I wish to report on the second meeting of the European Council under the current Italian EC Presidency which was held in Rome on 14-15 December. I was accompanied at the meeting by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Gerard Collins, the Minister of State in my Department, Deputy Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, was also in attendance.
European Council Meeting in Rome: Statements.
On a point of order, I agree with your point a Cheann Comhairle, because I assumed at first glance that item No. 2 was the statements, but it is not. Item No. 2 is the Committee of Public Accounts Special Report on Computer Security in Government Departments and Offices. I think it is in order to take items Nos. 2, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 23 first and then the statement from the Taoiseach.
May I advise the House——
The Order of Business says that statements shall be taken forthwith.
In regard to the statement by the Taoiseach on the European Council meeting in Rome, the motion this House just passed is that that statement be made now.
It is almost without precedent that those other items which are ordered in sequence would not be taken first. Most of these items will be taken without debate.
That may be so but I will be calling them in the ordinary way after the statement.
This is most unusual.
Perhaps but the decision we have just made is that the statement will be made now.
"Now" meant 10.30 a.m. and not 11.20 a.m.
I am not responsible for the delay in respect of voting.
The Deputies are behaving like children.
The Taoiseach needs a break.
They constantly insist and ask for reports on this, that and the other, and now when I am attempting to do that they find all sorts of niggling, ridiculous, little points.
The Taoiseach should not get upset; it is Christmas.
After the meeting, we participated, with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Albert Reynolds, in the formal opening ceremony of the inter-governmental conferences on political union and on economic and monetary union.
Copies of the Presidency Conclusions have already been placed in the Oireachtas Library. On this occasion, and in line with my desire and commitment to keep the House fully informed on all aspects of the inter-governmental conferences, a number of other relevant documents have also been placed in the Library.
It was a successful Summit. The atmosphere was constructive and co-operative. We dealt with a major agenda and accelerated the momentum towards intergration.
At the summit among the principal subjects we discussed were political union and aid to the Soviet Union and the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.
Before going on to describe the outcome in more detail I should like to outline for Deputies the momentous nature of the proposals which the Community is now considering. The creation of a Single Market of up to 340 million people requires not only the abolition of customs and trade barriers between the member states but also moves towards a single currency throughout the Community. The market would not be complete without such a move: and a single currency implies in turn a single institution or bank to regulate its value on the markets. A central bank of this nature, in turn, implies an arrangement or institution to exercise a form of political control, so that the bank is accountable, in ways to be agreed, to the people of the Community. In this sense the internal market, economic and monetary union and political union are all part of the same unitary policy. That is the nature of the measures we discussed and advanced in Rome.
At the Dublin Summit last June, the Council asked that the future developments of the Community be considered under four broad headings: competence of the union; democratic legitimacy; efficiency and effectiveness of the Community and its institutions; and foreign and security policy.
On these subjects, our discussions in Rome were facilitated by the preparatory work for the IGC carried out by Foreign Ministers and their personal representatives. I should particularly emphasise that, as the meeting here last June of the European Council had already agreed, each IGC will settle its own agenda. The Rome meeting has not pre-empted the outcome of the IGC, but has set out guidelines and matters for consideration by the conference, which will make its own recommendations. Depending on the nature of these recommendations, I would envisage a referendum being necessary for the Single European Act, to enable Ireland to ratify the Treaty changes involved.
Deputies will note that the conclusions begin with the European Council's agreed statement on the underlying principles of the political union such as solidarity between its member states, a proper balance between the responsibilities of the individual states and the Community, economic and social cohesion and the fullest realisation of the aspirations of the Community's citizens.
In my statement in the House on 1 November last, I reported at length on the issues arising under each of the four chapters I have mentioned, together with a comprehensive outline on the underlying principles which will guide the Government's approach in the IGC. I do not, therefore, propose to repeat all this here today and will confine myself to commenting briefly on some of the most important points contained in the Presidency Conclusions.
It is very satisfactory that particular areas which we have been advocating such as economic and social cohesion, the environment, health, education and culture are singled out by the European Council as is also the emphasis that the union must have at its disposal all the necessary resources to achieve its objectives and carry out its policies. Deputies will recall that, under the terms of the Delors Plan which was agreed in 1988, the adequacy of the existing Community budgetary resources is to be considered again next year. The question as to whether some new areas such as immigration, visas, drugs and organised crime can be brought into the scope of the union and whether, in these circumstances, there might be a need to separate these from the Treaty's classical decision-making system and framework are for the IGC to consider.
As I have previously explained to the House, we have no objection to the inclusion in the new Treaty of a definition of subsidiarity. We would, however, be anxious to ensure that there is full clarity about the legal implications of such a definition and that this would not be used to limit the development of the Community in areas of national interest to this country, such as cohesion.
The European Council outlined a number of measures for consideration by the IGC to strengthen the role of the European Parliament. These include such issues as extension and improvement of the co-operation procedure, extension of the assent procedure for international agreements, involvement of the European Parliament in the appointment of the Commission and of its President as well as increasing the parliament's budgetary powers and its monitoring of Community policies.
As far as our national position is concerned, we are prepared to consider proposals aimed at improving and enhancing the role of the parliament in the decision-making processes of the Community.
However, like the majority of our partners, we have difficulties with co-decision arrangements with the European Parliament on the grounds that this would upset the existing balance between the Community's institutions which has been such a fundamental feature in ensuring the success of the Community up to now. As I explained in my statement in this House on 1 November last, we should not lose sight of the fact that in all of this the European Council and the Council of Ministers are fully representative of the peoples from the member states who democratically elected them and in turn are directly answerable to their own parliaments for decisions taken by them in Community fora.
Other areas singled out by the Rome Summit are that of the role of national parliaments in the Community's development and that of sub-national regional institutions. On the former, the House will recall that the Oireachtas was represented at the European Congress of National Parliaments and the European Parliament which was held in Rome on 27-30 November. The declaration which was adopted at that congress will form an important input into the IGC's consideration of this matter.
As regards the suggestion put forward by some partners for the establishment of a body to represent regional interests, this country is defined as one region within the Community and we do not have the autonomous regional structures which some member states have.
Deputies will note from the Presidency Conclusions, that the European Council singled out in Rome three areas for attention by the IGC, namely, the possible strengthening of the role of the European Council, the extension of majority voting in the Council of Ministers and improvements in the effectiveness of the Community's other institutions. As regards the European Council, this I believe has played a useful role in giving an impulse across a broad range of Community policies as well as acting as an arbitrator in the past in settling key substantive issues. I believe we should agree to extend this role to include that of settling future Community targets and agreeing the broad agenda of work, together with any supportive role in a political union with increased powers and competences.
As regards majority voting by the Council of Ministers, we will be prepared to consider its extension on a case-by-case basis, as was done at the time of the Single European Act. The Community's experience since then with the implementation of the internal market has shown how effective it has been in speeding up decision-making. However, we will, like a number of our partners, wish to have unanimity retained in certain key areas such as taxation.
