Adjournment Debate Matters. - An Bille um an gCeathrú Leasú is Fiche ar an mBunreacht, 2001: An Dara Céim (Atógáil). Twenty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 2001: Second Stage (Resumed).

Atairgeadh an cheist: "Go léifear an Bille an Dara hUair anois."
Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I indicated the kind of economic future which would be reserved for us if the Green Party and the policies of Mr. Douthwaite had their way. The Green Party also has some odd views about other matters which are relevant to this treaty, for example, enlargement. In 1992, in a television programme which had to do with the Maastricht Treaty, I heard Ms Patricia McKenna, an MEP of the Green Party, give the opinion that the re-unification of Germany was actually a grab by West Germany for the savings of East Germans. I am afraid that kind of extravagant and unjustified statement is typical of what the Green Party says about these issues. It is typical of what they have already said about the Nice Treaty and we heard some of that from Deputy Gormley in the House last night.

It is also a curious reflection that the Green Party, the National Platform and an organisation called AfrI, which is now opposing the Nice Treaty, talk about reform of the UN. On the ideas they express in that regard, I must agree with them. They see that one of the major obstacles in getting the UN to make decisions to adopt mandates for peacekeeping, which is a live issue, is the existence of veto in the Security Council. They are quite prepared to argue, in order to increase the efficiency and the effectiveness of the UN and to expand its capacity to get justice for people around the world, that we should abolish the veto in the Security Council of the UN. When we propose the same change in the Council of Ministers of the European Union or even in the European Council, they object to it on the grounds that it is an interference with sover eignty. I can only conclude that the reason they take this view in the UN is that they know that will probably never happen and the reason they oppose it in the European Union is that they know there is a serious risk that it might happen and that we might one day be able to put the European Union in a position to be a great deal more effective than it is today in dealing with the issues of concern to us.

This treaty will be put to a referendum here, but I do not believe it is necessary to hold it at the end of May for a number of reasons. First, we do not have to ratify the treaty until the end of 2002. There is, therefore, no hurry to do so. We should allow enough time for a full public debate. Second, we must do everything possible to give the lie to the spurious assertion being made by opponents of the treaty, including the Green Party, that the debate is in some way being rushed. Third, I am not at all sure of the wisdom of conducting the kind of widespread public debate we would like to see in circumstances where we are restricted by the necessary measures to prevent the spread of foot and mouth disease. Fourth, we need to give the lie to another utterly disingenuous assertion by the Green Party, that those who favour ratification of this treaty wish to conspire in muddying the waters by putting four questions to the people at the same time. Nothing could be further from the truth. If the public hear that kind of assertion being made by the Green Party or The National Platform, they should realise it is empty and mendacious rhetoric.

I do not believe we should hold four referendums on the same day. There is no urgency about at least two of the referendums proposed and the one on the International Criminal Court could stand on its own. It is entirely unwise of the Government to propose we hold those four referendums on the same day.

The case for the ratification of the Nice Treaty is so abundantly clear and unanswerable it deserves to stand alone, to be considered alone and to be ratified alone. The Green Party persists on dragging in every conceivable red herring into this debate. I read in the March edition ofThe Irish Family– I think it is a Roman Catholic newspaper published in Mullingar – that Patricia McKenna, MEP, stated that “It seems that the Government, with the apparent support of the two main Opposition Parties, will go to any length to divert attention from the contents of the Treaty of Nice”. She did not say much about the content, but that is what she claimed. The Government's decision to publish a White Paper on the treaty hardly sits with an attempt to “divert attention from the content of the Treaty of Nice”. The extent of the debate that took place in public here during the course of the work of the Intergovernmental Conference was hardly an attempt to divert attention from the content of the treaty. The lie is given to the claim of Patricia McKenna, MEP, by the fact that she popped up so often in the debate during the course of the work of the Intergovernmental Conference.

