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

The debate resumed today at 1 o’clock

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Dick Roche (Fianna Fáil):

The main aims of the Lisbon reform treaty, as spelled out in its preamble, are to enhance the efficiency and the democratic legitimacy of the Union. This treaty is different from those that went before it. It was not produced behind closed doors, rather it was crafted in public. The reform treaty is not, as some would have us believe, the work of fevered minds with no mandate.

A second and equally important point is that this is a balanced treaty that represents a particularly good deal for the small and medium-sized member states. The latter point should be bourne in mind by those who mindlessly sloganise about voting “no” to get a better “yes”. There is no chance, nor is there a need, for a better “yes”; this treaty is good for Europe and great for Ireland.

The forthcoming referendum once again puts Ireland in a pivotal position. Without securing a “yes” vote in Ireland, this treaty will fall and the Union will be cast into a further period of introspection. That will damage the European Union but most importantly it will damage Ireland. Important as the treaty is for the European Union, its emphatic ratification is vital for Ireland.

The big winners in this treaty will be national parliaments. They will be given a dramatically extended role. They will receive draft EU law at the same time as national governments; have a longer time to scrutinise draft EU law; be able to object to a draft proposal on the grounds that it breaches the principle of subsidiarity – the national parliaments are made the guardians of subsidiarity in this treaty; and have the right to veto any proposal to change an issue from unanimous voting to qualified majority voting.

Membership of the European Parliament has been capped at 751. Concern has been expressed that the Parliament was growing too large to be effective. The treaty provides that no member state shall have less than six or more than 96 MEPs. As envisaged under the Nice treaty, Ireland will have 12 MEPs. The new arrangement means that the smaller countries have proportionately more MEPs per capita than the larger states.

Every EU treaty that has been put to the Irish people by way of referendum has become the subject of myths, distortions and untruthful efforts to confuse and mislead either by those, such as Sinn Féin, who have traditionally opposed Ireland’s involvement in the European project or by the ad hoc opponents that spring up around each referendum. This treaty has given rise to a bumper crop of myths. These myths are propagated by an intriguing collection of opponents, the bulk of whom have no democratic mandate and none of whom has any record of delivery for this country. We have had claims that this is a self-amending treaty. More specifically, there have been claims about the loss of our neutrality, massive transfers of competences and powers, loss of influence through the new voting system, a reduction of our ability to prevent decisions that are not in Ireland’s interests and the loss of an Irish Commissioner. Each of these myths is easily dismissed.

The self-amending treaty myth is precisely that, a myth. The treaty makes clear that any future treaty amendments “shall enter into force after being ratified by all member states in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements”. In Ireland, this means that any change of any significance at any future time will require a referendum.

The most enduring myth is that ratification will erode Ireland’s neutrality. Sinn Féin has consistently peddled this myth for 35 years. In 1972, for example, campaigning against our entry into the EEC, Sinn Féin opposed accession on the grounds that the objective was “a united states of Europe with a European army”. “Irish people”, we were warned, would be “compelled to fight wars the European powers decide to wage”. Our neutrality would be forsaken and compulsory military service for young people would be introduced. Opposing the Single European Act in 1987, Sinn Féin claimed it would “surrender power completely to the NATO-dominated EEC”. Sinn Féin’s opposition to the Maastricht treaty in 1992 was based on its prediction that it represented a “death knell for Irish neutrality”. In 1998, Sinn Féin opposed the Amsterdam treaty with the argument that it represented “the most significant step towards a military common defence in Europe” and would “ensure that the nuclear-armed Western European Union” was integrated into the European Union structures. Opposing the Nice treaty in 2001, the leader of Sinn Féin, Mr. Gerry Adams, who has been curiously absent from the current debate, said that the treaty would “bring us closer into a European army and into NATO”.

A huge amount depends on our decision, which will have an impact far beyond our shores. It will affect the lives of almost half a billion people across all 27 member states. The idea that we can “Vote No for a better Yes”, which is a vacuous slogan, is a dangerous delusion, as is any suggestion that a “No” vote is cost-free. A “No” vote comes with a massive price tag. It would be seen in Europe as a rejection, serving no purpose, of almost a decade’s work by the member states. If Ireland were to vote “No”, we would not be kicked out of the European Union. The EU will not come to a halt in such circumstances – it will struggle on. The danger, however, is that a balanced treaty which gives huge benefits to small and medium sized states, will be lost. If we vote “No”, we will squander the goodwill we have painstakingly built up since we joined the EEC 35 years ago. We will damage Ireland’s reputation as the “can do” member state – the small country that gets things done. We will undoubtedly send what IBEC has called “a worrying signal” into the board rooms in which decisions on foreign direct investment are made and will continue to be made. That would have a dire economic effect on this country.