Deputies will recall from my statement in the House on 1 November, that the European Council meeting in Rome in October had already agreed guidelines and conclusions for the Inter-Governmental Conference on Economic and Monetary Union. Consequently, there was a detailed discussion on EMU at the Council's meeting last weekend in Rome beyond our taking note of the report by the Committee of Governors of the central banks on the draft statute and on the draft Treaty on EMU which had just been submitted by the Commission.
As was expected, discussions on the chapter on common foreign and security policy were the most significant and in particular raised important issues for us. I emphasised that the Foreign Ministers' work had set out a good basis on which to proceed and that it had the particular merit of identifying issues which the IGC will have to address but without foreclosing options or trying to curtail debate as some partners were seeking to do. These questions must, I stated, be for the IGC itself to discuss.
I indicated that a common security policy is a sensitive one for this country and sought understanding and co-operation from my colleagues on this issue. The IGC will examine how to proceed under this heading against the background of the guidelines set out in the Presidency Conclusions. These envisage the gradual extension of the union's role in the area of common security to issues debated in international organisations such as arms control and disarmament; CSCE matters; UN peace-keeping operations; economic and technological co-operation in the armaments fields; co-ordination of armaments export policy and non-proliferation.
The conclusions distinguish between security as a whole and defence matters. With a view to the future, we say, the prospect of a role for the union in defence matters should be considered, without prejudice to member states' existing obligations and without prejudice to the traditional positions of other member states. This takes account at my request of Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality satisfactorily.
The Conclusions also describe the institutional framework and the decision-making procedures which it will be for the IGC to examine in order to work out how to implement the policies effectively.
Given the enormous changes in Europe over the last 18 months, it is not surprising that almost every country in Europe is considering its position in relation to the fundamental issue of security. Indeed the whole security architecture of post-war Europe is being reassessed to determine its continued relevance, in view of the collapse of one of the military alliances and possible changes in the other. Great caution is being shown and no one is rushing to abandon positions held for forty years though all are accepting that the whole scene has been radically altered and that new thinking is called for.
The language used in the guidelines for the IGC on political union to accommodate Ireland's position can be seen as having important implications for the future extension of the Community. It can be of considerable importance for a number of applicant countries as some of these countries will see it as lessening difficulties they may have in reconciling their traditional policy of neutrality with membership of a Community moving towards a political union, which will include a common foreign and security policy.
Generally it may well be that there will be a gradual evolution that will eventually subsume and reconcile the basic values and positions of those who have belonged to an alliance and those who have not, and that we will eventually have a security system embracing Europe as a whole, of which the Paris Charter of the CSCE will certainly be one element. We would certainly wish to contribute to putting in place a forward-looking structure of that kind.
The wish of some member states to include defence in a new common foreign and security policy for the union is a complex issue. Member states have different ideas and priorities in regard to it and also because of their involvement in external organisations like NATO, WEU and the CSCE. Apart from Ireland all the other member states are members of NATO but only nine are members of the Western European Union. We are all participants in the CSCE. A number of the member states wish NATO, mainly because of the involvement of the US, to continue in existence and see it as essential for their defence. Others would like to see an expanded role for WEU and to have it linked in some way to the Community. There is also increasing support and commitment to the CSCE and a view, which I share, that ultimately it is through its development that all of Europe can find in the future the permanent stability and security which it requires.
Our very considerable achievement in regard to common foreign and security policy is reflected in some of the international press comment. The London Times on Monday noted that the Summit was careful, and that “it took in both Irish neutrality and Britain's strongly pro-NATO stance”. The Financial Times referring to the reference in the conclusions, as being “without prejudice to the traditional positions of other member States”, noted “In fact, there is only one such ‘other’ State — neutral Ireland”. John Palmer, the respected European correspondent of the Guardian, commented: “It has become even clearer following the debate on political union that the way is now open for at least four other West European States — Austria, Norway, Sweden and Finland — to join the Community, in spite of the neutrality of all but Norway”.
The recognition given to our position and of the need to take it into account is a major achievement. I think Deputies will agree that the Rome Conclusions go far beyond the Single European Act in according explicit recognition for the first time to our position, in the phrase "without prejudice to the traditional positions of other member States". This represents a welcome accommodation of our position in a way that has not been done before by any previous European Council. It is a good basis on which to enter the important and complex Inter-governmental negotiations on political union.
In all these circumstances I am at a loss to understand the new militaristic stance of Fine Gael. We have just demonstrated in Rome that Ireland need not abandon the general consensus that has existed up to now on military alliances but that it can be accommodated in a common security policy for the Community. So there is no need to embrace militarism unless, of course, some would wish to do so for its own sake.
Other recent domestic political comments on Community affairs have also been totally out of touch with reality. Ireland has been and is to the forefront of the movement toward European integration, fully supporting progress at each stage; constructively participating in the discussions and negotiations on arrangements for political union. Under our Presidency major steps forward were taken, including decisions on the two Intergovernmental Conferences which have now been inaugurated. I want to emphasise that there is no question of opting out of agreed arrangements for a common foreign and security policy. It is instead a matter of determining what are the best arrangements that can be agreed at this stage, taking account of different countries' positions and the presence of existing organisations.
Since 1987 Ireland has made a remarkable contribution to the construction of Europe, especially during our recent Presidency. At home we have streamlined our economic performance, so that it is capable of fully participating in the Single Market and in economic and monetary union, on the basis that suitable arrangements are made to reinforce cohesion. The European dimension has been of great importance in supporting our whole economic and social programme. We have taken up clear and positive positions. In fact, we can take pride in the part we have played in what has been by far the most productive period to date in our membership of the European Community.
On the GATT negotiations, the Conclusions note that "only a global approach based on balanced concessions made by all participants will enable the negotiations to be brought to a successful conclusion". We were able to maintain EC solidarity and adherence to the existing mandate and we called on the Commission to intensify its contacts within the terms of the present mandate with a view to concluding a balanced agreement as soon as possible. The onus is now on the US to make concessions to enable successful negotiations to commence.
A consensus readily emerged that the concept of European citizenship should be addressed in the IGC. Deputies will note from the Presidency Conclusions that we have singled out a number of citizens' rights such as participation in elections to the European Parliament in the country of residence and possible participation in municipal elections, social and economic rights such as freedom of movement and residence, equality of opportunity and treatment for all citizens for consideration by the IGC.
The second major item discussed at the Rome Summit was that of aid to the Soviet Union and to the countries of central and eastern Europe. Deputies will recall that the European Council, at its meeting here in June last, asked the Commission to consult the Government of the Soviet Union and as necessary the international financial organisations with a view to preparing proposals urgently on short term credits and long term support for structural reform.
The Commission services engaged in intensive discussions with the Soviet authorities but, because of uncertainties relating to the economic and constitutional frameworks, were unable before the Rome Summit to table substantive proposals.
