Amsterdam Treaty: Statements (Resumed).

In recent months I listened to much debate about the Amsterdam EU Council meeting. There appears to be an almost universal desire to press ahead to a fully integrated Europe. Political leaders and commentators seem to know where we are going, but do the people of this country know where they are going?

The Amsterdam Treaty is the tenth treaty of Europe and I doubt if many people can name the other nine. Most are familiar with the Treaty of Rome and the Maastricht Treaty. If one were to carry out a vox pop on any street, village, town or city, the knowledge of European affairs and the treaties we have signed would be limited. For many the EU is represented by the blue sign with little stars that greets one as one enters a good stretch of road. For others it is the absence of their favourite brown bread on the local shopping stall. I have not heard in casual or any other form of conversation a person express concern at the terms of the stability and growth pact and our ability to present stability programmes, nor was the subject raised with me during the run-up to the recent general election. Yet we are constantly told we are good Europeans and we do not dispute that accolade. What is a good European? Do we know what makes a good European?

Opinion polls tell us there is an unprecedented distrust of politicians, but on this issue the general public has given carte blanche to the Government. This is something of which the body politic should be proud. It is hard evidence that belies one of the latter day soft theories. Yet there is a duty on Government to make people more aware.

The Minister stated that the Government attaches great importance to fulfilling its duty to explain the background and implications of the treaty. I hope the White Paper on the treaty currently under preparation is as reader friendly as possible and clearly identifies and explains the five broad headings to which the Minister referred. There is an onus on all of us to make ourselves more aware of Europe and our involvement in its evolution. In l972 there was an 83 per cent vote in favour of joining the then European Community and we have enjoyed the willingness of the population to push towards Europe. For the past four years Ireland has boasted the fastest economic growth rate in Europe. Its GDP growth rate reached double figures of 10.7 per cent in l995 against an average EU rate of roughly 2 per cent. We are enjoying an unprecedented boom as Exchequer returns exceed all expectations and forecasts and we are on course to meet the Maastricht criteria.

Of late people will have noted the headline "pay back time" and other such phrases as all groups push for a slice of the cake. The record of the Minister for Finance to date has shown him to be pragmatic. In the forthcoming budget he should address the needs of the marginalised in society, particularly in the areas of health and education, but tread softly and not squander tomorrow for the sake of today. Despite claims to the contrary many of us have not fared badly and we will never be asked to make the sacrifices our forefathers made.

On a practical level, there are many areas that need to be addressed in the context of Europe. Our linguistic skills are poor. We need to examine in greater detail how this problem can be addressed. We are an island nation and community interaction is more difficult for us than for other states. Greater emphasis should be placed on job exchange in the public and private sector. This could only be beneficial and would afford us an opportunity to demonstrate our skills and culture to other Europeans.

Some quarters have expressed disappointment that the treaty does not go far enough. We should tread slowly and knowingly rather than quickly. I welcome the treaty and note in particular the provision that allows the Council to adopt measures to combat discrimination on the grounds of disability. We have improved greatly in this area in recent times, but we have a long way to go. Common action is envisaged to prevent offences against children and I look forward to that development. If we cannot protect our children what can we do?

The Minister said there would be great focus in the months ahead on the security and defence provisions of the treaty. This area requires separate debate and we will watch that space. The treaty affords us an opportunity to once again reappraise our attitude to Europe and the direction we want to take. We should ensure it does not bypass our citizens.

(Dublin West): I am deeply concerned about the implications of the Amsterdam Treaty for this country, particularly in regard to military and security matters. If it is passed next March it will mark a major departure for our society on military and so-called defence issues. In the debate leading up to the referendum ordinary people should take serious note of what is involved. Because of the amount of bureaucracy surrounding EU matters, the distance of decision-making from our citizens and the complexities involved, ordinary people tend not to take much notice. The implications of this treaty in a range of areas, particularly on military matters, warrant thorough discussion. Ordinary people will reject what is planned if the debate is carried out in an open and fair fashion.