Deputy Gormley spoke on the same subject here last night. He spoke about the White Paper. He said that on close reading it is about as neutral as this country. He said the White Paper "is extremely dodgy in light of the McKenna judgment". I challenge the Deputy and every other member of his party, all of ten of them whoever they are, to explain in what way the White Paper is biased or presents an unreal picture of the Nice Treaty. I read it and I am no great friend of the Government, but it is fair to say, and I say it without hesitation, that the White Paper gives a fair and honest picture of what has been agreed in the Nice Treaty. It gives a fair and honest picture of the Government's concerns coming up to and during the course of the debate. I am not saying I agree with everything that came out of it, but the White Paper is what it sets out to be and is in keeping with the tradition we have always had in this country of having fair and accurate White Papers. When it comes to statements of Government policy, it is different, we can argue. I challenge the Deputy and his colleagues in the Green Party to come in here and substantiate their outrageous claim that this White Paper is in any way biased.

The stupidity of the opposition is underlined even further in an article by Mr. Anthony Coghlan of The National Platform in the newspaper to which I referred. He states that the arguments that the Treaty of Nice is necessary for enlarging the EU is " . . . a poor argument, as only eight of the 80 or so pages of the Nice Treaty in the EU Official Journal relate to the issue of EU Enlargement". That is typical of the kind of nonsense expressed by opponents of this treaty. When I read that I went back through the treaty and found that it bears no relation whatsoever to the facts. I can find 15 pages in the Official Journal that are formal pages, the recitals, the signatures and so on. The great bulk of what is in the treaty is required by the process of enlargement, but if the opponents of this treaty have to resort to the argument of counting pages to decide how strong the argument is, I can only conclude they know, as they must by now, that they have no case for the extraordinary claims they make. That is typical of the Green Party and The National Platform.

The Green Party and The National Platform – I am sure there will be others – also claim the people were duped at the time of the Amsterdam Treaty because we had a referendum on the Good Friday Agreement on the same day. I do not know whether Deputy Gormley spends his time talking to particularly stupid people, but I certainly found no evidence among the people at the time that they were in any way confused between the Amsterdam Treaty and the Good Friday referendum, but that is not the only claim the Deputy makes. He said last night – I am subject to correction on the Official Report and if the Deputy would like to come in and change it all, I will help him – that we have been continuously misled, we were misled in 1970, in 1987, in 1992 and in 1997, we have been misled about every single treaty, when the people who opposed those treaties deliberately tried to mislead people by claiming the treaties did things they did not do. If they were right in what they said about successive treaties, we would not have national independence, thousands of Irish people would have been brought back in body bags from foreign wars, we would have no sovereignty, our economy would be in tatters, we would have no culture, etc. They have come out time and time again with the same niggling, nit-picking entirely mendacious arguments because there is no foundation for the kinds of claims they make about these treaties as to their interference with our sovereignty and with our capacity to make decisions for ourselves. All they can say is that we were duped or we were cheated.

There is a claim that the rapid reaction force constitutes a militarisation of the European Union. That is utterly without foundation. That is an agreement, a method, a piece of machinery that is being put in place to give effect to the Petersberg Tasks, to make it possible for the European Union to carry out those Petersberg Tasks in which I hope this country will fully participate, but in which I know this country legally, constitutionally and under the terms of the treaties will participate only if the Government decides it wants to do so. It will be a sovereign decision of the Government and one I hope we will take on every occasion the European Union identifies such a task, as there is a need for this and, unfortunately, there will continue to be a need for it, probably in the Balkans, for a long time into the future.

It is interesting, as the Minister for Foreign Affairs pointed out last evening, that we are the only country that has the intention of holding a referendum on this treaty. The Danes who are most notoriously jealous of their national sovereignty have concluded they do not need to have a referendum on this treaty because it does not involve the surrender of any extra sovereignty over and above what has already been agreed as a pooling of sovereignty in the treaties as they exist up to now. That is something The National Platform and the Green Party should put in their pipes and smoke. I hope we will not see them carrying out this nonsensical exercise of bringing over here failed political entities from Denmark during the course of this referendum campaign to tell us how we should vote and that they will avoid the temptation of bringing over discredited Tory euro sceptics from the UK to give us lessons from the depths of their difficulties about how we should vote on European issues.