However, the European Council, taking all the factors in the situation into account, agreed on what I believe is a balanced set of guidelines embracing the short, medium and long term aspects. In order to satisfy the urgent food and health requirements reported to us, the Community is to provide 750 million ECU in aid, of which 250 million ECU will be provided in 1990 and in the form of gifts. The rest will be in the form of a medium term loan guarantee in accordance with procedures discussed by the ECOFIN Council at its meeting on Monday last. The aid will be routed in accordance with arrangements to be finalised with the Soviet authorities guaranteeing that the aid actually reaches those for whom it is intended and does not jeopardise the gradual advance towards normality of supplies in accordance with market rules.
As regards the more medium to long term reorganisation and rehabilitation of the Soviet economy, the European Council felt that the Community's role must above all, be to co-operate with the USSR in order to help it to mobilise its own resources. Thus, the emphasis was placed on technical assistance and the transfer of knowhow.
The Commission was again requested to explore with the Soviet authorities the idea of a major agreement between the Community and the USSR, encompassing a political dialogue and covering all aspects of close economic co-operation and co-operation in the cultural sphere, with a view to concluding such an agreement as quickly as possible and certainly by the end of 1991.
We were also agreed that we should support the Soviet Union Government's aim gradually to integrate its economy into the world economy and that the Community and its member states will use their influence to facilitate USSR membership of international financial institutions, in particular the IMF, which must form the main framework for macro-economic assistance.
The Community's assistance to the countries of Eastern Europe is now to be taken further through a new generation of so-called "European agreements", a deeper form of association agreement which will mark a new stage in the Community policy of developing increasingly close relations with those countries.
However, in Rome we noted that the general process of reform in those countries is being threatened by external disturbances and constraints arising from, inter alia, the Gulf crisis, which are very seriously affecting their financial situation. Czechoslovakia, for example, has extremely low resources of oil. To help them meet these difficulties, we agreed that initiatives will be taken, within the G24 framework in particular, to meet the financing requirements of those countries which are not otherwise covered by public or private contributions and which are estimated at 4,000 million dollars.
The European Council noted that the second tranche of ECU 260 million granted to Hungary to support its balance of payments would be adopted this week. In addition, we confirmed that in the context of G24 the Community would support the programme undertaken by Czechoslovakia to stabilise and modernise its economy and to make its currency convertible.
We also decided on emergency aid of ECU 100 million in the form of food and medicinal products for Bulgaria and Romania and called for urgent examination of the problem arising for these countries because of the risk of interruption of their oil supplies.
We asked the Council to press ahead with examination of the Commission proposals on credit insurance for exports to the countries of central and eastern Europe.
Finally, the European Council stated that it was following recent developments in Albania with great interest, and it expressed the hope that that country would gradually move towards democracy.
Other subjects discussed at the Rome European Council meeting included the internal market, with particular reference to the harmonisation of indirect taxes, the free movement of persons; transport policy and the social dimension; action to combat drugs, and relations with third countries.
On the internal market, a recently submitted report from the Commission had highlighted that all the proposals required to meet the 1992 deadline have now been submitted and that over two-thirds of these have been adopted by the Council. In the Presidency Conclusions we invite the Community institutions and the member states to make every effort to ensure that all the outstanding measures are adopted in 1991. We single out for particular attention the area of indirect taxation — the House is aware of the severe budgetary difficulties which the Commission proposals in their present form pose for this country — free decisions to be taken to respect the 1992 deadline as well as calling for measures on immigration and related issues.
I am, of course, particularly pleased with the European Council's call that special attention be given to the situation of the peripheral countries in the context of EC transport policy. The House can be assured that we will be actively following up on that commitment, not least in the area of Community funding which needs to be significantly increased if the aims of the EC's transport policy, including integration and cohesion, are to be achieved. For example, the EC's transport infrastructure fund, which we succeeded in finally getting agreement to last June under our EC Presidency after a delay of over 14 years, is clearly underfunded.
The Summit stressed the importance of the social dimension in the Community's integration and that the Single Market must be accompanied by real improvements in employment and in the living and working conditions of all our citizens. We stressed the need to adopt without delay the proposals on health and safety protection as well as highlighting a number of other proposals whose adoption needs to be speeded up, taking account of the aim of creating and developing employment and the need to respect the different customs and traditions of the member states in the social area.
On drugs, we asked for the rapid implementation of the programme submitted by CELAD, in fulfilment of the mandate given to it by last June's meeting here of the European Council.
The House will note that the European Council also adopted guidelines on a number of external relations issues such as the EFTA countries, Mediterranean policy, Latin America and the ACP countries.
The Council issued four declarations in the foreign policy field. On South Africa, it welcomed the process of change and decided that, as soon as the South African Government take legislative action to repeal the pillars of apartheid constituted by the Group Areas Act and the Land Acts, the Twelve will relax the sanctions they imposed in 1986. It decided to lift one of these immediately, the ban on new investments, in order to combat unemployment, to improve the economic and social situation in the country and to encourage the movement under way aimed at the complete abolition of apartheid. The declaration on the different aspects of the Middle East reiterated the earnest hope for a peaceful solution to the Gulf crisis, the need for a just and lasting solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict and to the Palestinian problem and the hope that recent developments are leading to national reconciliation in Lebanon.
Before the Council proper, I had a meeting with Prime Minister Andreotti and raised with him certain questions affecting Irish interests of the Council. Mr. Andreotti was most helpful in his approach. I would like to take this opportunity of placing on the record of this House my appreciation of the courtesy and understanding he showed during our stay in Rome and our gratitude for the smooth and effective way in which he and Foreign Minister De Michelis ran a complex and what could have been a difficult Council. Our thanks are due to them both and to the Italian officials who carried through their demanding work with such efficiency.
I had a brief informal meeting with Prime Minister Major and congratulated him on his appointment. We agreed to have a further meeting in the New Year for a discussion on Community and bilateral issues.
Our discussions on political union in Rome were among the best I have witnessed at a European Council meeting, both for their thoroughness and comprehensiveness on all the issues involved as well as their taking place in a friendly and co-operative spirit throughout.
As a result of the meeting, the stage is now set for the two IGCs which were officially launched immediately afterwards to begin their work on issues which could alter fundamentally the relationships between the member states and the Community and change the way the Community does its business in the world at large. These conferences have rightly been described as being the most critical conferences held since the EC was established in 1958, and it is in all our interests that their work be carried through effectively and with full understanding of the historic importance to the issues with which they are dealing. The House can be assured that the Government will throughout both of the IGCs take all necessary steps to ensure that this country's interests are protected and advanced.
I will deal with the results of this meeting in the format in which they were covered in the Presidency conclusions: first, with political union. This was the first and, for many members, the most important aspect of the entire Council. Political union was dealt with under a number of headings. The first of these was the creation of a democratic legitimacy for the new political union of Europe. In order to give a genuinely democratic legitimacy to this new European union, the Council proposes that extra powers be given to the European Parliament in matters such as assent to international agreements, the appointment of members of the Commission and to increase the powers of the parliament over the budget and the monitoring of Community policies. Therefore, it would seem that it will not be long before it will be the European Parliament, not the Irish Government, that will have the final say in the appointment of the Irish member of the European Commission. It would also seem that it is the intention of the Council in Rome that many of the powers currently exercised by the Council of Ministers — where Ireland has one vote in 12 — will soon be exercised by the parliament where Ireland has a smaller proportionate voice.