In the debate leading up to the referendum right wing parties represented in the Dáil and other parties will overwhelmingly support this treaty and a small minority of Members will oppose it. I do not want the Government to be allowed to command large State resources to push its case. There must be a fair distribution of resources to allow for an informed debate which means that all sides of the argument must be put clearly before the people.

Article 11 under Title V of the consolidated version of the Treaty on the European Union states "The Union shall define and implement a common foreign and security policy covering all areas of foreign and security policy .". This is a new departure. For the first time it gives corporate existence to the EU on the question of military alliances and strategy. Some of us who fought the Maastricht Treaty were accused at that time of being alarmist when we warned this was the direction in which the major parties here were taking us, but when one examines the provisions of the this treaty it is clear that our warnings in 1992 were justified and the leadership of our country is taking us far further down the line of being involved in military alliances with the European powers. The document also states:

The Member States shall support the Union's external and security policy actively and unreservedly in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity.

The Member States shall work together to enhance and develop their mutual political solidarity. They shall refrain from any action which is contrary to the interests of the Union or likely to impair its effectiveness as a cohesive force in international relations.

The Council shall ensure that these principles are complied with.

This is forcing our people to tie into a military alliance with the major powers in Europe with which our people fundamentally disagree on many questions. Some of the powers that make up the European Union, such as Germany and France, have a shameful colonial past. Some countries continue to interfere in the affairs of the Third World, an example is France's intervention in Africa. France has its own agenda in pursuit of its objectives and economic profits for its State and this new departure is attempting to tie our people into that position.

Article 17 in the document states:

The common foreign and security policy shall include all question relating to the security of the Union, including the progressive framing of a common defence policy, in accordance with the second subparagraph, which might lead to a common defence, should the European Council so decide.

There is a possibility that our people through the Government of the day may be dragged into a military alliance with the European powers without holding a referendum. It is important the people understand that. Our people have traditionally and still strongly resist being involved in military alliance with any of the European or other powers, but that aspiration is not included in our Constitution. If this treaty, as it stands, is agreed, the Government of the day will be empowered to form part of a military alliance without referring to the people by way of a referendum. The ordinary people would greatly resist any attempt to do that. They do not wish to be part of military power blocs whose main agenda is to defend the economic interests of those states, which means the economic interests of the main monopolies and the capitalist concerns that dominate states like France and Germany.

I am reminded strongly of the words of a previous President of the Commission, Jacques Delors when he referred to the European States being involved in the resource wars of the 21st century. They are chilling words when viewed against the context of what is employed in this treaty. The desire is to bring the EU into a merger with the Western European alliance, the Western European Union, a nuclear armed military alliance but it will be opposed by a majority of our people.

I do not speak as a nationalist, as someone who wants to put up barriers around the country, but as a socialist and an internationalist in the spirit James Connolly approached these issues. I stand for a genuine union of peoples, a union of the ordinary people and a fair and free exchange between the ordinary people of the states of Europe in regard to trade, know-how and technology and between the people of European and the Third World on the basis of justice and equity, but that is not what is involved in this treaty.

I am delighted to have an opportunity to make a statement on the Amsterdam Treaty. On 16 and 17 June the heads of state and government of the 15 countries of the European Union drew up a new treaty for Europe. It lays the foundation for the Europe we want to build into the 21st century. It sets out the rules Governments will have to observe and establishes rights for all their citizens. That is why the heads of state and government of the European Union wanted the treaty to be transparent and easy to understand. They also wanted to produce a treaty which would respond to the European people's real concerns.

The Treaty of Amsterdam establishes a more democratic Europe that addresses social needs. It also makes clear progress on matters relating to the Union's foreign policy and the free movement of its citizens. Thanks to this treaty the European Union will be more effective and more democratic and more jobs will be created. The European Union will make its voice heard on the international stage and will guarantee its people freedom of movement while enabling the war on organised crime to be waged more effectively.

