As regards political co-operation, I agree with the Taoiseach when he said that nothing that has been done under political co-operation in our experience since accession should give rise to any apprehensions in terms of our membership of the EC. We should remind the people of some major achievements as a result of political co-operation. During my period as Minister for Foreign Affairs, and during our Presidency in 1979, some major developments, which will stand to the credit of our Presidency, were brought about which contributed towards an easing of tensions in international affairs.
The Lomé Convention is a creature of political co-operation which is not covered in the Treaties of Accession. It was no accident that it was under three successive Irish Presidencies — the former Taoiseach, my own period as President and the previous Minister for Foreign Affairs, — that the Lomé Convention was negotiated and re-negotiated. This could not have arisen but for the process of political co-operation and consultation formalised in the Lomé Convention which is an international agreement between the EC and APC countries. Whether it is an adequate instrument of co-operation, it is one of the most successful measures of co-operation between developing countries and the EC. It is one of the proudest achievements of the community which we are sometimes less than satisfied with as committed members.
As regards the Middle East, we played a major part in bringing about the basis of a resolution of what is a constant problem for the people in the area and a threat to world peace. During our Presidency in 1979 we managed to get agreement to mention the PLO in the United Nations for the first time as a party to the conflict. The fact that such a small country was able to achieve that without any major limitations because of our historical colonial involvement was recognised then, and still is, as one of the major contributions to the lessening of tensions between the EC and the Middle East. It also contributed to the beginning of a better understanding between the parties in the conflict though not to a resolution of the problem. Much that has been achieved between the PLO and Yassar Arafat is as a consequence of that development in September 1979 under our Presidency.
We all remember the awful scandal and tragedy of the boat people in 1979. This shocked the world. It may have faded from our memory but it was one of the most horrific human tragedies since the last World War and the tragedy of the Jews. Our Presidency, and more particularly the informal meeting we presided over in Ashford Castle, brought about a conclusion which enabled the Nine to take a common position at a specially convened meeting in Geneva later that year which resulted in common action with the US, Canada and Australia — I remember attending a meeting in Indonesia to promote this on behalf of the Nine — which brought about an end to that tragedy.
That is another example of a positive consequence of political co-operation where we played a central role during our Presidency. I am just picking extracts from where I was directly involved, for example, in the actual resolution of the Rhodesian conflict. I think the British Foreign Secretary at the time would acknowledge that he was helped greatly by the fact that the Nine member states agreed in Ashford Castle to the outlines of the ultimate resolution for the solution of what was then the Rhodesian conflict. These are some examples of very positive political co-operation. I do not want anybody to think that when I comment on the political co-operation which is being proposed as being necessary under the Single European Act, I am being critical of the whole process of political co-operation. My experience has been that it has made a major contribution.
I would like to say also that we have been able to play a very major role in that process, perhaps because people are not so sensitive to the role of a small country compared with the sensitivities they might have regarding the role of former colonial powers. We will continue to play such a role for as long as the process of political co-operation exists. Having said all of that, it has to be stated that what, during all of that period I have been decribing, was an informal arrangement is now being formalised in a very formal manner of Treaty obligation. On the last occasion in this House I did not say that I opposed that, nor do I say it now. What I did say was that because it was entering into a new institutional format it was different from anything we were bound by originally in the treaties and that because of that it should require an amendment to the Treaty of Accession and accordingly a referendum. The Government refused to respond to that reasonable argument. I do not want to embarrass the former Minister but I did ask more than once during the course of the discussion on Committee Stage that he might give me some legal or constitutional justification for the position he was stating so blandly and stubbornly, instead of inviting in the former Minister of State to make comments, perhaps to throw his legal opinion into the issue, but I think to distract those of us who were confining our arguments at that time to the legal and constitutional issues. The Minister refused to reply to any of those arguments. I hope we can get over that stage and recover from our embarrassment in Europe. It is a measure of the goodwill of our partners in Europe that they are not showing any impatience with Ireland. I have been around to six capitals recently and I know that our partners in Europe are not showing a measure of impatience with the Irish people, nor with the Irish Government nor indeed with the Irish Parliament. But they are perplexed that the former administration could ignore so much of what seems so obvious now to everybody and what was obvious to us at that point also.