From newspaper reports it would appear that the Irish Government is one of the few governments in Europe opposed to the creation of a greater democratic legitimacy for European political union along these lines. I can understand the feelings of the Taoiseach that Ireland's vote at the Council of Ministers — one vote in 12 — is a lot more valuable and powerful than the number of votes we would have in a European Parliament in comparison with our size and its size.
I do agree that small countries need protection when they enter into a federal system of this kind. When the smaller states formed the United States of America with the larger states, they insisted that there be a two-Chamber Parliament. In the Lower Chamber seats were to be allocated on the basis of population but, in the Upper Chamber, the US Senate, seats were to be allocated on the basis of equality between states.
If we are to have a federal structure in Europe — I believe we should and that it is inevitable that we will have — then I believe we should have two Houses, not one, in the European Parliament. The Upper House should be one in which Ireland would have as many seats as Germany or France. The Upper House should be given equal powers to the Lower House, as has the United States Senate in comparison with the United States House of Representatives. If Vermont can have as many Senators as Texas, why should Ireland not have as many Members of the Upper House of the European Parliament as France?
Instead of putting forward a proposal of this kind, or indeed any proposal, to protect Ireland's interests — which would be consistent with democratic legitimacy but would recognise the problems of smaller countries like ours — the present Irish Government seem to be simply attempting in a churlish way to resist any enhancement of the powers of the European Parliament. This is typical of the approach of this Government to almost all European matters. They resist change rather than try to harness change to suit Ireland's interests. They are gradually out-manoeuvred and by-passed because they have no active policy of their own. I want to know why the Taoiseach did not suggest a bicameral system for the European Parliament at the Rome Summit. Surely he should have tabled an Irish proposal before the meeting suggesting this so as to have the issue on the European agenda.
The Council said: "Consideration should be given to arrangements allowing national parliaments to play their full role in the Community's development." This commitment to giving national parliaments a say in Community affairs is gloriously unspecific. What exactly do the European Heads of Government have in mind? Has the Taoiseach tabled any ideas of his own as to how Dáil Éireann should be involved in European decision making in European political union? Is he simply waiting for others to make suggestions along these lines or has he any ideas of his own? He certainly put no ideas before the House this morning.
The European Council conclusions also state that they note the particular importance of arrangements to "take account of the special competence of regional or local institutions as regards Community policies." This seems to mean that the Rome Summit has in mind that county councils in Ireland will have a role in EC policy. What role does the Taoiseach envisage for local or regional institutions in Ireland in this context? He has tabled no proposals of his own on this matter nor has he told the House his intentions in regard to this aspect of the Rome Summit conclusions. Again he seems simply to be waiting for the European Commission to table proposals on this matter to which Ireland will then react rather than table his own. We need to know how this EC conclusion will affect proposals for local government reform in Ireland.
In view of the importance attached by the European Summit to local institutions and local government, it is extremely regrettable that this Irish Government have failed to publish the report prepared by experts, commissioned by them at public expense, on local government reform in Ireland. I understand this is a very thorough document but because it contains politically embarrassing ideas the Government are unwilling to publish it. I believe the Government should immediately publish that report of the committee of experts on local government reform which is particularly important in view of the prominence given to local government by the Rome Summit.
I now turn to common foreign and security policy. The Summit conclusions contain proposals for an institutional framework which, in regard to security matters, would involve the possibility of recourse to qualified majority voting on the implementation of agreed policies. This seems to mean that on security matters Ireland could find a Community decision imposed on it by a majority vote. I would be grateful if the Taoiseach would clarify exactly what area of security policy will be covered by this proposal for qualified majority voting instead of the present system of a unanimous vote. There is no definition in the Presidency conclusions of the Rome Summit as to what constitutes "security". We are told this will be developed with particular reference "initially" to issues such as arms control, disarmament and CSCE matters. If these matters are to be dealt with initially, what are the matters that will be dealt with subsequently? We are not told that, and the Taoiseach has not told us that this morning. We should have a clear and full definition of what constitutes common security in Europe, otherwise we are all talking at cross purposes in this debate.
The Presidency conclusions on the development of a common European defence policy make no reference to Irish neutrality. Indeed, the word "neutrality" does not appear in the Rome conclusions. There are vague references to "traditional positions of other member states", not even named. That could refer to the German position in regard to membership of NATO; it could refer to anything, but there is no reference to Ireland in this context, no reference to neutrality in this context, it is simply a play on words for the Taoiseach to pretend to read that into what is said. What matters is not what people say in briefings afterwards, but what is actually said, and there is no reference to this matter. The word "neutrality" does not appear anywhere in the Presidency conclusions.
I want to state my position on that. If Europe is to have a common defence policy it is literally and logically impossible for any part of Europe to remain neutral in an area covered by a common defence policy. Does the Taoiseach agree or disagree with that statement? Does he believe it is possible for Ireland to remain neutral and yet be part of a European Community which has a European defence dimension? The answer is a simple yes or no. If he does not believe that to be possible, what value is to be placed on any "understanding" there may be on the part of other countries of Ireland's "traditional position"? It may be the sort of understanding that is extended to an eccentric relative at Christmas time: people will put up with him for the duration of the Christmas season but hope not to see him for the rest of the year. They may understand it all right but that does not mean that when it comes to the crunch Ireland will be able to avoid deciding whether to be a full member of the Community with a defence dimension or opt out and become a sort of external economic protectorate which is not fully a member of the Community. That is the choice we are facing and that is the choice the Taoiseach this morning tried to dodge and continues to dodge.
It seems to me that if Europe is heading towards EPU then there must be a common policy to defend that EPU. Without a common defence policy it would be hard to say there would be genuine political union. If that is so then Ireland cannot be part of EPU without being part of a common European defence arrangement as well. That is logical. You cannot create a political union and then say you are not prepared to defend it. If that is logical the Taoiseach should now start preparing Irish public opinion for this. He should not wait for this issue to be imposed on the Irish people by somebody else.
We are always, in this House and in Irish politics generally, waiting for others to tell us we must do things. If it is not the EC that is telling us what to do, it is the Supreme Court. Politicians seem to lack the ability to say something should be done because it is right. They would far prefer to tell the electorate that something must be done because the Supreme Court or the EC said it must be done. Never do we wish to take responsibility on ourselves as political leaders for changing policies. Irish political leaders here and now should state clearly that if there is to be a common EPU, then that political union must be capable of defending itself. If it is to be capable of defending itself, then all parts of the political union must be prepared to take part in common defence arrangements. We should say that now and not adopt this crab-like arrangement where the Taoiseach takes one step forward, two steps backwards and another step forward. We should not wait for other people to tell us that we should say it. We should not pretend we do not understand the implications of what is happening. We should not adopt the "wait and see" attitude. We should face reality now and say that as Irish people we are prepared to take our place in Europe. We should not be dragged along in a slip-stream created by others.