After 50 years of peace in Western Europe the Amsterdam Treaty addresses our concerns today. The challenges ahead are considerable, but there are also opportunities. For the first time in 500 years we have a chance to bring together the European continent by enlarging the Union, but before enlargement takes place it is important to bestow on the European Union a fresh identity. The Treaty of Amsterdam has four main objectives: to place employment and citizens' rights at the heart of the Union; to sweep away the remaining obstacles to freedom of movement and to strengthen security; to give Europe a stronger voice in world affairs; and to make the EU's institutional structures more efficient with a view to enlarging the Union through new membership of states.

The treaty is important for a variety of reasons, but particularly for its employment strategy. What is the legacy of Amsterdam? The heads of state and Government agreed a new treaty which confirms that employment should be considered a matter of common concern. What does this mean for the EU and its member states? The EU has been successful in the way it has treated the economic policies of member states as a matter of common concern. It is now in the advanced stages of doing the same with monetary policy.

EU member states have benefited immensely from their interdependence in terms of trade and GDP. At Amsterdam, member states agreed that employment policy should be treated in the same way. In the past, member states followed their own national policies, sometimes to the detriment of another member state or the Union as a whole as far as the labour market is concerned. When Governments follow passive labour market policies and give low priority to jobs, it affects economic and social activity beyond their own frontiers. In taking measures to promote employment at home at the expense of jobs elsewhere, devaluing currencies, the over-enthusiastic use of State subsidy, and driving down labour standards in the hope of attracting foreign investment, EU Governments have had a negative effect on the labour markets of other member states. Amsterdam has recognised that interdependency extends to employment. Member states will now work together on unemployment policies at EU level as part of a common jobs strategy.

In the run-up to Amsterdam the main focus among commentators was on the need to make significant progress on institutional questions —justice, home affairs and foreign and security policy. However, this did not happen. The real success was the employment strategy. The jobs issue finally lived up to its long-trailed description as the major priority on the European agenda. It was finally recognised that monetary discipline and job creation are equally crucial if we are to secure the Union's future. They are not mutually exclusive but must be pursued in close association.

We now have a well-defined and detailed title on employment in the treaty. The European Council resolution on growth in employment has established a place for employment policy at the core of the economic decision-making process in the Union. Jobs are a matter of common concern. Creating employment has been made an explicit objective of the operation of the Union. The Council agreed in its resolution that therefore member states should give high priority to employment objectives.

At an EU level, the objective of a high level of employment still has to be taken into consideration in the formulation and implementation of community policies and activities. There is a new awareness among member states of their broadly based economic and social interdependence and this is highlighted in the treaty. The treaty aims to promote a positive interplay between the full range of economic and social policies. Its provisions offer us the tools to ensure the long run growth of sustainable employment development of which the European economy is capable.

Two political consequences emerge from this new approach. First, EMU can no longer be seen as an optional extra. It is the necessary counterpart to the increasingly integrated European economy and the almost complete single market in which national economic policies lose much of their force if exercised alone. Second, economic and monetary union alone is not enough. There needs to be an effective and positive co-ordination of broad national policies and objectives, especially in providing the framework for high and sustainable rates of employment as well as an appropriate economic and monetary policy.

To make all of this work, Europe requires a reorientation of public policies for employment. The objectives of this reorientation are ambitious and far-reaching. We must attack Europe's high and persistent unemployment and the damage it is doing to its people and their communities. We must also shift Europe into a higher gear as far as employment creation is concerned. We need more jobs to put more of our people in work. Therefore, we need to equip the workforce and the enterprise community to adjust to changing market conditions, new technological developments and more diverse patterns of work. Training is the key in bridging the skills gap which exists in our community. The more successful such policies are, the more amenable Europe's workers and companies will be to managing change, the more productivity will grow and the more room there will be for growth-orientated macro-economic policies.

