Some Contributions from the Fourth Day of Debate on the Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill

Yesterday, the Dáil continued the Second Stage debate on the Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2008. Some contributions below

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Tom Kitt (Finna Fail) :

The treaty makes important steps forward in a number of areas, but is not a radical new departure for the Union. It represents the continuation of a project that originated 50 years ago. Ireland’s direct involvement in the European project goes back 35 years. In those years, our world has changed greatly. However, the European Union remains as vital as ever to Ireland. It gives us a platform to develop our economy and improve the living standards of our citizens. It gives us a place at the table to put forward our opinions on the important global issues of the day. It gives us the confidence that goes with membership of a group of countries possessing shared aspirations and values and operating on the basis of mutual respect and the search for compromise and consensus

The latest treaty, which will settle the debate about the internal workings of the Union for the foreseeable future, will also serve our national interests. As a major exporting nation, Ireland has benefited enormously from our access to the European market. Our exports to it have more than doubled since we joined in 1973 and the Lisbon treaty will ensure that the Single Market continues to develop, giving Irish companies more opportunities to grow and expand. Ireland is rightly often described as a gateway to Europe and is seen as such by many foreign investors. The fact that Ireland will continue to decide its own tax policies under this treaty will ensure that we continue to be an attractive location for foreign investment. The treaty is good for investment, business and jobs.

The referendum presents us with an important decision about our future. Two different paths are available to us. The opponents of the reform treaty argue that we should turn our backs on six years of painstaking negotiations, which have produced a remarkable consensus among the 27 EU member states. They suggest that some better outcome could be arrived at on the back of an Irish “No” vote, but they decline to spell out what kind of Europe they want. They are wrong. This is not a path that will bring any advantage to our country. The other path, which requires a “Yes” vote, is that we should retain our national position as a positive and active EU member state moving forward within a reformed union to tackle the many issues that face us. This is the path that makes sense for Ireland’s future, for which reason I support ratification of the reform treaty strongly.

Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Pat Carey (Fianna Fail) :

This means that measures concerning freedom, security and justice will not apply automatically to Ireland, which can participate in proposals on a case by case basis. At the same time the Government decided that in keeping with our strong commitment to the Union, Ireland should make a political declaration stating its firm intention to participate, to the maximum extent possible, in proposals concerning judicial co-operation in matters of police co-operation and so on. The declaration, which was published with the new treaty, further states that this undertaking on the part of Ireland will apply in particular to the area of police co-operation.

Ireland has been one of the most active participants in Eurojust activity and in the field of judicial co-operation and a strong “Yes” vote will make Ireland’s position even stronger. Another good reason, among many, for Ireland to adopt a “Yes” position and for me to support a “Yes” vote arises from the treaty’s inclusion of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The charter probably is the first democratic document to be drawn up since the foundation of the European Union. It was drawn up by the precursor to the convention that drew up the draft constitutional treaty and many Members from both sides of the House were involved in its formulation. I listened to Deputy Michael D. Higgins last night when he spoke of everyone promoting the cause of competitiveness and of an insufficient emphasis being devoted to the area of cohesion. I believe the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which is embedded in the Lisbon reform treaty, in conjunction with the Lisbon Agenda, which emphasises cohesion in addition to competitiveness, will be a key instrument in ensuring the protection and enhancement of citizens’ rights.

Deputy Simon Coveney (Fine Gael):

The Lisbon treaty is a successor to the failed constitutional treaty, the creation of which took five or six years and involved the input of every EU member state. People have asked me whether the treaty is being foisted upon us by people we do not know and have not elected but nothing could be further from the truth. The treaty has been put together in a more democratic way then any other treaty in the history of the EU. My party has had a say on it, as has Fianna Fáil, the Green Party and the Labour Party. Influential and bright people from these parties have been at the heart of agreeing this treaty through the Convention on Europe. We are at the end of a process.

In the past, many non-EU countries have rightly noted in respect of major foreign policy issues the importance of having a point of contact within the EU who can set out a co-ordinated position on emerging crises or economic challenges. In many cases, the new full-time president will not be able to achieve a coherent EU policy response because he or she will have only a limited role in the development of foreign policy. In most cases, individual countries will decide on their own respective responses but in the areas where the EU has competency the president will improve co-ordination on international responses on behalf of the EU. The Presidency of the Council of Ministers will also change in structure, as proposed in this treaty. At present, individual member states take on this role for a six-month period but there are always problems when one Presidency hands over to the next in terms of continuity of policy, shared information and so on, although that co-ordination has improved in recent years. Instead, however, we will now give the Presidency to three member states at one time for an 18-month period. Essentially, individual countries will still offer leadership in terms of policy development in the European Union but there will be co-ordination for a longer period and countries will work together to put together a policy agenda. This is a positive, sensible and practical solution to some of the problems of the past ten years or so.