There are three organs of Government — the Executive, the legislative and the judicial as set out in the Constitution. I think it undermines the Executive and the legislative organs of Government when they have to be reminded of their obligations by the judicial organ of Government. It would be very much more in our interest were we to act on our own responsibilities and were able to demonstrate that we did not have to be subjected to judicial scrutiny, much less the judicial sanction. Therefore, from now on, I hope that before we make general statements which are not based on reality or Treaty obligation, we fully examine our particular function here either as Executive or Legislature and ensure that our authority is not being undermined by the sanction of the third arm of the Constitution, namely, the judicial arm. It would have been well if in the course of all of last year the executive functions of the Constitution were properly discharged by the then Government. We had adequate time to debate and analyse and in discharging our constitutional obligations as Members of Parliament we should have examined all these matters in details. We were pressured literally both by time and, to a certain extent, intimidation in that we were being accused of raising specious and spurious arguments. We should have been allowed to look at this as both our constitutional right and obligation requires us to do.
I wish to comment finally on the interplay between the Judiciary, the Executive and the Legislature. Because we are all inter-dependent as arms of the Constitution, it would be better that we did our job. Equally, it is important that the judicial organ of Government should always bear in mind that in exercising their judicial constitutional function they do not make it extremely difficult, or well nigh impossible for the other organs of Government to exercise their functions. Decisions that are made in the exercise of the Judiciary's totally independent discretion which can have, for instance, major financial consequences for the Executive organ of the Constitution should be very seriously weighted by the Judiciary before coming to a conclusion. There has been a whole range of cases in recent times where the Judiciary have made decisions affecting the finances of the State thereby demonstrating that they exercise their power independently. I hope they will always exercise their power on the basis that the Judiciary which is established under the Constitution as the organ of Government which protects and interprets the law and the Constitution should ensure also that its relationship with the other organs of the Constitution should be such as to enable the Government or Parliament to fulfil their responsibilities. I do not quote the Crotty case as a case in point but I suggest that the degree of apprehension raised suggests that one would never know what the Judiciary is going to do next. I do not share that view but one should always be guided by the principle that the first presumption is that the law is being properly adhered to, that the Constitution is being upheld and that only where clearly and obviously it is being ignored should the Executive function be struck down by judicial determination.
I will deal now with the area that directly impinge on my responsibilities as Minister for Agriculture and Food. Our proposal to the House and to the people is not only what is required but is what our partners would want from us, that and no more. Our partners have never suggested that we would be bound by military association or bound to limit our neutrality. However, they want a clear indication that we are able to play our part consistently without any limitation or qualification as members of the European Communities. That does not suggest that we suspend the right to be critical. It means that as full and active members of the Community, in which we have played a very positive role, we have an obligation to be critical where the direction of the Community is not quite in line with the direction established by the Treaty of Rome initially and the Treaties of Accession that we signed some 15 years ago.
It is very much in our interests that the Community should become more effective and more coherent both internally and as a trading power in the world. The Single European Act is a modest step in that direction.
It is important that we weigh up the arguments as to our advantages and disadvantages. In my own area, agriculture and food, it is clear that we have derived very sizeable benefits from Community membership and that opportunities inconceivable before accession have been made available for us since accession. In direct financial terms Community support for the Irish agriculture and food sector has totalled about £5.6 billion since 1973, £5.1 billion for market operations and almost £500 million for structural improvements.
I want to draw attention in particular to the fact that in 1986 alone the total transfer under those headings reached a record level of £930 million and the indications are that the transfers this year will even exceed that figure. You can see that the pace of transfers — for reasons which I do not wish to go into at this point because it would not be appropriate that I should in advance of discussions and arguments at the Council of Ministers — has accelerated to the point that last year they represented almost one fifth of the total transfers in the years since we joined the Community and the extent of the transfers on FEOGA this year on the current estimates will be at least the same amount. That is a measure of the importance for us of membership of the Community and of the volume of resources involved.