The claims that have been made that the changes in voting arrangements and in qualified majority voting in this treaty constitute a grab for power by Germany and France are clearly shown to be spurious. If we look at the implications of this treaty for the balance in voting rights between member states in the context of enlargement we find the change is very little indeed. That is not what the opponents of the treaty will say. It would become marginally more difficult to secure a qualified majority vote in the union of 27 than in the union of 15. It is wrong to see that as a naked grab for power by France and Germany. I cannot believe that those who make that claim really believe it. If they do, they are ripe for duping and will believe almost anything. There is no foundation for that claim and there is no reason we should object to the change.

I listened to Deputy Gormley last night deploring the fact that in 30 new areas of policy, because the European Council has adopted the principle of qualified majority voting in those areas, we have damaged ourselves by losing our veto. I invite Deputy Gormley, who seems to be a reasonable person, except on these issues, to reflect on what a veto is and on what he says about the UN. A veto is a power which one can use to prevent others doing things one wants to do oneself. It is also a means by which one state can prevent a majority from doing things which the rest of us support. There is a far bigger danger and obstacle to us in what we want to do in the European Union in other countries having a veto over what we might agree to do than there is an opportunity for us to stop other people doing things of which we disapprove.

The approach being taken to this treaty by the opponents of it is insular, inward looking and lacks self-confidence. I cannot believe that they really believe it in their hearts. They may think they are doing some service to democratic discussion by putting up an opposition but it should be an opposition founded on fact and not such as we have seen from the National Platform and the Green Party.

I wish to share time with the Minister, Deputy Michael Smith.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I am very happy as Minister for Finance to be here today to speak in this debate on the Treaty of Nice. The people of Ireland will have the opportunity to vote on this treaty in the upcoming referendum. We are the only member state in which a referendum is being held on the treaty. I have no doubt that the people will support the treaty and thereby support the next stage in the Union's development. This Union is our Union and we all must take our share of the responsibility for its further development.

The Treaty of Nice is the result of an intergovernmental conference which began early last year and which concluded with the negotiations at the Nice European Council last December. The Intergovernmental Conference was set the task of dealing with what were termed "the Amsterdam leftovers". These leftovers were the major institutional reforms within the Union needed to cope with an enlarged Union which had not been resolved as part of the Treaty of Amsterdam. The institutional changes were successfully agreed at Nice.

The purpose of the Treaty of Nice is to make the changes necessary to prepare the Union for enlargement. It succeeds in doing this by guaranteeing that a Union of 27 members will be in a position to operate effectively while at the same time making sure that the essential safeguards for smaller countries remain in place.

Ireland fully supports the enlargement process. Our perspective on enlargement is very much informed by our positive experiences of EU membership. We can understand, possibly more than most because of our history and development, the hopes that the applicant states invest in their accession to the European Union. We welcome the diversity and strength which enlargement will bring to the EU as a whole and to all its individual member states.

In promoting the growth and development of the Union we are also promoting our own national interest. The Union has been good for Ireland and the Irish people know that this is so. On all previous occasions they have endorsed the various stages in the development of the Union through the referendum process. Ireland is well placed to take advantage of the benefits offered by an enlarged Union. Enlargement will provide opportunities for Ireland to deepen our relations, both political and economic, with the candidate countries, many of which are of a similar size to ourselves.

I will remind the House of some of the very tangible economic and financial benefits we have drawn from the Union later in this speech. I will also remind it of just some of the benefits that we might be more inclined, at times, to take for granted. Free access to the Single Market of the Union is probably the greatest economic benefit we draw from the Union. As a small and very open trading economy it is vital that we preserve and strengthen this access.