The reform treaty also proposes that we would have a high representative of the Union for foreign affairs and security policy. Currently, there is a disjoint problem with foreign policy creation within the EU – I have some experience of this as I was a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee within the European Parliament. On the one hand, there is a High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy and, on the other, there is also a Commissioner for External Relations. One controls the budget and the other dominates in terms of political influence. This is a problem. With the same sort of thinking that has resulted in a new full-time president of the Council, we are proposing that we would have a foreign policy figurehead within the EU who would try to co-ordinate with member states a common approach towards international relations and international issues. This is a positive development which does not sacrifice Ireland’s foreign policy or Irish neutrality. It only deals with issues that countries have agreed to work on together and those within the competence of the EU.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Tony Killeen (Fianna Fail):

In the Council of Ministers the new majority voting system will considerably enhance the position not just of Ireland but of all the smaller member states. That is to be welcomed. It is very important and gives the lie to the case which is made by some of those who oppose the treaty.

I reject the charge against the treaty that it is difficult to understand. As Deputy Coveney stated, it is not exactly entertaining, but it is perfectly understandable to anybody who takes the trouble to look at it.

Deputy Charlie O’Connor (Fianna Fail):

Several speakers referred to the need to counter the negative stories emanating from the “no” campaign. There has been a strong response to stories concerning the impact of the Lisbon reform treaty on our abortion laws. Nothing in the treaty empowers the European Union to overrule the Irish Constitution in matters such as the right to life of the unborn. Ireland has secured a specific safeguard on the issue of abortion. We must be brave and challenge stories of this nature as they emerge in the coming weeks.

Deputy Olivia Mitchell (Fine Gael):

The Lisbon reform treaty is not as far-reaching as other European treaties in the past. It does not create the changes one would equate with the Maastricht treaty which established the EMU and subsequently the euro. Neither is it like the Single European Act which provided for a single market or the Nice treaty which admitted ten member states. However, like the continuum of other treaties, it deals with the evolving nature of the Union and its response to changing circumstances. Hopefully, it will equip the Union to cope with new objectives and circumstances.

The treaty is not the be-all and end-all. Just as any other legislation or changes in government or the Constitution do not give us utopia, the Lisbon reform treaty will not bring us perfection nor will it be the last treaty we enter into with the rest of the European nations. Instead, it is all part of an evolving process. It will, however, make the work of the Union more efficient and relevant. It is hard to understand how this can be seen as a bad development by anyone. Even the most vigorous opponents of the EU, of which there are many, must want it to be efficient. Surely, they must see the benefits of increased democratisation and citizenship as a good development.

The reform treaty will enhance the role of national parliaments by requiring all draft EU laws to be discussed first in member states’ parliaments, a little known measure not being promulgated enough. This will allow us to give our opinions on the nature of EU proposals and state if they should go through the formal legislative process. The relevant Ministers and MEPs will know the parliaments’ views and the citizens’ views on legislative proposals which will inform their decisions.It will also mean better legislation. Those making the overall decisions will know of the different national circumstances and concerns about proposals.

Deputy Deirdre Clune (Fine Gael):

There are many such concerns. One example is whether this is part of developing a European army. It is not, as Ireland is a neutral country and its stated position as a neutral country is recognised. This is so with other countries in the EU as well. We are contributing to forces in Chad and we have done so in Kosovo. Any mission which Ireland chooses to be involved in, be it peacekeeping or crisis intervention, is subject to the triple lock and must have the approval of the Government and the Oireachtas, as well as an EU mandate. We may hear that again and again but it is important to repeat it. We look at peacekeeping missions on a case by case basis, getting involved when and if we see fit.

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Michael P. Kitt (Fianna Fail):

The House has already heard many detailed speeches explaining both the content of the treaty and the myriad reasons we should approve its ratification. Together with my Government colleagues, I particularly welcome the constructive and thoughtful contributions from members of the principal Opposition parties. Both Fine Gael and Labour have been long-standing supporters of the European project and Ireland’s position at the heart of the Union. The overwhelming support for the reform treaty in the House reflects a simple reality, namely, membership of the Union has been of immense benefit to this country. The reform treaty further strengthens the Union in important ways.

Overall, the reform treaty will allow the European Union to act more coherently in the area of development co-operation. The importance of an effective joining up of policies cannot be overstated. The treaty will simplify decision-making processes and strengthen democratic accountability. It will not bring about radical changes but it will allow the European Union to act more effectively on the world stage.

Deputy Bobby Aylward (Fianna Fail):

The arguments about Ireland’s role and future in the European Union always come up for scrutiny when one of these treaties is presented to us. We have had five successive treaties since we became fully-fledged members of Europe in 1973 and I am glad that the wisdom of the Irish people has always prevailed when it comes to deciding whether Europe is good for Ireland. The ranting and raving of the sceptics and the naysayers has consistently been superseded by the will of the Irish people, who clearly recognise that the advantages of our full and committed membership of the EU simply cannot be denied. It is without question that EU membership has been extremely good for Ireland and all our citizens. What we need is a rational debate on the Lisbon treaty over the next few weeks. We do not want hysteria.

