers rejoicing at our decision must give pause for thought to anybody with the welfare or well-being of Ireland at heart. The sight of UKIP members celebrating Ireland's "No" vote in an Irish pub in Brussels — using the tricolour as a tablecloth for their drinks — is hard to stomach. The same people in the EU Parliament today were decked out in green jerseys. There is also some irony that the newspapers from across the water which have attacked the EU for decades presented themselves as pro-Irish, pro-EU and even pro-agriculture when hostility to this nation and the Irish people is deeply embedded in their history and editorial lines, going back decades. However, their sincerity in this matter is for history to judge.
I agree with the Taoiseach's comments in the Dáil that our debate should be part of the national discussion. We must undertake this debate and be honest with ourselves now that we, as a people, have taken our decision. Today is about reflecting not only on the events of last week, but on what they might mean for our nation in the years and decades to come.
There are lessons to be learned from the campaign for Ireland and for the EU. There is a need to reconnect the Union with citizens and we have said this for some time. There is a particular need to bring to light the continuing benefits of the Union to all and there is also a need to simplify our message about the EU, including about the Union's laws and treaties. There is a need for the Union to speak to all of its citizens in language to which they can relate and to consign to the waste basket the jargon, the special language and terminologies that exclude people. There is a need to try to centre debates on the EU on the facts. I found it striking in Brussels last Monday that so many people, all seasoned politicians, were genuinely surprised by the level of misinformation and untruths that circulated throughout the campaign. People were amazed and affronted in equal measure by the distortions we saw reflected. One person asked me how Sinn Féin could, on the one hand, discuss the Union as some form of militaristic venture when the Deputy First Minister in the North recently praised the EU, in most extraordinary terms, as a force for peace. It was a speech I would have been proud to have written. He spoke of the peace the EU brought to the continent, the progress it brought to Ireland and the help it gave during our peace process. Yet his colleagues down here demonised Europe on every possible occasion. They spoke of a militaristic Europe to which we should not sign up.
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)
Link to this: Individually | In context
They speak from both sides of their mouths. There is a need to examine why people voted against the treaty and, most importantly of all, to establish how best we can address these reasons.
As a country, we now face just about the greatest diplomatic and international challenge in our modern history. We have to convince ourselves and, more importantly, others that we want to find a solution that places us at the heart of Europe. I agree with the comments made earlier in the Dáil by Deputy Gilmore that we should not lose sight of the advances that have been made through our EU membership, particularly in the area of social Europe. I do not believe last Thursday's vote should be seen as a rejection of Europe or of the need to continue to improve the Union's functioning and effectiveness; nor should it be seen as a sign that we as a nation have changed either our affection for Europe or our desire to stay part of the Union.
My view remains that Ireland's future is bound with that of Europe. We now face uncertainty and a real challenge and we will have to face both with great care. It is incumbent on us to ensure we respond carefully to the decision of the Irish people and with the interests of Ireland at heart. As I said at the outset, they made a clear decision last Thursday and it now remains for us to pick up from where that decision leaves us. We must lead this country forward into a future which is less certain than it was last week.
I thank the Minister of State for that exposé. I consider the European Union to be a fantastic and extraordinary project in which we have played a part for 35 years. We have, in many ways, shaped the Europe in which we now live and have ownership of it. We have benefitted greatly from the EU and have a keen interest in ensuring it functions effectively, democratically and in a transparent manner. I make no apologies for having supported the Lisbon treaty and I am happy that my constituency, Dún Laoghaire, had the highest "Yes" vote at 63.5%. Many constituencies also had high "Yes" votes.
Before we move on we must examine the reasons for the failure of the campaign. The primary responsibility for this campaign lies with the Government, which was preoccupied with its own affairs. It was distracted by the problems of the former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, its defence of him, the outcome of the Mahon tribunal, the change of leadership, the appointment of the new Cabinet and so on. The Government was preoccupied with its internal affairs and the result was that the "Yes" campaign proceeded without a concerted Government effort, apart from the efforts of the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, who is with us today. The fault for the failure of the "Yes" campaign lies primarily with the Government and mistakes made in the first Nice treaty referendum were repeated. The Lisbon treaty was not lost on its merits; it was lost due to the ineffectiveness of the Government's campaign.
There were various reasons for voting "No". There were protest votes and we now know, through the European Commission survey, that 40% of those who voted "No" did so because they did not know the provisions of the treaty. We know that 75% of people who voted "No" wanted a better deal and considered one could be achieved through a "No" vote. They felt there was no downside to voting "No". There is also a category of people who vote "No" to Europe in every referendum. I do not wish to simplify the situation and the reality is we must analyse the reasons for the "No" vote; we cannot guess. This matter raises questions relating not only to the attitudes of people to Europe but also to politicians, particularly the established parties. There is an issue that trust in politicians has been undermined in recent years due to tribunals and investigations, most recently one that related to the highest political office in the land and forced the resignation of the former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern. Given this background, people have no trust in the Government nor in people who say, "There is no need to read this treaty. I have not read it. Vote "Yes", Europe has been good for you". This type of trust does not exist after years of tribunals.
The main focus of the "No" campaign was that Ireland can get a better deal. This means we must re-engage with Europe on what can be done to address some of the concerns that have been raised. We must identify the concerns that can be addressed. As I said earlier today, the logic of Libertas, Sinn Féin and the "No" campaign is that we will renegotiate a Lisbon B treaty that will have to be ratified. It could, on constitutional grounds, be ratified by the Oireachtas but it would, most likely, go to another referendum. The Government has not admitted that is the road we are to take but the logic of both the "Yes" and "No" campaigns suggests that a renegotiation of some sort will take place. This process has already begun.
What makes me uncomfortable about the current situation is that our new best friends in Europe appear to be the UK Independence Party, the far right of the Conservative Party in Britain, Jean-Marie Le Pen and Eurosceptics in France, the Netherlands and other member states. I do not feel our future lies in such company. I think that participating fully in the process of European integration and helping to shape that process is where the interests of this country lie.
The Minister of State pointed out that 80% of people are in favour of the European Union but this only highlights the failure of the "Yes" campaign. Irish people are committed to the European project and see Europe as benign and positive for Ireland. Given the basis upon which people voted and the lack of information they felt they had at hand to vote on the treaty, it also highlights that failure.
We have to identify and address the issues that have been raised. In the cold light of day, as the campaign has ended and as we re-engage with Europe on how these issues can be addressed, what will be exposed in the next six or 12 months is that the many and varied issues that have been raised by the "No" campaign are fictitious. There are genuine concerns about Europe, about democracy and about where we are going. While Lisbon would not have represented a great leap forward, there is a concern about what, ultimately, will be the shape of Europe. It is these concerns which must be dealt with. However, with regard to the issues of workers' rights, taxation, threats to the public service and abortion, in the cold light of day after the referendum campaign many of these will be exposed and many people will feel they have been misled by the "No" campaign.
