I’m Fed Up

i-can-t-keep-calm-i-m-fed-upI’m fed up with politics these days.
I’m fed up of the shouting on Twitter and Facebook.
I’m fed up of people playing the man not the ball.
I’m fed up of people being cut down because you disagree with them on one issue, while agreeing with them on many more.

I’m fed up.

Why do we think we can win arguments by shouting on social media, or only dealing with those we agree with creating our own echo chambers?Why do we think that certain issues are defining issues, then ignore them after a month? Why do we only complain, yet never offer solutions?

This is why I’m fed up.

Politics has changed. Its changed into something I no longer recognise. I used to feel at home in the political sphere, staying up at night discussing issues, disagreeing with friends and family, yet always having respect.

The respect is gone.

Now I don’t feel at home talking politics. While I’m still interested and always will be. I’m not as comfortable discussing issues. Why? Cause more and more people are appealing to opinions rather than fact. To populist causes rather than solutions that will work.

8803e3a7b39eb8592f3ccee708ac5bf9We need to get real.
Yes, things aren’t great for a lot of people. Can they be fixed overnight? No. We need to engage. We need to talk, debate and argue to discern the best course of action for those who need the most action.

All parties and those not members of parties are guilty of this.

We are too quick to judge, quick to argue, yet not quick enough to consider. I too am guilty of this. But its something we all need to do.

I find myself on a political island, assailed by both the loud right and the loud left. I find myself defending views that I thought were widely held and see friends who I used to have debates and political disagreements with on this same Island having the same problems. How did it come to this?

Is it education? Populism? Or is it for some people when they are fed up they lash out?

745119212-luke-lirot-quote-it-is-not-a-perfect-world-but-we-can-do-betterWe can do better.

We all can do better.

I’m not leaving politics, but I am leaving any hopes I had of a political career. I am not able. Somethings are more important. But I have a voice and I will use it. I will support the causes I care about and I will remain a member of Fine Gael.

But I am FED UP!

The Presidential Debates

An RTÉ Radio microphone in Dublin, waiting for...
Image via Wikipedia

As the Campaign gets under way the attention turns from the nomination process to the debates. RTÉ and TV3 have organisied debates on Radio and TV. No sign yet of an Irish Debate on TG4, or news if Newstalk or any other station have organised one yet.

And the debates are:

Wednesday 28th September.

1pm, RTÉ News at One. RTÉ Radio One

9:35pm Primetime, RTÉ One

Friday, 30th September

9:35pm The Late Late Show, RTÉ One

Tuesday, October 4th

9pm Vincent Browne’s Big Presidential Debate, TV3

Monday, October 17th

Time TBC Frontline, RTÉ One

Full details on Journal.ie


Join the Debate in Barcelona

Well tomorrow I am off to Barcelona for the Anna Lindh Foundation Forum 2010. I will be live-blogging and tweeting about the forum, with the help of a few others. I know I am not a big user of twitter at the moment, but college is taking up a lot of the time I would have spent on it, so I will be back to it tomorrow.

You too, though, will be able to see whats happening and pass on your comments as the plenary sessions will be webcast. I received an email about it today.


‘Bridging the Gap in Mutual Perceptions between people across the Mediterranean’
09.30 to 11.00 AM CET Friday 5th March 2010

Join the debate with live web-cast and blog at:

The debate will be broadcast live from the Anna Lindh Forum in Barcelona, involving an audience of over 900 civil society representatives from the 43 countries of the Union for the Mediterranean.

You can also follow us at www.twitter.com/AnnaLindh to get the latest quotes and updates, and join the online discussion using the hashtag #forum2010

Do join in! It will be interesting to hear what you think!

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Read this!

Last Thursday, the opposition parties in the Seanad (upper house) scored a victory over the Government and got a an amendment passed on the Charities Bill. The resulting debate is something you have to read. It shows Fianna Fail senators challenging An Cathaoirleach (Speaker)and Fine Gael Senators standing up for him. Amazing to see. Below is an extract from the Offical Report

An Cathaoirleach: Amendment No. 7 on section 2.

Senator Frances Fitzgerald (FG): I hope the Government will accept this result and not try to change it given the historic nature of this victory.

An Cathaoirleach: The result has been announced.

Senator Diarmuid Wilson (FF): Could I call a walk-through vote?

Senator Frances Fitzgerald (FG): Surely Senator Wilson is not trying to overturn it.


