Thursday, 6 December 1990
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Finneran: I am glad to have the opportunity of adding a few comments to what has already been said regarding economic and monetary union and, indeed, Europe as we perceive it for the future. I believe that progress towards economic and monetary union has a double significance for the current development of European construction. On the one hand, it can be seen as a natural compliment to the full realisation of the Single European Act and, of course, of the realisation of the 1992 objective, the Internal Market without frontiers as we perceive it.
From an economic and social point of view, the member states and the citizens of the European Community will benefit fully from the positive effects of the creation of a large common market and co-operation only if they can use a single currency — that has been mentioned as the ECU at the moment — and if they are capable of reinforcing their co-operation. I believe we will not get full benefits if we cannot do that.
On the other hand, to be fully effective, economic and monetary union requires an institutional jump, if that is the right phrase, which will bring the Community considerably nearer to a political union. How is it possible to envisage this union if member States are not in agreement, either with its necessity or with the objectives of an economic and social policy?
This agreement, which is already often expressed within the present framework of the functions of the Community, is  founded on the conviction that member states have a common view of their essential interests and are convinced that by acting in common they are expanding their capabilities with regard both to their own internal development and the duties that would fall on them in, say, an external affairs situation.
There is a new frontier, as it were, taking shape for the Community and that frontier needs to have the means of enforcing capacity for action; it needs to have an efficiency in the areas of foreign policy and possibly in security. Other essential elements, of course, would be European union which would include the Single European Act. Basically, you are talking about political objective also of the twelve member states. I believe that for us to advance harmoniously towards this European union, the Community will have to have institutions or institutional schemes which meet the two imperatives of efficiency of action and democracy in the decision-making process. That is very necessary.
Obviously, the Treaty of Rome would have to come into question at this stage in so far as there will have to be amendments to the Treaty of Rome to strengthen the political dimension of the Community on the one hand and so that it would possibly have expansion of powers. There would have to be a discussion and amendment to the Treaty of Rome. This would be a new institutional framework within which the European Community would be working.
The six original members, with all their experience of 40 years can play a major part in advice and reviewing how things have gone to date. The members can learn from the history of living together. The founding fathers of the Community had great imagination and realism and devised a system for the gradual integration of our countries in a setting where the workings of the institutions are open. I believe they have to be open, dynamic and realistic. They definitely have to be open. This opportunity is available and it is one that has to be availed of. I understand there are discussions going on on that very issue at this time.
Economic and monetary union is part and parcel of our future and of the further  development of the Community. I am glad of the way our Government and our Ministers are upfront in this whole area and have shown themselves to be very far-seeing and very European in their thinking. We have to congratulate them on that.
Mr. Hourigan: First, I would like to refer to the NESC. It had been alluded to by an earlier speaker and the impression I got was that the recommendation from the NESC was that it would not be to our advantage to have a monetary and economic union. It may be that I took that up incorrectly. I think it is quite clear that following a detailed analysis of the relative merits of the different levels of economic integration the NESC concluded that Ireland's best position lay in advanced economic integration. Consequently, Ireland's stragetic approach should be the objective of creating a European economic and monetary union coupled with a political union. That would be down the road somewhat because the first point I would make in this whole matter is that a monetary and economic union are an absolutely necessary pre-clude to any progress in the political arena. Quite frankly, we must bear in mind that the establishment of an economic and monetary union must be done in tandem or in parallel or at one and the same time. It has a lot to offer us and there is a great deal of work involved. It is a type of situation that is changing with the changing events of world economies and the changing political situations in many countries over the last 12 months. I would like to emphasise that without economic and monetary union we would be wasting our time in talking about political union. It would not be a runner under any circumstances.
We must consider the various stages of the establishment of economic and monetary union. There can be no precise time-table laid down for the accomplishment of these objectives. This would not be because of lack of agreement, but it is not practicable to put deadlines on matters that are uncertain in some respects. For that reason we must work with the various governments and within the EC to ensure that we do accomplish  monetary and economic union at the earliest date possible. However, we are talking about some years down the road.
