Europe: Let’s Be At The Heart Of It

Well the Senior Fine Gael Party have a better slogan the YFG any way, so that has restored my belief in the party! Enda Kenny gave the following speech at the launch.

At the outset, I would like to say that I regard the forthcoming referendum as being of enormous importance for Ireland’s future.

I am voting YES and asking Fine Gael supporters to do likewise because I firmly believe that Ireland’s future success and prosperity depends on us remaining at the heart of an efficient, effective and democratic European Union.

I very much welcome the fact that we are holding a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty as it provides us with the opportunity to have a real debate about our place in Europe.

That’s why this debate is fundamentally about our attitude to Europe. Do we want to be at the heart of it; or do we want to be isolated and irrelevant?

The Referendum is very important for the future of both Ireland and the European Union and I hope that we take it seriously and that the debate over the next 6 weeks is a comprehensive and honest one in which the maximum number of people are engaged.

It would be very easy for me, as Leader of Fine Gael, to sit back and allow this referendum to be dominated by domestic political issues. For example, many people are unhappy about the dramatic slowdown in the economy, the continuing crisis in the health service and the rise in violent crime and want to use the referendum to punish the Government. I am not prepared to allow that to happen. As in all previous European treaty referendums, my Party has campaigned vigorously for a ‘Yes’ vote. This we have done both in government and opposition as we regard EU membership as a cornerstone of Ireland’s success.

That is why I am asking Fine Gael supporters in particular, and others who are unhappy with the performance of the Government, to hold their fire until next year’s Local and European elections. I will put the national interest first and actively support the passing of the Lisbon Reform Treaty.

In fact, our campaign started some time ago and we are now well into our programme of over 30 public meetings throughout the country. What I have detected so far is that, while people are generally positively disposed towards Europe, there is much confusion about the Lisbon Treaty itself, and its implications. It is our responsibility and politicians to fill this information gap and I genuinely believe that Fine Gael’s public meetings and the other elements of our campaign are helping this process.

Essentially, this Treaty’s purpose is to reform the institutions and decision-making processes of the Union to cater for a population of 500 million in 27 member states and to prepare Europe for the many challenges it faces. These include the growing economic power of nations like China, Russia and India. Other global challenges like climate change, hunger and disease epidemics require Europe to speak with a coherent voice if our continent is to be effective in contributing to solutions to these problems.

I firmly believe that EU membership have been pivotal to Ireland’s success story. It has ended our economic dependence on Britain and opened up new and fruitful markets for Irish products. When we couldn’t afford to invest in our infrastructure, it was our European partners who stepped in. If they hadn’t, the economic progress of the past 15 years would not have been possible.

It is beyond doubt that the significant inward investment the country has enjoyed has been stimulated by our place in Europe, Ireland being the only native English speaking country in the Eurozone.

At this time of economic uncertainty in Ireland, with growth forecasts falling, unemployment rapidly rising, tax revenues much lower that forecast, and a record budget deficit in prospect, it is more important than ever that Ireland strengthens its place in the European Union.

As the only country holding a referendum on the Lisbon Reform Treaty, we have a unique opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to the European process and to strengthen our place at the heart of the Union. A strong “Yes” vote will send a powerful message internationally that Ireland continues to be a central member of the evolving European process and that we are committed to the reforms necessary to equip the EU to meet the economic and political challenges it faces.

Apart from the indisputable economic benefits, we should also recognise that Europe continues to benefit Irish people in a wide range of areas. The fact is that most of our laws in the areas of the environmental protection, equality, employment protection, and consumer rights originated in European Union directives and regulation.

The questions we must ask ourselves when considering the Reform Treaty are:

– Do we believe that Ireland’s future best interests lie in being part of a more effective and democratic, and less bureaucratic Europe?
– Do we recognise that a coherent European voice on the world stage will be a force for good?

I believe that most Irish people will answer ‘Yes’ to these questions and that is what this Treaty will achieve. It will reform the EU institutions to make them more effective and accountable and less bureaucratic. It will strengthen Europe’s capacity to address global problems like poverty, aids and climate change. Critically, will also enshrine the fundamental rights of all European citizens in law.

The fact that Ireland is the only member state holding a referendum is both a privilege and a huge responsibility. We have a special responsibility to ensure that the debate over the coming months is an honest and rational one, based on the facts rather than on the many false and spurious arguments that have been promoted by anti-European groups in recent months.

Among the more bizarre claims I have come across include allegations that the Treaty will lead to the creation of a European army to which our young people will be conscripted; that the Treaty will pave the way for the legalisation of abortion; that the Treaty will threaten Ireland’s corporate tax rate even though is clearly the fact that tax policy can only change with the unanimous agreement of all member state governments.

Possibly the most ridiculous claim I have heard so far is that the treaty will impose a limit on the size of Irish families, and I believe that a leaflet containing this nonsense has been circulated in Cork!

The truth is that these issues have nothing to do with the Treaty and it’s time that those who are making these false claims admitted this.

One of the reasons why these false arguments have been spread has been the Government’s prolonged dithering about the timing of the referendum and the delay in setting up Referendum Commission. This vacuum has been filled by misinformation and confusion as evidenced by the results of the recent opinion polls and surveys. These findings are a wake-up call that must be answered resoundingly. The incoming Taoiseach must take charge of and activate a Government campaign in support of the Treaty and I call on him to make this is immediate first priority.

I fully respect the right of people to oppose the treaty but I call on them to focus their arguments on the actual treaty provisions rather than on unrelated issues.

Such a debate must be aimed at ensuring that the Irish people are equipped with the true facts when they go to vote rather than adding to peoples’ confusion by the spreading of misinformation.

I am confident that such a debate will result in the Irish people opting for solidarity and a future role of influence rather than isolation.

“Dithering” seams to have entered the political lexicon from the UK where Gordon Brown and his cabinet are regularly accused by the Conservatives for ‘Dithering’ on various issues. Nice to see Enda learning from fellow conservatives.

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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