The "Yes" campaign was lost not on the merits of the treaty but by the failure of the Government campaign in terms of timing and getting the information out to people. It will take time to complete the process of analysis of negotiations with Brussels, but the fact that the ratification process is proceeding today in the House of Lords shows the limited scope for renegotiation. We may argue about the legal issues of the treaty not going ahead if one country says "No", but the hard political reality is——
If the treaty is not ratified, it is up to each member state. The harsh reality is that it is very likely that if Britain proceeds other member states will also proceed. We will have 26 member states that have ratified the treaty. Ultimately, we will have to decide whether we want to remain in the centre of Europe or enter the slow lane. Ireland has long experience of being on the periphery in Europe and we do not want to go back there.
I take this opportunity to welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, and congratulate him on his performance and his efforts to steer the "Yes" campaign. It was a marathon effort for him. I am disappointed with Senator Regan and his comments. We are always looking into ourselves and playing the blame game. I could easily stand here and apply blame across the floor of the House, but I will not do that. It is not in my interest to do so. My interest is in working together to see where we can go from here. That is what this debate is all about. It is a pity that Senator Regan stood up and played the blame game as he is forever doing.
The Senator is great at it.
What we must do now is to listen to and engage with the public. We tried to do it during the campaign and it did not work. Democracy has won and I must accept the result. We must consider what happened and analyse where the issues were. We must analyse the diverse range of concerns that were expressed and decide where to go from here. No decisions can be made in the short term; there is no quick fix. I wish the Taoiseach well in presenting his case to the Council tomorrow and ensuring we come out of this in the best way in the future.
There are 27 member states and it looks as though all of the other 26 will ratify the treaty. Where will that leave us? We used to be at the centre of the decision making process in Europe, but this makes us vulnerable. How can we best go forward? The issues mentioned by the "No" side include taxation, neutrality, abortion and euthanasia. I spent my time during the campaign discussing what was in the treaty rather than trying to make people understand that those issues had nothing to do with the treaty, and I failed to connect. There is no doubt a perception exists that there is a disconnect between Brussels and the people of the EU and that decisions are taken by a top-down rather than a bottom-up approach. That was said to me many times during the campaign with regard to regulations and directives that are implemented. People felt we were being over-regulated. This is something that should be considered.
There was also the issue of distrust. People did not trust what we were saying to them. It worries me that people do not trust politicians. It came across to me that the electorate was angry, for whatever reason, although it was nothing to do with the Lisbon treaty. They were not prepared to listen when we were trying to debate the issues that were part of the treaty rather than those introduced as a scaremongering tactic. That concerns me greatly. I hope that out of this will come a new approach for Europe. We must consider how we can reform in order that we may become a better member as a result of this. Unfortunately, that is the situation. The public will want to reflect and consider why they voted "No" and the implications for the future of the EU. Democracy has won and the public is now entitled to consider the decision it has made and how we can shape Ireland into the future of the EU. We must have a period of reflection in the next couple of months. It is only when the pressure is off that people say, as many have already said to me, they voted "No" but did not understand the implications. It has now come across that they did not understand them.
Even though I explained to them many times the implications of the treaty, they did not want to know. If we take a couple of months to reflect, I hope out of this will come a new period of thinking for all member states.
I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Martin, on their performances at the General Affairs and External Relations Council meeting on Monday. It certainly showed they had reflected on the result of the referendum. There was a solidarity behind our concerns. Small states have done very well out of this treaty and they will not be anxious for us to revisit this. There are many complications in terms of how we can steer ourselves out of this. I do not want to be part of a two-tier system. I never wanted to be a poor relation to anybody. We were always at the centre of the decision making process and I hope that will not change in the future. The line being peddled at present is that we will have a two-tier system and that we will be left behind. I do not want that to happen and neither does Ireland. We have been honoured to be at the centre of things and to be respected. I want that to continue for us.
I hope that after a period of reflection we will be in a position to revisit this issue. I have heard many people say the Lisbon treaty is dead. It is dead as it stands, but we must revisit it in some way. If we got reassurances and protocols were introduced, we may be in a position to present it again. However, at this point we need to think about it and we need to let the public think about it. They have spoken. That is what I love about our democracy. Let us respect democracy, but when we have revisited this issue in our minds, let us return to it and say what we would do. It is clear from a survey that was carried out that a review of this treaty is already taking place in people's minds and that they will revisit it when we put it to them again in some form. I wish the Minister of State well in how it is shaped in the future.
The Minister of State is welcome to the House. I will comment briefly on his speech. He spoke about the interest in the Euro barometer. We would have been very interested if those in Europe had not stifled it for the past six months and refused to ask questions about the response to the treaty. Why did they do that? Why did they muzzle their own Euro barometer?
There is an issue of trust regarding politicians and the issues raised. I will answer the question in that regard. The Minister of State spoke about a setback. Since when was the exercise of a democratic vote a setback? There may have been a certain situation created in Europe but it is not a problem of the making of the Irish people; it is a problem endemic to the entire institution. The Minister of State said there is a need to reconnect the Union with the citizen. That is right. He said there is a need in particular for the Union to speak to all of its citizens in language that they can relate to and to consign to the bin the jargon, the special language and terminologies that exclude people. I fully agree, but was that what those in Europe were doing?
Senator Ormonde correctly asked if people trust politicians. Perhaps they do not, but it is not confined merely, exclusively or even principally to the politicians of Ireland. Why should anybody trust people who, like President Nicolas Sarkozy, said of the treaty that if one opens the toolbox lid, one will see all the same tools, that it is just a cosmetic job and that it has been repackaged? I put on the record of this House what another person said about the treaty some months ago and this is one of the reasons I voted against it. I am delighted we defeated the treaty because these people now have to reconsider their position with regard to a major issue for democracy. Mr. Giscard d'Estang said of the treaty that:
Public opinion will be led to adopt, without knowing it, the proposals that we dare not present to them directly . . . All the earlier proposals will be in the next text, but will be hidden and disguised in some way.
How does that square with what the Minister of State said about openness and easily accessible language? Mr. Karel De Gucht, the Belgian Foreign Minister, said in June 2007 said, "The aim of the Constitutional Treaty was to be more readable: the aim of this treaty is to be unreadable". How does that square with anything the Minister of State said or with the context of the questions that were properly addressed by Senator Ormonde?
Those in Europe promoted the European constitution, but it failed in a series of countries. They would have liked to have punched the individual citizens in those countries because there is a two-tier, two-speed system in Europe. There is the speed at which the meglocrats — the bully boys — in Brussels want to go and there is a speed at which the ordinary people of Europe want to go. Those in Europe dare not risk this again. When they ran this new painted cosmeticised toolbox, the people in most of the countries, except Ireland, were not permitted to vote and we were the people who voted against it.
I consider myself a good European. I always voted for the treaties, but I got increasingly disenchanted by the insulting language that was being used. I listened to one such person on a radio programme today, a German MEP blackguarding Commissioner Charlie McCreevy and saying he should be fired because he was off gambling on horses when he should have been in the Parliament. A German person of any kind should be very careful about racial tinges. He said that he had to use the translation system when Commissioner McCreevy spoke because he spoke English so badly. How dare these people treat us in this way? They talk about money being returned but we got nothing to which we were not entitled. We gave our fishing stocks. We have employed hundreds of thousands of European people. We have been pretty good to Europe, as Europe has been good to us.