In order to achieve the required degree of convergence of the whole financial situation we must strive for a system of multilateral surveillance and a very general economic budget developmental approach which has to be introduced. Otherwise, I do not think we will succeed. The two areas of monetary and economic objectives must be co-ordinated. The importance of this cannot be overemphasised. There is at the moment a very wide difference within the Community. Progress is being achieved, and a meeting being held this month will have achieved a certain amount but it will only have set the course for future progress.
From Ireland's point of view we must welcome the points made in the Delors report, which clearly states that there must be a guarantee of full and irreversible convertibility of currencies, full freedom of capital movement, complete integration and backing of financial arrangements, the elimination of margins of fluctuations and the permanent fixing of exchange rates. This is something that from our point of view, would certainly be an advance forward.
As has been referred to by other speakers, the situation has changed very significantly in the last 12 months in Germany and eastern European countries. In East Germany on the eve of its preparations to celebrate 40 years of its existence, there was a dismantling of that type of government. We have now, thankfully, and to the pleasure of us all, a united Germany and a democratic country, which of course has its overtones as far as we are concerned and certain drawbacks on the financial side from our point of view. Nevertheless, we must welcome the development that has taken place in Germany even though it is, perhaps, going to mean greater difficulty as far as the financing of the EC is concerned in so far as Germany, who has been the main payer of money to the EC funds this far, will have to devote a considerable amount of money to the general development of all Germany.
We also have the situation with regard  to the EFTA countries where Austria, especially, and Norway and Sweden are anxiously looking forward to being part of the EC. This is a development we must welcome. Further, I can anticipate a situation where many other East European countries will be very anxious to become part of the EC. This is relevant in the context of the difficulty facing our Government and other governments at the present time in talking about a coordinated policy with such elements of change and possible change in the future.
The final phase of the European Monetary Union would be that exchange rates would be irrevocably fixed. The Community will have, as has been referred to already, a single definite currency. This is the objective, but this is distant from us at this point in time. The second phase of the operation begins in 1994 and is subject to certain conditions, such as the real convergence between the economies. That is one of the major and key points.
During our Presidency of the EC it is only correct to recognise and acknowledge that progress was made along this route we are now talking about. The fundamental principle of the Irish position was established. That was extremely important. The Community as a whole was seen as a very unifying force in Europe. There is also a great deal of internal efficiency in various currencies within the EC which has to be tackled and on which work has been done in recent times and which is ongoing. I believe that a significant improvement has been made along this road.
There is no doubt that our commitment to economic and monetary union is absolutely complete. I also link with that political union, but I purposely leave it aside because I see it as a further measure. In line, for example, with the analysis contained, in the NESC report — to which I referred already — in Ireland we must work towards that objective. There should be no doubt that it would be to our advantage over the years ahead to  have established that kind of development.
It would be rather remiss of me at this point if, in common with other speakers, I did not refer to the problems that have been presented by the GATT in recent times. In regard to the GATT, the most recent news available to us today indicates that no progress is being made. Frankly, as I said in this House earlier today, I believe that we as a country and in particular the Commissioner for Agriculture, Commissioner MacSharry, have gone as far as we can go and we cannot afford to be bullied, shoved and pushed by the Americans, the CAIRNS countries or any other country. Frankly, we have made extreme sacrifices. We have, as was said by a previous speaker, gained substantially in the agriculture sector in the earlier days, but in latter times we are losing very heavily. One of the most recent figures of a net gain to the country through agriculture in the main was £900 million. That shows that to us the EC is an extremely important vehicle and therefore we must not allow the EC to be in any way dismantled and must in no way support or agree with the proposals of the Americans and the others who suggest the total dismantling of price supports and other aids through the EC.
We are, like Greece, Spain and Italy, a disadvantaged area. We are a small island on the periphery of Europe. I believe earnestly that there is no doubt that we have an excellent case for preferential treatment. We cannot be expected to compete with very developed economies that have a high scale of production. Should we be forced into a position — which we should never be a party to — of accepting the proposals being put to the EC by the Americans and others, we would effectively be taking half the price for our milk and half the price for our beef, mutton etc. World prices would approximately reach 50 per cent of the present prices of beef, milk and the various other commodities.
