Tairgim go léifear an Bille don Dara Uair.
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time".
The decision of the Supreme Court that it is not permissible for the Government to ratify the Single European Act without further reference to the people has required a clear response from the Government. We decided therefore to resolve the problem which has arisen in regard to our position in the European Communities by taking the following measures: first, we informed our partners in the Community of what had taken place and how we intended to proceed. Secondly, we are asking the Oireachtas as a matter of urgency to enact the necessary legislation to enable the people to decide by way of referendum to authorise the Government to deposit the instrument of ratification with the Italian Government as stipulated in the Act. Thirdly, we propose to deposit alongside the Instrument of Ratification a Declaration by Ireland recalling the special consideration given to Ireland's need for industrialisation and economic development at the time of accession and set out in Protocol 30 and our understanding that our policy of military neutrality is not affected and fourthly. I wish to invite the Leaders of the other parties in Dáil Éireann after the referendum has taken place to discuss the wider implications of the judgment on the ability of the Government of the day to conduct foreign policy and to consider what further action, if any, might be undertaken.
The House will be aware of the immediate background to this Bill. On Thursday, 9 April, the judgments of the Supreme Court in the appeal by Mr. Raymond Crotty against the judgment of the High Court in the case he had taken in regard to ratification by Ireland of the Single European Act, were made known. The court upheld the constitutionality of the European Communities (Amendment) Act, 1986—which now forms part of our domestic law — and, in doing so, upheld all but Title III of the Single European Act. However, the court declared, by a separate majority decision, that ratification of the Single Act, in so far as it contains Title III, is impermissible under the Constitution and that it could only be ratified if an appropriate constitutional amendment were made.
The result is that Ireland is not now in a position to deposit the instrument of ratification of the Single Act. This gives rise to a serious situation in the Communities because Article 33 (2) of the Single Act provides that it will enter into force on the first day of the month following that in which the instrument of ratification of the last signatory state is deposited. The entry into force of the Single Act for the Communities cannot therefore take place at present. Because Ireland cannot ratify, the other member states cannot proceed to operate the provisions of the Act even though they have all ratified and wish to proceed with its implementation.
I told the House on Thursday week last, in replying to Special Notice Questions about the court judgments that the Government's proposals in regard to ratification would be put forward as soon as we had had an opportunity of considering the terms of the judgments and that, in the meantime, in view of the gravity of the issue, I proposed to invite the leaders of all the political parties in the House to meet me individually to discuss the implications of the decision of the court. Those consultations duly took place and I wish to place on record here my thanks to the other party leaders for the constructive manner in which they approached those discussions. The Government, taking account of the consultations with party leaders and of legal advice, have considered the matter as expeditiously as possible consistent with the need for care. We have decided to proceed in the way I have outlined.
In the course of supplementary exchanges here on 9 April, I acknowledged that we had a responsibility to our partners in the Community to take expeditious steps to enable the Single Act to come into force. We were also conscious of the possible reactions to the further delay. We, therefore, informed our partners of the court judgments and the implications and gave them an indication of the Government's intentions. My reply to the questions here on 9 April was communicated by our Ambassadors the same day to the Foreign Ministry in each Community capital and, on the following day, Community Ambassadors in Dublin were given a briefing in the Department of Foreign Affairs on the basis of preliminary decisions by the Government. Immediately the court judgments were delivered, I explained the situation to the current President of the European Council, Mr. Wilfried Martens, the Belgian Prime Minister. I expressed to him our disappointment over the delay and my appreciation of the situation of the Belgian Presidency. Over the following two days I spoke personally or communicated with the Presidents of the European Commission and of the European Parliament, President Mitterrand of France and the Heads of Government of each of our partners. I may say that the general reaction of all those to whom I spoke was one of sympathy and understanding. I wish to avail of this opportunity to express, on my own behalf and on behalf of the Government, our appreciation of this attitude by our partners.
