The Dáil resumed its Debate on the second reading of the Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2008. Some selected contributions.
In resuming the debate on Second Stage of the Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2008 I reiterate my support for the provisions in the Lisbon reform treaty aimed at reinforcing the national parliamentary dimension in the European Union. In recognition of the growing importance of EU legislation and the need to hold the Government accountable for the negotiation of this legislation, the Oireachtas established the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny, the central task of which is to act as a watchdog, scrutinising all proposed EU legislation which, on average, amounts to more than 500 documents annually. It can decide to scrutinise in depth proposed EU legislation which it believes holds significant implications for Ireland.
The need to bring citizens closer to the decision making process has also been recognised by the European Commission which decided in 2006 to send all proposed EU legislation directly to the national parliaments at the same time as it is sent to governments and the European Parliament. The intention is to invite comments from national parliaments on proposals for EU legislation. The joint committee, through its scrutiny process, can prepare opinions on draft EU legislation. It, therefore, seeks to play its part in bridging the perceived divide between the citizen and their capacity to influence the EU decision-making process.
The work of the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny comes at a critical time as the country prepares to vote in a referendum to decide on the ratification of the Lisbon reform treaty. It is important to demonstrate efforts are being made both at national and EU level to listen to the citizens and respond to their concerns regarding the perceived lack of democratic accountability within the EU.
Any single national parliament will have the power to veto EU legislation in the field of family law. There is also a further safeguard whereby those national parliaments which submitted a negative opinion are free to bring an action against the Commission to the European Court of Justice on the grounds of an infringement of the subsidiarity principle. National parliaments would be represented by their governments in such proceedings.
We have the privilege of living in one of the most peaceful and prosperous regions of the world. It was not always that way and there is nothing written in stone saying it will always be. We have to work continuously to maintain and improve what we have and nobody with any sense believes we could have achieved what we have for our region by acting as individual member states. It would be foolish to believe we can sustain our shared success by pursuing it individually.
It is true this treaty does not contain a big ticket issue as others before it did. There is no Single European Act, no single currency to be launched on this occasion. Nor, in its structure, is it a thing of beauty. However, its focus on improving the functioning of the Union, rather than altering radically its area of competence, represents a level of maturity within a Union of 50 years standing. What we are doing now in Europe is getting our house in order; we are tending our tree.
In this regard, I see taxation features in the newspapers again today. Let me once again spell out the position: the treaty will change absolutely nothing here and decisions on taxation will continue to require the unanimous approval of all member states. Nothing could be clearer
When I signed the treaty on behalf of Ireland, I did so knowing that, as with the earlier constitutional treaty, we had achieved all our key goals during the negotiations. No country gets everything it wants in negotiations of this nature but we are extremely satisfied with a treaty which enables Europe to function much more effectively and efficiently and which does not adversely affect any of Ireland’s key interests.
Ten or perhaps 20 years ago there were those who began to comment that there was a need to communicate with the people on what happened in the European Union and the benefits of membership thereof. Both the national parliament and the political system in general have failed to communicate this message to the public. However, some of the blame for this failure must be placed on the Union and its systems. In the next two months we will have an opportunity to debate the various issues involved. We have a duty to inform the people with regard to that in respect of which they are being asked to vote. We must ensure the treaty is passed in order to bring about a more effective and efficient Union and to allow it to develop in order that it might benefit all its citizens. We have had various communications with regard to criticisms of the treaty and the campaign to defeat it. Although we fully accept the right of people to campaign and express their views on the matter, some have introduced red herrings into the debate, which often cause confusion. I also experienced this in debates in Maastricht treaty referendum. I want to deal with some of these red herrings on which we have received information. Oireachtas Members have received documentation from several groups and individuals on the reasons we should vote “No”.
The treaty will not create a super-state, as has been claimed. It safeguards the sovereignty of Ireland and other EU countries. The “No” campaigners claim that the treaty is a grab for power by Brussels at the expense of the individual member states, including Ireland. In fact, the opposite is the case. The treaty sets out for the first time the European Union’s exact responsibilities and its limits in these areas. It outlines the parameters of the Union’s influence and decision making powers. There will be a clear division of powers in decision making and the influence of the Union over its members.
The previously rejected extension of the EU constitution has been discussed. We are told that the Lisbon treaty is the European constitution in another name and that a con-job is being perpetrated on the people by calling it the Lisbon treaty rather than the European constitution. The treaty is similar to the European constitution, but the elements that made that document a constitution rather than a treaty, including elements with which certain member states were uncomfortable, such as giving status to the EU flag, have been removed. We should vote on the substantive issues, not on the basis of words such as “treaty” and “constitution”. The European Union as a project is unprecedented and labels such as these do not do justice to the unique institutional arrangements put in place by the current 27 countries.
