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