The commercial opportunities have been almost equally important in the past and will be even more important than the financial transfers in the future if we can develop our policies to maximise the added values in a whole range of products. That is now a priority for the Government. Access to some of the biggest and most promising markets in the world, now a common market of some 320 million people, is an advantage of importance that cannot be calculated to a small country providing far more food than it can consume at home. To an increasing extent this opportunity has been availed of by our processors and exporters but I want to see a much more rapid development in that direction and I will encourage it in every way open to us.
Together the direct transfers and the higher returns from selling within the Community are estimated to have been equivalent to about 10 per cent of GNP in 1986 and our target must be to raise that percentage point by point in 1987, 1988 and 1989, particularly having regard to the development of our added value in our own food and horticultural areas, which is an essential part of this Government's policy.
Anyone who doubts the benefits accession has brought to our agriculture need only compare the rural scene today in any one of our constituencies with that which existed in the mid sixties before we joined the EC. They will then have the answer in our towns, in our counties and in our cities as to the benefits which it has conveyed to us. That does not suggest that I would ignore some of the problems that have followed as a consequence of our membership, nor that I make the case that we have been the only beneficiaries from this new sense of community and cohesion. I would like to record that those perhaps who enjoyed least transfer of resources under budget mechanisms may have benefited most under the Common Market since the EC ideal was launched.
I have always opposed the argument of juste rétour and I oppose it even more fiercely today than I did when I was a member of the Council for the European Movement as long ago 1964-65 with the former Taoiseach when we both were active members of that organisation. That principle was unacceptable then and is unacceptable now. No one should ever use the term “paymaster” in respect of any member state of the EC because several of those who would appear on the face of it to be the paymasters derive more benefit from the Common Market and from the political implications of Community membership than perhaps even those of us who enjoy the budget transfers under agriculture, social or regional. The advantages for the strongly developed economies at the centre of the market such as the FDR, France or the Netherlands are so great that when you get an internal market which we are strengthening here, an enlarged market with the enlargement of the Community, they can benefit much more in the development of their trade and exports than we who are distant from the centre.
For that reason it is not a question just of saying who benefits from one aspect or the other. You take it all as a composite picture and approach it as a true Community. Therefore, when I make a case based on the advantages that we have enjoyed, let it not be thought for a minute that I am saying we are the only ones who have enjoyed the advantage. No, as a matter of fact the Community working on the principles of a Community have shared advantages right throughout the Community, not least amongst perhaps the more prosperous countries of that EC.
Despite the problems we have had and still have about the operation of the CAP, nobody would want us to go back to the position we were in in the sixties where our agriculture depended on the meagre resources and a small consumer market available at home and on access to just one low priced external market, namely that in Britain. In the 14 years since accession we have tried with some considerable success to pack into that short period advances in agriculture and food that took far longer elsewhere. Without Community membership we could not have achieved anything like the progress we did.
Let me raise a note of caution in respect of some proposals now emerging from the Commission which I note have been in a sense enthusiastically and, I believe, too spontaneously welcomed here at home. I am talking about a regime of national aids that have been mentioned which will be brought before the Council of Ministers some time before the price fixing policy concludes in a couple of months. On the face of it there may seem to be some attraction for Ireland in saying that, if there can be a regime of national aids or of Community aids of such a nature and extent that they will give extra money by way of direct transfer to Ireland, that must be a bonus. That may be superficially acceptable, but I must caution against too spontaneous a response to that suggestion.
We have always taken the view, and we will need to be satisfied, that any new developments must not undermine the whole question of Community responsibility, Community preference and CAP support for agricultural development. If any developments proposed in respect of aids, national or Community, to particular regions were in any way to limit the Community role under the CAP, those developments would be very unwelcome from Ireland's point of view. In the course of the next few months and until such time as a conclusion is reached on this I will be looking at it very carefully and ensuring that such developments as are being proposed are in accordance with (a) Community obligations under the CAP (b) our national interest as a member of that Community.
I said that not all has been plain sailing in our EC experience, and I referred to our difficulties with the CAP. As is well known, for instance, over the past two years the Council of Ministers took decisions, particularly last December, which had a very severe impact on our beef and dairy sectors and which affect our cereal productions. I am thinking first of the milk super-levy which, though expressed to be temporary, prevents expansion of the volume of milk we can produce at any rate in the next few years. I am thinking also of the weakening of intervention support systems for beef, dairy products and cereals that was decided last year.