I believe the Dáil will accept that the Government have acted with expedition. If the previous administration had proceeded with the necessary steps as soon as the Single Act was signed in February 1986 things would have been more satisfactory all round. It is not simply the fact of our membership that is important: we must be concerned with the quality of our membership. It is vital that we be seen to be a country that honours and delivers on any commitments it enters into.
I and other Deputies pointed to the dangers that were involved during the debate on the ratification of the Single Act. On 9 December 1986, I drew attention to the danger of constitutional challenge and to the serious consequences which could result. I queried whether it was wise for the Government to proceed with the Bill then before the House and with ratification without putting the matter beyond doubt by way of referendum. I pointed out that the Government were taking a casual attitude to a matter of very great importance and significance. I said that "a far better and wiser course would have been to have held a referendum earlier this year and put the matter beyond doubt or challenge".
The former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Peter Barry, however, said in opening the debate on that occasion at column 1904 of Volume 370 No. 9 of the Official Report for 9 December last:
The Government are also satisfied that ratification by this country of the Single Act does not require an amendment of the Constitution.
This was in line with the view expressed in the Explanatory Guide published by that Government. Paragraph 4.15 of that publication stated:
It is not considered that the provisions of Title III give rise to any constitutional difficulty.
Fianna Fáil have adopted an entirely consistent approach to the overall development of the EC in recent years and to the Single European Act. As I said in the Dáil on 9 December: "Both in Opposition and in Government Fianna Fáil have been totally committed to and active in developing Ireland's membership". We were critical of some aspects of the way our EC negotiations were conducted in recent years, which seemed to be based on the assumption that we were not entitled to press our case within the EC and that we had to accept passively and uncritically what others wanted or decided. Each member state has its own special characteristics. Ireland no less than other nations. All member states bring such points to bear in EC negotiations, and are fully entitled to do so. Facile phrases have been used to denounce any vigorous assertion of Ireland's interests, but a balanced development of the Community, which is what we consistently and legitimately seek, is in the interests of and absolutely vital to the progress of the Community itself.
Fianna Fáil were critical of some aspects of the way the negotiations on the Single European Act were conducted. Even at the time when our predecessors brought the Act forward for ratification, we were already presented with an unwelcome choice. As I said at column 1914 volume 370 of the Official Report:
It is not possible, now that we have arrived at the ratification stage, to reverse what was agreed during the negotiations. What we must try and do now is preserve what we can in the new situation.
What was true then is, five months later, even more true today. Throughout the rest of the Community, the constitutional procedures for ratification have been completed; the Act has been approved of by the Parliaments of all the member states. We cannot now reopen an agreement negotiated, signed in good faith, and passed by this House without causing disruption in the Communities and doing damage both to our reputation and to our vital interests. We would be in breach of a solemn undertaking on a major matter of policy given by an Irish Government. That is not the way for Irish Governments to act in international affairs. Over 12 months ago the Danish Parliament voted to have the Single Act renegotiated. The other member states categorically refused re-negotiation and the matter was then put to the Danish people in a referendum, and the Act was approved. It would be seriously detrimental to Ireland's interests now to go through the motions of fruitlessly seeking renegotiation or alternatively to opt out from the further development of the European process. Likewise, after we have held up the rest of the Community for several months, it would be unacceptable for us to adopt a dilatory approach. It is, however, perfectly legitimate for us in clearing the constitutional obstacle to the ratification of the Single European Act to make clear to our partners the spirit and understanding in which we do so without in any way cutting across the Act itself.
The Oireachtas joint committee, in paragraph 75 of their 1985 Report No. 14 on the European Parliament's Draft Treaty of European Union, said that they "would see a two-speed Europe as vitiating the essential cohesion of the Union". In paragraph 84 of the same report, the joint committee stressed the disadvantages of Ireland's exclusion from an eventual union and how enlargement of the Community to include Spain and Portugal would make any such exclusion even more anomalous. They said:
The Joint Committee considers that of all the vital interests that must be defended within the Community none is more vital than Ireland's continued membership itself.
