Order of Business. - An Bill un an gCeathrú Leasú is Fiche ar an mBunreacht, 2001: An Dara Céim (Atógáil). Twenty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 2001: Second Stage (Resumed).

Thursday, 12 April 2001

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 534 No. 5

First Page Previous Page Page of 203 Next Page Last Page

Atairgeadh an cheist: “Go léifear an Bille an Dara hUair anois.”

Mr. Hayes:  The House had an opportunity last week to discus the Treaty of Nice and the proposed referendum the Government wants to put to the people at some stage in the next few months. I and my colleagues support the treaty, encourage people inside and outside the House to vote for it, and encourage those parties supporting the treaty to support it publicly and to canvass and campaign on its behalf to ensure it is passed by the people. I have some comments to make later on the timing of the treaty.

It is important the treaty is passed in substantial numbers by the people. Anyone who has observed the development of Europe will have seen that one of the ugliest and most insular developments has been the rise of the far right. Colleagues will know of the support obtained in Austria by Mr. Jörg Haider and by other movements in Germany and France which have come about in recent years. We in western Europe need to be conscious of this and need to attack that neo-Nationalist, far right element developing in central and western Europe.

There are parallels in Ireland. The rise of the Sinn Féin Party is similar to the rise of the far right and neo-nationalism in western Europe. Those of us who witness the rise of Sinn Féin need to be aware of that. There are no fundamental differences between the rise of Sinn Féin and that of Jörg Haider. Both those political entities set out a view of nationalism more akin to the views of the previous century, which is insular and which continually objects to the inclusion of large groups of ethnic minorities. There is a simi[1152] larity between the rise of Haider and the rise of Sinn Féin in Ireland.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Hear, hear.

Mr. Hayes:  We must be very clear about that. One of the reasons the First World War occurred in the earlier part of the previous century was the rise of nationalism. There are many types of nationalism. There is an economic nationalism in Ireland. Those of us who have witnessed the growth in new wealth have also seen the rise of the view that citizens can now punch the sky because they are economically independent and do not need to depend on other parts of Europe, either for their income, trade or political security. We must be conscious of that.

I make that point because it is one of the reasons the European project is deviating from its true course. We have given space to extreme elements which have no view of their international obligations and use the debate in Ireland as a means of issuing cheap party political propaganda for themselves and their parties in advance of the next general election. It is wrong for those groups to misuse this debate, and I include the Green Party in that. Those parties, including the Green Party, who misconstrue the position have a great deal for which to answer. We know the reason we must undergo this constitutional charade to ratify the treaty. Since Ireland first joined the European Economic Community in 1973, a group of people have lied to the people and Members know who they are. They have misconstrued the debate before and will do so in advance of the referendum. Those parties, like the Green Party, who are responsible for this have a great deal to answer for when it comes to this debate.

Irish people are renowned for their generosity when it comes to the Third World and there is unanimity in the House on supporting Third World development. Why can the same arguments not be made when it comes to the Second World? Many of the countries seeking accession to the European Union in the next ten years are former Second World countries. I recently had an opportunity to visit Romania which is a long way from joining the EU and can be described as a former Second World country. Why do we have one view when it comes to the Third World and a different view when it comes to former Second World countries? It appears that this club, the European Union, is only for western Europe and not for central and eastern Europe. That is profoundly wrong and insular and fuels the type of Nationalist tensions which ultimately led to the First World War and which now threaten the course of the European Union.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Hear, hear.

Mr. Hayes:  I have a number of criticisms to make of the Government's handling of European affairs. It is profoundly wrong that this refer[1153] endum will take place on the same day as three other referenda proposed by the Government. That is a bad mistake. It will increase confusion and swell the “no” votes on the day. I know the Government is intent on including this referendum with the other three but I appeal to it to reconsider. We have a great deal of time because the treaty does not have to be ratified until December 2002. The accession countries still have to conclude their negotiations. We have until December 2002 to ratify the treaty. We have a great deal of time and we should tread carefully. We should not hold the referendum on the same day as the three other referenda.

Unlike others, I am not fearful of the result. People understand the internal logic at the heart of Europe and the concessions which must be made in terms of sovereignty and pooling resources to get the best result for Ireland. I am critical of the Government because it has asked the people for submissions on the treaty, yet it has not sent them the booklet explaining the treaty. A revised or toned down version of the White Paper, on whose clarity I compliment the Government, could be sent to every household in the country and submissions could then be invited. However, the Government has done it the other way around. It has asked for submissions first without sending people a copy of the documentation. That is profoundly wrong.

The Government, which came to office in 1997, has a different view of European affairs than the previous rainbow Government led by the former leader of my party, Deputy John Bruton. On its first day in office, the Government committed a cardinal error in terms of constitutional law by attempting to bring together key aspects of the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Defence. That error goes to the heart of the problem this Government has with Europe. For the first time since the mid-1980s we do not have a European affairs Minister and that is a mistake. Deputy Quinn made the point last week that we still do not have full embassies to the accession countries to enhance the bilateral relationship with the Czech Republic and Hungary. That is also a mistake. The Government, at the time this debate was taking place in Nice, stupidly spun the notion, which the Taoiseach used as a kind of macho, eurosceptic argument to put to the people, that he held out to the last minute to ensure taxation matters would not be part of the treaty. Of course, Mr. Blair had also taken the exact same position and it was never really a threat. That kind of spin was not helpful in the debate that was taking place. We have seen just how exposed this Government is in terms of European affairs. We saw it some weeks ago when the Minister for Finance received a reprimand from his colleagues in ECOFIN in relation to budgetary matters. The Government parties, Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats, do not have the clout of mainstream political parties like Fine Gael and the Labour Party, who are involved in the European People's Party and the Social Democratic [1154] Party, respectively, and they cannot call on the Ministers and heads of Government of other countries to get them out of trouble. Problems emanate from the fact that the Government does not have collateral built up in other EU states, as a result of its negotiating position, and that is a cause of concern.

A balance sheet of our involvement in the European Union would show that all the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Dramatic economic change has resulted from membership of the EU and that is something that we take for granted. We take for granted the fact that, since joining the European Economic Community in 1973, unbelievable growth in employment, economic capacity and opportunity has taken place. By its very definition, Europe must go forward. It began on the basis of an economic ideal and has grown to encompass a security ideal. If the European project is to be realised, there has to be movement forward and further integration. Of course, there has been a pooling of sovereignty and that has had its downside. Some powers are now outside the jurisdiction of this House in order to ensure that the European Union actually works. Those concessions are absolutely essential if we are to proceed to greater integration and freedom in Europe. We have European laws in respect of fundamental rights and many Irish women today have fundamental rights as a result of judgments of the European Court of Justice. We forget that tremendous benefit and such benefits need to be articulated and argued for in this debate.

There has been much talk about the decision that larger states will give up their second Commissioner and if there are 27 member countries by the year 2005 we will have to revisit this issue. Some say the Government has given in on a key principle of the Commission whereby, if there is a membership of 27, commissionerships will be rotated. Small countries have rightly felt that having a Commissioner enables them to wield the kind of power that is required and, ultimately, the fact that this principle has been conceded could be to the detriment of this country in the long-term. One of the disappointments of the Nice Treaty is the extension of some 50 provisions whereby qualified majority voting is now required. If one looks at what has been extended, in Article 133(5), unlike the Maastricht Treaty and the Amsterdam Treaty, the provisions are minimalist and those who negotiated the treaty have not got the goal of full European integration in mind. I hope those matters will be revisited.

As the EU will have perhaps 20 members in five years' time, the European Parliament needs to become much more coherent. It cannot become too unwieldy as a result of the increased membership. Ireland will lose three seats, going from 15 members to 12, and I understand the reasoning behind that. If we are serious about establishing greater democratic control in Europe, the European Parliament has to have much greater controls and political parties need [1155] to put forward clearer plans. It is very difficult in a union of 15 countries, for the programmes of one, two or three political parties to be enforced in the European Parliament and have effect. Until full powers are given to the European Parliament, and Deputy John Bruton has spoken about this in respect of the election of the Commission, the democratic issue cannot be addressed in member states. People need to know that if they elect representatives to the European Parliament they are making decisions which affect their lives. Those elected to the Oireachtas make decisions which affect the lives of the electorate and the issue of the European Parliament having to extend its remit and control must be revisited.

Once again, voices outside this House have told lies about the effects of provisions for a common foreign and security policy within the Nice Treaty. I fully support a European Union which not only can defend itself but can impose security in the region and within its borders. It is clear, from a reading of the White Paper, that there is a dumbing down of the Western European Union and that is something I fully understand. When the Maastricht Treaty was being put together, debated and put to the people there was a view that the Western European Union would be the main mechanism for the provision of security within the union. Since the establishment of the Rapid Reaction Force, members of the union will have to take much greater responsibility to provide security within the EU and the implications, in that context, will have to be reconsidered. There are very few changes and the most disappointing part of the treaty is the minimalist change to common foreign and security policy. It is something that future generations will have to revisit.

It is nonsense to suggest that the provisions of Article 25, which allow for the newly established political and security committee, are somehow impinging on our neutrality. When one reads the article it is clear that many of the provisions are taken directly from the UN Charter. These are provisions which help the notion of peace, security and the establishment of fundamental rights. They have already been conceded by way of the Petersberg Tasks and will be essential if we want to avoid revisiting the appalling tragedy of Yugoslavia. In effect, it was the Americans, under the aegis of Sfor troops, who led the initial task force to that area, and all European citizens should hold their heads in shame as a result of what took place in Yugoslavia.

It is not right and proper for those who are opposing this amendment to the Constitution to suggest that it will mean a diminution of our neutral position or our security; it is nothing of the kind. Those of us who are in favour of this referendum and want to see it being passed, have an obligation to demolish the arguments being put forward by those who have been wrong on every [1156] single count since referenda on European Union matters were first held.