The expansion of the Single Market by over 100 million new consumers will create many new customers for our goods and services. Our exporters will have access to a single market with more than 500 million people. Our ability to export into the Single Market is a prime attraction for the many foreign firms that have established their operations here in Ireland and our attractiveness as a location for foreign direct investment can only be enhanced by the increase in the Single Market which will result from enlargement. The already impressive level of Irish investment in the candidate countries by companies such as Allied Irish Banks and Cement Roadstone Holdings will also be facilitated further in what are now rapidly expanding economies.

As Minister for Finance, I naturally welcome these developments, but besides expanding the market we are also deepening the market to further facilitate trade within the market area. Perhaps the most visible sign of this will be the introduction in Ireland and across 11 of the other member states of the euro currency notes and coins from the beginning of next year. Membership of the euro has brought other benefits too. The convergence criteria carefully laid down at Maastricht ensured that all participating states kept deficits, inflation and interest rates tightly controlled, measures which facilitated the healthy development of our public finances, while providing a stable environment for business.

I shall talk later about the Structural Funds in general. At this point it is timely that we remind ourselves of the significant financial contribution the European Union has made to the peace process on this island, first, by contributing to the International Fund for Ireland after the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1986 and, second, following the ceasefires in 1994, by its support for the Border region and Northern Ireland through the Programme for Peace and Reconciliation.

Deputies might like to know that by the end of this year the first EU Programme for Peace and Reconciliation will have pumped £106 million into the economy of the Border region. The Northern Ireland economy will have received support of over £450 million from the same programme. Some £80 million will have been spent in the six years to the end of 2001 on supported cross-Border co-operative initiatives. Similar levels of funding have been committed by the EU to the second programme which will run until the end of 2004. Under the EU's community initiatives programmes a new Ireland-Northern INTERREG programme is expected to begin operations later this year. In all, it will contribute over 170 million euro to the border regions, North and South, by the end of 2006.

As Minister for Finance I was keen to ensure that Ireland's right to determine its own policy in the area of taxation would not be affected by any treaty changes agreed in Nice. This objective was successfully achieved. All decisions in this area will continue to be made by unanimous voting procedures.

Second, there was a satisfactory outcome regarding the Commission. Starting with the next Commission, the five big states have given up their right to nominate a second Commissioner. It will be one Commissioner per state. When we reach 27 – this could be a decade or more away – there will be a rotation system. An important achievement in Nice was agreement that this will be on the basis of strict equality. In other words, an Irish Commissioner will serve on exactly the same basis as a French or German Commissioner.

Third, as part of the deal for giving up their second Commissioner, the larger states have had their voting weight increased. Ireland's voting weight is only marginally affected and remains the same as Finland and Denmark. In addition, an important safeguard agreed at Nice is that decisions must have the support of a majority of member states. This is a valuable protection for smaller states.

The outcome on the European Parliament was also satisfactory. With 12 seats we will continue to have a better ratio of seats to population than any existing member state except Luxembourg. Another gain was that the right of each member state to nominate a judge to the Court of Justice has been confirmed in the treaty for the first time.

As regards common foreign and security policy, the Nice Treaty includes some limited necessary updating of provisions for putting into effect the decisions on humanitarian and crisis management tasks agreed at Amsterdam. There is no departure from the firm commitment, in line with the Government's policy of neutrality, that Ireland would participate only in operations authorised by the United Nations in accordance with the appropriate legislation and subject to Dáil approval. Any effort to suggest otherwise would be totally misleading. An objective assessment of the relatively limited changes proposed by the Nice Treaty must be that Ireland has nothing to fear and much to gain from equipping the Union to face the challenges ahead.