This progress can flow from the proper integration of employment and economic policies which the Amsterdam Treaty envisaged. We have to adapt our employment systems to address existing problems and to position ourselves for the future. We must move more dynamically from old to new skills. We cannot compete in the world while offering those new skills to only 10 per cent of the unemployed while leaving the other 90 per cent languishing in delearning. We cannot compete while sending 20 per cent of our young people into the labour market without recognised, marketable qualifications. We cannot meet our productive potential with a labour market still segregated by gender and still fraught with barriers to reconciliation of work, family and lifelong learning. These flaws in the functioning of our systems must be addressed as a matter of efficiency as well as equity.

In the midst of all these complex issues to be discussed by the new Council in November, there are four main lines of action which member states must develop: entrepreneurship, employability, adaptability and equal opportunities. Entrepreneurship means engendering a new climate and spirit to stimulate the creation of more better jobs. Employability means tackling the skills gap by modernising education and training systems and by strengthening their links to the workplace so that all workers are equipped to take new employment opportunities. Adaptability means the adaptability of enterprises and the workforce to respond to changing market conditions, ensuring no group is left behind and facilitating the restructuring of industries and workplaces in a way acceptable to both workers and employers. The issue of equal opportunities is dear to my heart. It is important to modernise society so women and men can participate in work on equal terms with equal responsibilities. We need to engage the whole workforce, women and men, if we are to realise the full productive potential of the European economy and sustain our high economic and social standards in the face of demographic change.

I want the member states to set clear and measurable targets for tackling the immediate priority issues of youth unemployment, long-term unemployment and equality between men and women. It is vital these actions are part of an integrated and comprehensive ongoing economic and social strategy. We also need to move quickly from declarations and analysis, of which we have plenty, to the framing of a concerted and concrete action plan. This is what the European Commission and the citizens of Europe want and what the Amsterdam Treaty envisages.

The new employment provisions in the treaty give the EU the means to make low growth and persistent unemployment a thing of the past. They provide the political and operational means to address our failings of the past and represent the full intermeshing of national and EU employment policies. As the Minister stated, the Amsterdam Treaty is a significant effort by the Union to enhance the daily lives and concerns of all its citizens and I welcome it.

This morning's statement by the Minister for Foreign Affairs gave an overview of the Treaty of Amsterdam and its main provisions under five broad headings. The main objectives of the Treaty are: to place the citizen at the heart of the Union; to remove as far as possible the remaining obstacles to freedom of movement while strengthening personal security; to give Europe a stronger voice in world affairs and to make the Union's institutional and decision-making arrangements as effective as possible.

The Minister' s statement outlined how each of the three "pillars" on which the Union's work has been based since the Maastricht Treaty will be consolidated and strengthened in the Treaty of Amsterdam — the European Communities being the first pillar; the common foreign and security policy the second pillar and co-operation in the fields of justice and home affairs the third pillar.

The areas of the treaty which fall under the heading "the Union and the citizen" represent a significant effort by the Union to enhance its relevance to the daily lives and concerns of the citizens. Many Deputies referred to the need to make European affairs relevant to our citizens. I shall mention just two areas in which the Union has sought to achieve this. While confirming that the member states bear primary responsibility for employment, the Treaty of Amsterdam makes the promotion of a high level of employment one of the major objectives of the Union. Obviously, we cannot expect the Union to solve long-standing economic difficulties, such as unemployment, by means of treaty language alone. The treaty establishes a framework within which member states can take concerted measures to promote employment while benefiting from community incentive measures such as studies, sharing of experience and the establishment of best practice among the member states.

In the fields of environmental and consumer protection, there is now a treaty basis for taking such protection into account in all Community policies and activities. With respect to the environment, the treaty for the first time incorporates the objective of promoting balanced and sustainable development.

In his statement this morning, the Minister for Foreign Affairs set out comprehensively the way in which the Treaty of Amsterdam provides for the progressive establishment of the Union as an area of freedom, security and justice. On the issues of freedom of movement, asylum, immigration and the incorporation of the Schengen acquis into the treaty, Ireland's essential concern was the preservation of the common travel area with the UK. As the Minister stated, we are satisfied Ireland is not bound by any provision that would cut across the common travel area. We have, however, secured the right to take part in the adoption of measures in this area to the maximum extent compatible with the maintenance of the common travel area.