I hope the Minister of State will take this point back to Government. The principal reason I opposed the treaty was my concerns about neutrality. I am not a naive nincompoop, I know that Fianna Fáil has no commitment to it. DeValera was pragmatic about it and sold out to the Six Counties. Fine Gael is perfectly honest about it; it has no interest in it and it would like to walk us into NATO. I am glad that as a result of the "No" vote we have not institutionalised the European Defence Agency, which was the old European armaments group.
The problem for the Minister of State and for politicians generally is that the main political parties have no principled loyalty to neutrality, but the Irish people do. How do those parties gull them once again? I say this in the context of the prevarication and queasy evasion of this Government and its predecessor about the subject of extraordinary rendition. I gave the registration number of a plane on this morning's Order of Business that was last seen in Guantanamo Bay and that is now in Shannon. These are reasons for this vote — neutrality renegotiated, the expansion of the Petersberg Tasks to allow us to intervene in a third country on suspicion of terrorism — that is the way to Iraq. I oppose it. If the Minister of State gets a protocol about these issues, I will be out voting "Yes" and campaigning for a "Yes" vote.
I am deeply disappointed with the tone of this debate, apart from Senator's Norris's speech, which was constructive about the way forward. It is extraordinary that we have not had anybody chart the way forward or had an suggestions in that regard.
It is not too early. The Minister of State should have thought of it six months ago. It seemed to have been an impossibility to the political parties that this treaty would have been beaten. So arrogant and disconnected had they become, which they admit, that they never conceived that there would be a situation like this. We are bankrupt of ideas about it. That is a terrible reflection on the body politic here. It is also a terrible reflection of the people and the institutions the Minister of State listed. I do not welcome the fact that he said that the Government had the support of all the political parties. He went on to say that it had the support of ICTU, IBEC, the chambers of commerce, the IFA, ICMSA and all those other bodies. What does that tell us about these institutions? It is not only that they are in the Government's pocket but that these people are also out of touch with public opinion and that there is a lovely club at the top whose members all combine when there are issues of this sort to ram through. It did not succeed and it does not succeed in Europe.
What I am appalled at more than anything else is the dismissive way that people say we will be able to satisfy a few of the objections and then we will get it through another referendum. I thought that Senator Ormonde was doing extraordinarily well when she said it was a victory for democracy until she started talking about how she met people at the doorstep and explained to them time and again what the treaty was about and they still voted "No" because they did not understand it. That is so patronising. Of course, they understood it. They listened to her, as I often do, and voted the opposite way. People are entitled to do that in this House as are those the Senator meets at the doorsteps. They understood the treaty just as well as those on the "Yes" side. To suggest that the people on the "No" side did not know as much as people on the "Yes" side is patronising and wrong. It is symptomatic of the attitude of the "Yes" side to this campaign.
I wish to turn to an issue on which I found a defining reason for voting "No", that is the issue of tax. Every time I came forward with this issue I was patronised by Ministers who said, "Do not worry, there is unanimity about it; we will be able to put down the veto and that will be the end of it". There is unanimity apparently about this treaty, yet we are told it is will be ratified anyway. Where is the unanimity in that? If there was unanimity about this, the Lisbon treaty would be dead.
I would thank the Minister of State if he would listen to me on this matter. I do not believe for one moment — it is a legitimate belief and neither he nor I can prove whether it is true — that the Government would ever have used its veto on tax because it would not have felt capable, courageous or strong enough to do that. What was to happen now and next week was that all the initiatives on tax were to be buried by the French particularly, and the Minister of State knows that. Last week the French Minister for Finance let it slip in an interview with Le Monde that the top of their agenda was tax harmonisation. What does that mean? If they thought the Irish veto was going to work, they would not bother their barney coming forward with tax harmonisation. Tax harmonisation was on the agenda, it was going to be used and forced through. The Government would never have used its veto. Instead, it would have threatened to use it only for France, Germany and some of the other large member states to make clear their intention to punish us in some other way for taking that course. We would have been told, for example, that the €200 million already allocated to the national development programme was no more. In those circumstances, the Government would have withdrawn its veto and obtained concessions elsewhere. That would have been the end of it. The Minister of State can shake his head as much as he likes but he must take these points seriously. One of the problems with the Government's campaign was that he refused to do so. It is legitimate to express a lack of confidence that the Government would use its veto on tax.
It is my job as a public representative to ask the Minister of State to go back to Europe to demand confirmation, before we sign this treaty, that we have the right to set our own corporation tax rate and manage our own tax affairs. That must be written in stone as of 2008 or 2009 rather than in some future treaty which nobody believes will be effective.
Senator Ross's final comment says it all. I have heard many opponents of the treaty, and even some who support it, make the point that we must go back to Europe. What do they mean by this? This is Europe. We are part of Europe; it is not something separate. That type of mentality is entirely alien to the vision of Robert Schuman and Jean Monnet, who recognised in the early 1950s, in the wake of the events of the first half of the last century, that there must be a better way, a way which would allow European states and their citizens to live in peaceful coexistence. Ireland played its part in the realisation of that vision. Hundreds of thousands of Irish people died in the early part of the last century in wars initiated, generated and fought on the battlefields on Europe. There had to be a better way. The vision of Schuman and Monnet, which they brought to fruition in the first instance via the establishment of a coal and steel trade agreement, has developed to the extent evident in the benefits we now enjoy from our membership of the Union.
The Minister of State, Deputy Roche, alluded to a possible disconnection between the peoples of Europe and the institutions of the European Union. The development of the Union represents probably the most successful political adventure in international history, with member states coming together in a spirit of common interest to pool their sovereignty for the mutual benefit and advancement of the peoples they represent. In the pursuit of that objective, we must ensure the connectivity with citizens is as strong as possible. There is no doubt that we face challenges in this regard. These are illustrated not only by the result of last week's referendum but also by the results of the referenda on the constitutional treaty in France and the Netherlands.
We must take a positive approach. This referendum result affords an opportunity to reassess this great adventure to which the majority of citizens throughout Europe subscribe. Ireland represents a small percentage of that total population. It is encouraging to see that a poll in The Irish Times indicates that some 80% of those who voted "No" in the referendum have a positive view of Europe. In the course of canvassing for the referendum, I made the point on more than one occasion that a referendum is not the ideal means by which to ratify a treaty. Treaties are complex by nature and the issues involved can become even more convoluted as they are discussed by advocates of either side. That is what happened in this case.
Many issues emerged in the course of the campaign. The objective now must be to identify the main components of the opposition to the treaty and to consider how they can be addressed in a manner that will allow the EU to move forward. I join my colleague in complimenting the Minister of State on his efforts in the campaign. He has made an intellectual and energetic contribution not only to this debate but on an ongoing basis for several years. We must take on board the views that have been expressed. The Minister of State referred to the global challenge facing Europe. We have evolved in the past decade into an entirely new era of globalisation. In the past, the main economic power was the United States. It retains its might but we have seen also the emergence of China, with a population of 1.3 billion, which is some two and a half times that of the EU. India's population is more than twice that of the EU, while Russia, an emerging powerhouse, potentially could evolve into the richest country in the world by virtue of its tremendous reserves of natural resources. It is important that the EU operates co-operatively and cohesively. To do so, we must have institutions which are efficient and focused on meeting the emerging challenges.