I feel that we are a very important country from the point of view of our location. For that reason I think we should use our political position to our economic advantage. By that I mean that  we are in a very strategic position and that the European Community should recognise that in terms of preferential treatment. For example, I believe that the whole island of Ireland should be classified as disadvantaged. I believe that from there on one should begin to take out obvious areas that were not or are not disadvantaged. That is a point that has not, to my knowledge, been aired to any appreciable extent.
Finally, I want to say that it is in all our interest that political, monetary and economic union should take place and that we are part of it. I want to conclude by reiterating what I said vis-a-vis the EC: that we must, as a disadvantaged island far away from the main market place, get some form of preferential treatment.
Éamon Ó Cuív: Is ábhar fíor-thábhachtach é seo. Tá go leor cainte á dhéanamh i láthair na huaire maidir le haontacht na hEorpa. Ní dóigh liom, áfach, in ainneoin an méid cainte seo, go bhfuil daoine ag scrúdú go mion céard a chiallóidh na gnéithe seo go praiticiúil do dhaoine.
European union of various types has become a very popular buzz word. It is very important, if we are going to make progress, that we are quite clear in what we are setting out to achieve and what structures we find acceptable. My understanding of European unity is the concept of a free association of nations working in their common interest but at the same time retaining their own independence, an association that we would like to see growing as the European Community has and embracing in time all the nation states of Europe.
I do not think that too many people are in favour to European unity on the model we have, for example, in the United States of America, particularly in this country, where under a Constitution we have basically a people led state. We have a lot to protect and to ensure that we protect in any new structures that are created in the new Europe. Unlike some of our neighbouring states, in this country the people are supreme and in matters of basic law all matters have to be referred back to the people. We have also of  course, in common with all modern democracies, a Parliament.
When we look at the European situation the basic government of that Europe to date has been through the Council of Ministers and through the Commission working on their behalf. We have gradually seen the growth of the European Parliament with and ever increasing role. We would have to question in the long term which we wish to maintain supreme. I believe that when we sought independence in this country we did not seek it out of any hatred for the people in our neighbouring island, but we sought it because we believed quite genuinely that with independence we could achieve the better good of our people.
Those people who set up this State believed in associations of nations — we were already members of the League of Nations — and in co-operation; but they also believed in the importance of having an autonomous Parliament. Therefore I would favour European unity or integration along the lines of maintaining the Council of Europe, on which we have as our representatives Ministers from Governments elected by Dáil Éireann, and that that would be the main force for decision making in Europe. I can accept, however, that there would and should be consultation with the European Parliament and that that consultation and those methods of consultation could be improved.
The second reservation I have about all the talk about Europe is that I do not see that we would be well served by a central bureaucracy that would be making minor decisions that would affect people in this country. I personally am also one of the few people who have preached caution regarding the circumventing of the Government here as regards the application of funds from Europe on the ground in Ireland. I think that, while that might be attractive in the short term, there is a very serious inherent danger in such a policy when one is talking about developing a coherent and cohesive national policy within this country.
People on the ground tend to have a  honeypot attitude towards Europe. They are all in favour of European unity because they see it as a kind of honeypot that money flows from. That is a dangerous and facile attitude in regard to what real European unity should be about. In an age where we talk nationally about decentralisation, not only in physical terms but in political terms, where we talk about devolution of powers to local authorities, where we are talking at the moment about a whole review of local authority structures to make them more meaningful, that at the same time it is coherent thinking to be sure that more and more decisions are being taken in Europe that could be better taken at a national or local level.
As somebody living on the periphery of this country I am very conscious that the bigger a scheme and the further a decision is made from where it is being applied, the more likely that it will have a distorting effect. Therefore I am very much in favour of what is termed, I understand, in the technical jargon the principle of subsidiarity. That is, that only those decisions that would need to be made at a European level would be made at a European level and that we would resist the temptation of the bureaucrats to draw more and more minor decision making, minor controls that are unnecessary, towards themselves.