Mr. Dennehy: Information on John Dennehy  Zoom on John Dennehy  Earlier we heard the very technical debate on Committee Stage of the Twenty-third Amendment of the Constitution Bill. We are now dealing with a more wide ranging debate on Second Stage of the Twenty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill. I am sure we will be given some latitude in discussing various aspects of the legislation. I agree with Deputy Hayes about how important it is that the people should support the Treaty of Nice by voting for this referendum. I do not think they will receive any encouragement, however, from the side swipes that are being made against the Minister for Finance and other members of the Government. Such comments will not help to focus the public mind on the forthcoming referendum.

I have no problem with people who express Nationalistic views; with our history it would be surprising if people did not have them. Such views do not have to be submerged. Irish people are enthusiastically pro European and have demonstrated that by the initial overwhelming vote in favour of European Community membership in 1973, which was subsequently confirmed by a vote in favour of the Single European Act in 1986, the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, and the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1997.

The attack on the Minister for Finance will have a detrimental effect on the public's approach to the referendum on the Treaty of Nice. We could argue over aspects of that matter forever but it will be seen by the public as interference in our domestic affairs. It is amazing that the financial advisers in nearly every member state of the EU have since ridiculed the attack that was made on the Minister for Finance. In the same way, the interference in Austria's internal affairs has made people there very cynical about the European Union. We have to be careful how we interfere in the autonomy of members states and in issues that should be dealt with by the member state concerned.

If Members of other parties in the House – who are seeking support for the Treaty of Nice – use the debate to attack Fianna Fáil or the Progressive Democrats, they will not be encouraging the public to support the treaty.

The Treaty of Nice builds on the undoubted economic, social and political success of the European Union. I wish to consider the elements of the treaty under four separate headings: the enlargement of the EU, enhanced co-operation between member states, the foreign policy and security implications of the treaty and the recognition of fundamental rights and principles of non-discrimination.

As regards the enlargement of the EU, it is worth pointing out that there are currently 15 member states, of which Ireland was the seventh to join, with over 370 million citizens. Following the collapse of the communist regimes in Eastern Europe and the liberation of those countries, it [1157] was only to be expected that they would one day seek to join the EU. As far back as 1990, the then Taoiseach, Mr. Charles Haughey, recognised this possibility when he called a special European Summit in Dublin at which the process of admitting emerging democracies in eastern Europe was begun. Twelve new member states are likely to be admitted over the next ten years, including Poland, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. These new members will provide huge additional tariff free economic opportunities from exporting nations such as ours, as well as adding to the cultural richness and diversity of the member states.

We cannot over-stress the importance or impact of the economic change that will occur because we will have far greater export markets for Irish products. Traditionally, we were totally subservient to the United Kingdom in trading matters. Initially, some people scoffed at the idea of diversifying and trading with mainland Europe but we have been able to achieve that goal. Our export markets will now be extended though EU enlargement which will bring benefits for everybody.

On the other hand, as a country whose development has been enormously enhanced by our membership of the EU, we are being provided with a chance to afford a similar opportunity to these new democracies. The fundamental decision to be made by the people when voting on this referendum is whether we want to extend to the people of those countries the same opportunities we enjoyed following our entry to the first Common Market. It is important to emphasise that that is the main decision to be made concerning the Treaty of Nice.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Hear, hear.

Mr. Dennehy: Information on John Dennehy  Zoom on John Dennehy  Opponents of the treaty can put any spin they wish on its component parts but the basic question is whether we say yes or no to the millions of people in the applicant states who are looking to us for support. I am extremely concerned about the implications should the referendum on the Treaty of Nice fail to be carried, and I am sure other speakers will spell that out also. It is important to inform the public that Ireland is the only country proceeding with a referendum on the treaty.

The process raises the relative influence Ireland can exert in the context of an enlarged EU. The Government has successfully retained our right to nominate a commissioner until the number of member states reaches 27, at which point the matter will be reviewed. Deputy Hayes seemed to belittle that battle to maintain our right to nominate a commissioner but I laud the efforts by the Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and other Cabinet members in achieving that. We should point out the fact to the public that we have maintained the right to a commissioner.

Ireland has been well served by its European [1158] Commissioners, including Deputy O'Kennedy – who is the last surviving link in the House with the original Council of Ministers in 1973 – Peter Sutherland, Ray MacSharry, Padraig Flynn and the current commissioner, Mr. David Byrne. They have been excellent ambassadors who have served us well.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  The Deputy is giving a rather one sided list. He has not mentioned anyone from the other side of the House at all.

Ms Coughlan: Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan  He mentioned Peter Sutherland.

Mr. Dennehy: Information on John Dennehy  Zoom on John Dennehy  I understood that Mr. Peter Sutherland had been nominated by Deputy Bruton. I mentioned him.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  I stand corrected.

Ms Coughlan: Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan  Maybe he wants to be on the list himself.

Mr. Dennehy: Information on John Dennehy  Zoom on John Dennehy  The Deputy may have some difficulty in picking up my Cork accent. May I mention an aside to prove a certain fact? As the only Fianna Fáil Lord Mayor of Cork to have attended Béal na mBláth, I would like to think that I have given equal recognition to everyone who has served this country.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Well done.

Mr. Dennehy: Information on John Dennehy  Zoom on John Dennehy  I would not let a doctrinal approach to party politics get in my way, so I did mention Mr. Sutherland. I am confident that the quality of our representation on the European Commission will guarantee our continued influence despite the concerns of Deputy Hayes. Concern has been expressed about the reduction in the number of our MEPs from 15 to 12 and the change in their voting strength in the Council of Ministers from three out of 87 to seven out of 237. That concern is not valid. Numerically speaking, we did not ever have the ability to decide the outcome of votes in our own right, with the obvious exception of the possibility of using the power of veto, yet we have always had our needs respected and have always been able to lobby successfully in our national interest.

In the enlarged community, there is the possibility of the decision making process being endangered by the requirement to have unanimity on all issues. It is sensible that qualified majority voting would be extended across a wide range of issues where it does not pose a threat to fundamental national interests. It was not a demonstration of macho power that led to the Taoiseach fighting this battle, as was suggested by the previous speaker. The fundamental national interest, as far as this Government is concerned, must be the preservation of our hugely successful low corporate and personal tax regime. It is the cornerstone of our economic success and has to be defended. One manifestation of the success in that regard is that we have won more than 25% [1159] of all mobile US economic investment over the past three years. That was not a demonstration of an Irish macho approach by the Taoiseach. It was a very successful campaign and a successful outcome to an important aspect of our economic approach to affairs, and we won that one.

It was unfortunate that the Commission ham-fistedly reprimanded Ireland for our budgetary policy. It would be disastrous if that exercise influenced people negatively towards this treaty as the Government has successfully retained the need for unanimity in matters of taxation. The danger now is that the poorer countries that are lined up for entry into the EU could be deprived of the opportunity we enjoyed because of that offensive effort by the Commission. There was a hidden agenda in that attack.

The interesting aspect of that reprimand is that, individually, many of the participants seem to accept that it was totally misplaced and economic commentators in the participating countries have ridiculed the exercise. Fine Gael or Labour spokespersons may not agree but that is the international approach and they will have to recognise that. Despite that hiccup in our relations – and I believe many members of the Commission regret their extraordinary reprimand given our huge budget surplus and relative economic performance – we cannot argue against the enormous benefit of our membership and we should promote the extension of the Union. Enlargement offers the same benefits to the countries coming in as well as additional trade opportunities and cultural diversities to the existing members, and I strongly support that approach.

On the enhanced co-operation between member states, as the number of member states increases there will be enhanced need for flexibility in the operation of the institutions of the Union. In this regard, it is to be welcomed that a treaty allows for groups of member states, fewer than the entire membership of the Union, to avail of the institutions of the Union to promote closer co-operation between them. It is a geographical and historical fact that groupings will have traded together, worked together and will have cultural similarities that will tend to knit them closer than many other states, so it is an important provision.

On the foreign policy and security implications of the treaty, referred to by Deputy Hayes, this is the area about which the anti-Euro members will try to confuse people. Ireland has a strong interest in maintaining a stable, inclusive security environment. It is imperative to allow the Community to develop its humanitarian and crisis management capabilities. Participation by Ireland in such tasks would be a sovereign decision by the Government and would be considered on a case by case basis. In line with our policy of military neutrality, Ireland would participate only in operations authorised by the United Nations in accordance with the appropriate legislation and subject to Dáil approval.

I agree with Deputy Hayes that we cannot be [1160] bystanders in the face of genocide or the flouting of human rights. We witnessed the annoyance and the frustration of the public when there were delays in getting involved in several such happenings in the past. That public expression forced Governments to take action in several situations. I would be concerned that we would be open and frank with the public on all issues related to security and explain fully to them what is happening.

The detail in this treaty need not pose concern for us. The new political and security committee would be established under the terms of the treaty and will be charged with safeguarding the common values, fundamental interests, independence and integrity of the EU in conformity with the principles of the UN charter; preserving peace and strengthening international security; promoting international co-operation; developing and consolidating democracy and the rule of law; and respecting human rights. What is of vital importance, however, is the provision of the Maastricht Treaty, unaltered by the Nice Treaty, that security co-operation shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain member states. That is a critical statement in the Maastricht Treaty and if Deputy Hayes or anybody else wants to alter that and go further, they should follow public debate. However, I do not want this issue to be used to turn people against giving the opportunity to millions of other people to join with us. We can be assured that our position outside of any military alliance is respected while strengthening the capability of the Community to help preserve peace.