None of the opponents of the treaty has offered a convincing argument for how the rejection of the Lisbon proposals will help us to achieve those objectives. I acknowledge that Sinn Féin, as the "ourselves alone" party, has an ideological objection to the treaty. I spoke to some of its members at the count centre and heard their view that we should return to depending on our own natural resources.
However, the world has moved on into the arena of globalisation. We have built our economy on various intellectual competencies and services which are sought after throughout the world. It is extraordinary that Ireland has become the world's largest exporter of computer software. This small island nation on the west coast of Europe has achieved that pre-eminence through foreign direct investment. We must not allow that to be put at risk in any way. We must pool our resources and engage constructively with both the proponents and opponents of the treaty to ensure what emerges from this process is something which everybody can support.
I do not wish to leave uncontested the comments made by a particular Senator to the effect that the former Taoiseach, Mr. Eamon de Valera, in some way sold out on the Six Counties. Anybody remotely interested in or aware of our history would know that Mr. de Valera took the absolutely opposite position in the Civil War that followed independence. Through his leadership of the diplomatic process in the 1930s, he recovered the ports from the British and resolved the land annuities issue. Shortly after coming into office, he abolished the oath of allegiance. It is an absolute rewriting of history to contend the contrary. The enormous progress we have made since independence has been contributed to substantially by our constructive engagement with the European Union. By continuing that engagement, the prospects for future generations of Irish people will be enhanced.
I am delighted that the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, is in attendance for this debate. It is great to have him in the House given his role in the formulation of the Lisbon treaty. There is no doubt that the rejection of the referendum represents a significant embarrassment for the Government. On this occasion, we were on the Government's side. It is not as if due warning had not been given, but the Government was not listening. In this House I spoke about a survey I conducted in the streets of Galway, involving 115 people, three weeks ago. Nine of ten of those people told me the Government had not adequately explained the treaty. That was with three weeks to go. Two thirds of the people I met said they had low to very poor knowledge of the treaty. I agree with Members on the other side of the House that this treaty was rejected because people were confused. There was a poor campaign by the Government largely, as my colleague, Senator Regan, said——
We have been in the Union for 35 years so we had better stay with it. However, there are many issues to address. A total of 75% of the people I met on the streets of Galway told me that they believed Europe is good for Ireland but 20% of that 75% — this is when I knew we were in difficulty — intended to vote "No" and another 20% were undecided. Those margins were critical in this referendum.
We must now address the issues to move forward. This responsibility rests with the Minister and the Government. In the last few days I have been working with young people and teachers in schools. It is significant that a 12 year old said to me that the "No" side won the Lisbon treaty referendum because, when the campaign started, the Taoiseach, Deputy Brian Cowen, was telling people to vote "Yes" while the "No" side was telling them about the treaty.
The Taoiseach was undermined by his Government because none of the Ministers campaigned. He was let down. Let us continue with what the young people said to me. Some said: "My mother voted "No" and I told her to do that because I do not want to be conscripted to an EU army". The issue of neutrality was not understood and people did not feel it was safeguarded.
There is no doubt that due to the disconnect the Minister mentioned and the lack of listening the people saw this treaty referendum as an opportunity to hit out at the Government on a plethora of domestic issues. I am pleased that my electoral area of Oranmore carried the treaty but in another part of the Galway West constituency, Connemara, 81% of the people voted "No". Let us consider why they did so. A total of 80% of their land is designated special areas of conservation. They are sick and tired of EU directives that prevent them from keeping sheep on the mountains and from fishing and cutting turf. This was a case of the people taking back their power.
People are fed up and cynical about second referenda being held in this country. The Government must learn to do things right the first time; otherwise, we are learning nothing. I urge the Minister to examine the real concerns that must be addressed before anything is put again to the people. There are real concerns about neutrality and corporation tax, as Senator Ross admirably explained. Above all, there is concern that people should have a say on European directives before they are imposed. The Irish people have spoken and we must accept it. They are weary and need help to move forward at this point.
I thank Senator de Búrca for allowed me to speak before her. I welcome the Minister of State. His contribution was worthwhile and contained nothing with which I would not agree. Everybody on the "Yes" side is very disappointed with the result, but it is a time for reflection, not blame. It is the second time in eight years that Irish people voted "No" to an EU treaty.
I am worried that Ireland will be seen as Eurosceptic. I was hurt and disappointed to see people in the House of Commons last night wearing green T-shirts carrying the message: "Respect the Irish vote". Last Friday, we saw television footage showing the Eurosceptic members of the English Parliament using the Irish flag as a beer mat. I am disgusted with that. My first thought on seeing it was to wonder how Sinn Féin feels when it looks at the people with whom it has aligned itself.
We must be very careful at this juncture. As my colleagues Senator Walsh and Senator Ormonde said, we respect the democratic Irish vote. A large group of Irish people will claim to be pro-Europe, yet there is a cohort that believes that the EU wishes to conscript children into a European army, a cohort that believes the EU wishes to ruin our economy with the tax regime it wishes to introduce and a cohort that believes abortion and euthanasia will be available on demand in this country and that God will be removed from the Constitution.
A nun in Sligo whom I canvassed told me that we will not be allowed to say Mass or to pray and that it would be like a return to penal times. I said to her: "Sister, as a teacher who has taught all your life, can you not see further than your nose? How can those things happen?" Furthermore, many people did not realise why they were voting "No". Many considered it sexy, with it and cool to vote "No", in the same way they thought it good to listen to a celebrity telling them to vote "No". I believe that if the referendum was put to them again, it would be a different kettle of fish. Senator Ormonde referred to a two tier Europe, with a fast lane and a slow lane. We do not wish to be anybody's poor relation. We have done very well as a result of our participation in Europe and we must always remember that.
I met people who said they did not have enough information. I tried to engage with them and tell them the little I knew. Rather than appear arrogant by telling them I knew it all, I told them I knew a little and asked to discuss the things about which they were unsure. They did not want that information. There are people who felt disconnected. There were also people who were cross with Irish politicians, regardless of whether they were on the "Yes" or "No" side. People said that campaigners for the "Yes" side did not come out onto the pitch early enough, that they came out at half time. I disagreed with that. I told them we came out to campaign at the same time as in other referendum campaigns. When we did come out, we were catching up and putting out fires because the "No" side misrepresented everything that was good in the treaty. It was spinning not white lies but big black lies.
There is a need for a national debate on the EU. We are part of the Union, are proud of it and have to stop blaming Brussels for this, that and the other. Those days are over. Let us be proud to be part of it and to move it on. We also have to evaluate why the vote went the way it did. In doing so we still accept democracy was at its best. We got the "No" vote returned and we accept that but there are issues that arise and have to be looked at.
Given the way the "No" side treated the unrelated issues in the treaty, such as tax and abortion, and given all the misrepresentations, there was very little time to get the positive elements across, such as the Charter of Fundamental Rights, prioritising climate change and energy security. They are the issues on which we should have been concentrating. Every time we came out to put out one fire the "No" side built the fire even higher.