There has been great talk about European monetary union. I have no problem with the idea of having a situation where we would have one single currency. The practical advantages of that are obvious, although I think it has to be pointed out in passing that it will not protect us from fluctuations. It will only mean that it will be our currency versus the rest of the currencies of the world; but we will be still subject to fluctuations against the dollar, the yen and all other currencies. However, the reservation I would have relates to the drawing of fiscal policy in towards the centre that might be and could be and, I understand, it is mooted as being the necessary corollary of European monetary union. The dangers of that are that the practices in monetary and in financial policy terms that are commonplace at the moment and that are perceived by the economists to serve the  requirements of Europe at present might become embedded. Whatever about trying to get those changed at local level, it might prove very difficult and a very slow procedure to change such a large body as would be necessary to control the financial policy of a European unified state.
On the question of security and defence, I would have grave reservations on the ground of a common defence policy. The first thing we would have to recognise is that, if there was European unity in the terms of defence policy, we would be, in part, with neighbours who have overseas interests outside the European union. The second thing we have to recognise is that generally in larger states there tends to build up a paranoia that out there somewhere there must be some enemy about to attack us. We had this syndrome for the past 40 or 50 years when it was believed, up until four or five years ago, that we were in imminent danger from the eastern bloc. I do not honestly believe at this stage that we need in real terms to defend ourselves against any outside nation. I do not believe there is any nation that has designs on us. I am absolutely convinced that it is not our defence forces that are deterring people from attacking. I am equally convinced that it is not the defence forces of our neighbours either that are deterring such an attack.
However, on the role that we could play in defence, I think our role should be a positive one. Ireland is in a unique position to say that the road to peace is not by nuclear deterrent, is not by mounting an equal threat, but by preaching the gospel of disarmament, the gospel of resolution of international disputes by peaceful methods, and by trying to persuade our fellow nations that the way forward in the future is through peaceful negotiation and not through armed conflict or deterrent which, by a wrong pressing of a button, could extinguish mankind. I am convinced we have a positive role to play there. To play that role it is very important that we maintain our traditional independent stance in these matters, not as a negative value but as a positive value, because we as a small  nation cannot be thought to be a threat to any other nation.
On the question of common security, I agree that, not only within Europe but throughout all civilised nations, there should be co-operation on security. In a world where people are very mobile and where crime tends to be international, it is very important that not only within Europe but on a broader scale we continue to build our links with the security forces in various lands. However, in doing that, we should also avail of the opportunity to look at arrangements that would ensure, in relation to nationals from various countries, that agreements are made for the humane treatment of prisoners.
One thing that could be developed on a European level would be the concept of reciprocal arrangements for prisoners, where people would have the choice to apply to serve their sentence in their country of origin on humanitarian grounds. I would also see that for certain types of offence we could look at a direct European court which would be seen to be independent. These are only ideas that could be passed around, honed and refined in the developing Europe.
If we are going to make progress on European unity, and not only on European unity but also on world unity, if we are going to bring down the barriers right across the world — and it was proved in the past year that European unity is not what we thought it meant two years ago; it is a much grander scale of things — it is important that we are willing to flesh out and be specific on exactly what powers we mean to pool, how to share our sovereignty and which powers we feel we should maintain also as a nation state. It is a new concept. It is a concept that Europe has pioneered.
Unlike the United States, my understanding of what we mean by European unity is a free association of nation states pooling their sovereignty in common interest and in common pursuit of common goals. I do not think that anybody within those terms means to do away with the independence of, for example, this Parliament. For example, I do not think anybody is suggesting we would give up our seat in the United  Nations and that we would have one European representative there, and so on. If they do mean those things they should spell them out, because I cannot see that we can progress on this line until people become specific about what exactly we are talking about in this sphere.
Tá sé an-tábhachtach go ndéanfar plé mion, domhain ar an ábhar seo agus go mbeimid soiléir faoi na structúir faoina mbeimis sásta dul ar bhóthar na haontachta an Eoraip. Ní foláir dúinn bheith soiléir freisin faoin mbóthar nach mbeimis sásta a dhul. Caithfear a chinntiú go leanfar polasaithe eacnamaíochta a rachaidh chun leas na tíre seo sa bhfad-téarma, agus a bheith aireach nach dtéann an tarraingt go léir go dtí an lár, má tá contúirt i gcás mar sin. Dá bhrí sin, ní mór deis a bheith ag na ceantair imeallacha, ar nós oileáin na hÉireann, forbairt agus fás a dhéanamh agus a bhféiniúlacht a dhaingniú san Eoraip nua.