On the recognition of fundamental rights and the principle of non-discrimination, over the years the European Union has been to the forefront in the international recognition of human rights. It is too easy to take for granted the principle of democracy, adherence to the rule of law and respect for human rights. For many people on the European continent, these benefits are a recent phenomenon and may not yet be available to them. That is why it is vitally important that every country seeking membership of the Community must sign up to these principles to ensure practical application of them.

I welcome the provision for a mechanism in the treaty for the Union to respond when there is a clear risk of a serious breach by a member state of the basic principles on which they are based. That is important and it will give us a foothold into countries in which we have not been able to get involved for political or other reasons up to now and it will give us an opportunity, along with the other EU states, to promote the concept of good human conditions, benefits and all that goes with that. The EU has been a leading force for improvement in the quality of life of people both inside and outside the Community and its continued attention to this area as outlined in the treaty is very much welcomed.

The issues raised by people will have to be dealt with as they arise. On the question of neu[1161] trality, people will try to confuse the public as they did in the past. We will have to emphasise the humanitarian aspect of this, the benefits and the opportunities we want to extend to others and the reasons we believe it would be good for people to have the opportunity given to us.

An important aspect is that if we vote against this measure, the treaty falls. That is significant. On representation, we can tell the people that only Luxembourg will have a higher number of seats per population ratio than Ireland. That is important from commercial and cultural aspects because the treaty will enhance the original hope and concept of the founders of the Union, namely, to foster peace through partnership. That is what started in Paris a long time ago and the concept is being enhanced by this extension. People who are trading and working together do not make war. That is the hope and this measure will help that.

In its approach the treaty balances the interests of applicant countries seeking to join the EU while addressing the concerns of smaller member states. I would be as concerned about the far right movements throughout Europe as the previous speaker but I do not want to compare Irish Nationalists with some of the activities of the people we have seen. I will defend my right to be a democratic Nationalist at all times.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  These people do not explode bombs which cause devastation such as that witnessed at Omagh.

Mr. Dennehy: Information on John Dennehy  Zoom on John Dennehy  I strongly support the continued evolution of the European Union as outlined in the Treaty of Nice.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Will the Deputy, please, yield?

Mr. Dennehy: Information on John Dennehy  Zoom on John Dennehy  It is nice to be heckled or interrupted by such a—

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Will the Deputy, please, yield?

Mr. Dennehy: Information on John Dennehy  Zoom on John Dennehy  I am about to conclude my remarks and do not have time to yield.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  If the Deputy wishes to yield, Deputy Bruton will be granted 30 seconds in which to make his point.

Mr. Dennehy: Information on John Dennehy  Zoom on John Dennehy  In that event, I will, certainly, yield.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Does the Deputy accept that while the Austrian Freedom Party is objectionable in many ways, it did not plant any bombs, does not kneecap people or engage in any of the activities in which, unfortunately, some Irish republicans continue to engage in this State and Northern Ireland?

Mr. Dennehy: Information on John Dennehy  Zoom on John Dennehy  I accept what the Deputy said. That is the reason it was all the more disappointing that the European Union interfered in [1162] Austrian internal affairs. I met representatives of all the parties in Austria, each of whom, invariably, expressed concern about outside interference.

With regard to the Deputy's second point, I, certainly, consider myself to be a Nationalist and know many people who would in no way condone or subscribe to some of the activities being engaged in by so-called republicans.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Fair enough. That is a good response.

Mr. Dennehy: Information on John Dennehy  Zoom on John Dennehy  I am a Nationalist and proud of it. I am in this Chamber because my party decided to engage in the democratic process many years ago. However, I take the points made by the Deputy.

I strongly support the continued evolution of the European Union as outlined in the Treaty of Nice. Ireland has benefited enormously from its membership of the Union and we can now help to extend those benefits to the new democracies of eastern Europe. There is no doubt that there will be additional trade opportunities as well as increased cultural diversity. Concerns about Ireland's loss of influence are misplaced. Ireland has demonstrated that its relative size is no obstacle to taking its place on the world stage, as demonstrated by its membership of the United Nations Security Council. I look forward to a strong endorsement of the treaty in the forthcoming referendum.

Like other Members, I am concerned that a number of referenda will take place on the same day. I never underestimate, however, the intelligence of members of the electorate. I am proud to endorse the Bill and recommend it to the House.

Mr. O'Shea: Information on Brian O'Shea  Zoom on Brian O'Shea  Like my party leader, I state categorically that the Labour Party supports the Treaty of Nice. There are, however, elements to it – not least the fact that the principle of one Commissioner per country is not enshrined in its provisions – with which we would have a difficulty.

Let me refer to the exchange between Deputies Dennehy and Bruton in relation to Jörg Haider. In 1992 I visited Salzburg when the presidential election campaign, in which Jörg Haider was supporting one of the candidates – though not one from his party – was taking place. I attended a rally on a Friday evening in a square in Salzburg in the company of someone who could translate for me and was struck by the atmosphere. I found Mr. Haider's delivery electric. What he said appeared to affect the entire audience, which was frightening. The translator told me that part of Mr. Haider's speech essentially dealt with immigration and the influx from eastern Europe. Mr. Haider inquired if socialists would take the people concerned into their homes.

My experience in Austria prompted me to consider a number of issues. At the time in question neo-Nazism had reared its head in France and [1163] Bavaria. When I was younger I became fascinated with the Second World War, fascism in particular. I was interested in fascism in the sense that I found it difficult to comprehend how a regime as awful as that which came to power in Nazi Germany could have developed. It was difficult to understand how that regime could oversee the Holocaust, in which over six million people were exterminated because they belonged to a particular ethnic group. It was also difficult to understand how the intelligentsia, the judiciary and virtually every pillar of Germany society colluded with Nazism, which was frightening. In my innocence I came to believe that we would never again witness such events in Europe. That proved not to be the case, however, because the worst excesses of the terrible Nazi regime were recalled in the past decade in the Former Yugoslavia where we witnessed ethnic cleansing, concentration camps and any number of horrific brutalities.

In the late 1930s people from my constituency went to fight on both sides in the Spanish Civil War. Obviously, my sympathies would have been with those of the left who joined the International Brigade in order to fight fascism. The people concerned were before their time in that they foresaw where the conflict in Spain was leading. The horrific bombing of Guernica gave those alive at the time a preview of the sort of war that was going to occur in Europe.

With the exception of those Irish people who travelled to Spain in 1936 and who joined the British Army to fight in both World Wars, Ireland was not directly involved in the major conflicts that shook Europe. When I was young I recall people having ration books because many food products, etc., were in short supply. Ireland was not exposed, however, to the terrible events which took place on the Continent or in Britain where, for example, people in the larger cities were obliged to live through the Blitz. The EEC came into being because of the huge shortage of food in the aftermath of both world wars, but particularly the Second World War. The Common Agricultural Policy, which has been good for Ireland, developed as the EEC developed.

There is one reason above all others that I support the Treaty of Nice. We face a situation where, in time, the membership of the European Union will increase from 15 to 27. The most spectacular success of the European Union has been that no major war involving the traditional protagonists – the United Kingdom, France and Germany – has occurred on the Continent for over 50 years. The European Union, as an entity, has worked in that peace has reigned on a continent where two world wars occurred during the earlier part of the last century. If we can contribute in any way to furthering the cause of peace in Europe and putting behind us forever the possibility of military confrontation, we should do so. It will be possible to do so within the context of EU enlargement.

[1164] The most fundamental and important reason for supporting the Treaty of Nice is that enlargement will foster peace and stability and reduce human suffering. It is staggering to think that when Europe increases from 15 to 27 members states its population will reach 500 million. There are problems with the economies of the aspiring member states. I am critical of some Ministers who want to promote the idea of the begging bowl and the fact that all that matters is what we get from Europe.

When my party leader spoke on the Treaty of Nice he referred to an Irish forum on the future of Europe. I recall speaking at a forum in Waterford at the time we were discussing the Maastricht Treaty, which was a large tome. I said there had not been an effective and all-inclusive debate on the issue. There has been little change since then. Deputy Quinn modelled his proposal for an Irish forum on the future of Europe on the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, which made us examine our views and helped to mould public opinion so it was possible to make substantial changes to our Constitution in the context of the Good Friday Agreement. This forum would be for our citizens and for anyone who has something substantial to offer on how to develop our attitudes towards Europe. Our attitudes are not as mature as they could be. Although membership of the EU has meant we have become a more open and outward looking society, we still have a long way to go. We must ask ourselves if we want to follow the model of Boston or that of Berlin. Do we want the same type of economy as the US, which is market driven and where there is not the same emphasis on social inclusion and caring as in Europe? We are part of the European model.

We do not have sufficient debate on politics or political issues. I know the profession of politics has become discredited in this country and there is an onus on all of us to change that. There is a difficulty in that more young people are disengaging from the democratic system. We must develop our vision of how Ireland should interface with the EU and how we should become more involved. It is important to look at our role as contributors. We should grow the linkages we have with the aspiring member states and cultivate new ones where they do not already exist because we have a great deal to offer. It could be said we were late joining the EEC. There were six member states when we joined on 1 January 1973 with Great Britain and Denmark. Membership of the EU has been good for this country in terms of the development of our infrastructure and of a sound economy, despite some current difficulties. We can consult, advise and have discussions with the aspiring member states about their participation and the economic developments which are possible within the EU.

One issue we already face, which I referred to when I mentioned Jörg Haider, is that people from different nations and with different cultures are coming to live in our country. We are [1165] developing a multi-cultural society. We must maximise the positive effects of that and look on this growth in cultural diversity as an opportunity. We should not look at it in a negative way. There will be new languages in the EU and this may make communication difficult. We must deal with these issues in our own jurisdiction.

If we establish the forum, it must be open and frank. While it may be distasteful for some people to use it, they should feel free to make their views known to the forum. If we broaden the debate on Europe, we will become better Europeans and we will see Europe in a broader context. The fact we were not directly involved in the world wars in the last century meant we missed out on an experience which would have shown us the devastating effects of war.