The "No" side was let set the agenda by the media. It is very unfair and unbalanced when the national broadcaster allocates equal speaking time to such an unrepresentative "No" side. If one looks at the Houses of the Oireachtas, there are about ten members of both Houses who called for a "No" vote. They were given exactly the same time as the majority of the people in this House.
That is unfair and it should be looked at. Currently there are no limits on what one can spend. One organisation that represented the "No" vote spent €2 million on its campaign. That is more than the three large political parties spent. I call for further regulation on how we spend and on enforcing a spending limit. Perhaps the Standards in Public Office Commission will do that.
It is not about a blame game but it makes my blood boil when I hear people purporting to have been on the "Yes" side and yet in my own town of Sligo, for example, and I speak only for myself, I saw only one member of this House from Fine Gael out canvassing. I met nobody else. I met Fine Gael councillors who told me their parents were voting "No". I met staunch Fine Gael people. It is a bit rich of Senator Healy-Eames——
——to say it is embarrassing for the Government. It is not embarrassing for the Government. We will hold our head up and there will be another day. I wish the Taoiseach well in Brussels tomorrow. There is no better man to go and represent our country.
As other speakers have stated, we touched on this matter briefly on the Order of Business when the matter arose. The question of accepting or respecting the decision of the Irish people does not arise for discussion. It is a constitutional imperative that we not just respect but accept the decision of the Irish people. While it does not arise for debate, we will not be ratifying that treaty that was put to the people of Ireland last week. Let us leave that aside and move forward, lest there is any concern about people's motivation or otherwise.
There cannot be a rerun of the Lisbon treaty that was put to the people last week. I have been listening to some of the debate but have been detained at another meeting also. It has been acknowledged there were difficulties in the campaign. I disagree with some of the last speakers on the other side. I think the campaign was slow to get started. It is manifestly clear that the political difficulties at the top end of the Fianna Fáil party were a factor in that party's overall readiness or approach to the campaign. That is just a matter of fact. I am not seeking to open it for a row. Any fair-minded person looking at those few months can see that was clearly the case. If Members on the Government side are honest about it, they will have to accept that as well. However, it is in the past and we are facing the future.
In fairness to the Minister of State, he put in enormous effort and energy to the campaign, and I congratulate him on that. He was in this House on several occasions. It has been said in this debate that there was no big idea or that it was not fought in a manner that pointed to one big idea on the "Yes" side. Perhaps in that statement we can identify the problem. In fact, there is one big idea at the heart of the European project and at the heart of the European Union, and it is an incredibly successful idea and achievement of historical proportions. Perhaps we did not emphasise that enough. Perhaps we allowed ourselves in the months and weeks coming up to the vote to be distracted by the individual claims made, many of which were entirely false. We felt we had to answer this, that and the other one.
Perhaps we should have concentrated more on a visionary approach to what we were putting to the people. Perhaps we should have been up there on the higher ground of what Europe has actually achieved, especially what it has achieved for Irish people and Irish workers and what it has achieved in a range of different areas for us as a nation. I do not mean largesse. I am not talking about good to Ireland but good for Ireland and Ireland being good for Europe. There is an incredible achievement in that and perhaps we were too slow to claim that ground for ourselves. In this I include all of the parties, not just one or the other. The parties supporting the treaty allowed themselves to be on the defensive.
During the course of the campaign many people on the doorsteps said they took one look across at who was on the other side. Some said they saw Sinn Féin on the other side and that they would not vote for the treaty. Others said they saw that the political parties were for it and decided to go against them. There was much negative decision-making about it. People decided to vote in a particular way because of who was on the other side, not just Sinn Féin but others as well.
Perhaps there is something inevitable about a treaty that is so complex in that people decide where they stand based on who is for it and who is against it. That has actually continued for me, to some extent, since last Thursday. As others have asked, who is happy that this has gone down? What groups and the political organisations not just here but around Europe are happy that the treaty was defeated last week? The Eurosceptical far right of the British Conservative Party is up and at it and revived in the past week, scarifying its own leadership into making somewhat disturbing statements as to where it might go, although it seemed to pull its act together this week. The UK Independence Party is happy, as are the right wing freedom party in Austria, the National Front in France and the Civic Democratic Party in the Czech Republic, all organisations that have been out of the traps in recent days celebrating what they would see as a mortal wound inflicted by the Irish people on the European project. There may be some sense in people standing back and asking who is on the other side and who is against it because this was a deal that was made.
I turn to the issue of where we should go next. I say this to all my colleagues. Anybody now can put together a list of issues we would like to reopen. I am sure the Minister of State, who comes in to the House frequently and who often would not admit to any problems with the treaty because of the rhetorical approach in which he engaged in terms of the campaign, could do it. I doubt if there is anybody in these Houses who could not sit down and make a list of objections or problems with what was in the Lisbon treaty. Anybody who has experience of negotiating knows that the easy part is to make the list of demands; the difficult part is delivering them. It is fine for Sinn Féin to say what the Taoiseach must do tomorrow or in the coming period. I will add some more to that list.
The question is not whether one can put together a credible list but whether one can deliver it when one is going to face 26 other countries and a new set of political parties since the treaty was negotiated. We now have Mr. Berlusconi. What side of the tracks is he on in terms of workers' rights and employment rights? We also have Mr. Sarkozy. A number of European governments have changed their political colour since the Lisbon treaty was negotiated. The idea that we can turn around and go back and that we can be confident that we can deliver something better was a central dishonesty in the conduct of the "No" campaign.
I do not underestimate the difficulty faced by the Government — and it is for the Government principally to come up with a solution. The Labour Party supported the Lisbon treaty and we stand over everything we said about it. We respect the will of the Irish people but there will be a significant reckoning to come in terms of what it is possible to deliver. I do not say that in the sense that I hope I am proven right that the treaty cannot be delivered in the way we want. We all want what is best for the country but I have serious concerns about the danger of a significant shift to the right as an outcome of the defeat last week.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, to the House. Like the rest of us he is probably trying to digest the verdict of the Irish people on the Lisbon treaty, which we became aware of last Friday. There is an opportunity to define what is the problem. Given this unpredicted result, I have great sympathy for the Taoiseach who has to attend the European summit tomorrow and see what possibilities exist for moving forward. There is a danger that Ireland could get boxed into a corner and that we have put a halt to something that has support from other member states and that therefore it is up to us to solve the problem. I hope the same kind of EU-wide solidarity that we talked about during the referendum campaign will be in evidence. I am sure that will be the case tomorrow when the Taoiseach goes to the EU summit because this is not strictly an Irish problem. The outcome on the referendum to the Lisbon treaty could have been the same in any other member state had they decided to have a popular referendum on the treaty because the disengagement citizens feel from the European project runs across the EU. That feeling is not particular to Ireland and it has been in evidence in regard to all the recent treaties. It is a long-standing problem in the Union.