Dr. Upton: Like Senator Ó Cuív, I think this is a tremendously important topic. It is a topic that has been aired well in the Seanad over three different sessions, but it is one which I think has not been debated to anything like the degree and the extent that it merits debate in the country.
There are two broad aspects to the proposed European unity. There is the question of the Community's competence and responsibilities and there is the question of institutional reformat. Many aspects of the Community's responsibilities are to be welcomed in the context of their being expanded and reformed. It is highly desirable that people talk in terms of minimum standards in the social field in the establishment of these standards and their implementation. It is very important that the Social Charter be adopted and that it be made a matter of compulsion, of obligation, and that we meet the obligations laid down in the Social Charter.
In relation to economic and monetary union, certainly on the question of a Central Bank, I would be concerned at the  idea that that Central Bank would be an autonomous one and that it would not be subject to political control. I would also be concerned at the desirability of monetary stability being considered in isolation and not being considered in the context of an obligation also to achieve a goal of full employment. It is very important that those aspects of social policy should receive the attention they deserve.
In relation to the Community's foreign policy, this has been one of the areas which is now beginning to be debated in a manner that is justified. On the question of defence, I would be concerned that this country would be engaging in European defence policies, which might well be a misnomer for policies which are not simply a matter of defence but also a matter of dealing with potential aggression and so on. That is the double edged aspect of defence. In relation to defence in this country there is something relating to our history that we should keep in mind. The history of this country is different from the history of the other 11. Most of the other 11 countries — and I am speaking now as anything but a historian — have had a history of being dominant powers; they have had a history of overseas adventure and so on. We have been at the receiving end of those types of attitudes and policies. That is a very fundamental difference between us and the rest of the Community. Indeed, I think they have a good deal to learn from our experiences and our history in that matter. I think it is something that we should have been laying a lot more emphasis on than we have.
Despite the difficulties and problems that our party and people like myself have in relation to neutrality I do not think anybody would disagree that there is now going to be increasing pressure on this country to get involved in European commitments which certainly would be at variance with our policy of neutrality. One of the regrettable aspects of our policy of neutrality over the years is that once de Valera had followed his neutrality policy in the last war, we simply forgot about it. It was something that did not really matter. It was just there in a cupboard and never considered or developed. Now, long overdue, we are  beginning to put together an argument in favour of the positive aspects of that neutrality. I think there is a very strong case to be made there.
I regret that to a large extent it is coming from the side of the House I am on — in other words, the Left in Ireland. That is a pity. I would like to see some of the other shades of the political spectrum throwing in their twopence worth and declaring what their attitude is. We will find it very difficult not to be swept away in Europe unless we get up and make our case, and make it very strongly. I think we have a very strong case which can be made. I would agree with the argument Senator Murphy made in his contribution in relation to that aspect of our existence and our policy over the years. It is an awful pity that it was left dormant for so long, but it is still useful and valuable and is something that we can contribute to Europe. I think it is something on which the rest of Europe might have a good deal to learn from us.
In relation to matters such as environmental policy, most of the objectives would be desirable as a matter of sustaining economic growth with policies which are ecologically acceptable and sound. In relation to questions of European citizenship, there is a case to be made for a declaration of fundamental rights applicable right across Europe. There is a case to be made very strongly for a declaration which will prevent things like racism. Those are very important items. They may not be directly relevant, although in some ways they are. They are the kinds of issues on which we should be making our views known to a far far greater extent than we are prepared to do at present.
Moving on to the institutional matters and the changes which are taking place, I think we are going to see a lot more majority voting in the Council. That has its own problems for us. In many ways we are going to find ourselves increasingly marginalised because of the small size of our economic clout. There will be further dimunitions of the role of the people in Ireland in implementing European policy. I think you will see a lot more implemented from the centre. Again, that is going to sharpen up the effects of  changes in Europe. In the past we have been able to cobble together stories which allowed us to get derogations from various European initiatives. Some of these derogations were highly regrettable; others prevented very undesirable social affects. I would be anxious that the democratic control over Community legislation would be enhanced.