A further real danger, which has not been discussed very often, was identified in a recent series of perceptive articles in The Irish Times. I refer to the possibility, in the event of a “No” vote here, that larger member states will conclude that after ten years of trying to reform the EU, their efforts have produced no results. In such circumstances, stasis will stare the Union in the face. If such countries become frustrated, they may decide to fall back on bilateral arrangements. This would produce the two-speed Europe that small and medium sized member states fought long and hard to prevent when the Convention on the Future of Europe was being drawn up. One of the underlying themes within the convention was the need to create a Europe that is based on equality. Another concern that ran through the debate was the idea that a two-speed Europe might develop. Such an approach would destroy the “community method” and ultimately undermine the Union itself. The European project is underpinned by the essential principle that member states are seen to be equals and act as equals. To undermine that principle would have a high cost.

Deputy Frank Feighan (Fine Gael):

The reform treaty will, I believe, improve Ireland’s ability to attract foreign direct investment and increase access for Irish business to international markets. We have a growing vibrant economy and many Irish people have purchased property in Europe and are investing where they see opportunities. Some very good opportunities are to be found and indeed there are bad opportunities on offer, too, as I know from personal experience. I was one of those who bought property in Bansko. However, there are great opportunities for a resurgent Irish economy within Europe. That can only be helped by liberalising markets and ensuring more business opportunities. There is a young vibrant market there that we can tap into.

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children Deputy Pat ‘The Cope’ Gallagher (Fianna Fáil):

Key changes will be effected by the reform treaty. One welcome development will be the appointment of a President of the European Council. The President will co-ordinate the work of the EU leaders at European level. He or she will not have any power as the power will rest with the Council. A new High Representative will have responsibility for foreign affairs and security policy and will only be able to act with the agreement of the 27 member states of the Union.

The Council, representing the Governments of the Union, and the European Parliament, will have just 33 new powers and not over 100, as some are suggesting. These powers, by and large, will pertain to justice and home affairs issues. They will help the Union to tackle issues such as illicit drug trafficking into Europe. All of the 33 new powers will not necessarily pertain to Ireland because of our opt-out clause in respect of justice and home affairs.

The treaty is to ensure that the Union will become more structured. It sets out how it will deal with the new political challenges, be it climate change, the protection of energy supplies or the tackling of illegal immigration. There is nothing hidden in the treaty. A more effective and efficient Union will further the development of the European economy, including that of Ireland. This in turn will help to implement the Lisbon strategy, which is designed to ensure the Union will become the most competitive body in the world by 2010. It is in our own best interest politically and economically to vote in favour of the treaty

I realise from the debate that has just started throughout the country that there will be scaremongering during the course of the referendum campaign. We will be told that a vote for the treaty is a vote for Peter Mandelson and an end to the Common Agricultural Policy. We will be told that by signing up to the treaty, Irish agriculture will run into difficulties. These allegations are wrong and dishonest. I appreciate there are concerns about the WTO and the attitude of Peter Mandelson, but he takes his brief from the General Affairs Council. Our Ministers at the General Affairs Council and the Ministers in agriculture and trade will do their utmost to ensure the outcome of the WTO will be fair and balanced and that there will be no major detrimental consequence for Irish agriculture.

Let us vote in the referendum on the basis of the treaty and not on any other basis. People may have local or national grievances, but this is not the time to express their views by voting “No”. This is the opportunity to vote for the future of the country and to vote for future generations.

Deputy Pat Breen (Fine Gael):

Referenda are complex, but not very exciting. The Lisbon treaty is no different in that respect from previous treaties and must be explained in simple terms to the electorate. Since the formation of the EEC in 1957 when there were six members, the EU has changed significantly. We joined in 1973 with Denmark and the UK. EU membership has been good for Ireland and since joining we have created approximately 1 million jobs and received almost €58 billion in transfer payments. That amounts to approximately €15,000 for every man, woman and child in the country. Irish citizens have the right to move, work and reside freely in other member states. Many of our young people are doing that and vice versa. Many people from Poland and other post-communist countries are moving to this country and playing their very important role here. Of course, the introduction of the euro has made travel within the EU more convenient and much more effective.