The present Government's attitude of ignoring the reality of EPU will damage Ireland's genuine interests in this area. If Ireland says it is prepared to take part in European defence in certain circumstances it can then try to influence the policies that will be adopted for European defence. For example, we could insist that any arrangement for European defence would be on the basis of conventional arms only. We could also insist that any commitment to European defence should be confined to the defence of the European homeland and should not involve external intervention of any kind outside Europe. These might be sensible policies from anybody's point of view but if we simply ignore the whole process and say it is not really happening, we will not be able to influence it. That is my main criticism of the present Government. They are actually damaging Ireland's ability to influence events because they are pretending certain events are not happening.
Under the heading of European citizenship I welcome the proposal to establish an EC ombudsman to defend citizens' rights in Community matters. However, it is very important that this ombudsman have real power. We have had a spectacle for a number of months where the Irish Government have continued to defy European law by operating a 48-hour rule on cross-Border traffic. Of what use will a Community ombudsman be if member states continue to ignore his rulings, just as the Irish Government have ignored the ruling of the European Court for several months as regards the 48-hour rule?
I now refer to the internal market. I note the Rome Summit places major emphasis on the need to give greater urgency to the harmonisation of rates of VAT and excise duties. The Presidency conclusions states that the Summit believes that "proceedings must be completed in the near future and be accompanied by the approximation necessary to satisfy the requirements of a true internal market". It would appear this must be completed in 1991.
At the time of the Single European Act a commitment was given that the EC would give help to member states who had particular financial difficulties in approximating their levels of indirect taxes to European averages. However, no reference is included in the communique issued at the end of the Rome Summit to this commitment. The Taoiseach should have insisted on the renewal of this commitment to help poorer states in the Rome Summit conclusions.
In view of the very clear statement of the Rome Summit, I am asking that the Minister for Finance make a full and comprehensive statement of Ireland's plans to harmonise its rates of VAT and excise duties, to European levels, in the Budget Statement next month.
We should have, from the Government, a five year plan for the approximation of Irish VAT and excise duty levels to those obtaining in Europe. This should be set out in detail in the budget. This is not an issue that can be left hanging in the air, or dealt with on a year-to-year basis. We should have a clear plan. I am demanding that the Government should publish such a plan in the 1991 budget.
The Deputy has one minute left.
I will now refer to the social dimension. I am not finished yet.
The Deputy should tell his script writer.
I write my own scripts. Unfortunately, I had not noticed the debate was taking place at this time. I had to work late last night to finish this.
The passages in the Presidency conclusions of the Summit on the social dimension are extremely weak. There is a statement that the establishment of a large single market, "must result in a genuine improvement in employment and in the living and working conditions of all Community citizens". Yet there is no clear commitment from the Summit to actually do anything to ensure that this really happens.
I believe that the European Community should accept responsibility to support the budgets of poorer member states across the board. Within the German federal system the budgets of poorer Lander are supported, across the board by richer Lander. There are straight transfers of money from the rich to the poor. The poor Lander are allowed to use these transfers in the way that they think best in the interests of their citizens.
This is in marked contrast to the system whereby the European Community transfers resources from the rich parts of the Community to the poor. Under the European Community's system, officials in Brussels lay down detailed criteria for the use of the money. For example it is possible to get money for training, but not for education. As a result of this detailed prescription laid down in Brussels, we have the ludicrous situation where one can get EC aid to train accountants in University College Dublin, while no European money at all is made available for primary education. From the point of view of employment it is far more important to ensure that people do not leave our primary schools illiterate, than it is to provide additional subsidies to accountancy firms for the training of staff that they would be training anyway at their own expense.
This illustrates the ludicrous system of aid from the rich to the poor in Europe. I believe that the Irish Government should have tabled their own proposals demanding a complete re-structuring of the European system of budgetary support for poorer countries. We should have demanded an across the board system of support for budgets of member states on the basis of objective criteria like income, levels of dependency and general demographic structure.
Ireland has a particularly high dependency ratio in Europe. On that basis we have a right to demand that Europe give us extra support for all matters, such as old age pensions and education, which require exceptionally high expenditure because we have a high dependency ratio.
I note that the Rome Summit emphasised "the importance of the family as an essential aspect of solidarity and social cohesion". I wish to draw the attention of the House to the fact that the Irish Government are currently in breach of the European Social Charter, adopted by the Council of Europe, in the way they treat children in Irish society.
I must ask you to conclude now, Deputy.
I have two more pages, if the House would allow me to read them.
I think the House would agree to that.
I wish to draw the House's attention to the fact that the Irish Government are currently in breach of the European Social Charter, adopted by the Council of Europe, in the way in which they treat children in Irish society. They breach this under two headings. We have no tax allowance for children, although we have a tax allowance for adults. There is no allowance at all for children in the matter of determining eligibility for a hospital services card. These two provisions are in direct breach of the relevant provisions of the Council of Europe's Social Charter. I have taken this matter up with the Council of Europe. If Ireland is to genuinely take part in a European policy for the support of the family, it should ensure that it complies with the existing Council of Europe Charter provisions on this matter.
I now refer to external relations. The brief paragraph on the breakdown of the world trade negotiations in the Summit communique displays no sense of urgency about this. The reality is that we may well be facing an outbreak of protectionism in the world of a kind similar to that which plunged the world into depression in the thirties. Let us never forget that it was protectionism that aggravated and spread the disease initiated by the collapse of stock markets in 1929 and 1930. Without protectionism, these problems would have been overcome.
The fact is that the US Government will soon be unable to enter into a world trade deal because the authority conferred on them by Congress will have expired. The attitude of US legislators to world trade is extremely narrow minded. They have a view that it is simply a question of striking bilateral deals with individual countries. They have no understanding of the fact that world trade is an arrangement in which everybody gains from opening up their market. A third country can gain indirectly from the enhancement of trade between two other countries. It is not simply a question of one dimensional relations between one state and another.
I strongly criticise the Irish Government for failing to use their contacts in the United States, during the Irish EC Presidency to argue for a more enlightened attitude to world trade matters on Capitol Hill. I realise that Ireland, on its own, could not change this situation. But we failed to make any effort in this area at all. If the world trade talks fail, and if the Irish economy suffers, the failure to use the Presidency constructively to influence opinion in the United States, will have been a contributory factor.
Finally, I refer to the Gulf crisis. I note that the Taoiseach has supported, in this context, the sort of dialogue offered by President Bush to Saddam Hussein. I note also that he has supported the concept of complete Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait and the restoration of Kuwaiti sovereignty and of its legitimate government. This seems to rule out any compromise involving even the most minor territorial concession to Iraq or the restoration of any Government other than the one that was ousted by the Iraqi invasion. This is the correct position to adopt but it must be recognised that it leaves very little room for manoeuvre in any discussions. I do not think the House should be under any illusion about this matter or pretend that somehow or other it will all be all right on the night. In fact, the positions adopted at the Rome Summit are extremely hard and leave very little room for manoeuvre, and it is significant that these are conclusions from which the Taoiseach has not dissented in any way.