Senator Jerry Buttimer (FG): I do not think a walk-though vote can be called at this stage.

An Cathaoirleach: Please, just hold it.

Senator Jerry Buttimer (FG): I do not think one can do so under Standing Orders.

Senator David Norris (Ind): Will it be the same Members voting?

Senator Jerry Buttimer (FG): The Greens are here at last.


Senator David Norris(FG): This is disgraceful.

A Senator: The Greens have come to the rescue.

An Cathaoirleach: Section 2, Amendment No. 7 in the name of Senators Hannigan, White, McCarthy, Ryan, Prendergast and Kelly.

It does continue so read on

PS The Government lost the vote as the Greens forgot to turn up! The vote record is as follows:
Against the Amendment:
Brady, Martin.
Carty, John.
Cassidy, Donie.
Corrigan, Maria.
Daly, Mark.
Ellis, John.
Feeney, Geraldine.
Glynn, Camillus.
Keaveney, Cecilia.
Leyden, Terry.
MacSharry, Marc.
Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
O’Donovan, Denis.
O’Malley, Fiona.
O’Sullivan, Ned.
Phelan, Kieran.
Wilson, Diarmuid.

For the Amendment
Bacik, Ivana.
Bradford, Paul.
Burke, Paddy.
Buttimer, Jerry.
Coffey, Paudie.
Coghlan, Paul.
Cummins, Maurice.
Fitzgerald, Frances.
Hannigan, Dominic.
Healy Eames, Fidelma.
McFadden, Nicky.
Mullen, Rónán.
Norris, David.
O’Reilly, Joe.
O’Toole, Joe.
Phelan, John Paul.
Regan, Eugene.
Ross, Shane.
Ryan, Brendan.

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

Yesterday, the Dáil had its fifth day of debate on the Second reading of the Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2008. Some selected contributions.

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan (Fine Gael):

The Lisbon treaty is the outcome of an extensive and open process that has gone on since December 2001. The process included a convention on the future of Europe that included not only national governments from member states but also representatives from national parliaments. There was real participation in this process by the European Parliament and the social partners. The convention was held in public and was accessible to the media and the public and it produced the proposals for the constitutional treaty.

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Mary Coughlan (Fianna Fail):

Looking to the future, in the period 2007-13, Ireland can expect to receive approximately €12 billion from the CAP, with €2.3 billion coming from the European agricultural fund for rural development, EAFRD, to fund REPS, ERS, farm investment programmes, installation aid schemes and Leader programmes. An estimated €10 billion will come from the European agricultural guarantee fund and will be used to fund the single payment scheme and market support measures, export refunds, intervention etc.This is the background against which we need to look at the Lisbon treaty. This treaty provides for Ireland’s voice to continue to be heard in the EU in an effective and efficient manner. A positive vote in the referendum on the treaty will send a clear signal that Ireland is determined to maintain its place at the centre of EU decision making. I have been asked on a number of occasions to state what practical differences will arise for agriculture with the adoption of the reform treaty. In practical terms, the reform treaty will not alter the arrangements that currently apply in the agriculture and fisheries sectors to any great extent. The reform treaty introduces the principle of qualified majority voting to certain new areas but the principle has been enshrined in the agriculture and fisheries sectors for some considerable time. While there will be some alterations to the thresholds for reaching a qualified majority under the new arrangements, these alterations will not have significant implications for decision-making. The reality is that most decisions on agriculture and fisheries are arrived at by consensus. It is highly unusual for matters to come to a vote on agriculture and fisheries issues and when they do, close voting margins are unusual.

Deputy Liz McManus (Labour):

I have been involved in a number of referendums, some of which have been extremely contentious, and I welcome the peace that has been achieved, although we must debate the issues in an open fashion and deal with questions and concerns.

This seems a simple matter at heart, even though it is a long, complicated treaty. It is essentially about ensuring we have a framework for 27 countries. At present we are operating under rules that apply to 15 country membership. With the considerable growth in the EU we must ensure it can operate as efficiently as possible. We are conscious that an element of bureaucracy surrounds the EU. To an extent this is inevitable but it must be streamlined. More importantly, the EU must be democratised further than has been the practice in the past.

One of my concerns is about meetings of the Council of Ministers, which have always been held in private. The fact that co-decision is provided for between the Parliament and the Council is an important step forward. The greater openness in respect of coverage of meetings is a step forward although there are always means to circumvent this when difficult decisions must be made. Human ingenuity will ensure this pertains into the future.