I have no doubt that those who oppose the treaty will come out with the same arguments they produced during other referenda debates in the past. They will claim that the treaty will raise taxes, create a superstate, cost us money and lead to free availability of abortion and stem cell research. The other argument is that we will be forced to join a European army. These are just some of the arguments these people will come up with. Of course, they have a right to oppose treaties. That is what democracy is all about. However, I firmly believe that their arguments must be valid, based on fact and relate to what is contained in the proposed treaty. Their arguments must not be based on exaggerated and untrue claims that are intended to scare the electorate and create an atmosphere of fear.

The treaty will not raise taxes because it contains no reference to a common tax policy. Ireland will retain control of its own tax policy and tax rates. The treaty does not create a superstate. It safeguards our sovereignty and sets out the areas for which the EU has responsibility and its limits. It will not lead to abortion and stem cell research. The opposite is the case. Health policy is a matter for each individual country. We will not be forced to join a European army. Our neutrality is fully protected. European military activity is directed at peacekeeping and crisis intervention and participation is an option for any country. We have heard this argument over the past 40 years and it is not true. We must bring that debate to the people. I have attended a number of meetings on the treaty and this is the story that comes up all the time. I am asked whether we will have a super state and be conscripted into an army. That debate must be brought forward by all the political parties.

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan (Fianna Fáil):

The treaty is long and technical in nature and as such does not easily lend itself to campaign slogans and soundbites. In general, EU issues do not generate the kind of excitement and enthusiasm often associated with the cut and thrust, and adventures and misadventures of domestic political debate. I am reminded of another great Frenchman, Jacques Delors, who once said: “You cannot fall in love with the single European market.” The French, after all, are the great authorities on love in the modern world. While it may be difficult to form a passionate attachment to the terms of a treaty, we cannot deny its importance to the development of the EU and its internal workings for the foreseeable future. The treaty will give the Union the flexibility and the capacity to face many major challenges that Europe faces in the decades ahead. There is no doubt that there is a need to restructure the workings of the Union to take account of its enlarged membership and the various issues now confronting Europe.

When one looks at the arguments that we are faced with in the referendum – it is a good exercise to hold a referendum because it forces us to engage with the public and their concerns about Europe – so many of them relate to fundamental rights. People argue that they should have the right to cut turf, catch fish, harvest seaweed, obtain planning permission and so forth, but that there is a European rule which obstructs this. However, under this treaty, people will be entitled to challenge the European Union on the basis of their own individual rights. Intellectually, that is a very important change for Europe to make because at present the difficulty is that the power arrangements are seen as remote and bureaucratic as far as the individual citizen is concerned. At present, the European citizen in the European legal order does not have the right to invalidate a decision taken within the European legal order by the authorities. Our citizens do have that right under our Constitution in relation to decisions we take in this House. That, along with our electoral system, has brought the citizen very close to the Irish State. It is worth looking at this as a positive feature in this campaign. It is not one we should skirt around. We should be open about it.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn (Labour):

The Lisbon treaty represents five years of concentrated work beginning with the Laacken Declaration and the convention that preceded it where for the first time a treaty of reform of the Union’s institutions was formulated, not by an intergovernmental conference comprising civil servants and politicians but by a much more representative body comprising members of national parliaments, the European Parliament, social partners, governments and prospective Union members. The constitutional treaty was defeated by the French and Dutch but it was ratified by 18 other member states, which is often ignored. The Lisbon treaty is the constitutional treaty in reverse. A total of 95% of the provisions of the treaty were contained in the constitutional treaty. Commissioner Wallström, who is responsible for communicating information about Europe, was challenged by a stern commentator on this when asked what was the difference between both. She was asked if the reform treaty is 95% the same, why it was being proposed again. She responded that scientific research proves 95% of our DNA is the same as that of a mouse but that is not to suggest there is no difference between us and mice.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Sinn Féin):

This debate is about the implications of the Lisbon treaty for Ireland, Europe and the wider world. My party believes the Lisbon treaty is a bad deal. It was badly negotiated and is a bad result for the Irish people. It gives the EU too much power and reduces Ireland’s ability to stop decisions that are not in our interests. It is shameful that the Government has signed up to and is now advocating ratification of a treaty which undermines the interest of the Irish people. The Government has a responsibility to protect the interests of the people and once again on this occasion it has failed to do so.

There has been a great deal of scaremongering during this debate in respect of the economy. Some of my colleagues will return to prove this treaty will affect our economy in the future and to deny what the Minister, the Labour Party and Fine Gael have said. It is not too late for us. Even at this late stage, the Government can withdraw from this process. It can turn around agus impím ar an Rialtas a rá leis an Comhairle Eorpach gur shínigh an lacha bacach sin, an Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, an conradh in éadan tola muintir na hÉireann agus i gcoinne leasa an phobail agus go bhfuil muid sásta anois tarraingt siar go dtí go ndéanfar na hathruithe suntasacha atá de dhíth orainn. Muna ndéantar sin, beidh sé de chrógacht ag pobail an Stáit diúltú don mhuc i mála atá an Rialtas ag cur iachall ortha a cheannach.