First, it is important that the Taoiseach should report back to the House and that we should have an opportunity of commenting on the events that took place at the European Council in Rome. It is not the ideal form of debate and we are not doing ourselves a service by having it. Obviously, we might be as well off faxing in our statements at this stage in terms of who is listening. It is unfortunate that we do not have the opportunity of putting some questions to the Taoiseach, and some very important questions were raised as a consequence of the meeting last week.
However, we have sought a proper debate in relation to these conclusions in the past and I would again ask today of the Minister for Finance, and the Government, that an opportunity be afforded in the first instance to get a written report from the Government. We should be given an opportunity to study the contents of that report and then a proper debate should take place in the House during which an exchange of views could take place and the Taoiseach could respond to points raised.
We can take some comfort from what the Taoiseach mentioned in the House yesterday. He now appears to be relenting on his continuous opposition to the notion of a Dáil committee on foreign affairs. I would like to believe that the Taoiseach has in mind an independent and strong foreign affairs committee, one which would be properly funded and staffed and one which can be of assistance to the Department of Foreign Affairs and, indeed, to the Government in the formulation of European economic and foreign policy, an area which will be far more demanding in the future than it has been in the past.
Obviously, it is extremely unlikely that anything we say will have any influence on the Taoiseach. I propose to use this opportunity to place on record my views on where the national interest lies in this whole debate and on where the interests of the ordinary people of Europe lie. On the last occasion the Taoiseach outlined to this House his vision of where the future of Europe lay, which was on 14 June last, he spoke of the economic and budgetary discipline that would, of necessity, flow from economic and monetary union. I remember saying at that time that the speech which the Taoiseach made on that day would not have surprised me if it had been made by Chancellor Kohl in the Bundestag or, indeed, by Mrs. Thatcher or her successor, Prime Minister Major, in the House of Commons.
One passage in the Taoiseach's speech on 14 June has certainly found echoes in what the Taoiseach has said since and in what he is saying this morning. I quote that reference:
On the economic side, while the system would be more decentralised, it should provide for close co-operation between member states on macro-economics and budgetary policies. To the latter end, it should contain rules and procedures designed to ensure budgetary discipline, including rules prescribing the monetary or compulsory financing of budget deficits and the automatic bailing out by the Community of a single member state in difficulty. At the level of the member states and the Community the system should also embrace policies to promote cohesion, efficiency, competitiveness and integration across the Community.
This House must be clearly aware of the priorities inherent in this passage. Cohesion is lumped together with efficiency and competitiveness as an after-thought.
The big issue, however, is budgetary discipline. One would think, listening to all of this, that our Taoiseach had secured the services of Mrs. Thatcher from her elegant retirement. One might even think that he was a Taoiseach who was presiding over a budget surplus with all the country's social needs being met. The reality is that we know exactly what the Taoiseach means when he talks about discipline. He means wholesale cuts in health, education, housing, and essential social spending will not be redressed. In the hands of the Government, budgetary discipline means that it is the poor, the handicapped and the marginalised who must be disciplined. As far as the ordinary people — the young, the old, the disabled, the children, the women, the workers and the unemployed citizens of Europe — are concerned the question they want answered is what will European economic and monetary union mean to them. The question I pose is: who remembers the Social Charter? When was the last time it was mentioned, other than in passing, at a European summit and how high is it on the agenda of the Intergovernmental Conference?
What must be recognised is that the economic and monetary union that we are talking about is a process designed essentially to increase the wealth of the Community. That is as it should be, and we should be supportive of that concept. But there must be another process too, a process designed to ensure that that extra wealth is used wisely and fairly, and that the people of Europe are enabled to share in it. That must happen at two levels. At the European level, there must be developments in European social policy and in European industrial policy whose purpose is to ensure the fair distribution of prosperity. Without such developments, power, wealth, influence and privilege will all gravitate to the centre. But where are they? Why is it only possible to talk about discipline, and common currencies, if one wants to be a good European? Why does it not seem posible for good Europeans to demand a Europe that is good for all its people?
The other level at which there must be development is here at home. We face the prospect of strict control of spending imposed by the disciplines inherent in monetary union. We face that prospect apparently sublimely unaware that there are huge neglected areas of the social life of this country which need to be addressed — and which will never be addressed by the rules of the marketplace. The marketplace may be a very efficient mechanism for offering individuals choice, but it is not a mechanism which enables anyone to claim their rights. In health, education, shelter, the protection of the environment, the advancement of the rights of women and minorities, and in relation to the whole issue of poverty in our country, we have obligations as a community which we cannot discharge if we allow our hands to be totally tied by arbitrarily imposed disciplines.
Economic and monetary union is a logical next step from the internal market process — I accept that. Its purpose is to present Europe with the possibility of currency and price stability, and with an end to damaging fluctuations in interest rates. The overall concept may well demand both an EC central banking system, and perhaps ultimately a single currency, and we fully accept the need to proceed with work on both of these concepts.
However, I have no interest in EMU simply for its own sake, or as part of a process of liberating financial markets to greater heights of speculation. The EC and its member states must not be sacrificed on the altar of strict monetary policy, unconnected to broader economic concerns. EMU must imply both economic and monetary policy considerations. The overall approach must support an economic policy aimed at securing sustainable growth, and the translation of that growth into jobs through a coherent industrial strategy. The issues of regional development and convergence must remain central to the economic policies of the Community, together with policies to end the poverty and marginalisation of so many of our people.
Turning to the subject of political union, the Taoiseach is sending out very confusing signals on the subject of Ireland's military neutrality and I suspect that he is doing so quite deliberately. I thought that he was laying the bait for the largest Opposition Party to clarify their position in the first instance but, after Deputy Bruton's statement this morning, we can now take it that Fine Gael are saying quite clearly that neutrality should be abandoned by the Irish State.
I am wondering why the Deputy did not say that.
I said it on 20 November. There is no need to adopt this attitude.
I listened to the Deputy's speech this morning before he got to the galloping stage and he did not say——
I will send you a copy of my speech.
Through the Chair, please.
I will, of course, speak through the Chair as I have respect for the Chair and I hope to do so uninteruptedly despite some provocation. I am glad that there has been clarification because I certainly do not recall it being Fine Gael policy over the years. I know that some members of Fine Gael believed in it but I am glad that it is now official Fine Gael policy that neutrality has gone as far as they are concerned.
I said we would be prepared to move from a position of neutrality to defend the European political union.
This sort of debate is very important and it is also very important that everybody realises and understands where the political parties stand in relation to this issue.
We still do not know the Labour Party's stand.
Please, Deputies, no more interruptions.
I will make our position very clear and I will not mince my words. I will state our position in regard to neutrality as opposed to what happened in the last 15 minutes. It is vital that not only should this House know — in this area I agree with Deputy Bruton — but that the people should know where the Government and the parties stand on the issue of neutrality. I have been seeking a debate on neutrality, which means different things to different people. It is also important to debate the issue within the parties before it is debated in this House. The Taoiseach has been, quite deliberately, using the words "security" and "defence" to imply totally distinct and unrelated concepts in the hope that people will not notice what is happening, that the concepts will become blurred and that things will happen without the people becoming aware of them. I am not sure if the Government want to change policy but, if they do, they should first seek the approval of the people and of this House, and they should also make it very clear what they want to do. They should not allow themselves to be dragged, reluctantly or otherwise into making a decision, or hoping that the decisions will be made by others and that they can say they have no choice. It is a policy matter which has served this country well, and even though people dispute its origin and the reasons for Ireland adopting a neutral stance, we should certainly not give it away.