The committee were referring to the evolution of the Community towards a form of European union much fuller and more integrated than what was subsequently incorporated in the Single Act. Their conclusion, nevertheless, is clearly applicable to our position in regard to the Single Act. The Act represents a further step in the evolution of the Community. It is the outcome of a process in which the political leaderships of the member states have made a major political investment. There is no going back at this stage; no question of re-negotiation. The only realistic course open to us is to ratify and on that there is agreement by parties in the House representing in total about 95 per cent of the electorate.
Even though the Supreme Court found the Single European Act in so far as it deals with economic development and matters other than political co-operation in conformity with the Constitution. I would, nevertheless, like to make a few remarks about those economic aspects of the Act. Our concern about the economic aspects of the Single European Act was that in the process of completing the internal market adequate attention should be paid to the problems of the less developed regions away from the centre, and that without such attention some of the steps envisaged would be impossible for us to implement. We welcome the broad principles behind the Commission document "Making a Success of the Single Act" and the emphasis placed in it on bringing about the growth and adjustment of the less favoured regions, and we agree with the view of the Commission President that the success of the Single European Act will depend on bringing in substantial measures designed to produce greater cohesion.
It is important to reiterate to our partners that Ireland does face special problems and that it is a common Community interest that we attain the objectives of our industrialisation and economic development policies in order to align the standards of living in Ireland with those of the rest of Europe.
We are fully conscious of the benefits that can flow to Europe as a whole from the realisation of an internal market of 320 million people — one of the richest and largest in the world — and from the capacity to narrow the technological gap between the Community and its major international competitors, namely, the US and Japan. However, we must make every effort to ensure that these benefits are spread right across the member states and do not accrue disproportionately to the more central regions of the Community.
This emphasises the need to ensure that the provisions on economic and social cohesion in the Single Act are translated into practice and that action by the Community in this area is on a scale and of such a nature to ensure significant progress being made towards realising the objective set down in the Act of reducing regional disparities in the Community.
This is a matter of vital concern for the Government. It will be a central objective of our policy in the Community. The declaration on economic and social cohesion to be deposited with our Instrument of Ratification will serve to remind our partners of their commitment, under Protocol 30, which was agreed at the time of our accession, to support Ireland's policy of industrialisation and economic development. The Government's approach in this matter has been endorsed by the all-party Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Secondary Legislation of the Communities.
I have on a number of occasions spoken about the need for all our representatives in Community negotiations and discussions to have adequate data and information on which to base their case. We need a detailed, factual and objective assessment of how we have fared since joining the Community and particularly since the onset of the recent recession. This would involve not only comparisons of the development ofper capita income, across the Community, but trends in employment, investment, industry and in agricultural production and incomes. The NESC carried out a very worthwhile study of this kind back in 1981 entitled “The Socio-Economic Position of Ireland within the European Community”.
I propose to ask NESC, when I meet them shortly, to carry out an in-depth study of Ireland's comparative performance in the EC and to relate it to some of the problems and opportunities that we will face in realising the internal market. In order to be able to argue our case in the Councils of the Communities effectively we need to know exactly what our experience has been, and how it has paralleled or diverged from the experience in other countries. If a particular policy has had an especially adverse effect on us, then that is a legitimate basis for seeking special measures to mitigate its effects.
Community membership has given an enormous impetus to development in Ireland over the past 14 years. Our agriculture was modernized; we have had an influx of new high-technology industry; parts of our infrastructure, especially energy, telecommunications and to some extent transport have been brought up to date; our social welfare system has been upgraded. I would equally accept that compared with the high hopes of the early seventies our experience has in many respects been disappointing, even though we cannot simply blame the EC for that. But the basic reality is that we cannot contemplate a satisfactory economic future isolated from the countries that surround us, who are all members of the European Community. We could not maintain present standards, never mind prosper, in such isolation. That does not, of course, mean the Community will solve all our problems for us, or that we should not develop our trade with countries outside the EC, in America, Europe, the Middle East and Japan and the developing world. The present living standards of our people, however, and our hopes for significant improvement in them depend basically on active participation in the European Community.