Deputy Martin Mansergh (Fianna Fáil):

Today, EU partnership is able to embrace Britain and continental Europe and to transcend the conflicts and oppositions of the past. We have different allies according to the subject under discussion – Britain and Sweden on tax sovereignty; France and Poland on the CAP. We are part of the inner eurozone circle but not of Schengen. When Seán McDiarmada was asked in 1916 why a republic, he referred to the examples of France and America. The former, he stated, had been a firm friend of Ireland for generations while millions of Irish people had played a central role in the latter.

The policy of successive Governments to place Ireland at the heart of Europe has been a highly successful diplomatic strategy. As French President Nicolas Sarkozy told his British hosts recently, “If you are a full member of Europe, you have more of a say than if you are on the margins”. That is the nub of the argument. We need to maximise our influence on decisions of concern which are being taken and deliberated upon practically every week in Brussels. No one would understand why a member state which has done so well out of membership in terms of radically improving its position, a major success story of the EU, would rebuff and try to block the organisation that has made it all possible. Politicians and diplomats from countries such as Denmark that were forced by referendum in 1992 to opt out of European policies deeply regret that marginalisation and want to reverse it.

Every party with experience of Government, practically every representative organisation among the social partners, is advocating a “Yes” vote and they know what they are doing. With the level of financial turbulence in the world today, it is no time to take unnecessary risks or to damage the confidence so important to investors that we are well placed in Brussels to influence and shape the decisions that are important to us and to them.

Church leaders, including successive popes, well understand the big picture and have always been supportive of the European project. In an address to diplomatic heads of mission in the Vatican before Christmas, Pope Benedict XVI said that the Lisbon treaty, “gives a boost to the process of building the European home”.

The European Union operates on a balanced political philosophy. It is neither excessively neo- liberal, nor hardline socialist or state interventionist. I would be equally distrustful of ultra-leftism and of the visceral Thatcherite hostility to Europe commonplace in certain sections of the British media which a millionaire-led organisation called Libertas would like to import into Ireland. Their running away from cross-questioning at the forum on Europe this morning speaks volumes for the incoherence and incredibility of their case against the treaty. I am sure Fine Gael Deputy Lucinda Creighton welcomes the publicity of being on a Libertas poster in her constituency and would be rightly dismissive of the politically naive attempt to damage her.

Deputy John Perry (Fine Gael):

As a businessman and entrepreneur, an important aspect of voter decision-making is to be optimistic for the future. The entrepreneurial approach to decision-making has to do with vision, imagination, enthusiasm and self-confidence. The entrepreneurial thinking process understands that if new opportunities are to be successfully grasped it is important not to act based on yesterday’s logic. With an entrepreneurial approach, the voter will select the plan that is proactive and positive on the optimistic assumption that the benefits flowing from the plan will be achieved while the possible risks will be managed and any perceived downsides will be avoided. With a positive, self-confident outlook to the future, the entrepreneur will vote “yes”. From a business point of view and having regard to the advantages of a “yes” vote in attracting business to Ireland, hopefully a “yes” vote will be secured, given its potential to create jobs and attract investment from the US in particular.

For the entrepreneurial decision maker, the issues of likely reward and possible risk go together. On the reward side, all past experience points to the fact that being a full and active member of the EU has brought substantial economic and social benefits to Ireland and its citizens. This outcome is demonstrably quantified. One only has to think of the euro in one’s pocket to understand that the EU has been beneficial for Ireland. On the possible risk side, there is a confidence that specific actions for the management and mitigation of potential risk factors can be taken to ensure the risk element can be avoided into the future. There is a clear understanding that the risk factors can only be managed from a position of influence within the process of the implementation of the decision. One cannot manage potential risk factors as a spectator looking on.

Many of the arguments against the Lisbon treaty are simply recycled versions of “no” arguments put forward during every EU referendum held since 1972. These negative arguments were ill-founded then and they are equally so now. According to Mary Lou McDonald, MEP, Sinn Féin opposes the Lisbon treaty not because its members are eurosceptics but because they are ambitious for Europe and because they believe that, collectively and democratically, Europeans can achieve great things. They claim to be pro-European while at the same time opposing this treaty.

Parliamentary Debates (Offical Report) Dáil Debate Vol. 650 No. 4, Thursday, 3 April 2008

Previous Posts:
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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