I understand the date for the referendum is 7 June and that ratification will take place in December 2002. The intergovernmental conference will be held in 2004, which may coincide with the Irish Presidency. We must have an inclusive nation-wide debate so we have a broader understanding of Europe and our role in Europe. If we do that, we will understand ourselves better and we will be able to make a greater contribution to Europe and to the difficulties which may arise.

Adolf Hitler is rightly blamed for the extermination of six million people just because they were Jews. However, behind the Iron Curtain, under Josef Stalin an estimated 30 million people were exterminated in Russia. This is a frightening statistic. The same was not true in the other nations of the old USSR. When Mikhail Gorbachev arrived, the Iron Curtain fell and we saw an end to cold war politics. There is another aspect to that that does not get sufficient focus. The Cold War was not effective in bringing about peace in Europe. It was the old Coal and Steel Union and then the EEC and the EU that achieved peace.

The Labour Party will be supporting the Treaty of Nice. The Labour Party has been pro Europe for many years although I must confess that, in 1972, I spent six weeks knocking on the doors in Waterford advising people that they should not vote for entry.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  I did not want to remind the Deputy of that.

Mr. O'Shea: Information on Brian O'Shea  Zoom on Brian O'Shea  It is always better to say it up front. One of the major concerns I had was that I thought that the old traditional industries would not survive in the European market. To a large extent, that did happen. However, other industrial development took place and the wider market gave us greater opportunity. We need to look at our competitiveness but the 500 million people market presents a great opportunity for Ireland. I enthusiastically support the treaty in spite of the fact that there are some strong reservations. These can be addressed in an ongoing process, [1166] ideally through the Irish Forum on the Future Europe as proposed by my party leader.

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Cullen): Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  I am pleased to have the opportunity of contributing to this important debate. The purpose of the Nice Treaty is to make the changes necessary to prepare the European Union for enlargement. Ireland is a committed member of the EU and a keen advocate of the enlargement process. It is important, therefore, that Ireland ratify the Nice Treaty.

In response to Deputy O'Shea, there is no lack of opportunity for debate in the public arena. The European Institute has done a great job throughout the country. I have seen some very good forums with excellent speakers. The tragedy is the small number of people who bother to turn up.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Look at the numbers in the Chamber today.

Mr. Cullen: Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  The Deputy knows the reason for that as well as I do.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  We could always call for a quorum.

Mr. Cullen: Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  He could do that. The Deputy knows that I am a committed “Europeanist”, if I may put it that way. I have always responded to debates on the European Union and have travelled around the country to do so. I believe that Ireland has played a very important role in shaping Europe.

Some members of the public are asking why we need to hold yet another referendum. In ratifying the Nice Treaty, the Attorney General has advised that a referendum is necessary in order that legal certainty will prevail in certain matters of importance, relating to foreign policy and voting rights within the EU, which are set out in the Treaty. It is, therefore, important that we should turn out in large numbers to vote in the referendum.

This referendum is an opportunity for people to show their support for the European Union and for Ireland's attachment to Europe, which has been, and is, very good for Ireland. As we are the only country that will have a referendum on the Nice Treaty, we alone in Europe have the opportunity to give it popular democratic endorsement. The Nice Treaty is the gateway to enlargement of the European Union. This is an opportunity for Irish people to show their support for enlargement and for freedom and democracy throughout Europe. I have no doubt that the people will vote in favour of the treaty and thereby support the next stage in the Union's development. This Union is our Union and we all must take our share of the responsibility for its further development.

The Treaty of Nice is the result of an intergovernmental conference, which began early last year and which concluded with the nego[1167] tiations at the Nice European Council last December. The Intergovernmental Conference was set the task of dealing with what were termed “the Amsterdam leftovers”. These leftovers were the major institutional reforms within the Union needed to cope with an enlarged Union which had not been resolved as part of the Treaty of Amsterdam. The institutional changes were successfully agreed at Nice.

As I have already mentioned, the Nice Treaty is effectively a gateway to the enlargement of the Union. It does this by making the institutional changes necessary to prepare the Union for enlargement. It guarantees that a Union of 27 members will be in a position to operate effectively while, at the same time, making sure that the essential safeguards for smaller countries remain in place.

Ireland fully supports the enlargement process. Our perspective on enlargement is very much informed by our positive experiences of EU membership. We can understand, possibly more than most because of our own history and development, the hopes that the applicant states invest in their accession to the EU. We welcome the diversity and strength which enlargement will bring to the EU as a whole, and to all its individual member states.

I am sure the House is aware of the volume of people coming in from the emerging countries in eastern and central Europe to Ireland. There have been numerous industrial, business and parliamentary delegations to both the Department of Finance and to parliamentary committees. We need to tell them that they cannot simply take the Irish model and suddenly place it in one of their countries. Their circumstances, requirements and stage of social and political development are very different to ours. There are core principles in what Ireland has done that will be very valuable.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Would the Minister not agree that it actually took Ireland 50 years to become an overnight success?

Mr. Cullen: Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  There is much truth in that. When talking of our involvement in the European Union, we tend to look at the last few years. We forget that we have been there since 1973, which is almost 30 years. It has been a long process. The positive effect of many years of being almost in isolation built up a credibility and contact base, particularly in the United States, which eventually came to fruition.

We have much to contribute from our Civil Service structure. Our civil servants played an enormous role in developing our prosperity. While Europe developed general programmes, we had the imagination to unlock them and put them into a very specific context. It is fundamental that the good governance of a civil service structure in the emerging central European countries must be in place if they are to deliver the sort of success Ireland has achieved. I have tried [1168] to emphasise that point whether speaking here or internationally. I believe in that very firmly. We are being encouraged in our support for the Nice Treaty by countries who are currently applying for membership of the EU. Ireland sees the applicant countries for the current enlargement of the EU as having the same motivation and desires for freedom, security and prosperity which led to our own application for membership of the EU. The aspiration to be part of a stronger and more prosperous Europe is held not just by those applicant countries but also by Ireland. A vote in favour of the Nice Treaty is a vote of solidarity for the countries in eastern and central Europe for whom membership of the EU is a guarantee of freedom and democracy.

Ireland has made, and continues to make, deliberate efforts to promote stronger relationships with the applicant countries. My Department currently has two officials working as pre-accession advisers under the EU-sponsored twinning programmes in Estonia and Slovenia. Through these and other bilateral contacts we are sharing our expertise and past experience in the area of structural funds and membership of the EU in general with the accession countries.

In promoting the growth and development of the Union we are also promoting our own national interest. The Union has been good for Ireland. On all previous occasions we have endorsed the various stages in the development of the Union through the referendum process. Ireland is well placed to take advantage of the benefits offered by an enlarged Union. Enlargement will provide opportunities for Ireland to deepen our relations both political and economic with the candidate countries, many of which are of a similar size to ourselves.

Later, I will come back to some of the very tangible economic and financial benefits we have drawn from the Union. I also remind the House of some of the benefits we might be more inclined at times to take for granted. Free access to the single market of the Union is probably the greatest economic benefit we draw from the Union. As a small and very open trading economy it is vital that we preserve and strengthen this access. The expansion of the single market by more than one hundred million new consumers will create many new customers for our goods and services. Our exporters will have access to a single market with more than 500 million people. Our ability to export into the single market is a prime attraction for the many foreign firms that have established their operations in Ireland and our attractiveness as a location for foreign direct investment can only be enhanced by the increase in the single market which will result from enlargement. We made a very quick mental jump in realising that we had a market of 375 million people to exploit instead of a 3.5 million people market. We have done that very successfully.

The already impressive level of Irish investment in the candidate countries by some of our biggest companies will also be facilitated further [1169] in what are now rapidly expanding economies. As Minister of State in the Department of Finance I naturally welcome these developments but besides expanding the market we are also deepening the market to further facilitate trade within the market area. Perhaps the most visible sign of this will be the introduction in Ireland and across 11 of the other member states of the euro currency notes and coins from the beginning of next year.

Membership of the euro has brought other benefits too. The convergence criteria carefully laid down at Maastricht ensured that all participating states kept deficits, inflation and interest rates tightly controlled, measures which facilitated the healthy development of our public finances, while providing a stable environment for business. I will refer later to Structural Funds in general. At this point it is timely that we remind ourselves of the significant financial contribution the European Union has made to the peace process on this island. First, by contributing to the International Fund for Ireland after the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1986 and, second, following the ceasefires in 1994, by its support for the Border region and Northern Ireland through the Programme for Peace and Reconciliation. Many Deputies will know the work that has been supported in the Border counties by both of these programmes. The Programme for Peace and Reconciliation was the response of our European neighbours at a very critical time. Deputies will rightly recall the enthusiasm that greeted the paramilitary ceasefires in August 1994.

The programme aims to reinforce progress towards a peaceful and stable society and to advance reconciliation. It does this through locally based actions, promoting urban and rural regeneration, developing cross-Border co-operation, extending social inclusion and promoting and stimulating economic activity and employment. Deputies will recall the pace with which the European Commission moved to underpin the emerging process that has given us nearly seven years of peace on this island. Within months of the ceasefires, the Commission created a task force to look into the ways the European Union could help and make a practical expression of solidarity to the process of peace building on this island. The Commission concluded at that time, and again in recent times, that the European Union had a clear interest and a vital role to play in maintaining the momentum for peace and reconciliation, not only for the region most affected, but also for the European Union as a whole. This is very important not just on this island but in other areas of Europe which are being challenged in our aspiration to become part of the European Union by how we deal with such matters. Deputies from Border constituencies can testify in a fuller manner than I, as to the impact of the peace programme.