I would also be very interested in seeing an Irish view put forward in relation to how national parliaments and the European Parliament might be integrated. There have been some suggestions made here in relation to how this House would be integrated with the European parliamentarians, how this House would be made more relevant and indeed how we could learn from what is going on in Europe. It seems to me to be quite daft that you have 15 Irish parliamentarians in Europe and that the Legislature in this country does not have any formal way of dealing with them. That is a pity. There is a very important case to be made there for developing systems and structures which will allow what is happening in Europe to be more readily and more directly incorporated into the Irish scene.
I believe that what is happening in Europe is going to become more and more relevant. It has been suggested to me that in politics here in ten years' time, how the leaders of the different parties most of us belong to are performing will not make all that much difference. What will really be relevant is how the leaders of those groups in Europe will be performing, that it is from the success or failure of the leadership of the groups in Europe to which we are attached that we will derive political success or failure in this country, that the roles of the leaders of our own local parties will be greatly diminished in terms of their importance and that we will to a far greater extent be influenced by what is happening in Europe.
I will conclude by saying that I continue to be bothered by and to regret the fact that we in Ireland still seem to put far too great an emphasis on what Senator Ó Cuív called the honeypot aspects of Europe — going across and making these special cases and pleas. That is OK, but  it is being done in isolation. That is dominating the whole thing. We should be contributing a far greater amount than we are in relation to the development of Europe. Invariably the rewards and returns on that will be in the long term — unfortunately, in Irish politics there is far too much emphasis on the short term and not nearly enough on the long term. Generating ideas on change and development in Europe from this country will stand to us very well if we are prepared to look at the next ten or 15 years or beyond that.
I firmly welcome the process of European economic and monetary union and European political union. I want to deal with the question of democratic accountability and also I would like to make some references to Irish neutrality and how this might be affected in the proces. I very much welcome the move towards economic and monetary union and political union. Like other Senators, I would like to welcome the satisfactory outcome of the Council meeting in Rome on 27 and 28 October. At this Council meeting it was agreed that the Inter-governmental Conference would be held in December. Only eleven of the states of the EC agreed to this so it was unfortunate that our neighbours, the UK, did not.
I agree this is a very timely debate indeed and it is something to which the Seanad should pay great attention. The cynics might say that of course we are all in favour of economic and monetary union and European political union but that is because we do not know what it is. Everybody is in favour of it but nobody can quite say what at this stage it is. That is what the debate is all about. I am sure that is why we had all been here for the past number of days.
 There can be no doubt in anybody's mind that EC membership has been very good to us in Ireland. It has been very good from an economic, political view and cultural point of view. That must surely be beyond dispute. It has brought about widespread economic prosperity to us in this country since we joined. It has brought us into contact with many other political cultures and so enhanced the political process here. It has also brought us into contact with many other cultures of Europe and that has again enhanced our own culture. Nevertheless there are groups that still oppose our membership of the EC. There are not very many people who would go on the record and say they are opposed to EC membership but there and others who would certainly say that they were opposed and are still opposed. We heard our colleague, the previous speaker, speak in this debate but his party in the referendum was totally opposed to it.
I would now like to deal with the question of democratic accountability. The Oireachtas has not been particularly vigilant regarding the process of European integration. I firmly hold that view. As the power and influence of the EC increases, effective measures need to be examined to ensure democratic accountability. There is now a need to strengthen democratic accountability and this involves a number of questions. The power and balance between the EC institutions need to be looked at.
The role of the national parliament also needs to be carefully examined. Professor Basil Chubb in his book A Source Book of Irish Government says that surveillance and control on behalf of the public of Community activity is tenuous. The cynics might say that we have come this far with European integration but that nobody has noticed it. It has not been debated and nobody knows where exactly we are at this stage. It must be said that the Oireachtas has little power of scrutiny and it is deficient in this regard. At present the Taoiseach merely reports twice a year to the Dáil following the meeting of the European Council. I believe this can be further enhanced and developed and that perhaps a debate  should take place regarding the communiqué after each Summit meeting. I believe the Dáil and Seanad must become much more involved in debating each communiqué as it is released to the general public following the summit.