I hope the Minister will take on board my view on the danger that in looking to respond to the Irish "No" vote on last Thursday the problem will be defined as how we salvage the Lisbon treaty and that the issue of the democratic deficit and the disengagement of citizens will be overlooked. There is a certain level of fear among the political class in the European Union in terms of trying to engage with people and bring them along because there is a sense that they are unpredictable and appear to be very hesitant about the whole European project. However, as politicians we cannot continue to get treaties ratified without the support of the public because there will be increasing resistance on their part. In time, when the European Union tries to implement directives and other legislation without public support there could be a fundamental crisis in the Union.
Popular support and consent is very important and the last thing we need is European institutions having authority without popular consent. As a polity that is putting itself forward as a beacon of democracy and a political entity that is trying to promote democracy internationally it is not desirable to have that kind of fundamental flaw in its own democratic system. I hope that at tomorrow's European summit and in the coming weeks and months when this issue is discussed, the Ministers and heads of State will look at the whole issue of how we address the democratic deficit and the disengagement of many citizens of the European Union from the project, which has delivered so many benefits to them.
I support the interesting proposal made by my Green Party colleagues in the European Parliament on the possibility of a democracy Bill whereby an EU-wide referendum would be held and which would contain the Charter for Fundamental Rights, an expanded and improved role for the European Parliament and the national parliaments, and innovative ways for citizens to participate in the politics and the governance of the European Union through mechanisms like the citizens' initiative. We have to start thinking in terms of EU-wide referenda. We cannot run away from our electorates or try to proceed on a state-by-state basis. What has happened in the case of Ireland is that we are seen as holding up the progress that all of the other member states wish to make.
I support the notion of EU-wide referenda that put issues to the citizens. What the Green Party had proposed in regard to the original constitutional treaty was a double-majority referendum where we would look for a majority of states and a majority of the citizens of the European Union to support it. We have to start looking at such mechanisms. Perhaps that is the kind of thinking that the heads of state and the various Ministers should adopt in approaching this issue and that it is not just seen as a question of how we salvage the Lisbon treaty but that there is focus on the much broader issue of how we address the disengagement of our citizens. We can possibly use the mechanism of an EU-wide referendum to tackle some of the issues relating to the democratic deficit. That is the way forward. I hope the Minister of State will bring some of that thinking to the meetings he will attend on behalf of this country.
I thank the Government for facilitating the debate. As somebody who voted "No" it gave me no pleasure to oppose people for whom I have the highest esteem. I acknowledge the patriotism, good sense and honest toil of politicians and officials who have worked at EU level over many years, especially in the context of the Lisbon treaty. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, and acknowledge his efforts in particular.
I opposed the treaty on the basis of my honest assessment of where Ireland's best interests lie. In no sense do I wish to detract from the patriotism, honest toil and sincere effort of those who were on the "Yes" side. Listening to the speeches of the Minister of State and Members across the floor I am left with the impression that people are still not listening. I have heard more demonisation of people today, the same kind of demonisation I heard prior to the referendum last Thursday. I hear and sense a determination to suggest that the Irish people did not vote in an informed way but that they allowed themselves to be hoodwinked and panic-stricken into a "No" vote. That is to do no credit to the intelligence and good sense of the Irish people. It is true that there were wide and varied groups and agendas opposed to the treaty. I am reminded of Hilary Clinton's farewell message to her supporters when she withdrew from the campaign for the Democratic Party nomination. She said it was not the party she had hoped for but she sure loved the company. Perhaps there were people on the "No" side last Thursday who said it is the party they hoped for but they were not so sure about the company. The same would be true on the "Yes" side. It is interesting to note that our former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, was on the same side as Senator Eugene Regan. To my mind that is a motley crew also. The fact is people were under pressure from their party whips to call for a "Yes" vote so let us be honest about it, there was exaggeration on both sides. There was bogus argumentation on occasions on both sides and there was a certain amount of emotional blackmail on both sides. The Government must start by refusing to apologise or allow even the body language of apology at European level. The Government's job now is to represent the expressed will of the people. I accept that a process of discernment is now needed in order to understand precisely what the people have asked for.
When we hear the Government constantly reassuring people that this is not about abortion we get a sense of the problem. While I know some people were saying it was about abortion, we should consider that the Maastricht protocol was negotiated more than 20 years ago in Charles Haughey's time. That illustrates that there have been no serious efforts since then to secure for Ireland the necessary subsidiarity on social issues. I will conclude with the example of Article 13 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union which does not even nod to national laws in establishing freedom in artistic and scientific research. Future decisions could be taken at European level that would cut across our constitutional values. I plead with the Government that among the issues it must take into account now is the need to negotiate proper subsidiarity for Ireland so that, liberal or conservative, we may decide certain issues for ourselves, particularly in areas that are socially sensitive. That is not about being in a two-speed or a two-tier Europe. It is about recognising that regardless of how much we support an integrated EU it must be on the basis that diverse national personalities are also allowed to breathe.
The next few months will represent a test of just how much respect the European Union has for smaller states. We should look for no less than the French and Dutch got when they rejected a substantially similar arrangement in the form of the EU constitution.
A Government Senator asked to which side Sinn Féin is now aligned. I am glad to say that Sinn Féin is aligned to the majority of people who came out on Thursday to cast their votes and to the people of France and Holland. The overwhelming majority of people across the European Union, as shown in opinion polls, would have voted in the same way. The people have spoken. The Lisbon treaty is over. This is not a crisis as suggested by many in this House. This Lisbon treaty was put to the democratic test in Ireland and it has been rejected. Those are the facts before us. It has not just been rejected here. The same formula has been rejected by the people of Europe. It has been put on five occasions and on three different occasions it has been rejected, in France, Holland and now here in Ireland.
What should we do now? I am not interested in the blame game between those on the "Yes" side or the lies that have been told. What is the challenge ahead of us? The answer is as obvious as the nose on one's face. The Government must use its strong mandate, provided by the people, to renegotiate this treaty. It needs to view the result as an opportunity to get back around the table with our EU partners and secure a better deal for all the people of Europe. It is not acceptable for EU leaders to seek ways of avoiding or circumventing the democratically expressed wishes of the people. The ratification process must end just as it did following the rejection of the EU constitution.
The people must be listened to. Throughout the referendum campaign a number of key issues arose repeatedly — Ireland's loss of power in Europe, EU militarisation, workers' rights and public services, and the treaty's impact on the developing world. These issues need to be addressed. It is now the responsibility of Government, and particularly of the Taoiseach, to listen to the people and commit to the task of securing a better deal. These are very practical and reasonable demands, which can, despite the hoopla and palaver be delivered.
I interrupted the previous Fianna Fáil Senator who was talking nonsense. Sinn Féin is committed to constructively engaging in this process. Today we are submitting a detailed written proposal to the Government, which we believe would address these concerns in a new treaty. We will also meet the trade union movement, farmers, business and civic society to encourage them to use their influence to ensure the Government secures a deal that best reflects their needs now and into the future.
Any new deal must address the much talked of EU democratic deficit. It must fundamentally secure Ireland's neutrality and protect workers' rights and public services. Time and time again the same sensible rational concerns emerged on the doorstep, local media and from interest groups. The retention of a permanent Commissioner, our current voting strength at the European Council and key strategic vetoes such as on the outcome of international trade talks, were regularly outlined throughout the campaign.