This new round of EU support for the peace process will continue the work begun in com[1170] munities in towns and villages all along the Border, and on both sides of it. It will continue its work of encouraging reconciliation, building a meaningful peace and generating confidence, both social and economic. It will continue to invest in the people of the Border region. Investing in education, in youth services and in enabling communities reach out to communities with similar problems and issues in Northern Ireland. It will help sustain the cross-Border contacts so carefully nurtured under the first programme. One significant feature of the peace programme is the “people dimension” which has provided the means for people, organisations and whole communities to explore relationships with their counterparts across the Border. Something hard to imagine a few years ago is now commonplace. I cannot speak with authority about the impact of the programme in Northern Ireland. However, my strong impression is that the programme has had similar significant impacts in the North.

This new programme of support makes up nearly one third of the North's Structural Funds plan – making a enormous contribution to the rebuilding of the Northern Ireland economy. The House might like to know that by the end of this year the first EU Programme for Peace and Reconciliation will have invested some £106 million in the economy of the Border region. The Northern Ireland economy will have received support of more than £450 million from the same programme. Some £80 million will have been spent in the six years ending the end of 2001 on supported cross-Border co-operative initiatives. Deputies will know of the variety of cross-Border activities that are being funded. However, it is important that we are reminded that peace building and reconciliation takes place at several different levels and not always with a diplomatic flourish.

Similar levels of funding have been committed by the EU to the second programme which will run until the end of 2004. Both the Border region and Northern Ireland benefit from the EU's Community Initiatives Programmes. In particular, the Ireland-Northern Ireland INTERREG programmes have contributed to generating high quality cross-Border interactivity at public and private sector level. This has secured more strategic approaches on both sides of the Border to common areas of interest, has helped to create and secure employment, and improved the Border area's competitiveness. Also under the EU's community initiatives programmes a new Ireland-Northern Ireland INTERREG programme is expected to begin operations later this year. In all, it will contribute more than 170 million euro to the Border regions, North and South, by the end of 2006.

I will now outline some of the outcomes of the Nice Summit resulting in the treaty which the Irish people will be asked to ratify in the near future. One of Ireland's key priorities in the negotiations leading up to the Nice Treaty was [1171] that we would maintain the right to decide our own policy in the area of taxation. This objective was successfully achieved. All decisions in this area will continue to be made by unanimous voting procedures and not qualified majority. There must be competition within the EU member states. To try to harmonise everything throughout Europe would be detrimental to the wellbeing of Europe and its development.

Concern has been expressed that Ireland will be forced to relinquish its right to nominate an EU commissioner. When the next EU Commission is established, each member state will have one commissioner, until such time as EU membership reaches a total of 27 member states. A key point within this is that the five big members states Germany, France, UK, Italy and Spain have given up their right to nominate a second commissioner. When the Union reaches 27 – and this may not happen for another ten years – there will be a rotation system. At that time a decision will be taken to limit the size of the Commission somewhere below the level of EU membership. However, any decision on this issue will have to be unanimous and will be based on strict equality between all member states. Furthermore, such a limit will be accompanied by arrangements for strict equal rotation among member states of their right to nominate a commissioner so that, for example, the number of times Ireland is represented on the Commission will equal the number of times that, say, France or Germany is represented. This important guarantee is one on which Ireland insisted at the Nice Summit.

As part of the deal for giving up their second commissioner, the larger states have had their voting weight increased. Ireland's voting weight is only marginally affected, and remains the same as that of Finland and Denmark. In addition, an important safeguard agreed at Nice is that decisions must have the support of a majority of member states. This is a valuable protection for smaller states.

The outcome on the European Parliament was also satisfactory. With 12 seats, we will continue to have a better ratio of seats to population than any existing member state except Luxembourg. Another gain was that the right of each member state to nominate a judge to the Court of Justice has been confirmed in the treaty for the first time. As regards the Common Foreign and Security Policy, the Treaty of Nice includes some limited necessary updating of provisions for putting into effect the decisions on humanitarian and crisis management tasks agreed in Amsterdam. There is no departure from the firm commitment, in line with the Government's policy of neutrality, that Ireland would participate only in operations authorised by the United Nations, in accordance with the appropriate legislation and subject to Dáil approval. The focus is clearly on peacekeeping and crisis management tasks, participation in [1172] which will be a voluntary and sovereign decision in every case.

Enhanced co-operation will not relate to matters having military or defence implications. Such matters will continue to be decided by unanimity. Enhanced co-operation could apply in the CFSP, but only in relation to the implementation of measures agreed in CFSP. The proposed EU rapid reaction force will not be a standing army as others would have us believe. This fact has been recognised in the conclusions of successive European Councils. The EU is not seeking to assume the role of NATO. The Rapid Reaction Force will ensure the availability of a pool of capabilities to provide the means of carrying out the Petersberg Tasks.

Participation by member states in any humanitarian or crisis management tasks which may be undertaken by the EU will remain the sovereign decision of their Governments. Thus, an objective assessment of the relatively limited changes proposed by the Treaty of Nice must be that Ireland has nothing to fear and much to gain from equipping the Union to face the challenges ahead.

Ireland's experience of the European Union has been an extremely positive one. I agree with Deputy O'Shea that our involvement in Europe was not based on a begging bowl mentality. That was an appalling approach and should not have been put across as it was. Ireland has made a major contribution to the development of the European Union people. If the idea of raising all boats and transferring wealth from the centre of the Union to the periphery was to be achieved, Ireland had the right to pursue that to the fullest degree, as we did. Ireland proved that the model set up in Europe could deliver to the peripheral areas. It was legitimate to seek the transfer of funds to achieve that. This was a catalyst within our economy.

Equally, I do not agree with the premise that finances from Europe are responsible for where we are today. They are not. The finances were an important feature of the development of fiscal and budgetary policy through successive Governments. Collectively, successive Governments have used those resources widely but this was necessary so that Europe could become a balanced community where the standard of living was equalised for all its peoples. To me that is a fundamental principle of what the EU is about. Those who aspire to enlargement do so on the basis of that equality and of raising standards as well as the underlying principles of freedom and democracy.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  It is vital that Dáil Éireann and the people ratify the Treaty of Nice in the referendum that will be held on 6 June. Ireland is the only EU country to have a referendum on that treaty. This is because in 1972 the Dáil decided that any new treaties agreed by Ireland in an EU context would only be protected against constitutional challenge by the original decision of the people in the referendum if they were “necessi[1173] tated” by EU membership. Originally, the then Taoiseach, Mr. Jack Lynch, wanted the constitutional protection against challenge to extend to treaties that were “consequent on” EU membership but the term “necessitated” was added with his agreement. This means that, uniquely, the Irish people have the power to stop the entire EU train at any station on its future route.

This inordinate, exceptional, and arguably anomalous power is one that the people must exercise with great responsibility. I was critical of the Treaty of Nice in the House last December but I recommend that it be accepted because Ireland's wider responsibility is to the peaceful development of Europe. We must respect the needs of other European peoples less fortunate than we are, less fortunate than we have been for a long time.

In the Dáil last December I criticised the fact that once EU membership exceeds 27 states, some countries will cease to have a Commissioner. This may seem a good distance away but when one takes into account the fact that there are over 40 European countries, it is a position that will definitely be reached. After that point there will come a five year term in which Ireland will have no Commissioner. That will be serious in terms of political legitimacy and acceptability in Ireland of Commission proposals and decisions, but it could be argued that Ireland, as a small country, could not go it alone anyway and will accept Commission decisions even though there is no Irish person on the Commission.

I do not believe the same argument applies to Germany, and that is the big flaw in the treaty. Under the Treaty of Nice, the time will come when the 90 million Germans, potentially 20% of the EU population, will be governed by a Commission of 27 people among which there will not be one German. That is not politically viable and the one Commissioner per member state rule will have to be restored and the treaty reversed. It is particularly a problem for Germany, not just for small countries. Germany is too big not to have a Commissioner. The same is true of France to a lesser degree.

I do not accept that a 40-member Commission is unworkable. Once the excellent reforms in the Treaty of Nice, to enhance the role of Commission President and give substantial power to reallocate portfolios and organise the internal work of the Commission, are put into effect, it does not matter what is the number of Commissioners. The work can be organised by the strengthened Presidency. The British Government has more than 40 Ministers and the Commission should work equally well with large numbers. Those who have been promoting difficulties have little political or administrative imagination. I do not believe the argument in favour of retaining a Commissioner per nation state is one that is only of relevance to small states.

Notwithstanding these reservations, let me explain why I believe it is vital that the people [1174] ratify the treaty on 7 June. It is vital because, without ratification, there can be no enlargement of the European Union to include Cyprus, Malta, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria and Romania. Many of those are countries, like Ireland, which came into existence as parliamentary democracies in the wake of the First World War. However, due to economic pressures, political isolation, nationalistic xenophobia and war, they ceased to be democracies in the 1930s. Communism took over in 1945 and kept most of these countries in its thrall for 45 long miserable years. The prospect of EU membership, which will reduce economic pressures, end political isolation, counter nationalistic xenophobia and prevent war, is vital to underpin and guarantee the continuance of parliamentary democracy in these countries. That is what will be at stake when the people vote on 7 June. They will decide on that date whether such privileges will be extended to those about whom some of us know comparatively little. Who are we to say “no” to them as far as EU membership is concerned? If we say “no” to the Treaty of Nice, we are effectively saying that the Latvians, the Estonians, the Hungarians and the Poles are not entitled to enjoy the privileges we have enjoyed for so long.