As other countries are not holding a referendum, it has been suggested we should use the opportunity to vote “No” to give these other countries a chance to have their say. That is one of the theories being peddled. We have our own Constitution that dictates that we must hold a referendum. No other European country has dictated to us that we should not hold a referendum or told us how to manage our affairs; therefore, why should we tell other sovereign nations how they should go about ratifying a treaty, whether it be an EU treaty or any other international treaty? How other countries decide whether they should sign up for the treaty cannot be dictated by Brussels or any other member state, including Ireland. This is basic international law and also common sense. It would be a dangerous precedent for us to try to dictate to other countries by insisting that they hold referendums. In fact, referendums are unconstitutional in some EU countries such as Germany where they were banned after being abused by Hitler in the 1930s.
We have seen posters of Deputy Creighton throughout the city implying that the treaty will force Ireland to join a European army, but this is absolutely not the case. The new arrangements for co-operation in the areas of security and defence fully respect the neutral position of Ireland and other member states. Ireland will not be subject to a mutual defence clause. European military activity is directed at peacekeeping and crisis intervention. Participation is the option of each member state and not obligatory. Since the 1950s we have been lauded throughout the world for our work with the United Nations. While we have and will continue to participate in peacekeeping missions, it will be on a case by case basis, subject to the triple lock principle, requiring the support of the Government, the Oireachtas and a United Nations mandate. Without these three criteria, the Army will not participate in any peacekeeping or crisis intervention duties.
The “No” campaigners have been forecasting the end of Irish neutrality for 36 years but they have always been wrong and still are on this occasion. There is a view that we should vote “No” to punish the Government’s poor level of performance. We agree that the Government has not performed well but we disagree with using a “No” vote to punish it in this respect. We are extremely concerned by the performance of the health service, about our inadequate education system, the mismanagement of the economy and crime. Coming from Limerick, I am very concerned about that issue, as are people from the mid-west and elsewhere. However, the people must not use these matters as excuses to vote “No” and punish the Government. That chance will come at the local and European elections next year. At that time they will be able to judge the Government’s policies, but to do so now would damage the country’s future role and influence in Europe. It would be the wrong thing to do. I will campaign actively in my area to ensure a “Yes” vote. We are having the first public meeting on this matter in Adare, in my constituency, on 21 April. The leader of Fine Gael, Deputy Kenny, will address the meeting.
This referendum is ample testament to the courage and dignity of the Taoiseach in his leadership of the country and Fianna Fáil. It is a benchmark of the singular importance of the referendum that he chose to put aside his own position and sacrifice himself politically in order that the referendum might be passed and that our national interests would be correctly served by a “Yes” vote. It is also a testament to the importance of the referendum and the treaty that the “Yes” vote for which I am calling is being echoed by the three major parties – Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party. These three major parties command the hearts, minds and loyalties of the people when they go to the ballot box. It is important to note that these three major parties, which the electorate supported demonstrably in the recent election, are behind the treaty
The treaty will provide a voting system and administrative arrangements that will enhance the decision making process. Simultaneously, it carries the necessary changes and adaptations that will allow for democratic accountability, which is important.
Europe, including Ireland, cannot stand still, nor can we act alone. The world is becoming ever more interconnected and we need to exploit that interconnectedness to address new and emerging challenges, including globalisation, demographic shifts, climate change, the need for new sustainable energy sources and labour mobility. These are the issues facing Europe in the 21st century. Borders are meaningless in the face of such challenges and EU member states cannot meet them alone but, acting together, Europe can deliver results and respond to the concerns of its people.
Across Europe there is a consensus on the need to create a market for innovation and innovative ideas. The challenge for Europe is that competition for human resources in science and technology is now global. Europe is in direct competition with other major trading blocs for the best research resources. Researchers, for example, are moving more rapidly. We need to find ways to address these challenges.
Ireland supports openness and free trade. Our whole approach to globalisation is clearly linked to the improving competitiveness of the EU. This momentum must be maintained. The unambiguous connection between embracing globalisation and competitiveness, through national and EU programmes, must be maintained. The Lisbon reform treaty will provide the necessary cohesion to improve and drive our competitiveness.
The EU has played a critical role in the formation of our successful and vibrant economy. Yet, the benefits of EU membership go far beyond financial transfers. Almost no aspect of our public life has been untouched. The European Union has contributed to the modernisation of the Irish economy and society and the Union, under the Lisbon reform treaty, will continue to be a modernising influence in our move towards a knowledge economy.
A “Yes” vote makes it possible for us to change the direction of Europe and defeat the Mandelson reductionist position and replace it with something that comes from the European tradition – a respect for intellectual life, values based on genuine humanity, respect for discourse, respect for diversity, respect for different models and hundreds of years of economic theory from Adam Smith through Marshall to Keynes that realised that the entire purpose of economic proposals was to serve a moral and social purpose. If we are living what I am saying, the case for a “Yes” vote need not be made in the context of illiteracy. It can be made from a standpoint of principle by social democrats and socialists who are anxious to develop a Europe that many future generations will respect as one that gave them a better prospect of intergenerational justice.
The Debate resumes later today.
Parliamentary Debates (Offical Report) Dáil Debate Vol. 651 No. 2, Tuesday, 8 April 2008
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