As I mentioned earlier, Ireland's membership of the European Union has been an extremely positive experience. The most direct benefits of EU membership in the popular perception are the transfers from the Common Agricultural Policy and from the Structural and Cohesion Funds. EU Structural and Cohesion Funds have made a contribution to our outstanding economic performance over the past decade or more, but I might add that these funds, while helpful, have not substituted in restructuring our fiscal balance over the past 15 years. For the 1989 to 1993 and 1994 to 1999 programming periods we received 11 billion in Structural and Cohesion Funds. In the 2000-06 programming period, Ireland will receive some 4 billion in Structural and Cohesion Funds. This is a manifestation of the Community commitment to consolidate our achievements of the previous rounds of Structural Funds.

The EU is currently engaged in the process which will see the enlargement of the Union to embrace 12 other member states. This historic development will transform the EU and fulfil the Union's destiny of securing and extending peace and prosperity in Europe. For the existing member states it presents many economic opportunities and, it must be said, not a few challenges. It can be envisaged that EU membership, while not without some significant challenges for the prospective member states, will also spur their economic development.

In this short contribution to the debate I have concentrated on economic and financial dimensions. However, we have gained enormously in many other areas of life – political, social, cultural, etc. – from being in the Union. I have no doubt the Irish people appreciate this reality and will view the Nice Treaty as providing for a further strengthening of the Union from which we have benefited so much. It is because of this that I am confident the people will express their appreciation by strongly approving the treaty in the forthcoming referendum.

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on the Second Stage of the Twenty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 2001. The purpose of the Bill is to seek the agreement of the people to the constitutional changes necessary to allow the State ratify the Nice Treaty which was signed by the 15 Foreign Ministers of the European Union on 26 February.

The decision to have a referendum is based on the clear legal advice that ratification of the treaty by the State requires constitutional change. What is involved is the updating and consolidation of the rules governing enhanced co-operation, the introduction on a limited basis of enhanced co-operation in the area of the common foreign and security policy and the extension of the scope of qualified majority voting. It is important to avoid any risk of legal uncertainty on matters of such importance to the State as the treaties establishing the Community and the European Union.

The treaty will only come into effect if ratified by all 15 member states. When ratified the measures adopted will equip the Union to function effectively with a significant increase in membership and at the same time provide the required protection for this country's essential interests. It is intended to prepare the way for a significant enlargement of the Union.

The European Union is continuing to seek ways of playing a greater role in peace, stability and security in Europe and Ireland has a strong interest in maintaining a stable, inclusive security environment. It is essential for Ireland to be centrally involved in shaping future changes in the direction we would wish to see them take. Ireland pursues this objective not only through the common foreign policy of the EU but also through the primary role of the United Nations and other international organisations.

The development of the common foreign and security policy under the provisions of the Amsterdam Treaty has led to an enhancement of the capacity of the EU to carry out humanitarian and crisis management tasks, known as the Petersberg Tasks. Existing security arrangements and procedures have been adapted to carry out these tasks and Ireland is actively and constructively participating in improving European responses to challenges which can arise. Important steps have been taken in developing an EU capability to undertake crisis management tasks. Participation by Ireland in any Petersberg Tasks will be a sovereign decision by the Government and approached on a case by case basis. Also, in line with the Government's policy of military neutrality, the Government has made clear that Ireland would only participate in operations authorised by the United Nations in accordance with the appropriate legislation and subject to Dáil approval.

The existing treaty provisions were intended to make the common foreign and security policy of the EU more coherent, more visible and more effective. The Nice Treaty has made only limited changes in this area. References to the Western European Union have been deleted. At the time of the Amsterdam Treaty it was envisaged that the Western European Union would play a key role, acting on behalf of the EU in the area of crisis management and conflict prevention. However, given the development of the Union's capabilities in this area, the role of the Western European Union has diminished. The deletion of the clauses concerning the Western European Union can therefore be seen in the light of the evolution of the European security and defence policy and of a desire to update the treaty.

The Nice Treaty also provides for the replacement of the existing political committee, which comprised representatives from the capitals, by a political and security committee based in Brussels operating on instructions from the respective Governments. The new committee will assume functions relating to the conduct of the common foreign and security policy. As part of its responsibilities, the political and security committee may exercise, under the authority of the Council of Foreign Ministers, the political control and strategic direction of crisis management operations.