The European Union often seems to be a distant body which does things that create difficulties, such as straightening bananas and so on, that are at a great remove from people’s lives. However, one should look back and consider the longer term. The European Union has been an enormously benign influence in respect of inequality and at times has been a persuader in ensuring that we dealt with such issues. As someone who has been involved in the women’s movement for far too long, I recall times when we depended completely on the European Union to protect and promote our rights. When we were obliged to fight tooth and nail against reactionary Government policies that excluded, denied and neglected women, we were able to reach beyond the national Government and obtain support from the European Union in a manner that was transformative for our lives and for women of my generation. This was not limited to women as it also applied to workers’ rights and to Northern Ireland.

Deputy Rory O’Hanlon (Fianna Fail):

Why should we ratify the Lisbon treaty? First, the Lisbon treaty contains little when compared to, for example, the previous treaties such as the Single European Act or the Maastricht, Amsterdam or Nice treaties. Its main purpose is to make the European Union more manageable. The same structures manage the European Union today as obtained in 1953, when there were only six member states, as opposed to the present total of 27. The three institutions that drive the European Union are the European Parliament, the Commission and the Council of Ministers. The role of the European Parliament will be enhanced in respect of input into legislation and policy for the member states and citizens of Europe. Membership of the Commission has been reduced from 27 to 18 and it is important to remember this measure is not new to this treaty, because we already agreed in the Nice treaty to reduce the number of Commissioners.

An important point for the Irish people is that we will have equality with all other member states. Although our population is only 4 million people, we will have a Commissioner on exactly the same terms as does Germany, with a population of 80 million people, and all the other member states of the European Union. Moreover, the five bigger states, namely, Germany, France, Italy, Britain and Spain, had two Commissioners until 2004. However, they will only have one Commissioner, in exactly the same way as Ireland, that is, in every 15-year cycle there will be a period during which member states will not have a Commissioner.

Deputy Peter Power (Fianna Fail):

Those who invite us to oppose the treaty would ask us to agree that the referendum will not be about Europe or the European project but about the merits or otherwise of the detailed text of the treaty. I fundamentally disagree. This is a referendum on the European Union and it presents Ireland with an opportunity to pass judgment on where we stand in Europe. This vote is as much a referendum on the European Union as it is about the arguments and complexities of qualified majority voting or the rotation of commissioners. The destiny and ambitions of this country are intricately tied to the European project so we cannot consider the treaty in isolation. Weighing up its pros and cons without having regard for the wider issues would be a fundamental misunderstanding of what is at stake.

Deputy Brian Hayes (Fine Gael):

The problem with the Nice treaty was that the political establishment, including my party and others, took people for granted. That is why it is crucial in the weeks ahead that effort is made on the ground, public meetings are held, arguments in local media and on radio are put to the “no” side, and, ultimately, people are not taken for granted. Name-calling and calling people loolahs will not help. We need a mature debate on the issues of Europe.

It is also important that those who argue for a “no” vote in this referendum tell us their vision for Europe. If, for example, the rules were changed on QMV or the position of the Commission, would they argue for a “yes” vote? Of course they would not. This issue has been used by certain groups in this country for the same cynical reasons of getting 50% of the publicity or trying to push other political agendas. If the Green Party was on this side of the House today, it would argue against the treaty for its own narrow, pathetic little interest, and everybody in the House knows that. The Green Party has used in the most cynical fashion every EU treaty debate for its own political ends and the people realise that.

Irish citizens like the idea of having a second layer of rights through the European Union. We have primary rights through Bunreacht na hÉireann but we have EU-wide rights also, for example, for workers and women. One can ask whether the advance of women in this country would have been possible two decades ago were it not for the European Union. At that time this country was still in a very conservative mode in terms of the position of women. It was the European Union that led the way. Irish citizens know this and they have a multifaceted view of their rights being domestic but also Europe-wide and international.

Deputy Michael Moynihan (Fianna Fail):

Many opponents of the treaty are making much noise about rejecting it. We must accept the treaty. Ireland is the only member state to have a referendum on it. This opportunity to exercise our democratic right on the treaty is a lasting testament to de Valera’s 1937 Constitution.