Let no one be under any illusions that we have any real alternative options. We are at present in an extremely difficult economic and financial position. This Government are not prepared to put at risk the welfare and the livelihood of our people by allowing a situation to develop which would endanger our full participation in the development of the Communities.
It would be inappropriate for me to question the wisdom of the Supreme Court decision. It must be accepted, however, that the judgments in so far as they affect the boundaries between executive and judicial areas of responsibility have caused widespread surprise. Eamon de Valera when he was moving the second reading of the draft Bunreacht na hÉireann in the Dáil on 11 May 1937 said in regard to Article 29:
The idea of this Constitution is to put this matter of our external relations in its proper position relatively to the Constitution, and that is outside it, as a matter of foreign policy, to be determined from time to time, according as the people's interests suggest to them that they should put this Government or that Government into office with powers to implement their will. That is what is done here. It is done by giving to the executive authority, namely, the Government, which is the fundamental executive authority, power to use any organ, instrument or method of procedure which may be used for similar purposes by other nations with whom we may be associated, no matter what it is.
This is in reference to Article 29.4.2º. Further on he said:
Consequently, dealing with our external relations, it enables the Executive Government of the day to make use of it, provided that there is a law passed by the national Parliament which would make that possible. Now, the law can exactly prescribe the conditions. In our case the law has already been passed, and this Constitution takes over that law. Therefore, when this Constitution is passed, as far as our external relations are concerned, no change is made, but the external relations are kept in a position in which they can be dealt with and handled as a matter of public policy, without bringing them across the fundamental rights which govern the working of our institutions.
It is clear from these quotations that Eamon de Valera knew exactly where the power to conduct the external relations of the nation should reside and where under the Constitution he intended it to reside.
I indicated recently in the House that if there was a widespread wish to do so, I was open to the idea of reviewing between the parties, in some suitable forum, whether changes should be made in the Constitution in the light of our experience. It would certainly arise for consideration, in any such process of review, whether changes should be made in the light of the Supreme Court decision so as to give greater clarity to the power of the Executive in the formation and execution of foreign policy.
The text of this Bill to amend the Constitution is limited to enabling the State to ratify the Single Act. The Government decided on this course of action after very detailed and careful examination, bearing in mind in particular the urgency of the situation and the need, with the least possible further delay, to respect commitments given to our partners. Alone of the 12 member states Ireland was unable to respect the deadline of 1 January 1987 set by the European Council for the deposit of instruments of ratification. Even proceeding as rapidly as we can to restore the situation, the entry into force of the Single Act will have been delayed by six months. That is the principal reason why we have decided to confine the scope of the amendment and why we have not sought authority for an amendment designed to avoid any recurrence of the situation where important elements of foreign relations and policy can be held up by legal actions.
I have stressed the urgency of ratifying the Single Act and the tight timetable imposed by that political necessity would clearly not afford the opportunity for the considered examination required. I am prepared, however, when the urgent and immediate question of ratifying the Single Act has been disposed of, to have discussions with the leaders of the political parties represented in the House, on these wider issues either in the context of wider constitutional reform or otherwise. I believe this is a better way to proceed in the difficult situation in which we find ourselves. To deal solely with the immediate issue the Single European Act will enable the House to give almost unanimous guidance to the people. To seek now to extend the amendment proposed by the Government to take in these wider questions would be to open up a debate not only in this House but in the country at large. Such a debate would of necessity have to extend over a much wider timescale than is available to us as the rest of Europe awaits our ratification to enable them to proceed with the implementation of the Act on which all 12 member states have agreed.
The important thing now is to resolve the dilemma of ratification and our holding up the development of the Community. To widen the debate to include other major national issues would give rise to a measure of divisiveness which is far from what we need in present economic circumstances. Our membership of the Community and the development of the Community along the lines proposed in the Single European Act is a single clear-cut issue. It should be put to the people as such.