We also need to see the removal of the controversial self-amending articles. We need a specific protocol in the treaty protecting neutrality and opt-outs from other aspects of an emerging EU common foreign and security policy such as an end to taxpayers' money being diverted to the European Defence Agency or being used for any EU military purposes. We also need a protocol to opt out of the EURATOM treaty. Explicit amendments are required to ensure greater protection of workers' rights and to stop the opening up of vital public services to competition. We also need measures to strengthen the social content of the EU project in order to balance the need for economic competitiveness with social cohesion and sustainable development.
Another deal is possible for Ireland and the EU but only if the Government steps up to the plate by acting in accordance with the outcome of the referendum. There are already concerns about the Government's approach given its total opposition to the loudly voiced wishes of the people on this issue. Again I repeat the Lisbon treaty is finished, as it needs the support of all 27 member states in order for it to come into effect. It cannot be reheated and put to the people again. If the Government is serious in its commitment to listen to the people and to uphold democracy then it must secure a better treaty for Ireland and Europe.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. The last time he was here it was in happier circumstances when we were planning the campaign and debating the issues involved. The late Charles Haughey was advised one time by a Senator how he had lost the election. The then Fianna Fáil leader said he would like to know how we would win the election. In this regard we must look to the future and be positive about the situation that has arisen. That we had two referenda on the Nice treaty gave the people clear example that it was possible there would be a second referendum on the Lisbon treaty. It was not possible to argue the case that we did not have a repeat of the Nice treaty referendum. That argument was not that strong.
As I said earlier today I certainly voted "No" in the first referendum on divorce and I also voted "No" in the second one. However, in the interim there was a change of view and a change of emphasis and it was accepted on the second occasion. When we applied for membership of the European Economic Community we were rejected at least once. The Minister of State will have the record on the matter. The French certainly kept us out at one time. However, we persisted. Seán Lemass initiated the application to the Common Market and we succeeded when the late Jack Lynch and the late Paddy Hillery, both fantastic members of the Fianna Fáil Party, signed our accession to the European Economic Community in 1973. We have been there for 35 years and it has been a great success story. I will not go through all that again.
The Minister of State, Deputy Roche, the Minister, Deputy Martin, the Taoiseach and everybody else did their very best to explain the situation. It is a very comprehensive and complicated treaty. In hindsight irrespective of the cost, it would have been worth circulating a clear version of the treaty. I hope that on the next occasion we will circulate a copy to every house. It is important that people cannot have that argument. That argument was made by Libertas, which then circulated a select number of copies to make the point that something was being hidden from the people and that was why it was not circulated. It was very effective propaganda.
In the final few days of the campaign, the Fianna Fáil Party published a document clarifying many of the issues. The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union is a wonderful document that took considerable negotiation. Many of the countries that now accept the treaty probably would not have accepted it at that point in time. The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union was used against the "Yes" campaign on the basis of the possibility, however remote, that at some stage the court in Luxembourg would accept the possibility of abortion. Under Article 6 of the Maastricht protocol we were exempt in that regard. They did not accept it. In churches in the region documents were circulated urging people to vote "No" because of that situation. The Pope was depicted in those documents as advocating a "No" vote, although he did not do so. I am sure he would be in favour of a "Yes" vote. When the Minister visited Roscommon, the Roscommon Hospital Action Committee had a document entitled "Support Roscommon Hospital, Vote 'No' to Lisbon." I met two dedicated Fianna Fáil supporters who voted "No" because they said they wanted to keep their hospital. There was nothing in the Lisbon treaty about that. Those are the kinds of issues that arose.
I wish the Taoiseach well tomorrow and on Friday in his meetings in Brussels. Time is on our side. Maybe when the Minister sums up he would outline that. This treaty was not to be implemented immediately. There was to be much discussion on the details. One point made to me during the campaign and at public meetings held by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs was the question of the commissionership. It was an issue. In discussions that will go on, countries that have no Commissioner should have a permanent representative as an observer at the Commission meetings. It would be useful to put across that point. While it is not possible or practical to renegotiate every clause, one can have protocols and derogations on certain issues that arise. I hope we will reflect on this issue in the next 12 to 18 months and hopefully return again when all the other 26 countries have ratified the treaty. We will then know exactly the situation. Nobody voted "No" because they were anti-Europe but because they felt they were pro-Europe.
As I begin my contribution to this very important debate and before I go on to my observations as a politician, I want to reflect on how I felt as a person when I heard the result last week. As a person, the abiding feeling I had on hearing the result was loneliness. I felt my country, of which I am a member, is on the margin. So much of the success we have had in progressing our economic and social interests is because we have been able to create solidarity with our neighbours and rely on that solidarity to progress what we believe is important. When that result came in I felt, for the first time in many years, I was a member of a small island country off the coast of Europe.
My second impression was a worry that the opportunities and benefits I have enjoyed might not be extended to my children as a result of the decision. People on the "No" side who hear my points will accuse me of scaremongering. I respect the decision that was made but those two emotions will drive the points I will make as a politician and the work I hope to do in the future. The first emotion is loneliness and that we have the potential to be marginalised in what will happen in the future. The second and probably more important feeling is worry about the effect the result will have on the prosperity and social wealth I have been lucky enough to enjoy and concern that I might not be able to pass that on to my family and the people I try to represent.
As a politician I want to offer my reflections on what happened during the campaign and my pointers on what we need to do differently, particularly given the debate I have just heard. The first vital point is that if we end up in a mind-set that the treaty was good and the communication of the treaty was bad, we will not progress this. If we say we need to better explain the merits of what we have to the people than we did during the campaign, that indicates a lack of respect for and understanding of the motives of many people who voted "No". I can see the Minister nodding as I make this point. I hope as we move forward we do not look back and say it was a failure of our communication strategy and posters. We must accept that our people weighed up the treaty and decided, on the substance of it, that it was not acceptable.
My second point was on the attitudes of young people. This was the most significant thing I learned during the campaign. My attitudes to the European project are driven by two experiences. The first was of going to Dublin Airport with all my belongings in a suitcase to emigrate to the UK to get a job that I could not get in Ireland. The second was watching what happened in Srebrenica in the 1990s, the miracle of the EU managing to bring peacefully into the EU countries that were at war with and suspicious of each other earlier in our century. Those experiences, so recent for me, forged my opinion on the EU but are not shared by people who are just a few years younger than me. They see the prosperity and peace of the EU as a given. They have only ever enjoyed economic prosperity. That has had a decisive influence on how young people in particular have viewed this.
My final point is on the view people have of our political institutions. A poll taken at the start of this year found that 22% of people in Ireland trusted our political institutions. Of the last five referenda, all of which were supported by the mainstream political parties, three have been defeated by the people. I hope I am correct; the Minister will correct me if I am wrong. The people have not accepted what the politicians have said. That must give us great pause for thought in analysing what is happening and deciding what we want to change.
The Monday morning after the defeat of this referendum I was out doing a leaflet drop in my constituency when I met a person who said I had lost the battle but, clearly, not the war, because I was out engaged in political activity. We need to step up to the plate, engage with our electorate and offer them a way to move this forward. As politicians it is our responsibility to lead, not that of the voters. Respecting the substance of the decision, understanding why young people did what they did and pausing to recognise there is a crisis in the faith people have in these institutions are pointers towards our delivering an outcome that will be successful for Ireland and Europe. Both can happen at the same time and are not mutually exclusive.