I also believe there is a need now to enhance the role of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Secondary Legislation of the European Community. I was very disappointed at the resources which the committee had to undertake its work. It simply could not deal with its workload. The committee should be given adequate resources to undertake its existing work and its terms of reference should be broadened to encompass this whole debate and the debate on European integration. I am talking about a foreign policy committee. I did call for more debate on economic and monetary union in this regard. I have many other points to make, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, but as the time allowed is running out for my colleague from County Cavan I will allow him to speak before the Minister concludes.
Mr. O'Reilly: I would like to begin by expressing my appreciation of Senator Cassidy's accommodating attitude in wanting to ensure full participation by speakers in the debate. It is very much appreciated. It establishes that there is a parochial feeling that works in our part of the country. We certainly look after each other.
On the question of European union I would say this at the outset: we often forget now that after the Second World War Europe was absolutely devastated. It was devastated in terms of railways, a total dislocation of population and industry. The entire infrastructure of society had been ruined by the Second World War and all of the militaristic exploits associated with it. Out of that devastation and total chaos emerged the European Coal and Steel Community. That was a major factor in bringing back industrial, economic and social progress to little Europe or to the centre of Europe. That was to culminate in the EC which has met with phenomenal success. It is a very happy story that the evolution of the EC has coincided with a rebuilding of Europe  and that now we are talking of greater levels of integration. That is very good.
I am going to say something now with which I know Senator Cassidy will not agree but that is the purpose of the debate, to bring out these issues. I am conscious of the time factor so I will make actual points rather than a very long speech. The first substantial point I would make is that I think the day has come when we will have to look at the question of our neutrality. I am not convinced that we can go on with our traditional form of neutrality any more. The Warsaw Pact and NATO are historical affairs. They are now obsolete after the great success of the recent conference on security and co-operation in Paris.
I believe that in a new integrated Europe we cannot have it both ways. We will have to be in there in a very complete sense and I believe that may ultimately involve not just security co-operation which is inevitable but also defence co-operation. I do not think we can shrik that. We have a certain philosophy, that we are lovers of peace, we are against militarism, a philosophy we will obviously want to build into any European network but I think we cannot shirk our responsibilities to an integrated Europe in the defence area any more than in any other one area. Ultimately we will have to make a defence commitment if we are to be part of an integrated Europe. We will have to set our own agenda within that Europe, but it will involve that commitment.
I believe an integrated Europe and the kind of harmonisation that is arising now in post-1992 Europe is the greatest Godsend to dealing with the Northern Ireland problem that has arisen for a long time. I am extraordinarily conscious of this as a representative coming from a Border area. I believe that with the harmonisation of taxes, with the total freedom of labour movement, with industrial integration, with integration of trade and with complete free trade, all but the abstract political concept of division will be gone. In other words, in reality we will have a united Ireland in the late 1990s. That is an exciting thing. It is a most remarkable thing and a most providential thing for this country at this stage.  I would be interested in the Minister's response to that and his perception of that oncoming reality and how we might adjust to it. I believe it will break down all the barriers. That has to be a critical development. We will be left with nothing but the old ballads in the bars late at night, the chantings, the well trodden histories of the past and the folk memories. All of the reality will be in a unified country. We should be aware of that and try to use every conceivable stratagem at Government and at all levels to ensure that we fully exploit that by ensuring that we have interplay of education, tours, parliamentary interplay, all sorts of social interplays and that we grasp this opportunity for integration and what it will mean in terms of our national question which has bedevilled us for so long.
We have to accept that there is a commitment in the Treaty of Rome and the Single European Act to strengthen the peripheral areas through the use of regional social and structural funds. There has been criticism by the National Economic and Social Council and by the European Commission of our use of structural funds. I would be interested in hearing the Minister addressing the question of how he sees the future in terms of how we use structural, regional and social funds. I do not think we should view this in begging bowl terms. It is a philosophical commitment on their part that they believe in evening up the entire EC. That would be necessary for proper harmonisation and integration. It is not going to be viable if we allow peripheral areas such as Ireland, the Iberian Peninsula and Eastern Europe to fall behind socio-economically. Then you will not have proper integration. It is a correct strategy in the long term. I would be interested in how we will grasp that.