I would now like to respond to points raised by Deputy Gormley in relation to security and defence issues. In his comments the Deputy raised a number of points which I would particularly like to address. He said that NATO refers to four countries – Austria, Finland, Ireland and Sweden – as "former neutrals". I am not aware of this description being used for the four members of the European Union which are not members of the alliance. If used, however, it would be completely misleading. None of these countries is a member of a military alliance and as such they are not party to any mutual defence guarantee. Like Ireland, they are making a positive contribution to European security and defence policy. They, like Ireland, want Europe to be in a better position to carry out humanitarian and crisis management tasks. They, like Ireland, are not neutral when it comes to playing a role in peacekeeping and reconstruction after the terrible events in the Balkans over the past decade. They, like us, do not want an impotent Europe that has no capacity to provide humanitarian assistance for a crisis on the EU's doorstep.

I see no contradiction between neutrality and Ireland's involvement in Europe's work to promote peace and stability. To say, as Deputy Gormley said, that Ireland has "sold out big time on neutrality" is just irresponsible scaremongering. Having questioned our neutrality, I was even more surprised to hear Deputy Gormley raise questions about the deletion of clauses about the Western European Union in the Nice Treaty. Given the concerns he has expressed in the past on Ireland's observer status with Western European Union, I would have thought that deletion of these clauses might represent a positive development for him.

The limited changes in the Nice Treaty amount to an updating of the treaty to take account of the evolution of European security and defence policy. It was the Amsterdam Treaty which defined a role for the EU in relation to peacekeeping and crisis management tasks. In short, the basis for this work is the Amsterdam Treaty. The changes in the Nice Treaty reflect the reality that the European Union and not the Western European Union will implement the decisions it may take in this area.

Deputy Gormley asked why Ireland does not negotiate a protocol exempting itself from security and defence. In making this suggestion is he seriously suggesting that Ireland should opt out, ostrich like, from playing a role in promoting peace and stability in Europe? This is not an area of policy where we should seek to isolate ourselves. Ireland will continue to play a positive and constructive role in keeping with our long standing involvement in peacekeeping.

Turning to the political and security committee, I would point out to Deputy Gormley that the creation of this committee is intended to provide a direct political control over the military dimension of any crisis management operation. Moreover, the EU can only decide on any operation on the basis of unanimity among its 15 member states. It is absurd to suggest that the responsibilities of the political and security committee include waging war. Once again, the Deputy is simply scaremongering.

He also raised the question of the command of the EU operation being put into the hands of NATO. The EU will always make the decision as to who would command any particular operation. Moreover, in accordance with the Treaty of Nice, the political and security committee, under the authority of the foreign ministers, would have political control.

Deputy Gormley seems to have a fixation about the military aspects of European security and defence policy. It is much wider in scope than the development of military capabilities. In evolving its policy in this area, the EU is working on developing a range of instruments, including conflict prevention and work on the civilian aspects of crisis management. We are currently devoting a great deal of time and effort, for instance, in regard to policing and in the definition of concrete targets in the civilian crisis management area.

He implies that Ireland might take part in an EU operation without a UN mandate. First of all, if Deputy Gormley reads the conclusions of recent European Council meetings, he will see that the centrality of the UN is explicitly recognised by the EU.

As regards any potential EU Petersberg operation, in keeping with the Government's stated position in this area, I would reiterate that Ireland will approach each mission on a case-by-case basis, and only participate in operations authorised by the UN as comprehended by the appropriate legislation, that is, the Defence Act, 1954 the Defence (Amendment) No. 2 Act, 1960, and the Defence (Amendment) Act, 1993. This principle is at the core of our approach to any such participation.