As a nation fortunate enough to enjoy continuous parliamentary democracy since acquiring statehood in 1921, Ireland has a responsibility to allow the European Union to accept these countries into EU membership by ratifying the Treaty of Nice. It is true that Ireland's individual weight in EU decisions will be reduced as a result of enlargement. If the membership of any club is increased, the individual power of existing members is proportionately reduced. That is the nature of democracy and it applies in a Gaelic football club or any other organisation. All existing EU members, including the big states, will also see their individual power proportionately reduced. The changes in the Treaty of Nice in the voting weights in the European Council and Parliament are an inevitable and necessary consequence of enlarged membership.

There will be those who will oppose ratification of the Treaty of Nice. Opposing referenda gives some groups an opportunity to receive notice they would not receive and, perhaps, would not deserve in any other context. To those who will oppose the treaty I put this challenge, do you believe that the European Union should remain a smug western European rich nations' club, keeping the Poles, the Hungarians and people in the Baltic countries outside its doors? Do you remember or have you ever been told of the sufferings of the Polish people who, proportionately, lost more of their population in the Second World War than any other nation? Do you remember or have you ever been told of the sympathetic outpourings of the Irish people when Hungarian refugees arrived here in 1956 after the suppression of the rising against communism? Do you remember or have you ever been told of the [1175] way in which three countries, which gained their independence in the same year as Ireland – Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia – were wiped off the map in a cynical deal made in August 1939 between Hitler and Stalin, von Ribbentrop and Molotov? Do you believe that these people should be kept waiting at the door when there is room for them in the European Union?

Some, those proclaiming their Christianity and Catholicism, will oppose the Treaty of Nice. To them I say: have you never heard of Cardinal Mindszenty of Hungary or Cardinal Wyszynski of Poland who fought for their countries' freedom? These same countries now have a chance to underpin their liberties and protect their human rights, including the right of religious practice, by joining the European Union. Is Ireland to tell them there is no room for them at the inn?

The Treaty of Nice is not the last word on EU institutional reform. I hope one of the Nice reforms – the ultimate ending of one Commissioner per state – will be reversed before it takes effect. There is still time to do so. It was agreed at Nice that the following further four issues would be examined: the delimitation of the respective powers of the Union and the states; the incorporation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the treaty; the simplification of the treaty and the enhancement of the role of national parliaments. There is one very important and glaring omission from this agenda, but before I come to it, I will refer briefly to the above items.

The attempt to delimit the respective powers of the Union and the member states will prove to be an impossible and time-wasting exercise. The reality is that there is shared responsibility between the Union and member states in virtually every area of governmental activity. Hardly any area of governmental activity is the exclusive preserve of a member state or the Union. This list will either be as long as a telephone directory or contain meaningless and valueless abstractions. A new delimitation of respective powers will introduce artificial difficulties in the smooth functioning of the Union and member states alike and create an expensive playground for lawyers. Lawyers will be able to go to the Irish courts to object to something the Union is doing and the European courts to object to something Ireland is doing. Delimitation will set back the process of European integration. There are far better ways of reassuring citizens that the Union will act in their interests and with their consent than could ever be provided for in this artificial list of respective functions, a list which it will prove impossible to formulate in any intellectual or workable manner.

I also envisage dangers in incorporating the new Charter of Fundamental Rights in the treaty. If this happens, it will create a direct conflict of jurisdiction in regard to fundamental rights between our Supreme Court and the European Court. There is no reasonable ground on which to fear, as some claim, that the European Union [1176] could force Ireland to introduce abortion in certain circumstances, for example. However, if the new Charter of Fundamental Rights is incorporated in the treaty, this could make room for two different interpretations of fundamental rights to be created, one in the Supreme Court through the invocation of the Constitution and another in the European Court through the invocation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights included in the treaty. That could undermine fundamental rights as defined in the Constitution. That would be a backwards step for Ireland and Europe as a whole. Most other European countries have not developed their fundamental constitutional rights to the same level as Ireland. The best course of action for them to adopt is to create stronger fundamental rights provisions in their own constitutions. We should not take the shortcut of trying to do this for them by means of the EU treaties. To the extent that fundamental rights issues are to be dealt with at all at EU level, they should be dealt with by political means, not through the EU courts.

Let me turn to the major omission from the agenda for further work outlined at Nice. That omission is the question of how to enhance the political legitimacy of the European Union among the general population of all member states. There is a crisis of legitimacy among the electorate in most countries in terms of EU actions. The omission of this issue from the explicit agenda for the next Intergovernmental Conference is an indication that the statesmen and women who gathered in Nice were out of touch. This omission will become more important, the more the Union is enlarged. While people vote directly for their MEPs and indirectly for the members of the Council of Ministers, there is no real emotional sense of participation among the general population of the European Union in EU decisions. The people of Ireland and other EU countries do not feel that the decisions of the EU are decisions in which they have had a part. This lack of a sense of participation in EU decisions is a potentially fatal flaw in the whole project. This is not a flaw that can be cured just by giving more powers to national Parliaments.

Members of national Parliaments are seen as much a part of the insider EU elite, with trips to Europe and so on, as MEPs, Commissioners and Ministers. We must change the Constitution of the European Union to create a direct emotional and legitimate link between each European citizen and the key decision-making institutions of the Union. That can be done if we allow the people of Europe, when they vote at European Parliament elections, to vote, directly or indirectly, for the person who, following the election, will be the incoming President of the European Commission. There is a number of ways in which this can be done. As Taoiseach, I commissioned academic research on this topic, which was published. This is a proposal I will promote at every opportunity because I believe that, until [1177] that happens, until people have an opportunity in each member state to vote for the President of Europe, they will not have a sense that Europe belongs to them, that there is a personal link between them and the European Union, that Europe for them is a person.

It is a truism of politics that, at the end of the day, people vote for people, not for ideas. As far as the European Union is concerned, we are simply being asked to vote for ideas, not people. We all know that voting for an MEP does not create any real link between what happens in the European Union and our vote because the individual MEP in one's constituency does not have that much of an impact on what happens. If, on the other hand, every European could vote to choose either the leader of the socialist group, the leader of the European People's Party and the leader of the liberal group to be the President of the Commission, while the same debate was taking place in the coffee houses of Greece and the public houses of Donegal about whether Mr. X, Miss Y or Mrs. so and so would be the better President of the European Commission, that discussion of the same choice throughout the whole Union would cement a sense of commonality and citizenship between all the people, no matter where they live in Europe. The essential requirement is that Europeans, whether they live in Palermo or Pettigo, vote on the same day on the same choice, between two or three people who represent alternative visions of Europe.

Just as the presidential elections have bound all United States citizens together in a joint act every four years of US citizenship, thereby keeping that great union together, I believe that a similar joint act of European Union citizenship is now needed if the Union is to have the emotional cement to hold it together in face of the many stresses and strains it is bound to face in the years ahead.

Mr. Callely: Information on Ivor Callely  Zoom on Ivor Callely  I listened with interest to Deputy's Bruton contribution. I want to put on record my appreciation, and that of many Members of this House, of the work and input of the Deputy into European matters in the various offices he held. I pay tribute in particular to his work and negotiations on the Amsterdam treaty. I acknowledge the work of Deputy Bruton, his Government and another colleague and friend who played a fundamental role in this regard, Deputy Gay Mitchell. Congratulations to one and all.

Mr. Treacy: Information on Noel Treacy  Zoom on Noel Treacy  Hear, hear.

Mr. Callely: Information on Ivor Callely  Zoom on Ivor Callely  I am pleased to contribute positively to the Twenty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 2001. I understand that the purpose of the Bill is to obtain the approval of the public to make constitutional changes necessary to enable the State to ratify the Nice treaty. This ratification gives us an opportunity to review the wider European issues, develop our approach on European-related matters in the coming years [1178] and recall why the Irish have been so pro-European to date.

We initially joined the European Community on the basis that we were prepared to incur losses and disadvantages in a number of areas in the knowledge and assurance that benefits from other areas would far outweigh any losses that might occur. Since our membership of the European Union, there has been a steady and consistent accruing of benefits to this country. I congratulate all those involved in the developments to date, not just Deputy Bruton, as Taoiseach, but successive holders of office and Governments which carried out negotiations on European affairs. I include in this some key players in the Civil Service who have been fundamental to developments behind the scenes. I congratulate all involved on the very positive developments in the interests of the public.

In light of all that has been said, I wish to put on record the Irish treaty of accession which included a special protocol for Ireland. I understand the special protocol referred to the desire to settle certain special problems of concern to Ireland at that time. One of the fundamental objectives of the then European Community and the Economic Council included the steady improvement of the living standards and working conditions of the people of member states, the harmonious development of their economies by reducing the differences existing between the various regions and the backwardness of the then less favoured regions, the support of the then Government's policy of industrialisation and economic development designed to align the standards of living in Ireland with those of other European nations and to eliminate unemployment and progressively address regional differences in levels of development. I believe we have achieved most of what we set out to achieve in the special protocol and, indeed, surpassed it.

If one takes a good look at Ireland's progressive development, its levelling of the huge variances that existed between Ireland and the then leading member states, one could easily put forward a strong argument that we have passed out some of the then leading member states. It is important to pay tribute to everyone involved in our tremendous record since joining the European Community in the early 1970s.

Ireland is indeed a model for the countries now queuing up to join the European Union. Membership of Europe has been invaluable to Ireland in promoting economic growth, employment, regional development and social inclusion. Some contributors to this debate to date have expressed concerns and outlined their political judgment on what they understand the Treaty of Nice to mean. It has been stated that the Treaty of Nice is fundamentally about giving more power to the bigger EU states, dividing member states into first and second class and not about enlargement, that proposed new majority voting structures will be detrimental to Ireland and it will mean EU militarisation, loss of our neutrality and committing [1179] ourselves to going to war. On that basis, people are being requested to vote “no” to this treaty and that Nice is bad for Ireland and Europe.