Deputy Chris Andrews (Fianna Fail):

Ireland’s relationship with the EU has been a very positive one. The “No” campaign, on the other hand, is pulling up the drawbridge before less fortunate member states can get on board. Theirs is a selfish and thoughtless position to keep what we have achieved for ourselves. Being part of a wider regional political and economic entity enabled us to modernise in many ways. We are a small open economy. It would never make sense for us to go it alone.

I ask voters, when making up their minds, to do so on the basis of two questions. These are what the treaty will do for Ireland and what it will do for the individual. When voters reflect on those questions, they will realise this treaty is good for Ireland, other smaller nations and Europe as a whole.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan (Fine Gael):

People regularly assign blame to the European Union in this country when something goes wrong. It is an easy target and a whipping boy for when something goes wrong. We can blame the bureaucrats in the European Union. Nevertheless, I was told confidentially some years ago that we have a fair amount of bureaucrats ourselves and we did not need to go over there for them. We could supply them with a full market if there was a need.

The debate was adjourned at 13:00 and will continue next week it seams.

Parliamentary Debates (Offical Report) Dáil Debate Vol. 651 No.4, Thursday, 10 April 2008

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

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

The Dáil resumed its Debate on the second reading of the Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2008. Some selected contributions.

Deputy John Perry (Fine Gael):

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.

An Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern (Fianna Fail):

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.

Deputy Dan Neville (Fine Gael):

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.

Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform Deputy Conor Lenihan (Finna Fail):

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.

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

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.

Deputy Michael D. Higgins (Labour):

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

Previous Posts:
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

Statements in Seanad Éireann on the Treaty of Lisbon

Yesterday in the Seanad, Senators made statements on the Treaty of Lisbon. The statements were limited to Leaders or Party Spokespersons. Selected Extracts below.

Senator Eugene Regan (Fine Gael):

The Cohesion Fund is a good example of the many areas in which Ireland has influenced the shape of Europe. Most of the significant changes took place after Ireland’s entry to the EEC. The Single European Act, the first change, came about as a result of work carried out by Jim Dooge, a former Senator and Minister for Foreign Affairs. He was appointed to chair the Dooge Committee, which essentially laid the basis for the structure and wording of the Single European Act. Having participated in this process for 35 years and played our part in shaping the nature of the Union to which we belong, it is surely not credible that we now question elements of the basic structure of the European Union which have been decided on and from which we have benefited. That is what is happening, to some extent, in the debate which is taking place.

One feature of the Europe Union is very important when we examine the question of the adoption and ratification of this treaty. Taking one simple example, we are concerned about Ireland’s position within the Commission. We have had excellent Commissioners who have managed while in office to keep an to keep an eye on Europe, and Irish interests therein. When it was suggested that the number of Commissioners should be limited it was argued that the larger member states would never give up their two Commissioners, but they did. It was then said they would never agree to rotation on a pure equality basis, and they did. That is what is in this treaty, namely, that we are among equals when it comes to membership of the European Commission. It will rotate and Ireland will have its turn, the same as the larger member states. No objections, therefore, can be raised in that regard

There is no good reason for Ireland to vote against this treaty. We would generate a lot of good-will by voting “yes”. To jeopardise for no good reason the goodwill we have in Europe, which we have enjoyed for 35 years, would be very foolhardy.

Senator Terry Leyden (Fianna Fail):

The reform treaty will not affect domestic policy or matters such as abortion. Nothing that happens at the meeting of the Council of Europe next week regarding Ms Gisela Wurm’s proposal on abortion will have a bearing on Ireland or jurisdiction therein. Hans-Gert Pöttering, President of the European Parliament, clearly stated this in the House this morning in his excellent, passionate and well-informed speech. It was great to have him present. He made a very clear statement on many issues has been a great help. I hope his speech is published widely in Ireland.

Contrary to some assertions made by witnesses to the Joint Committee on European Affairs earlier today, hard copies of the text of the treaty are available free of charge to the public throughout the country in all public libraries and at other locations. The document would be practically impossible to send to every household because it is so long, large and comprehensive.

The role of the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny will be expanded to ensure every one has a say in that regard. Today I attended a meeting of that committee where all the European legislation was brought forward and will be sent to different committees of these Houses for processing and consideration.