There is now reason for genuine hope of lasting global peace, for a new era of world-wide co-operation in the face of world-wide problems — poverty, ignorance, arms trading, drugs, health — and in coping with regional problems and confrontations. This co-operation must be speedily reflected in major arms control successes which will, at last, give the world an opportunity to transfer cash, human resources and expertise from armaments to developmental projects. In this regard, I welcome the decision of the EC to offer assistance to Russia in dealing with its present problems. But I would warn against any such assistance being offered at the cost of a dilution of the EC's commitments under the Fourth Lomé Convention. There is still major famine in many parts of Africa, and the starving people of the Sudan must not be ignored in the face of the troubles in Russia.
I want to state our position on neutrality again in this House. We believe that it should be made clear that there will be no preconditions to a full involvement in the developing Europe relating to military entanglements or doctrines. Ireland has, I believe, played its full part in the emerging Europe, and can continue to do so. We are also, and for my part we must remain, a country free of military entanglements. There has been some debate in our country, and particularly within some of the larger parties, on this issue. But for as long as I lead the Left in Ireland, we will oppose any abandonment or dilution of that neutrality.
There should be no confusion on this score. I hope the debate will clarify the issues and rid us of the confusion which has bedevilled the subject for the last couple of years. A country which will not join any military entanglement but which volunteers to take part in every UN peacekeeping effort is just as entitled to respect as the most powerful member of NATO. A country which has refused to have any truck with the nuclear game is just as entitled to be taken seriously in discussions on security as a country which pollutes the open seas with toxic wastes derived from lethal weapons systems. It is not the mark of a good European that he should be willing to send Irish soldiers to die in wars over issues which can and must be settled by peaceful means.
The Taoiseach in his statement mentioned — I think he was quoting some newspapers — that an opportunity has been created for West European states, Austria, Norway, Sweden and Finland, to join the Community in spite of the neutrality of all except Norway. Certainly the issue of neutrality of Austria, Sweden and Finland has been raised in discussions with politicians from those countries over the years, even though most of them want to wait until after 1992 to see how the Community evolves before they open up full discussions. I would welcome access by those neutral countries, if it is possible for them, as we are being led to believe, and it certainly needs clarification, to retain their traditional neutrality.
I would say to the Minister for Finance, and the Government, that the time is long past when the Government should have published a detailed position paper outlining their policies in regard to all the issues in a developing Europe. I agree with Deputy Bruton that the Government should lead the debate on this matter. The people of Ireland want to be better informed on what is happening. Whether we like it or not, whether we are pro-European or anti-European, the reality is that our future is very much tied up with the development of Europe. We should be pro-active rather than being led, as appears to be the case despite the Taoiseach's protestations and despite efforts in this House to clarify the Government's role, their submissions and their lead or lack of it in these events.
For our part we want to see European union developed and advanced but in a way that gives power and participation to the citizens of Europe and not just to the bankers, the financiers and the right wing politicians. We are looking to the future, a future where the ideals we have believed in for all of our existence can find their full expression in a European society committed to justice, equality and freedom.
The Taoiseach has expressed pleasure and satisfaction at the outcome of last weekend's European Council in Rome on 14 and 15 December but I fail to see the basis for such an optimistic assessment. His optimism may be due to the fact that no immediate major changes in the area of security and defence policies were announced. If so, it simply reflects the Government's persistent "let's hope we'll escape again" mentality. The facts are that the European Council meeting provided precious little to benefit peripheral regions, weaker economies within the Community or recognition that Irish neutrality could play an active role in shaping future EC security policies, as distinct from being ignored, pushed away into a corner and told to be quiet. Neither was there anything new or decisive on issues such as implementation of the Social Charter, or ensuring greater democracy for the Community's institutions.
The question of democratic accountability in the Community is another area which needs close attention. I notice that while political union and democratic legitimacy are mentioned on the first page of the communique, there is still a great deal of vagueness on the matter. While there are many proposals which suggest extension of the Parliament's powers, such as developing co-decision procedures on acts of a legislative nature, these proposals are only to be considered.
Another proposal for extension and improvement of the co-operation procedure with the European Parliament, shows the vagueness of the commitment to enhancing the powers of the Parliament. It gives no indication of how, in what areas and when such co-operation will be developed. To take yet another example, the proposal for involvement of the European Parliament in the appointment of the Commission and its President is welcome, but what does "involvement" mean? The Parliament should have a direct say, but "involvement" could turn out simply to mean making recommendations that can be ignored, or even merely commenting or debating on appointments after the event. On the vital area of EC common foreign and security policy, there is only reference to "consulting and informing the European Parliament".
Given the current rapid development of the 1992 process, such vagueness will only serve to deprive the democratically elected European Parliament of a real and effective say during this crucial stage in the development of the Community and will heighten fears among national parliamentarians. With the move towards increasing centralisation of powers in the Community, there is need for ever greater attention to be paid to the rights of the citizen to a meaningful participation in the Community. This means first, of course, granting increased powers to the European Parliament. But a Parliament in Strasbourg, not matter how democratic, is still very far removed from the immediate and day to day needs of regional and local areas. The Community must ensure the development of structures and funding arrangements for local democracy, which will facilitate the transfer of real decision-making powers to local communities.
On the question of the social dimension, lip service is again paid to implementation of the Social Charter. On the one hand stress is placed on the importance of pressing ahead more actively with the application of the action programme for the implementation of the Charter. On the other hand emphasis is again placed on the need to respect the different customs and traditions of the member states. This is nothing more than a euphemism for toleration of widely varying standards in social legislation between member states, and an excuse for any member state which wishes to deny basic rights to its citizens and allow the continuation of various discriminatory practices.
We still have the scandalous situation of no legislative protection for low paid workers here in Ireland. Wage levels in the Republic run at 67 per cent of the EC average. Rights for young workers, the disabled, women with young children and other vulnerable sections of the society and workforce are weaker here than in many other member states.
The question of a common security policy is dealt with in the conclusions of the European Council under "Aims", "Institutional Framework" and "Decision Making Process", Under "Aims" it makes no reference to denuclearisation as an objective, no reference to destroying the chemical and biological weapons capability of various EC states. Under "Decision Making Process" it clearly envisages a continuation of arms exports by those countries already engaged in that deplorable trade.
On defence policy the EC clearly envisages not only the continuation of NATO and the welding of WEU and the EC, but the continued treatment of Ireland's neutrality as an irrelevancy, while at the same time requesting examination of commitment by member states to provide "mutual assistance". On virtually all of the above issues Ireland as a neutral country should have a unique point of view to express, considerably different from the position of other member states, who are members of NATO. To take one such example, what did Ireland have to say about co-ordination of armaments export policy referred to in the conclusions? It is, after all, arms exports from the developed world which have created the nightmare scenario of a war in the Gulf in which chemical and highly sophisticated conventional weapons may cause untold casualties. Instead of coordinating export of such weapons of mass destruction, we should propose a halt to such deadly exports. But did we? Clearly we did not or we would have been told about it by the Taoiseach today.