On reform of the common foreign and security policy, I will underline a few key points. First, the objectives of the CFSP, enshrined in the Amsterdam Treaty, are explicitly enshrined in the principles of the UN Charter and the Helsinki Final Act. It is right and proper that the European Union should be pro-active in its support of these principles which are the basis of the international community's search for peace, security, justice and the development of friendly relations and co-operation among nations. The provisions of the Amsterdam Treaty will enable the Union to play a more decisive role on the international stage.

Second, the new Treaty is a realistic response to the challenges which the EU now faces. The optimism which greeted the end of the Cold War has been tempered somewhat by the realisation that war and injustice do not respect diplomatic timetables and treaty negotiations. Even during the negotiations on the Maastricht Treaty, the tide of blood and destruction was rising in the former Yugoslavia and in the Great Lakes region of Africa. These crises questioned in a profound way the political will of the international community. Throughout Europe, our citizens wanted to know why their Governments, the European Union and the United Nations could not stop the bloodshed, rape and destruction which was taking place in former Yugoslavia and in Central Africa.

The new treaty is not only a practical response to the challenges posed following the end of the Cold War. It is also a response to the wishes of the citizens throughout the European Union who want the EU to act, and be seen to act, in defence of democracy and human rights, and against intolerance and injustice. I am sure every Member of the House will recall the sense of frustration and helplessness we all felt as the former Yugoslavia slid into war and Central Africa into genocide. The EU must have a central and courageous role to play in international affairs.

It is against the background of these experiences that EU governments agreed to the reforms set out in the Treaty of Amsterdam. A major practical achievement is the inclusion of the Petersberg Tasks within the scope of the CFSP. One of the inescapable lessons of the post Cold War years has been that emerging conflicts and crises have been complex and multi-dimensional, requiring multi-faceted responses in the areas of, for example, election monitoring, humanitarian assistance, civil policing, economic assistance, human rights monitoring, assistance to re-establish civil society as well as military tasks of peacekeeping and peace support. Some, or all, of these elements must be combined if the international community is to prevent specific crises from occurring or in managing those crises successfully when they occur.

The European Union has, at its disposal, diplomatic, humanitarian, economic and political instruments. The inclusion of the Petersberg Tasks should enable the European Union to play an enhanced, more coherent and effective role in international relations in support of international peace and security.

The reforms in the Treaty of Amsterdam are fully consistent, and do not conflict with the objectives and principles which have always inspired Irish foreign policy. We want the EU to maximise its contribution to international peace and security, respect for human rights, the pursuit of justice in international affairs, including the development needs of the third world; I have a ministerial interest in development co-operation. Ireland, through its participation in the development of a more effective and coherent CFSP, can pursue and promote the kind of foreign policy which has the broad support of this House and the significant, democratic support of the Irish people.

The functional reforms of the CFSP are positive and pose no threat to Irish interests. The introduction of some qualified majority voting in the CFSP area does not mean Ireland will be forced to support policies with which it does not agree. The treaty contains adequate safeguards to prevent a member state being outvoted on a sensitive foreign policy issue. A key provision allows any member state to oppose the adoption of a decision by qualified majority for important and stated reasons of national policy. This is referred to as "an emergency brake". In addition, there is provision for a procedure known as "constructive abstention" where, in relation to decisions requiring unanimity, a member state can opt to abstain while allowing other partners to proceed with a particular course of action. As regards the sensitive area of defence or military implications — an issue raised by many Deputies — decisions remain subject to unanimity.

Discussion of military neutrality in this House sometimes generates more heat than light. Ireland's policy of military neutrality remains unaffected by the provisions of the Amsterdam Treaty. As was the case in the Maastricht Treaty, the Amsterdam Treaty acknowledges "the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain member states". This reference takes account of Ireland's position as a neutral nonmember of military alliances. The new treaty does not provide for the integration of the Western European Union into the EU, nor is such integration stated anywhere in the treaty as an objective. Development of closer relations and practical co-operation between the EU and the Western European Union is provided for. This is natural and, indeed, necessary in view of the inclusion in the treaty of the Petersberg Tasks.