I will be parochial in making my next point, but it is important and I would urge the Minister to have a look at it — and I know the Minister will not take issue with this coming from the constituency he comes from. At present there is a critical problem with farm incomes. That is an accepted reality. There is a critical problem with rural depopulation, with the small family farm  breaking down and the structure of rural Ireland breaking down. For that reason, given that there is 65 per cent funding from Europe, the extension of the severely handicapped area designation to the areas in the west and in the heart of Ireland not already classified as severely handicapped would be a good thing. In Cavan and Monaghan at the moment it is not Government policy to declare those two counties fully severely handicapped. Were they to be declared severely handicapped it would, at very little cost to this State, bring an income into the homes of the small farmers of that area. I would appeal to the Minister to examine that and see that this is a mechanism to bring in money to keep the small farmers of Cavan and Monaghan on the land. That is the kind of intelligent use of the social funds of the EC that I would commend to the Minister. I urge him to examine that possibility and I await his reply with interest.
On the question of the democratisation of institutions, I believe that we are not sufficiently linked into the European network. I am of the view that about 80 per cent of the decisions relevant to this country are made in Brussels. If 80 per cent of the decisions that affect our lives are made outside of our county councils, or Seanad and our Dáil, we are going to have to look at mechanisms for linking ourselves into the European parliamentary process. An initial step has to be taken by putting in motion a process whereby members of the European Parliament would speak to the Seanad and would attend Seanad meetings, where we could have reports which could be debated in the Seanad with the European Parliament members. Perhaps they should have automatic proxy membership of the Seanad in the sense that they could come in and explain to us what is going on in Europe. That should be the minimum. The Government and all the parties in the Oireachtas should look at the Oireachtas Committee on the Secondary Legislation of the European Communities, expand its terms of reference and use that as a mechanism for networking into Europe to a greater degree.
At the moment our MEPs, once they  are elected, become fanciful creatures who fly off to Strasbourg or elsewhere once a week. We occasionally see them at party functions around the country. We have no direct link with them. I am glad to see that the Minister is indicating agreement with this, because it is a practical and relevant step that we could take immediately to link them up.
Mr. O'Reilly: Ireland has to have a very big part to play in the question of establishing civil liberties, justice, peace and the concept of equality of opportunity. Our politicians in Brussels and Strasbourg have a role to play in developing that concept. I would not agree with some of my colleagues who in previous sessions of the Seanad said that they would favour Turkey being given membership of the EC at the moment. The EC must expand to include many countries that are not members. Austria is awaiting membership at the moment and East Germany now is de facto a member of the EC. I would not favour the accession of Turkey at present. Many of my colleagues indicated that they would. I would not, because there is a lot of evidence to suggest that there are major problems there with civil liberties, with the rights of the individual. Any country that flaunts Amnesty International regulations, that flaunts natural justice and that flaunts the concept of the liberty of the individual cannot be accepted as a full participant member of the EC.
Europe is heading towards complete integration. That is an exciting prospect and we should go along with that. If we do not, it will happen anyway; but we must be part of that process. We have to be creative in the way we go about that and link in with the Euro-network. We have to look at our defence policy. We have to be willing to participate and  develop a Euro awareness to a greater degree than we have been doing; and possibly there will be an improvement in the British attitude under their new leader. We hope that will lead to a more positive and less archaic attitude on their part to European integration and that they will show less of the island mentality and the old imperial concept on that one. We must look at this as offering the potential for harmonisation and we must prepare ourselves adequately for that.
An Leas-Cathaoirleach: The Minister of State, Deputy Calleary, made a comprehensive statement at the opening of this debate. Since this is a series of statements it is not normal procedure for the Minister to reply. Will the acting Leader of the House indicate when is it proposed to sit again?
|Last Updated: 23/05/2011 08:51:13||Page of 11|