There is also reference to non-proliferation. What case did Ireland make on examining ways of reducing and eliminating the nuclear stockpile in the EC, both those controlled by NATO and those maintained individually by some member states? Again, clearly, it was not raised or we would have been told so by the Taoiseach today.
It is inevitable that other countries, particularly those with militaristic, expansionist or repressive governments, will seek to produce or acquire their own nuclear capability. If we want a world which is genuinely free of the threat of nuclear destruction, then we must seek to eliminate such weapons from this Continent as well as prevent their proliferation elsewhere. It is clear that the Irish Government are having no impact on development of policy in this area and probably never even raised the issues. The relatively slow progress towards a common, and increasingly binding, EC security policy, which is hailed by the Taoiseach, is due more to varying emphasis and priorities within the European NATO powers than the active promotion by Ireland of an alternative view. But then this is hardly surprising as Ireland does not seem to have an alternative view of how the EC security system should evolve, confining itself simply to saying, "our traditional neutrality precludes us from joining military alliances — but of course if you chaps come up with a system of defence you can count on us to join in." If the EC decides to go to war in some future Gulf style scenario, Irish troops could be expected to join in.
Although this is projected for some future date we are undoubtedly talking of a time span of just a few years, not decades. Mr. Jacques Delors has warned that another Inter-Governmental Conference may be needed in a few years to tidy up on such issues. In this sense the Taoiseach can argue to be correct when he says our traditional neutrality, as he calls it, has not been compromised, but of course there is no evidence that anyone is seeking to compromise it. Our neutrality as enunciated by the Taoiseach effectively neuters us in the development of the EC security area. There is no need for us to be seduced by anybody within the European Community.
That is right. We do not want to have any say in it.
There is no vision from the Taoiseach or the Government on the future of Ireland and Irish neutrality in the European Community, in Europe generally or in the world. His situation is more one of continually coming back from European capitals, his brow mopped, to tell us that his masterly silence has once again postponed the day when our neutrality will be no more. Such an ostrich-type attitude gives the impression at home and further feeds the view abroad that Ireland's neutrality is indeed out of date and negotiable, that we are not ready to ditch it just yet but we will as soon as the price is right.
It is interesting that the communiqué could not even bring itself to refer to neutrality. It referred to our "traditional position".
In the meantime the traditional and outdated position of a Europe divided along NATO and Warsaw Pact lines is being revised by the other member states. They are endeavouring to ensure a framework which will maintain many elements of the old aggressive military structures in devising their new approach despite voices of former NATO generals who argue for the abolition of NATO.
The Taoiseach clearly lacks the vision to insist on the aim of a Europe in which a policy of positive and active neutrality and non-alignment, denuclearisation, elimination of chemical and biological weapons, conversion of arms industries to useful production and the withdrawal of foreign troops from members states is the aim. There is not even a mention of the application for membership of two other neutral states, that of Austria, gathering dust for the past two years, and that of Sweden, which virtually on the eve of the European Council took a decision to apply for EC membership.
An Oireachtas foreign affairs committee could and should be developing a policy on these lines, could and should be encouraging public debate on these issues, could and should be addressing urgently the definition of neutrality and non-alignment in the post-cold war era. Clearly different countries will have differing definitions and requirements, but in basic terms for Ireland it must mean working for peace and against war, in favour of disarmament and against militarism and military blocs. It must support the process of dialogue at all levels between all countries as a means of preventing confrontation. It must serve to support human rights.
Instead of attempting to ignore the existence and importance of various forms of neutrality and non-alignment, the Government should actively seek closer contacts with neutral and nonaligned countries like Austria, Sweden and Finland in Europe, and further afield with India and other members of the nonaligned movement.
The establishment of an Oireachtas foreign affairs committee to deal with these issues in detail is needed now — not when all major decisions have been taken. It should be established with the necessary funding and technical arrangements to allow it to produce a report on a positive new definition for Irish foreign policy which will ensure that our voice is heard with respect in all international fora.
Turning now to the crisis in the Gulf, I want to begin by stating The Workers' Party's total opposition to war in the region. It is unnecessary, uncalled for and would result in the desert sands of Iraq, Saudi Arabia and perhaps many other countries running with the blood of men, women and children. It would be a catastrophic war which would affect the lives of millions of people, not just in the Middle East but on every continent.
To object to war is not to support in any way the actions of Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein. I have made my condemnation of the Iraqi invasion clear from the day of the invasion. Indeed, recent demonstrations in America involving tens of thousands of people, show there is an increasing unease and dissatisfaction in that country with the open warmongering of the US Administration and the constant setting of deadlines of war.
According to estimates from US officials, a full scale war in the Gulf would result in up to 30,000 US casualties alone. The war would not be the blitzkrieg that military public relations and strategy people would like us to believe and could last many months, if not years.
There is no need to spill human blood in the deserts of the Middle East. There is a need for the steady pressure of the economic sanctions to ensure that Iraq's aggression against and occupation of Kuwait is reversed. Full and comprehensive use of United Nations sanctions should be the means by which this crisis is resolved. There has already been unprecedented international solidarity in support of sanctions on this issue — East and West, North and South. Continuation of sanctions would undoubtedly bring freedom to the people of Kuwait.
I would raise a question about this idea that is being promoted and supported by the European Community about the restoration of the legitimate Government of Kuwait. I notice in relation to other issues that there is insistence that the people of the Lebanon, for instance, be given the opportunity to elect their own Government. There is no such insistence with regard to Kuwait, and I wonder why.
As I said, continuation of sanctions will undoubtedly bring freedom to the people of Kuwait. Already there are different signals coming from the Iraqi leadership, which indicate an increasing appreciation of the economic consequences of the world economic blocade.
Iraq cannot survive sanctions indefinitely, or even in the medium term, without trade with the outside world. Its army will not be able to function without the necessary spare parts for imported military equipment and hardware. The combined effect of halted exports and imports will grind its industry to a halt. No country of Iraq's size could bear up under such economic pressure.
What do we want? We want freedom for the people of Kuwait. I would be happy to have that freedom in 12 months by peaceful means rather than so-called freedom after a bitter and bloody war, in 12 weeks, a war which would destroy the prospect of peace and stability in the region for years to come.
We have already provided refuelling facilities for US warplanes and indeed continually give overflight permission. To what extent does the Security Council Resolution 678 passed by 12 of the Council's permanent members commit the other members of the UN? To what extent should we continue to allow such a small and unrepresentative body dictate whether we go to war? Ireland should insist that the UN General Assembly meet on the issue before 15 January, as I am quite certain that, while virtually everyone wants to maintain sanctions on Iraq, very few want to go to war for what are essentially US strategic ambitions in the region.