Deputy Arthur Morgan (Sinn Fein):

I want to focus on the treaty’s implications for workers’ rights. We have supported EU measures that are in Ireland’s interests, particularly those which have advanced workers’ rights in the past. However, not everything emanating from Europe has been good for workers in this State. A general shift to the right by the EU has seen the implementation of an agenda of privatisation, deregulation and attacks on workers’ rights. This is a matter of great concern to trade unions in Ireland and across the EU. Recently, David Begg, the general secretary of ICTU, addressed a discussion on the Lisbon treaty at the Oireachtas Committee on European Affairs and summed this up by stating: “While business rights are being codified and strengthened, workers can only expect loose frameworks and vague approaches to enforcement”.

The European Union has done much during the years to promote a more social Europe. Unfortunately, in the past decade these gains have been undermined by successive treaties that have sought to sacrifice social Europe in favour of a narrowly defined focus on economic competitiveness. Those of us opposing the treaty are arguing for a more sustainable and egalitarian future in which economic development will be based on social inclusion and cohesion, environmental sustainability, high quality public services and real competitiveness, greater democratic control over the management of the economy and a more equitable global economic order

An earlier contributor also told us that national parliaments would give an opinion on proposed EU legislation. That is just wonderful and reminds me of being a member of the Opposition in this House. We can give all the opinions we want but the Government, like the EU institutions, will pay no attention to us. I question whether any real influence can be exerted.

Deputy Noel O’Flynn (Fianna Fail):

The reform treaty is an important achievement for the Union. It responds to the needs of today’s European Union with its increased membership now numbering 27 countries. It will equip the Union to meet the emerging challenges of the 21st century. It is concerned with delivering tangible benefits to the people of Ireland.

Mr. Paul Rellis, president of the American Chamber of Commerce, Ireland articulated the situation better than I can when he stated: “An Ireland at the heart of an EU with reformed, strengthened and more accountable institutions is infinitely preferable to becoming a semi-detached obstacle to common progress across a continent”. A “Yes” vote is for prosperity, a “No” vote is for decline. I regret that the party which has taken a “No” position is misguided in the issues it is raising.

Deputy Jim O’Keeffe (Fine Gael):

I am concerned the debate on the Lisbon treaty should be based on fact rather than fiction. I am even more concerned when I see fiction being peddled by magazines such as the Catholic monthly newspaper, Alive, which seems to be deliberately designed to stoke anti-European sentiment. In reading that newspaper, I see a particular focus on abortion and euthanasia with the claim that, if the Lisbon treaty referendum is passed, we will have lost the right to decide on such issues. This is utter poppycock and I question the approach of those in my church who are arranging or facilitating the dissemination of such misinformation. The evidence is in the current issue of Alive. On the back page under the “for God and for Ireland” heading, it is stated that, if the Lisbon treaty passes, we will have lost the right to decide on issues such as abortion, euthanasia, freedom to promote the Catholic faith and same sex marriage. This is rubbish. On another page of the newspaper is the headline, “Lisbon Treaty a big cause for concern”. The subsequent article states: “Irish Catholics who wish to keep our Constitution’s protection for unborn children and for the family based on marriage should be seriously worried about this treaty”.

It is important to debate this treaty on the basis of facts. The Lisbon reform treaty does not in any way threaten Ireland’s policy on abortion. The 27 members of the European Union have different policies on the issue of abortion. Some states allow for the widespread availability of abortion. Some, such as Poland and Portugal, have a limited availability, while others, such as Ireland and Malta, do not allow abortion in their laws. Since there is no consensus on the issue, the European Union has chosen not to take any stance, but instead to leave it up to each member state to decide its own policy.

As an additional safeguard, Europe, at Ireland’s request, added a protocol to the Maastricht treaty confirming that no European treaty can be used to override Ireland’s recognition of “the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother” contained in Article 40.3.3° of the Constitution. That protocol remains in place and will not be changed by the contents of the Lisbon reform treaty.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:

As someone who is passionately pro-European, I would have liked to have seen a proper constitution for a real united Europe. However, this is not available and the constitutional treaty, which was much more of a treaty than a constitution, was not such a constitution. The treaty before the House is not even a constitutional treaty and is less than that again. However, I support it in any case, because it represents progress and constitutes a step forward in a number of ways. It is a step forward in respect of democracy as it gives the European Parliament much more power. It will have powers of co-decision in 80 different areas and will force both the electorate and politicians to pay a little more attention to European issues at European elections, because unlike this Parliament, the European Parliament has real influence on legislation. It controls, alters and amends legislation proposed by the executive. The executive does not run the show in the European political structure in the manner of executives in nation states. The European Parliament’s relationship much more closely resembles that of United States Congress to the Presidency in the United States than it does to this Parliament. This is the reason it is important for the European Parliament to get more power.