We all know the budgetary pressures and the pressures of those unsaleable surpluses that led the Community to adopt these measures. Nevertheless, though our agriculture is still very much better off within the Community than it could ever be outside it, these decisions represent a considerable worsening of the system of Community support for the products of main concern to us. They are disadvantages by comparison with the system we knew before 1984 but they are also challenges that have to be faced.
Since taking office, I have made it a priority to emphasise, both in the Council and in bilateral contacts with other Community Ministers — the latest of which I had with the French agricultural Minister late last night in Paris — that the matter cannot be left there as far as the European Community is concerned and particularly economies such as ours, which are so dependent on agricultural production. There must be full and concrete recognition of the impact of these decisions from counties such as ours. I hope I will be able to convince the Commission and my colleagues on the Council of Ministers that the impact of those decisions as we have already seen — the most obvious example is the drop in beef prices during the past few weeks — is a direct consequence of changes in the intervention mechanism which was passed through the Council last January. This is the reality of the effect of recent decisions and it will be our priority to ensure that at least we get a breathing space before any further actions of that kind are taken particularly because of any budget implications.
Not every decision taken has to have an immediate quantifiable effect. Some decisions which do not have an immediate quantifiable effect can, in the long run, have much more enduring effect and be of much more value to this economy. I should like to refer to one which has recently been proposed by the Commission and for which I have been lobbying support, in the course of my visit to capitals, and that is the tax on fats and oils. No immediate quantifiable benefit will pass to one farmer in Ireland if the Council of Ministers pass that resolution from the Commission this year. The benefit in terms of the reduction on the strain on the agricultural budget will be of the order of about 2 billion ECUs per annum which in turn could only mean that the constant pressure which has been directed through Northern agricultural produce — beef and dairying in which we have a direct and vested interest — will be reduced if not entirely dissipated.
For that reason it is important in our approach to the European Commission, at whatever level, that we do not concentrate on the immediate issue of what is in it for us in Ireland today. We must take a broader view in terms of our Community membership and obligations, sometimes supporting, maybe to the detriment of short term advantage, but to the guarantee of our long term security both for our primary producers and for the whole economy — I quote that as case in point — the proposal in relation to a tax on fats and oils which is being brought before the Council by the Commission. For that reason I have made it a priority to emphasise both in Council and in bilateral contacts with other Community Ministers that we just cannot leave matters where they are in the Community and react to budget problems in the manner in which the Community has been forced to do during the past few years. There must be a full and concrete recognition of the impact of all these decisions on countries such as Ireland. That recognition must be followed by action to readjust the balance. I am determined to maintain that attitude both in the current price package negotiations, and outside them, until the proper results are obtained.
The cohesion provisions in the Single European Act do, if pursued, give us a much stronger base than ever before for such action. I will come back to this point again. In relation to the specific matters already being discussed on price negotiations I should like to assure the House, and the public generally, that I will continue to press for the maximum dismantlement of our MCAs, for changes in the MCA system which would benefit our processed product exports and for fair treatment of our cereal producers. I should like to stress that any exclusion of processed products which operates as a penalty against our food sector is unacceptable to us. I hope I have been able to gain a degree of support and recognition both from my colleagues in the Council and from the Commission in support of the case I have been making for an extension of MCAs to processed products, cooked beef, jams, marmalades and other items that have been excluded from the application of MCAs which has put us at a very severe disadvantage in our trade with the United Kingdom.
On a more general level I will continue to stress that any future changes in the Common Agricultural Policy must be humane with the necessary compensation or alternatives being offered to producers, that they must be equitable as between member states and that they must be gradual so as to allow adjustments to take place smoothly.
Though I expect the Community to express its solidarity towards us in concrete ways, there are still aspects of these new challenges that will require changes here. In particular, our agricultural production must become progressively more market-oriented and less dependent on intervention. This is a process that I will be encouraging to the maximum, but success depends primarily on the enterprise and initiative of our farmers, processers and exporters.