Senator Feargal Quinn (Independent):

Today’s debate at the Joint Committee on European Affairs was useful. Three different delegations came in and spoke. One of them, Mr. Roger Cole from the Peace and Neutrality Alliance, spoke about the concern for neutrality. I was reminded of my son in law. I have five children – two girls and three boys. We sent them all to France to school before they were 14 because somebody said that if one learns a language before one is 14, it is possible to speak it without accent. The two girls promptly fell in love with Frenchmen at the age of 14 and are now both married to Frenchmen. The family home of one of those Frenchmen, Nicolas de Son, where they now live, is in Soissons, about 80km north east of Paris. It was damaged severely in 1870 when the Germans decided to visit Paris. They stopped there, there was a battle there and the house was destroyed. It was rebuilt a few years later. In 1914, the Germans again decided to visit Paris and again the house was destroyed, and from the war reparations it was rebuilt. In 1940, the Germans made it their headquarters and the Americans bombed the house. This is to give the House some idea of what happened. We in Ireland are inclined to forget that in those years three wars took place and since 1945 there has not been anything like such a European war. On that entire area of neutrality and of the belief that we can keep peace, we must give credit to the European movement.

Senator Déirdre de Búrca (Green Party):

It is a very positive development that under the terms of the Lisbon treaty, the European Parliament will have the power to elect the President of the Commission. It will not just have the power of assent but will have the power to elect or refuse the nomination of the European Council in respect of the President of the Commission. This will mean that the largest grouping in the European Parliament will have a very important say in future legislation because, as we know, the Commission has the powers of legislative initiative at a European level. If the socialist group is the largest party in the European Parliament, we are likely to see a socialist-inclined President of the European Commission which could have a significant impact on the type of legislation we could expect to see proposed by the Commission. It is an important new power for the European Parliament and should concentrate the minds of the European electorate on the fact that the people they elect to the European Parliament in June 2009 will have an important say in the composition of the Commission and, therefore, the overall legislative output of the European Union

Parliamentry Reports, Seanad Debates, Vol. 189 No. 1 – Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Why I love David Norris

During the debate on the Order of Business an argument broke out between Senator Dan Boyle (Green Party) and Senator Jerry Buttimer (Fine Gael) on the issue of Cork Airport. Senator David Norris (Independent) quip is the reason why he is in the house and why he should remain there! There are tears in my eyes! I wish I was there, though I would have been kicked out of the gallery.

Senator Dan Boyle: The House can have a valuable debate on this to support the cause. (Hes talking about the Olympics here)

The second debate I call for has more local significance, although it has national importance. A report has just been produced on the national aviation strategy, particularly on Cork Airport and its relationship with Dublin Airport. It was compiled by Mr. Peter Cassells on behalf of the Government. While it attempts to employ the wisdom of Solomon in dealing with the problem—–

Senator Jerry Buttimer: The Green Party in Lisbon—– (had me giggling, but not too much)

Senator Dan Boyle: —–there are wider issues that need to be debated in this Chamber.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Is the Senator supporting the Government?

An Cathaoirleach: Senator Boyle without interruption.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Is the Senator supporting the Government?

Senator Dan Boyle: I am surprised the Senator even needs to ask that question.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Is the Senator reneging on the people of Cork?

Senator Dan Boyle: Am I not sitting on this side of the Chamber?

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Is the Senator turning his back on the people of Cork?

An Cathaoirleach: Senator Boyle without interruption.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: He is turning his back on the people of Cork.

An Cathaoirleach: Senator Buttimer should not be interrupting.

Senator Dan Boyle: There is a certain Senator who sometimes believes a meeting in this Chamber is a meeting of the Cork GAA county board. There should be a better sense of decorum.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: What is wrong with the GAA? The Senator was never involved so he would not know about it. The Senator should not be denigrating Cork. He is in enough trouble as it is.

Senator David Norris: Could someone tell me what is the GAA? Is it a political organisation? (Was laughing so hard, tears were flowing down my face!)

An Cathaoirleach: The Senators should speak seriously on the Order of Business. I ask Senator Boyle to continue without interruption.

Norris for Life Senator!!!

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

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

Parts of the Contributions by TD’s to yesterdays debate.

Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern (Fianna Fail)

The discussion of the Bill by the Oireachtas represents an important phase in our national debate on the treaty, which will be put to a referendum in June. The reform treaty is important for Ireland and Europe and it is a logical step for the European Union in a world of increasing globalisation. Ratification of this treaty is a logical step for Irish men and women who want to express their faith in a political project that has, in the past 35 years, changed our nation for the better.

