I had endeavoured to try to ascertain the extent to which we had some agreement so that we could clarify the jumping off ground as to where we disagreed. I thought we were in agreement as to the commitment being open-ended, that to a great deal the commitment concerned much more than treaties, that it concerned the reality of evolving political, economic and social life if we joined the Community. I thought we were in agreement as to not being able to have an I-want-to-get-off attitude after a certain period, that we were agreed we were not certain as to the type of future commitments we would have and that none of us could predict with certainty the way in which the Community would evolve. Therefore, I concluded that, nationally, what was prudent to do was to keep open the options. But we seem to be in disagreement as to the best mechanism of keeping open the options. I would have thought that it would have been prudent to have an associate or trade agreement by which we could watch the evolution without having to accept "the laws enacted, the acts done or the measures adopted by the Communities or their institutions". I would have thought that it would be prudent to avoid commitment to those things, to avoid what was necessitated by the obligations of membership but to retain the position whereby we could watch and choose, whereby we could retain the possibility of genuinely, as distinct from legalistically, consulting the Irish people at a later stage.
It is absolutely seriously my contention that you can have legal consultation at a certain stage of the process until you are black in the face but it will be a barren exercise, an exercise in falsehood and emptiness, if you know that you have no real choice, no option but to concur in the general evolution of a community much larger than yourself, where you represent 1 per cent of the population and a ½ per cent of GNP, a community on which you can have no real influence in regard to its evolution and in which you have no choice but to accept the results of that evolution. To pretend to the Irish people that any little form of amendment will confer on them that choice at a future time is to bury oneself in legalism, to shut one's eyes to the real evolution of society, to behave in a naïve way. I do not mean this to be abusive. I find Deputy FitzGerald's naïveté in ways attractive. It is a charming thing at this stage of his life, with the experience he has, that he should be naïve in the way he is. I feel that he is naïve in this way, that he is making the distinction between the law and the reality perfectly sincerely and genuinely, but that we should not accept that distinction because it is a false distinction. We can write in little legalistic safeguards until we are black in the face and it will not alter a tiny bit the reality of our choice or lack of choice because of the tiny, frail economy we have—the poorest, the weakest, the most peripheral, the most underdeveloped. If we climb on what Deputy Thornley called this escalator we cannot get off. It is fair to say that and not to present the possibility of bogus choice to the people as if it was real choice. This is where the confusion of law and reality is leading us.
This is really the centre of our objection to this amendment—that it holds out possibilities of choice which in reality do not exist. It holds out the pretence that we are retaining a sovereignty and being able to decide, inside this Parliament even, which of a number of roads we go, when that choice has disappeared from us. It seems to me that the logical pursuit of the doubts, the uncertainty, the open-mindedness that has been expressed here is to take a position which permits us to avoid major disruption of trade but which permits us to make a choice at a quite different future time, in the light of the way the market evolves, whether we want full membership or not, to postpone the irreversible choice, to take up a position of protection, but also one which keeps the options open.
I draw totally different conclusions from the things Deputy FitzGerald has said in full sincerity. I share his open-mindedness about the way it might go but, since I am open-minded also, I feel that we have to take up a stance of protection and not of shutting our eyes and jumping blindly into the future trusting that the negative aspects will somehow disappear and the positive aspects will flower and that the Community will be OK for us. Perhaps it will. I admit that possibility but it is a terribly dangerous thing to do. It is an almost lighthearted thing to do with the future of a nation. I would want much greater guarantees than at present.
That is a criticism of this amendment. I am not being frivolous or irrelevant, I submit, and you must be of the same opinion, Sir, because you have not suggested that I was out of order. What I had to say and what has been said from these benches was in order, relevant, pertinent and germane directly to a discussion of this amendment. It is an effort to tease out in public whether there is any real, valid protection written into this amendment. In our view there is not and, therefore, our support of it would be validating a triviality—something which is not intended, I accept, as a misrepresentation but which would end up in five or ten years as deceiving the Irish people into believing that they have protection of a legalistic kind, believing that they have choices and options which they do not possess. I think it is a genuinely proposed inadequate thing.
I am not sure that I agree with Deputy Thornley. The Minister is possibly regretting his incautious dismissal of the amendment. Think what a lot of time he would have saved himself if he had just pretended that this was a serious amendment and that he was accepting it with good grace as an important contribution to the betterment of the legislation and that then Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael could campaign together happily in view of the real contribution that Fine Gael had made to making the legislation better. Instead he dismissed it. I do not think it was a piece of wickedness. Maybe it was a piece of silliness on his part, but I think it has had a good result because it has committed the two parties. I am sorry also, on an issue as important as this, that we have not had more contributions from the Government benches.