Let us clear away the cloud of uncertainty. Let the people decide as soon as possible on our membership of the Community as one straightforward question.
This party sought last December to obtain the endorsement of the Dáil for making, and depositing alongside the Instrument of Ratification, a declaration which would seek, first, to preserve our original entitlement to the recognition of our special economic needs which was an integral element of our accession and membership of the Community from the outset and remains so, and secondly, to have our policy of military neutrality reiterated. We were, and are, satisfied that had the then Government sought to do so it would have been possible, before the Single Act was finalised and signed, to secure our partners' acceptance that the Inter-governmental Conference would have noted an Irish declaration of the kind we proposed last December, as they noted declarations by Greece, Portugal, Denmark, the Presidency and the Commission.
What is still open to us now is to make the declaration, on the deposit of our instrument of ratification, on the two matters we proposed last December and this we intend to do.
The text of this declaration has been placed in the Dáil Library. We are indicating to our partners that, as the wording of the introductory sentence covering the declaration makes clear, the declaration does not involve any action on the part of our partners, all of whom have, by now, completed their constitutional procedures for ratification.
The Community has no competence to discuss matters of military policy or to embark on a policy of military procurement. This is generally acknowledged and is not seriously contested in the Councils of the Community.
There is no support in any of the Supreme Court judgments for the notion that Ireland's neutrality is incompatible with the Single European Act, indeed the opposite is the case. But our declaration will put beyond all doubt the Government's position on this. It notes that the provisions of Title III do not affect Ireland's long established policy of military neutrality and that co-ordination of positions on the political and economic aspects of security does not include the military aspects of security. Our partners for the most part understand and accept our policy of military neutrality and that the Irish people would not wish to change that policy.
The Government understand the concern of our partners with security issues. We are conscious also of the debate now taking place in Europe on issues of disarmament and security and on their implications for the European countries and for the organisations of which they are members. It is only to be expected that with the prospects of major changes in the military and armaments situation that these developments would be commented upon in the member states. That is something about which we need not be concerned as long as it is clear that we are not involved.
As I indicated in my speech in this House on 11 March 1981 in moving a motion asking the Dáil to confirm the principles that had guided the policy of that Government and their predecessors, our policy of military neutrality has very considerable advantages, not only for ourselves but, in a number of respects, for our friends and partners in the Western world. On that occasion, I made it clear that this country stands for the values enshrined in the Constitution; that our place is with the Western democracies with whom we share common concepts of human rights, freedom under the law, individual liberty and freedom of conscience, that our economic interests are also tied in with the Western industrialised world; and that we are part of that world.
At this time when there are more hopeful prospects than for some time past that significant agreements can be reached in the realm of arms control and disarmament it would hardly be appropriate for us to move away from our position of military neutrality. It is surely preferable to build on a policy to which our people are deeply attached and to avail of the opportunities which our neutral status affords to play a distinctive role in promoting the cause of peace and a reduction in armaments and in participating in the peacekeeping efforts of the United Nations, a role which is welcomed by our friends and partners.
We, of course, understand the desire of many of our European partners to intensify military co-operation in a specifically European framework. It is accepted by them that there are other frameworks for this purpose which exist and which can be extended or adapted if necessary. We accept that there can be discussion on the political and economic aspects of security. This has been the position before the Single European Act came into existence and is something which developed over a period of years in the political co-operation arena. The Single European Act does not provide for the co-ordination of positions on the military aspects of security and our understanding that that is the position is made clear in our declaration. This Government are fully committed to the policy of military neutrality and that policy will be adhered to.