The treaty also gives more power to citizens. The proposed facility for citizens to put forward 1 million signatures to call on the Commission to introduce new legislation constitutes a real power. Deputy Morgan, who spoke earlier, is no longer present. If he has concerns about agency workers, perhaps he should team up with his friends across Europe to get 1 million agency workers to sign such a petition and to initiate a process in the Commission. The treaty also will mean that when the Presidency of the Council is being decided, the European leaders will be obliged to recognise the outcome of the European elections. This of course means that should the European People’s Party, EPP, win the European elections, as it did last time and as I expect it will do in 2009, the President of the Council will be drawn from the EPP. I suggest the person most qualified to so do is John Bruton, the current EU Commission ambassador to the United States. I imagine that in return, the Party of European Socialists will be given the Presidency of the Commission. Unfortunately, that does not leave any role for the largest party in this State. However, it was its own decision to sideline itself from European politics.

Deputy Seán Ardagh (Fianna Fail):

Sinn Féin claims that the treaty gives a number of new competencies to the European Union and will mark a move in a number of areas from unanimity to majority voting. To a great extent, this claim is true but the change will allow for more effective operation of EU institutions. Decisions will be made in ways that have benefited Ireland in the past and will benefit us even more in the future. Unanimity has been preserved in the areas which are of particular interest to us. The issue of taxation, in particular, has recently come to the fore because of the red herring thrown out by the French in regard to the potential for a pan-European taxation system on the basis of charging tax where products are sold rather than where they are manufactured. Given the amount of Microsoft products sold in Ireland compared to the United Kingdom, France and Germany, we would lose out tremendously on that basis

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy John McGuinness (Fianna Fail):

A campaign of fear is underway with many of the other political parties. In most of the debates I have listened to, they have raised issues that are not part of this treaty. They are simply flying kites and trying to ensure that people misunderstand the message. I ask people to consider generally the past 35 years of our membership and to ask, with all the scary stories they have heard, how did this type of Europe emerge if all of those scary stories were true. In fact, they are largely untrue. The stories and the debate that are now circling around, which are non-issues with regard to the treaty, should be nailed down and put to one side. Then let those parties which are voting “No” come clean and vote on the real issues that are relevant to this treaty.

I welcome the Charter of Fundamental Rights for citizens. The understanding of Europe among 500 million people in the 27 states rests on this. To think that they too have a mechanism for having issues raised, debated, corrected or highlighted is a significant step forward for these citizens of Europe. For myself, however, the treaty is about business. It is about ensuring we have a framework that will monitor what happens between states. We now have a Europe that is about peacemaking and European countries not being at war or in conflict with each other. The treaty is about reaching out beyond Europe to the other economies to ensure our foothold within the global economy is secure. Without Europe, it would be a very insecure place to do business.

Deputy Terence Flanagan (Fine Gael):

In a nutshell, the treaty is necessary to cater for an expanded Europe of 27 member states with a population of 500 million. I will be voting “Yes” for the treaty because it will enhance human rights within the European Union. The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union will become legally binding for the first time. This is a positive move because it will add a new level of protection to the rights of people of Ireland and elsewhere in the European Union. These rights include basic human rights such as human dignity, the right to life, the right to the integrity of the person, the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and the prohibition of slavery and forced labour. The charter is very detailed and includes 54 articles which cover economic, social and cultural rights, such as the right to choose an occupation and the right to engage in work.

The appointment of an EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs will provide Europe for the first time with a strong and united voice speaking on our behalf in world affairs. Deputy Varadkar alluded to the famous quotation from Henry Kissinger: “Who do I call when I want to call Europe?” There will now be one contact in the person of the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs. This will strengthen the position of the European Union and enhance its role on the world stage. In the run up to the war in Iraq, Europe was divided as to what approach should be taken and this allowed the Americans to determine policy which should not happen in future. A united voice will also be critical in trade negotiations with the World Trade Organisation and other global bodies. The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs will have a diplomatic service at his disposal, which will enable him and his staff campaign on behalf of the European Union and represent the position of Europe in a better way than is the case at present.

The Debate was adjorned and the final day will take place today and conclude before 13:00.

Parliamentary Debates (Offical Report) Dáil Debate Vol. 651 No. 3, Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Previous Posts:
Some Contributions from the Third Day of Debate on the Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill
Some Contributions from the Second Day of Debate on the Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill
Some Contributions from the First Day of Debate on the Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill

Author: Stephen

Cork born and bred, proud European and Irishman. Involved in many organisations and politics. Also writes for and UCC Express.

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