I sincerely believe it would be a profound mistake for us to vote “No”. Such an outcome would cause great uncertainty within the Union. It would damage the Union and cast doubt on our collective ability to face up to the new challenges confronting our Continent. It would be seen as a victory for those across Europe who have never liked the EU way of doing business through the painstaking pursuit of agreement that can serve our shared interests as Europeans. Failure to ratify the treaty would be especially damaging to smaller countries like Ireland, which derive particular benefit from the level playing field provided by agreed EU arrangements. Most crucially, a “No” vote would be damaging to Ireland. It would damage our standing as a committed participant in the evolution of the Union.

Some opponents of the treaty have been speaking in alarmist terms about this. It is suggested that, suddenly, EU law will be superior to Irish law. In language similar to that of parties and newspapers across the water that want to put the EU out of business, these opponents are suggesting that this treaty will put the Irish Constitution out of business. They are wrong. This constitutional provision is not new. It is as old as our membership of the Union. The wording reflects the principle of the primacy of European law, well established by the Court of Justice in Luxembourg prior to Ireland’s accession to the European Communities.

The EU principle of primacy reflects the general principle of international law, recognised since 1937 by Article 29.3 of Bunreacht na hÉireann, that States must comply with international legal obligations freely undertaken by them in the exercise of their sovereignty. The practical effect of the principle of primacy is that it offers certainty and clarity regarding the relationship between the Union’s laws and those of member states. It applies only in those areas where the member states have conferred powers on the Union.

This principle of conferral is an important element which is helpfully highlighted and clarified in the reform treaty. It makes it clear that the Union does not have powers of its own. Its powers derive from sovereign decisions by the member states to give the Union certain powers. These powers are carefully set out in the EU treaties.

Bunreacht na hÉireann will continue to be the basic legal document of the State and will continue to determine, in the final instance, the precise relationship between Irish and EU law. The ultimate locus of sovereignty will continue to reside with the member states rather than the Union.

Deputy Billy Timmins (Fine Gael)

The same arguments are made time and again. Our neutrality is akin to the cat with the nine lives – it being lost on each occasion that we passed an EU treaty. Our neutrality must have many graves stretching from Rome to Maastricht to Nice. I would like to be in a position to say that our concept of neutrality has ceased and that we are full participants in the common foreign and security policy but this is not so. If something is worth being a member of, it is worth protecting. Where we can assist in dealing with evil and oppression, we should do so and follow our own sovereign decision. In recent weeks, there has been much criticism of China’s role in the Tibet Autonomous Region and yet that country, as a member of the UN Security Council, can decide our foreign policy, as can any other permanent members if certain circumstances arise. The comfort blanket of the UN can dictate our sovereignty in some decision making on foreign policy, while the European Union, strangely, cannot. This is paradoxical. I also believe that the majority of Irish people would favour our participation in the common foreign and security policy if they were afforded the opportunity to voice their opinion on it. Hopefully, they will get that opportunity in the not too distant future.

I hope we will get an opportunity to deal with details of the Bill on Committee Stage. There are many other aspects with regard to foreign direct investment, which I hope speakers from this side of the House will address. On Committee Stage we will raise some issues with respect to what will become subsections 13o and 14o of Article 29 of the Constitution. It may be unnecessary to include them as we believe the authority already exists in the Constitution given that we have signed up to the treaty.

Deputy Lucinda Creighton (Fine Gael)

What will this particular treaty achieve that will be so significant? Many people are asking whether the treaty is really necessary. Previous treaties focused on clear and crucial initiatives of the EU. At first it was dealing with the Single Market. As it progressed, it dealt with the common currency, the euro. More recently we voted for the Nice treaty to support the enlargement of the European Union, allowing 12 new member states from the eastern bloc to join the EU and benefit from it in the same way as we have done. We now face a new juncture in the development of the European Union. We face new challenges and the Lisbon reform treaty is designed to assist Ireland and other member states in facing up to these challenges.

These challenges are numerous. They are the challenges that affect each and every citizen of this country. Anybody who believes this referendum, this Bill or Europe is not relevant to their lives should think again because they are simply wrong. The challenges that face us are relevant to every citizen. They include the challenge of global warming and climate change, the threat to energy security in Ireland and the rest of Europe, the challenges associated with Third World hunger and peacekeeping and peace-enforcement missions in our neighbouring regions.