I do not agree with those political judgments. They are not true and are unfounded. If we take time to reflect on the treaties to date since the Treaty of Paris in 1951 and the development of the EU, a fair and balanced judgment call would be that progressive and successful steps have been made to a better, wealthier and healthier Europe – progressive and successful because, thank God, we have closed the history book in which European countries were at war with one another and where millions of Europeans lost their lives in wars and conflicts. The seeds of lasting peace and stability have been sown along with economic co-operation. This has given us all the opportunity to enjoy unprecedented prosperity and material wealth across western Europe. The Nice Treaty is a further step to pave the way for a bigger, more challenging and better Europe. I envisage nearly the whole continent of Europe and further afield will be the catchment of the enlarged European Union. We owe it to ourselves, to this generation and to future generations to ensure the European Union is strong, vibrant and challenging and can compete equally in the global markets, in particular with the United States and the Asian countries.

This enlarged European Union should be even more stable and produce even greater opportunities and prosperity. The enlarged market will mean even bigger challenges. The Irish can be rightly proud of the role they have played to date in encouraging and bringing about some of the developments in the European Union. The Nice Treaty is central to the development of Europe. There is a strong need for active participation in all matters European. It is not sufficient to allow indifferent responses to issues so fundamental to our social and economic growth. Changing economic times call for a constant awareness of new markets. As chairman of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise and Small Business I am acutely aware that Ireland's continued economic growth requires us all to avail and be aware of expanding markets and business opportunities afforded to us in this expanded Europe. The eastern bloc is experiencing a period of unprecedented economic expansion. Ireland has much to contribute to experiences in these countries and much to gain in participation in increasing vibrant markets.

As a country which benefited hugely from entry into Europe, there is a moral obligation on Ireland to assist other countries now wishing to make the transition from traditional to modern societies. The rising tide will assist all boats if the stronger forces remain aware of their duties to the weaker forces within.

We are an increasingly multi-cultural, multi-racial society. Our borders are no longer determined only by our nationality. We must embrace expansion as an outward looking nation and we [1180] must do so in the context of a nation which is confident in its own right and rooted deeply enough in its own tradition to be able to embrace others. Our self-belief is the sign of a country that has reached maturity and is, therefore, happy to take its place in the larger body of nations. Those who feel threatened by change should not underestimate the importance of Ireland's confidence in being able to hold its own in a larger Europe.

There are many issues which cause concern for groups discussing the Nice Treaty. A healthy debate is to be welcomed. Nevertheless, it should be remembered that in the EU decisions are largely by consensus and, therefore, fears of a weakened voice for Ireland are unfounded. Ireland has an international reputation as a peacekeeper of which we are justifiably proud. This would not be consist with membership of any army other than that of a peacekeeping mission. Most important is the need to embrace change. The confidence to benefit from change without feeling threatened is fundamental to a modern, vibrant nation, so too is the largesse to express solidarity with emerging economies and to allow them to benefit from our experience. In an increasing global context, a stronger Europe is vital to all.

The next decade of development and enlargement will be of vital importance to Ireland and, indeed, its capital city, Dublin. There is an optimism abroad about Dublin. Dublin has been dramatically transformed, its environment has greatly improved and it is nearly unrecognisable compared to the pre-European Union days. The capital city of Dublin, while as cosmopolitan as any other mainland European capital, retains a unique intimacy. Dublin offers and has enjoyed huge investments, partly due to its strategic location in Europe with excellent communications networks, a young, adaptable, highly motivated and well educated population, a full range of national and international business services and a wide range of leisure activities with virtually every sporting interest catered for. It is a city that is alive with music – an attractive and fulfilling place to live. It is a city of which I am proud to be a native and claim citizenship – a city I am proud to represent in our national Parliament. Dublin's blend of 18th century elegance and modern facilities combine in a capital city of Europe which offers excellent opportunities allied to a lifestyle all too rare in the world of today.

The city centre, streets, shops and residential areas have enjoyed investment of hundreds of millions of pounds in the heart of the city. People in their thousands have discovered the advantage of inner city living and a new ambience has been created. Areas of the city have been totally revitalised but only with the support and funding from Europe. The financial services centre and the docklands are being rebuilt on a grand scale. New transport solutions include the port tunnel, extended motorways, additional River Liffey [1181] bridges, quality bus corridors, light rail and other rail systems.

Dublin also has its painful share of the growing social problems experienced by many large European cities, including drug abuse, crime, discrimination and homelessness. However, there is now a solid foundation from which to begin to solve these and other problems and it is up to all of us to work together and equally learn from the experiences of other European capitals. The next decade will witness the city growing in density rather than in size, similar to other European capitals. The population of the greater Dublin area is likely to be in excess of two million or thereabouts by 2011.

I am particularly pleased that, at the commencement of the last round of Structural Funds, the four Dublin local authorities agreed that a full-time presence was required in Brussels. The purpose of this officer was to monitor all EU activities and policies and to advise and inform the Dublin local authorities of policy developments and lobby strategies at national and European level. The officer represented the interests of the Dublin local authorities to the Community institutions and to other relevant bodies and sourced and initiated funding projects from the EU.

A European officer was also appointed within each local authority area at this time to act as a contact for the Brussels officer. This was a great innovative step to ensure we had our finger on the pulse in terms of what was happening in Europe. Some views have been expressed that Europe is so far away that it does not affect us on a daily basis. However, it is recognised in the macro picture that it plays a fundamental role. Equally, it is important to acknowledge the success of one local authority with its finger on the pulse in Europe.

A number of projects have been undertaken in conjunction with other capital cities in Italy, Greece, Spain, France, Germany and the UK. A telework education system of active distance learning on telework and new work methods was submitted and approved. The first meeting on it took place only last month. The RECITE project involves a number of European focuses and encompasses Finglas south. It is a development project, which will be officially launched on 25 May in the resource centre in Finglas. Finglas is a partner with London, Madrid, Rome and Portugal.

We can learn from and share in other interesting projects such as the HEATSUN project, which will address issues relating to waste management. There are many projects dealing with issues ranging from economic development, urban regeneration, social inclusion and waste management to Eurocities networking. Such projects have been successful and Dublin has benefited from the input of the EU.

Dublin Corporation's project on combined heat and power, CHP, won the Bremen Partner[1182] ship Award in the category “Addressing global responsibilities through local action”. It is nice that the corporation has received acknowledgement for its work in this area and a handsome cheque for £10,000. I congratulate Dublin Corporation and the other local authorities in the Dublin area on their innovative appointments of officers in local offices and the Paris office and their involvement in a tremendous range of projects. That list of projects is available in a report to the strategic policy committee on economic development, planning and European affairs, which was published by the European officer earlier today.

I commend the legislation to the House. I hope it will be passed without difficulty and that any of the unfounded arguments made during the debate will be adequately addressed.

Ms Clune: Information on Deirdre Clune  Zoom on Deirdre Clune  I congratulate Deputy Callely on his rendition of projects involving local authorities in the Dublin region. I am delighted that he is so proud of his native city. I would not like to miss the opportunity to promote Ireland's second city, which is also important. I am sure Deputy O'Shea regrets he missed the opportunity to do likewise in regard to Waterford city.

Mr. Callely: Information on Ivor Callely  Zoom on Ivor Callely  I also like Cork.

Ms Clune: Information on Deirdre Clune  Zoom on Deirdre Clune  Cork has done extremely well in European terms. The final phase of the ring road around the city is being completed and a major drainage scheme has been undertaken. The streets are being torn up as a new drainage system is put in place. The construction of a major sewage treatment plant will also commence later this year. The people of Cork, similar to those in Dublin and Dundalk, will no longer discharge raw sewage and effluent into our waterways. I look forward to the day when our waterways are regenerated. All our major cities are located on the coast and citizens in other countries derive great value from waterways whether in terms of public transport or leisure activities. It is important that we respect our waterways and I look forward to the completion of the process.

The debate relates to the Treaty of Nice and the holding of a referendum on it. However, the legislation is being rushed through the House. The treaty is an important step in the enlargement of the Union but within eight weeks we may be voting on this important referendum. We have not been given enough time to debate the treaty. There is a debate in the House but the public has not been aroused by the Nice Treaty. People are not fully aware about what it involves. Any Member who has been involved in promoting or opposing referenda on European matters will know that such debates take a while to get going but once they take off the public gets involved. Misleading statements that are difficult to challenge are often put out by those opposed to referenda and they give rise to much detailed debate.

Fine Gael has always been to the forefront in [1183] promoting Ireland's involvement in the EU and promoting any referendum that has taken place. It is important that time is taken to give ourselves the opportunity to explain to the public exactly what the Nice Treaty is about and what it means for Ireland. I will promote Ireland's membership of the Union in whatever way I can.

Ireland has been a member of the European Community for almost 30 years and we have played our part. The country has done well as a result of its membership and I hope we will continue to play a strong and meaningful role. The turnout in recent referenda has fallen. The all-party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution examined this and recommended that there should be a period of 90 days between the passage of a Bill by the Houses of the Oireachtas and the holding of a referendum to ensure the issue can be promoted and considered. It would also ensure that people who are interested or concerned about the issue have an opportunity to address it.

A complicating factor on this occasion is the foot and mouth disease crisis. Many people in the agricultural community will be reluctant to attend public meetings for obvious reasons, which means the campaign will be further hampered. However, there is no need to hold the referendum before the summer. I do not understand why it cannot be held in the autumn. This would give people more time to address the issues. The treaty does not have to be ratified until the end of 2002 so there is no need to rush it. We should give ourselves more time to engage in debate and inform the public.

During the last referendum, a booklet was delivered to every household. I hope that will happen on this occasion, although I am aware it is a matter for the Referendum Commission. That booklet which posed questions and provided answers played an important role in the last campaign and I hope there will be a similar booklet for this referendum.