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)
Link to this: Individually | In context
I thank the Senators. I will take Senator Donohoe's last point. The debate was demeaned earlier today when people shouted at each other. This is not a time for shouting at each other but for calm reflection. It is a time to respect the people, who have given us a very clear view. If we value anything in this country we should value our democracy. In this matter the only sovereign authority in this State is the people. The people have given an answer and we must analyse that and understand what they are saying. I do not believe the Irish people have taken the view that we should disconnect from Europe, however they have given us a very challenging position. The verdict of the Irish people must be respected in all the political debates. However, first we must try to understand what the people are saying to us. They were not simply saying "No". As we see from today's poll analysis, they said different things. As Senator Donohoe pointed out at the end of his very thoughtful contribution, young people pointed out different things, because they have a different perspective of Europe. The economic well-being and political progress we have enjoyed over all these years are taken for granted. We should communicate the basis on which that has taken place.
I cannot understand the excitement Senator Ross generated within himself in the debate. The treaty cannot come into force until it is ratified by all 27 member states in its current format. That is EU law. I also disagree with Senator Ross's view that he can dismiss all the political parties on the "Yes" side in this country, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the Irish Business and Employers Confederation, 60 chambers of commerce and the Irish farming organisations. It seems the proposition he was putting forward is that one can be dismissive of all of these organisations. I do not believe one can take that view from this result.
It is clear we must consult widely, both at home and within the European partnership. I agree with the points made by several Senators, including Senators Alex White, de Búrca and Feeney, that this is not just an Irish problem; it is a European problem. The disconnect which exists between the citizens of Europe and the European Union is a dangerous one. I also share Senator Alex White's view — he made the point eloquently — that one has to look at who is celebrating this victory in Europe. It was not people who I would normally regard as being advocates of the kind of democracy to which we assign ourselves in Europe. The UKIP party represent some views, as do those on the extremes of the Conservative Party, and I respect those views. I am not sure I respect, for example, Mr. Le Pen and the National Front — I certainly have difficulties in that regard. However, they represent something, although, in my view, it is something which is unacceptable and for which the Irish people do not sign up, and for which they did not vote last Thursday.
As the Taoiseach has stated, we want to make it clear to our European partners that Ireland has no wish to halt the progress of the European Union. We are not a destructive nation. We are certainly not a eurosceptic nation. However, we are a nation which does things in our own way, and we show a way to the European Union by holding a referendum. The greatest expression of democracy in the Union is asking the people what are their views. The people have come back to us with an answer for which we would not have wished but they have nonetheless presented us with an answer and we must understand, as must Europe, what it is that this sovereign people have said.
It is not disrespectful to the Irish people to say we must now have a period of reflection because that is exactly what the Irish people would wish. I do not believe for a moment that the Irish people would take it as being a positive sign of politicians on any side of this debate if we were to jump quickly into solutions which are facile and which would not work. As Senator Alex White said to Sinn Féin, it is easy to draw up a list; it is a question of how one delivers.
There is a reality that other member states are engaged in their ratification process. They too have a right to express their view in their own democratic way. It is not for us to tell them how they should operate, no more than it is for them to tell us. We need to identify clearly the reasons the Irish people voted against the treaty and then see where that takes us. We need to complete our analysis of the result and draw the necessary lessons from it. The next step is for the Taoiseach, the Minister, Deputy Martin, and myself to give the initial assessment in the Council tomorrow and in the bilateral meetings we will have tomorrow and on the following days.
It is a very important point in history and in the history of Ireland's engagement in Europe. We have reached a critical point. I disagree with the Senator who suggested there was exaggeration on both sides. I have campaigned the length and breadth of this country since last December and I can truthfully say I never intended nor can I ever be shown objectively to have exaggerated any of the issues. However, it was an exaggeration, as Senator Mullen noted, for people to talk about abortion, which has no part in this treaty, or about euthanasia, the incarceration of young children or the reintroduction of the death penalty. Those were untruthful statements and they were not made from the point of view of political discourse or balanced debate.
Senator Mullen is taking a rather distorted view of what political debate should be to suggest that somehow we can dismiss untruths and mendacious argument as simply the exaggerations of the heat of the moment. If they were just that, I would find them forgivable but the fact they were constructed over a period and repeated time and again despite evidence being produced speaks about those who put those arguments forward.
The debate is over, however. The campaign has taken place and we should not refight it. What we should do is look at how we protect the interests of our people and our nation in the period ahead. We should not dismiss it as easy or simple. There are 27 states that negotiated the treaty. It is possible that 26 other states have a different view than we have and certainly the 18 that have already ratified have a different view. We must respect their views also.
It is a challenging period. The verdict of the Irish people above all else must be respected as we go forward. We must look for solutions and we will have to look carefully at the message the Irish people have given. We must then take that message to our European colleagues and say that this is a message not just from the periphery of Europe but, I have no doubt, from the people across the Union. As I have said time and again, including when I was Minister of State responsible for European affairs in 2002, the European Union has to reconstruct its connection to its citizens, not just the citizens of this nation but the citizens of all 27 member states. It must bring to light the continuing benefits the European Union has for us all. I agree with Senator Doherty in that regard.
My biggest passion on this issue is driven by the fact that I want my four children to have a future in Europe. I see their future as being in Europe and I see that Europe is critical to our future and to all of our children's futures. In particular, the Union will need to speak to the people in a language they understand. The European project is a wonderful one. As Senator Walsh reminded us, it has brought peace and prosperity to a continent that tore itself apart in wars of unimaginable bestiality in the first half of the last century. The prize we are fighting for is a Europe that will continue to bring peace and prosperity into the future.
It is worth our while, therefore, to put the recriminations to one side, to forget the campaign but not to forget the messages that come from the campaign, and to work for a better future and a better response. Above all else, we must work to respect the views of the Irish people, to respect the fact they gave us a complex answer, to examine that answer and to see exactly how we go on from here. Future generations will not thank us if we drop the ball because our attention is on tearing each other apart. The people of Ireland have a right to expect something higher from politicians on all sides of these Houses than recrimination.
At the outset of this campaign, I welcomed the fact that the main political parties were our supporters in this campaign and I do so now. I recognise the difficulties that existed in parties that came through an election campaign last year and faced some disappointment. It takes courage and a degree of patriotism to put one's own personal animosities and individual attitudes to one side. The test we face in the months ahead is that we continue to do that. We showed solidarity with the people and the nation in the campaign, and we must now show solidarity with the aspirations, wishes, hopes and the future of the Irish people in the weeks ahead.
I thank all Senators on all sides. There was some heat in the debate on occasion but if there was no passion in it, it would not be worth listening to. As a final point, I want to put on the record of the House, as I did in the other House, my personal gratitude to politicians from all sides of the political divide who engaged actively in the "Yes" campaign. I understand the sense of triumph there may be on the other side but the reality is that our job now is to serve the Irish people and to do it well.