A moment's comparison with the treaty setting up the NATO military alliance will convince anyone that there is nothing in the Single European Act which requires or provides for the setting up of any new European military alliance. There are many in the trade union movement and in other organisations committed to peace and disarmament, whose views and attitudes I respect, who have, I know, misgivings about the Single European Act. I would ask them to put those misgivings in perspective. We should not create an artificial and unnecessary opposition between the economic benefits of the Community and the maintenance of our neutrality. We have so far ensured and are resolved to continue to ensure that they remain compatible. We must not have our membership of the Community diminished by fears that have no firm basis in reality. We need a national consensus behind our policy of full commitment to Community membership while adhering to our policy of military neutrality. The compatibility of the two must be clearly and positively enunciated. Those who value our military neutrality must not allow a situation to develop where a vote giving expression of our commitment to Europe could be wrongly interpreted as a vote against neutrality. It would be nothing of the kind and the issue should not be put on that artificial basis.
Now that we have to have this referendum and even if it is nearly five months after the deadline for ratification let us seize it as an opportunity for our people to renew the commitment to Europe that was so strikingly demonstrated by the massive majority in the 1972 referendum.
Since then we have made our contribution to the development of the Community and we have, of course, derived great benefits from our membership. There is, in fact, a substantial degree of convergence between Ireland's interests and the interests of the Community. Membership has enabled our people to resume their European heritage and to re-enter the mainstream of European life.
I wish to reaffirm my personal commitment and that of my party to a sovereign Irish nation encompassing the whole island of Ireland. The sovereignty of the Irish people as enshrined in our Constitution is to us fundamental. I believe that our joining the Community has in fact enhanced the meaning and the purposes of that sovereignty. Membership has enabled us to participate in one of the most significant developments in the evolution of parliamentary democracy in modern times; an experiment in international political relations unique in world history. I was never enamoured with the prospect of a modern Ireland remaining in the economic shadow of one powerful neighbour. Accession to the Communities enabled us to move out into a wider arena where as a sovereign State we could pursue our interests much more effectively. We did, of course, concede some element of our sovereignty when we joined this great Community of European nations but so did all the other member states. Nations which had exercised full uninhibited national sovereignty for centuries were prepared to concede some of that sovereignty so that they could work together for the greater benefit of their people.
In the economic sphere, as is evidenced by the attitude being taken by the farming organisations, our agriculture is supported to an extent which would be impossible outside the Community. A comparison of world prices with prices obtaining in the Community, for many of the products we produce here — even allowing for the recent changes in CAP — will show just the extent of the benefit that our membership brings to farmers. Had we been obliged, in the absence of the CAP to market all our agricultural exports at world prices in 1985, the return from these would have been less by about £660 million: expressed another way returns would have been 40 per cent below what they actually were. In addition the direct cash flows annually to Ireland through the Community budget, now exceed one thousand million pounds. Similarly, industry benefits and can benefit more from access to a market of 320 million people. Within a market of that size, it is possible for industry to specialise and to develop exports in a way which would be inconceivable in a home market of 3.5 million people. In fact, overall three-quarters of all our exports now go to the Community countries completely free of duty or other fiscal restrictions. Without this duty free access to the larger market, the investment we urgently need here just will not take place.
It must be emphasised that these benefits come to us as a result of the operation of Community policies. Nevertheless, our failure to ratify would create an impossible situation. This is because the benefits we receive involve a great deal more than what our legal entitlements are at any given moment. For one thing, many provisions expire or fall to be reviewed after certain intervals so that one is involved in a constant process of negotiation and adaptation where the sympathy for our concerns will inevitably be affected by our partners' perception of the quality of our commitment to European integration. Even more important, it is necessary to stress that in quite a number of areas, special arrangements have been made to give particularly favourable treatment to Ireland or to accommodate specific matters of concern to us. This reflects a degree of respect which successive Governments have worked hard to merit.
In conclusion, while there are certain elements in the Single Act which will call for firmness and vigilance on the part of the Government, there are also positive advantages in other provisions, if given the proper follow-up. These coupled with the declaration which we propose to make, are such that the Government strongly recommend approval of the constitutional amendment now before the House.
Our future is crucially linked and dependent on a Community which is growing and developing and is committed to ensuring that the benefits of further progress are shared by all the Community's regions. I am convinced that the great majority of the Irish people want Ireland to continue as an active, committed member of that Community and I accordingly commend the Bill to the House.