Critically, the treaty also addresses perhaps the greatest threat to the Irish people, that of the global economic downturn and the prospect of job losses in this country. The Lisbon treaty focuses on making Europe more competitive and on the completion of the Single Market, with the prospect of greater economic security for all of us in the context of our place in Europe in the future.

It is time to listen to the facts rather than the scare-mongering spin, and here are some of the facts. On the issue of neutrality, Ireland will retain its veto on all matters concerning European defence policy. We cannot be forced into anything of which we do not want to be part. The treaties will continue to recognise that EU policy “shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain Member States”, a clear reference to Ireland. The constitutional prohibition in this country on joining an EU common defence force remains in place. The triple lock means that no Irish troops will be deployed without a UN mandate. That position is very clear. These three levels of protection from the treaty and the Constitution mean that no amount of spin from “No” campaigners can undermine the true facts of this scenario.

The changes introduced by the Lisbon treaty will equip the European Union to undertake widely supported crisis management and peacekeeping tasks around the world and particularly in neighbouring regions. The current UN-authorised EU mission to Chad, in which Ireland is playing a leading role, is a prime example of the European Union’s activities in this area of common security policy. The mission will provide security for the provision of humanitarian relief to hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced persons, many fleeing persecution in Darfur. Surely that is a meritorious activity for Irish troops to be part of and I am proud of it.

By supporting this treaty, the Irish people will be enabling the European Union to take specific action which will benefit business interests in Ireland. The treaty will ensure increased access for Irish business to European markets. It will also ensure that Ireland will retain a veto in key areas for Irish business, such as taxation. We must not be deluded or confused on this issue – we retain our veto on taxation.

Overall the case for the Lisbon treaty is indisputable. The EU has been and will continue to be good for Irish business and the Irish people. Those of us supporting this Bill realise that we have the facts on our side. The people who oppose this treaty do so on the basis of misinformation, misinterpretation and the concoction of some far-fetched tales. By sticking to and promoting the facts it will become clear to the public that this treaty is in their interests.

Deputy Joe Costello (Labour)

The phoney war is over and the formal debate has begun in the Oireachtas. Both the National Forum on Europe and the Joint Committee on European Affairs will take the debate to the people throughout the length and breadth of Ireland, which is most welcome. The Labour Party is also taking the referendum very seriously. We debated the substance of the Lisbon reform treaty at our annual conference in November 2007 in Wexford and voted overwhelmingly to campaign for a “Yes” vote.

The European project unites the people of Europe by democratic consent on the basis of shared values and in doing so the participating countries agree to pool and share sovereignty in the pursuit of peace, prosperity, stability and solidarity. At the same time the principles of subsidiary and proportionality ensure that matters which can be dealt with by the individual member states are left to the individual member states.

At every referendum since Ireland joined in 1972, dire warnings and predictions were given and made about what Europe would do to Ireland. However, Europe did not do any of these awful things. It did not reduce Ireland to a province of a European empire or super state. It did not enforce the conscription of young Irish men and women into a European army, as we heard so often. It did not force Ireland into aggressive imperialist wars. It did not bring about a disastrous fall in the nation’s population – in fact the reverse has occurred. It did not cause wholescale unemployment or destroy the small Irish economy – again, the reverse has occurred. It did not undermine Irish culture or the Irish language; the Irish language is now an official language of the European Union. It did not put an end to trade union or workers’ rights; they are firmly supported and enshrined in the charter of fundamental rights. It did not introduce abortion or euthanasia, nor can it.

All these predictions were made again and again during every treaty debate by those campaigning for a “No” vote. Every one has proved to be groundless and inaccurate. They are being made again by the same individuals and groups who are opposing the Lisbon reform treaty. They are just as unfounded, inaccurate and misleading today as they were when first made.

The treaty creates new goals and challenges for member states. At the National Forum on Europe the Labour Party argued that the EU should take leadership of the great challenges of the day affecting humankind. Under the Lisbon reform treaty the EU has firmly placed itself as the leading player in tackling climate change and the sustainability of the planet. Article 37 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights states “a high level of environmental protection and the improvement of the quality of the environment must be integrated into the policies of the Union and ensured in accordance with the principle of sustainable development”. Likewise the Lisbon reform treaty commits the EU to become the world leader in Third World development, humanitarian aid and the eradication of global poverty.

The Debate will resume today.

Parliamentary Debates (Offical Report) Dáil Debate Vol. 650 No. 3, Wednesday, 2 April 2008