I am encouraged by the tone of today's statements. Far from posing a threat to Irish neutrality the Amsterdam Treaty will enhance the EU's ability to respond to the new and emerging challenges. It will also enable Ireland to continue to play a full and active role with our EU partners, building on our long tradition of commitment to and achievements in UN peacekeeping.

The treaty's protocol on the institutions with the prospect of enlargement of the European Union is highly satisfactory from Ireland's perspective. Maintaining the right of each member state to nominate a full member of the Commission was, and will continue to be, a priority for Ireland.

I acknowledge that the European Council in Amsterdam was unable to reach agreement on the institutional arrangements which would apply when the Union exceeds 20 member states. This question was left to a future intergovernmental conference, to take place at least one year before the Union will exceed 20 member states. That Intergovernmental Conference will conduct a "comprehensive review of the provisions of the treaties on the composition and functioning of the institutions". The outcome of the Amsterdam Treaty in this area enables the Union to embark now on the enlargement process on a basis which respects the concerns of all member states.

In the perspective of future enlargement, institutional review must continue to balance the need for more efficient and effective decision-making with the need to preserve the broad balance within and between the Union's institutions, while ensuring that those institutions are visibly democratic. In this connection, Ireland could have accepted a greater degree of extension of qualified majority voting in the Council than was finally agreed at Amsterdam. We did not, however, favour the inclusion of fiscal policy among the areas to which qualified majority voting would be applied and we were pleased that this position was accepted in the treaty.

The previous Government attached importance to keeping the public and the Oireachtas informed about the negotiations leading to the Treaty of Amsterdam. During the Irish Presidency, there were regular press briefings at European level on developments at the Intergovernmental Conference and every effort was made to ensure the transparency and openness of the process. The Oireachtas was kept informed via statements to the Dáil, replies to parliamentary questions and briefings to the European Affairs and Foreign Affairs committees. Copies of Intergovernmental Conference documents were lodged in the Oireachtas Library.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs commented this morning on the need for basic information on the content of the new treaty. Today's statements, following the presentations on the treaty made by the Taoiseach and the former Minister for Foreign Affairs to the House on 10 July, are part of our efforts to address that need. Copies of the Treaty of Amsterdam as signed on 2 October have been placed in the Oireachtas Library. A link to the text of the treaty is being added to the Department of Foreign Affairs web site on the Internet. Bound copies of the treaty will be published by the Office for Official Publications of the European Communities and will be available within a matter of weeks from the Government Publications Office on Molesworth Street. I understand that a special issue of the Official Journal of the European Communities containing the Amsterdam Treaty and the compilation of the texts of the consolidated treaties will be published in English and Irish in early November. A White Paper on the treaty is at an advanced stage of preparation in the Department of Foreign Affairs and is expected to be published in a matter of weeks. The White Paper will be an important means of informing the public of the provisions of the treaty and their implications.

The Treaty of Amsterdam is subject to national ratification procedures in all member states. To date Ireland, Denmark and Portugal are the only member states which have indicated that they will hold national referenda prior to ratification. Denmark announced last week that its referendum will be held on 28 May 1998. I am aware that Deputies have a keen interest in the timing of our own referendum. The position is that the Government has yet to take a decision on the exact date. Interested parties have already noted that the Taoiseach, last week in Dáil Éireann, expressed the hope that the referendum would take place in March.

The nub of the Supreme Court judgments in the McKenna and Hanafin cases is that, arising from the constitutional imperative of equality in the political process, the Government cannot run from public funds a campaign which advocates a specific outcome in an electoral contest. At the same time, the Supreme Court judgments acknowledge the right and even the duty of Government to ensure that the public is aware of any proposal to amend the Constitution, of its meaning and of the Government's intentions in relation to the proposed change.