It is proposed to hold four referenda on 7 June and my view is that the matters should be separated. The Nice Treaty is most important and it will generate heated debate. Everybody will be challenged by it and it is important that we have the space and time to address it. The focus should be solely on the Nice Treaty. In the last referendum campaign, people were told that if they were in any doubt, they should vote “no”. I do not want that to happen on this occasion, but there will be confusion if four referenda are held on the same day. There is a danger that the important Nice Treaty will be lost and the necessary emphasis will not be placed on it. No hard and fast decisions have been made on the matter and there is still time to reconsider holding all four referenda on the same day.

If the treaty is rejected by the public – I hope that will not happen – enlargement will be stopped. This would send out the wrong message to countries that are aspiring to membership of [1184] the Union. I met representatives from Romania, Poland and Hungary last year and they wanted the process speeded up. They were concerned about that aspect. They did not realise the long process that is involved and the hoops through which they are expected to jump before they are in a position to join the EU. It is most important that Ireland does not send out the wrong message. It must be seen to play its role and deliver a strong, clear message that it supports Europe and will continue to play its part with pride in an enlarged EU. This is a challenge for us all, but we should not create any obstacles to enlargement. However, the insufficient time being provided for the debate and the holding of four referenda on the same day are obstacles and I hope we do not live to regret it.

The treaty is necessary to enable the structures of the EU to be changed and allow enlargement. The countries seeking accession include Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. It is important to remember Ireland's stage of development when it joined the Union in 1972 and its position today. Nobody could doubt that we have come a long way in the past 30 years and done very well from Europe. It will not be as easy for Ireland in the future, but the country is one of the leading lights in Europe. We have contributed to the Union, but we have also done very well from our membership. Ireland is second to none in Europe in terms of economic development, employment rates and regional development. It is important to bear in mind the contrast between Ireland in 1972 and the country now.

Many of the countries seeking accession are poorer than Ireland was at that time while some of them are at the same point. They also have an important contribution to make to the Union and they should be embraced. An enlarged Union would be a ready market for Irish exports and an important pool of employment. It would also be a further stage in Ireland's development in Europe. Poland has two million farmers and they see how well Ireland's agricultural economy has fared within Europe. If Poland joins the EU, it will mean an even greater number of farmers in Europe and CAP reform will have to be considered. The German Agriculture Minister has already proposed agricultural reform. There are many changes ahead, not only in relation to agriculture, and it is important that Ireland is at the table and has something to contribute.

I am disappointed that Ireland is likely to lose its Commissioner or not have representation for a period. The Taoiseach said he highlighted the matter and stated it was important the Ireland retains its Commissioner. However, that will not happen under the treaty and Ireland will be without a Commissioner at some stage. Deputy Bruton made the important point that Germany will also be without a Commissioner at some stage and that its large population will not be represented. When that hits home, people will cry [1185] foul. There must be some way of accommodating a representative from all countries. It is not an impossible situation. As Deputy Bruton said, there are 40 Ministers in the United Kingdom and they can be accommodated. I hope this issue can be revisited and re-examined because it is important we do not lose a Commissioner. It is a powerful position and has been valuable to Ireland. We have been represented at that level even though we are a small nation.

The changes in structures mean our representation will be reduced from 15 to 12 MEPs in the next election in 2004. I can see the reason for that. Voting rights must be diluted as the Union expands. However, it is something Members on all sides of the House must defend. The debate on the treaty will be very difficult and I will do what I can to promote the treaty. However, the Dáil is in recess for the next fortnight. What will any of us do in that time to promote the treaty? The timeframe will be short and the public has not yet recognised and taken charge of the debate. Given the historical nature of referenda on European treaties where turnout and the vote in favour of the treaties has declined steadily, I hope the fact that the treaty will be put to the people on the same day as other referenda will not be detrimental to it. I am sure it will be passed and I hope we all play our part in promoting it and doing what we can to ensure Ireland votes yes.

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Treacy): Information on Noel Treacy  Zoom on Noel Treacy  Tá mé lán sásta deis a bheith agam chun cuidiú leis an díospóireacht an-tábhachtach seo faoi Chonradh Nice. I am glad to have this opportunity to address the House on the implications of the Treaty of Nice for Ireland. The treaty was agreed by member states in December last. It is fundamentally about preparing the European Union for a significant expansion in its membership. Twelve countries are in active negotiations to join the European Union, and the first accessions are likely to occur within three to four years.

All member states recognise the historic importance of enlargement for the candidate countries and for Europe as a whole. Those countries which struggled to replace dictatorships with democratic rule will be offered the opportunity to develop economically while completing their equally important political transformation. Democracy and stability will be greatly strengthened throughout Europe and, for the first time, Europe will be united on the basis of democracy, the rule of law and respect for fundamental rights.

At the same time, the Single Market, which is a huge success of the European Union, will be extended to embrace up to 500 million people. Ireland especially has benefited from the Single Market due to the key importance of exports for our continuing economic growth. Trade with the applicant states is growing quickly while Irish [1186] companies are major investors in countries such as Poland and others.

Participation in the Single Market has been a key part of Ireland's economic success. On the one hand, it has added to the attraction of Ireland as a destination for investment and, on the other, it has also assisted our indigenous companies to develop. Not only have they gained access to a large market, they have also gained opportunities for co-operation with partner companies throughout Europe and beyond.

We are the largest exporter of software in the world and more than two-thirds of the computers sold in Europe are made in Ireland. Trade now accounts for more than 160% of GDP. This means that we are the second most open economy in the world with a dependence on international trade and a unique capacity to trade internationally.

Economic development support from the EU helped us transform our economy. This support, although significant, represented at its height only a tiny proportion of Ireland's GNP and is now declining in line with our stronger economic performance. Its importance lay not in its size but in the careful use to which it was put, namely, investment in economic infrastructure and in education and training. As a result, it helped contribute to the increase in our income per head from 64% of the EU average in the 1970s to above the EU average today. The launch of the euro in January next as a working tangible currency will add further to this advantage for Ireland.

The removal of some of the last barriers to trade and partnerships, namely, currency costs and risks, and the improvements in market transparency which the euro will involve present us with new opportunities and new risks. Opportunities will arise in the greater ease of access to markets and improved possibilities for competitive sourcing of inputs. The risks are that all other countries in Europe are thinking the same way. However, I am confident that, over the past decade, we have taken appropriate steps to improve our competitiveness which will permit us to continue to compete effectively with other EU member states.

In essence, enlargement is right for Europe and for Ireland. Naturally the European Union has recognised that, to continue to operate effectively with many new member states, some changes will be necessary to its institutions and decision making procedures. As I mentioned, the Treaty of Nice agrees these necessary changes to the Commission, to voting weights in the Council and to the European Parliament and other bodies, and extends the range of issues subject to qualified majority voting or QMV. It is certainly in Ireland's interest that the European Union functions effectively after enlargement. All the European Union member states are committed to ratifying the Nice Treaty by the end of 2002 to allow the enlargement timetable to proceed on schedule. Ireland is alone among the member states in [1187] putting approval of the treaty to the people in a referendum.

Four times in recent decades the people have demonstrated their support for Ireland's positive participation in Europe, and the Government and, I am sure, the House are fully confident the public's support will continue in the forthcoming referendum. Ratification of the treaty is clearly in Ireland's interests. To do otherwise would be to turn our back on a key element of our economic development, to say that political and democratic stability throughout Europe is not in our interest and to ignore the economic benefits and opportunities offered to Ireland by enlargement.

Many people may only have a hazy idea of what the Treaty of Nice entails involving, as it does, a series of articles and protocols which often deal with seemingly obscure areas. This is the reason the Government has published a factual, objective and informative White Paper on the treaty which my colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, launched recently. The White Paper explains in detail and in accessible form the changes the Treaty of Nice will make and their impact on Ireland. The White Paper has also been prepared in summary form and, in the interests of ensuring the widest possible public awareness, a copy will be distributed to every household in the country. In addition, the White Paper summaries, in both Irish and English, and the text of the Nice Treaty are all available on the Department of Foreign Affairs website.

We are now faced with an historic opportunity to embrace the future development of Europe. In each specific area where the Treaty of Nice makes changes, the essential Interests of Ireland as a smaller state have been protected. We will continue to nominate a Commissioner until the European Union reaches 27 member states, with the large states giving up their second Commissioner from 2005. Once there are 27 members, there will be a rotation system for the Commission, with each state treated on an equal basis irrespective of size, population or location. Our voting weight in an enlarged European Union will be the same as Finland and Denmark, which is still more than double the relative weight of our population. In terms of seats in the European Parliament, our total will eventually be 12 in a European Union of 27 states, which again is one of the highest population-to-seats ratio of any country in the European Union.

Qualified majority voting, already used for the majority of Council decisions, is being extended to new areas to facilitate decision making in a larger European Union. This means that any single member state cannot block measures in these areas, something we support. However I am sure Members are aware that one area which will not move to QMV is taxation, where the Taoiseach, on behalf of Ireland, insisted at Nice on the retention of unanimity. We believe taxation is a fundamental tool of national policy making and must [1188] remain subject to domestic control within each country.

I also reject the notion that the treaty will lead to a two-tier Europe. The arrangements for smaller groups to proceed in certain areas, the so-called “enhanced co-operation”, include many safeguards designed to ensure that this will not happen. The arrangements work well for the euro group, and there is no reason in the right circumstances they could not work satisfactorily in other areas.

The changes made by Nice will permit the enlargement of the European Union to proceed on schedule. This will be good for Europe and very good for Ireland. As elected democrats to this House, we should ensure democracy continues to be sustained in a much larger Europe in the exciting years ahead.

Cuireadh an díospóireacht ar athló.

Debate adjourned.


Last Updated: 10/09/2010 22:27:35 First Page Previous Page Page of 203 Next Page Last Page