With my two colleagues Deputy Walsh and Deputy Kirk that will be a focal point of our responsibility in the Department of Agriculture and Food. We must become less reliant on intervention mechanisms, we must become much more vigorous and aggressive in exploiting the market opportunities which exist. We can thus guarantee that we will have a much more profitable return for our primary producers and our processers and reduce some of the pressures on the agricultural budget which have given rise to some unacceptable developments for countries like us in recent times.
The reduction in interest rates which is a primary aim of Government policy should also help to stimulate the investments needed for a real shift from the intervention store to the market place. I do not want to criticise the fact that we have availed of the intervention store nor do I criticise those who avail of it because it is an essential element of protection but we have to shift to the market place. Clearly too, where the quantity of our output is restricted by Community action, as is now the case for milk, we must maximise the value of what we produce. This means diversifying our production away from the relatively easy options of butter, skim powder and cheddar cheese and towards higher-value products for which there is a real market demand. These are not easy tasks and they cannot be accomplished overnight. But we have no option but to tackle them and to tackle them successfully. I am confident that given the right climate for enterprise and investment our agriculture and food sector has the ability and expertise to achieve these goals.
I turn now to the Single European Act itself, and in particular its implications for the future of our agriculture and food sector. One of the primary aims of the Act is to complete by 1992 a process already well under way — the creation of a single market within the Community — by eliminating such internal trade barriers as remain. For this country, the balance of advantage lies with the success of this effort. There are still residual obstacles to some of our exports, arising from national restrictions in other member states. The present agri-monetary system can also create barriers and we will press for the elimination of all MCAs by 1992 as suggested by the Commission. The completion of the single market in conjunction with the elimination of MCAs will benefit our agriculture and food sector and is something that we must support.
Another objective of the Single European Act is to make the Community operate more effectively. That reform is in the overall interests of small member states such as Ireland which depend more heavily than the larger ones on the proper working of the Community institutions. It is worth noting here the existence of another safeguard. The "Luxembourg Compromise"— the so-called "veto"— remains untouched by the Single European Act.
Thirdly, the Single European Act contains a further aim which, though not new in itself, is now for the first time being formally and significantly recognised. That is the principle to which I have already referred, that of cohesion, expressing the solidarity between member states. This is not confined to coordination of economic policies; it covers also, and most importantly for this country, the idea that the Community should play a major role in helping the economies of the weaker member states to catch up with the others. Obviously, since agriculture figures so largely in our economy, this catching-up process will have to include our farming sector. Recognition of the cohesion concept at Community level is an important achievement for us and one that has a very considerable potential for benefit.
I would like to mention one further aspect of the Single European Act. That is its emphasis on environmental questions. The Act foreshadows Community measures aimed, among other things, at preserving the environment, improving its quality and using resources prudently and rationally. We all know the growing and justifiable demands throughout Europe for better treatment and increased care of the environment. This, in turn is causing pressure on the farming sector to conform to a variety of environmental aims. These pressures will develop whether or not the Community takes a hand. I think it is well that the Community should now take the problems into account and be prepared to deal with them on a basis of solidarity.
Irish agriculture has distinct natural advantages here and we must ensure that our environmental protection laws protect the pure and uncontaminated quality of our products. In the course of my recent series of bilateral visits I was greatly impressed that the Ministers for Agriculture to whom I spoke, particularly of the Netherlands and Denmark, have also responsibility for environmental care and protection and that they pursue that responsibility as diligently and as zealously as they do that of promoting the primary producer, in some instances to the extent that they impose taxes on fertilizers that appear to distort the balance of production and growth.
It is my firm view that the Single European Act helps to provide for progress in the Community's effectiveness and for progress in Ireland's economy. It is a positive and useful development and one which we must not evade or undermine. I believe that view is shared by the Irish farming sector in general and with good reason. The Act is a logical development of the earlier Community treaties to which we in this country freely give our assent. Our future is with Europe, with a Community in which we have been and remain free to express our distinctive national views and where we can influence decisions, as I have already indicated we have done. It offers us opportunities available nowhere else and gives us an enhanced role in the world. There must be no question of turning our backs on the Community, of ignoring the opportunities and refusing to participate in progress and worthwhile new developments. Such an attitude would be one of weakness and folly. This House and the people of this country cannot but take the correct and enlightened course of acceptance which we propose to them at this stage.