The House may rest assured that, in so far as preparations for the referendum relating to the Treaty of Amsterdam are concerned, they will be made in the light of legal advice and taking into account the significant implications of the relevant Supreme Court judgments.

The question has been raised when the Treaty of Amsterdam will be brought before the House for approval. Approval of the terms of the treaty as required by Article 29.5.2 of the Constitution is expected to be one of the steps which will have to be completed before Ireland can ratify the treaty. What is clear is that the Oireachtas will have to legislate to hold a referendum. Assuming the referendum is carried, it will have to again legislate prior to ratification to amend the European Communities Acts. The timing of all the necessary steps will have to be considered and decided by the Government.

A number of Deputies raised the question of the importance of economic and monetary union and employment. The Government believes that EMU will come on time and that Ireland will be a member at the outset. The Taoiseach has identified the successful transition to EMU as a key challenge facing the Government. Decisive steps on the road to EMU were taken at the European Council in Amsterdam. Those steps include the agreement on detailed legislation to give effect to the stability and growth pact; adoption of a resolution on growth and employment — this resolution, with the new title on employment in the Treaty of Amsterdam, is evidence of the firm commitment to place employment at the top of the political agenda throughout the Union; adoption of a resolution which lays down the principles and fundamental elements of ERM II.

Deputies will be aware that Ireland is a strong supporter of action on unemployment at European level. It is essential that the special meeting of the European Council in Luxembourg next month seeks to produce concrete results to tackle very serious unemployment throughout the European Union. We are encouraged by the intensive ongoing preparations by the Presidency and the Commission.

References were also made today to the question of the future enlargement of the Union. One of the key objectives of the treaty review exercise which produced the treaty was to allow the Union to turn its attention to the major challenges which lie ahead. It is of huge importance to the Union and the member states, including Ireland, that these be successfully addressed, and that is Agenda 2000, the future enlargement of the Union and the financing priorities over the period 2000 to 2006. These issues are now being intensively addressed by the Union following the presentation by the Commission of its Agenda 2000 package in July.

Ireland is committed to the process of further enlargement which is in the interests of the European Union as a whole. In these enlargement negotiations we will, like every other member state, seek to protect and promote our interests and ensure that the consequences of enlargement apply in a balanced way to those existing member states.

Regarding the Union's financial framework post-1999 and the Structural and Cohesion Funds, which are of compelling interest to most people in the House and the general public, the House will be aware that what is involved at this stage are Commission proposals. It will be at a much later stage, after lengthy negotiations in the Council with key decisions to be taken at the level of the European Council, that the present proposals will be translated into the precise level of funding for each member state. As far as Structural and Cohesion Funds are concerned, the Government's aim will be to ensure the best possible outcome for Ireland and the maximisation of receipts in the next funding round.

Deputy Gormley rose.

The Minister has concluded the debate.

I am most disappointed that I have not been given the opportunity to speak on this very important matter. I had put in quite a lot of work on it. I do not understand the way this House operates. It seems demeaning and undemocratic that we have to go cap in hand looking for speaking time, and when we are granted speaking time we are told that we cannot have it. This is the third occasion this has happened to me.

There was plenty of opportunity to speak. This was not a timed debate. The debate moves from the Government side to the Opposition side of the House. As there were no other speakers in the House to offer when Deputy Cooper-Flynn concluded her contribution, I called the Minister to conclude.

I was told that if I was here at 4.30 I would be given an opportunity to speak. I was here on time.

There are no time slots for these debates. When a Member concludes on one side of the House we move to the other side.

I accept what you say, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, but I hope this issue can be dealt with adequately by the newly formed Committee on Procedure and Privileges because parties registered in this State have a democratic right to speak on important issues. What we had here to-day was not a debate.

There was ample opportunity to speak this afternoon for any Deputy who wished. It was not a timed debate. I do not intend to get into an argument with the Deputy. I intend to move on to the matters selected for the Adjournment.