Another area where Deputy Gormley appears confused is in relation to Ireland's commitment to the Headline Goal, or Rapid Reaction Force. Last November a number of meetings were held in Brussels which centred on the Capabilities Commitment Conference. The conference chiefly provided the opportunity for EU member states, including Ireland, to indicate formally the resources they can make available for potential humanitarian or crisis management operations. These contributions were made in the context of the voluntary Headline Goal agreed at the European Council at Helsinki in 1999.

A declaration by EU member states was issued after the conference which outlined progress to date on the elaboration of the voluntary goal in the lead-up to the Nice European Council. It clearly stated that the Union's contribution to international security would be made in keeping with the principles of the United Nations Charter. Moreover, it reiterated that these steps did not imply the creation of a European army.

It is emphatically not a standing army. Rather, it is a catalogue of capabilities available to provide the means to carry out humanitarian and crisis management tasks. In summary, Ireland's contribution of up to 850 members of our Defence Forces does not affect our long-standing policy of military neutrality to which the Government remains firmly committed. Nor is any mutual defence arrangement involved.

I hope these explanations will put Deputy Gormley's mind at rest. I assure him that neutrality is not in danger, and Ireland will continue to play a positive role in keeping with our long-standing tradition in peacekeeping.

Irish people are generous and outward-looking. They want the countries of Central and Eastern Europe to have the same opportunities we have had in a safe secure environment. This makes sense for Europe and it makes sense for Ireland. An objective assessment of the relatively limited changes proposed by the Treaty of Nice must be that Ireland has nothing to fear, and much to gain, from equipping the Union to face the challenges ahead. As a country which has benefited and which continues to benefit greatly from Community membership, it is in our interests that the Union can operate and take decisions, even with a larger membership.

Ireland is well placed to take advantage of the benefits offered by an enlarged Union. We in Ireland have demonstrated over the past three decades that we are fully capable of adapting and taking advantage of the benefits and opportunities which full participation in the European Union has offered us. Change holds no fear for us.

Ireland has benefited enormously through being at the forefront of the European Union, economically, politically and socially. The Irish people have consistently rejected those who have argued for an inward, introvert vision, based on a lack of confidence in the capacity of the Irish people to advance their interests successfully in the European environment.

Ireland is a model for many newly-acceding countries, as a country where membership of the Union has been invaluable in promoting economic growth, employment and social development.

Enlargement will extend benefits to the new group of members, while offering opportunities to the current membership. I am confident the Irish people want to help these new countries succeed in the transition from authoritarianism to democracy. Our record as a nation is one of generosity, not mean-spiritedness. I know that we will not turn our backs on the candidate countries.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Billy Timmins. I am honoured to have the opportunity to speak about the Nice Treaty. I am a completely committed European. I am proud that I chaired the Joint Beef and Veal Committee in Europe for a period of five years in my earlier life. I am old enough to remember what rural Ireland was like before Ireland joined the European Community in the early 1970s. I remember the 1960s and the flight from the land and all the problems associated with that. My own parish of Aghabog was nearly desolate.

A peaceful and stable Europe is clearly to Ireland's advantage. Small countries in particular benefit from a settled international order. In an open economy like Ireland's, it is vital to underpin our domestic economic wellbeing. The EU comprises 15 member states. We have come a long way from two world wars and certainly, the European Union has done much to maintain that peaceful situation.

I was lucky enough to visit Berlin in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I went through Checkpoint Charlie to see what it was like on the other side. It was a great day when the Berlin Wall came down and it is good to be able to visit East Berlin since then and see the changes in the way of life that have been brought about.

We now have access to a market of 370 million people. Enlargement will bring that over the years to 550 million. That is an opportunity, not a hindrance, for this country.

The Government has a major job to sell the Treaty of Nice. We often try to evade the fact that much of the benefits that politicians and Ministers hand out come from Europe. As a result, many ordinary people fail to recognise the full advantages of Ireland being one of the member states of the European Union. Many people seemed to agree with the Minister for Finance's attitude to the EU, when he shook his fist at them. Events like that will make it more difficult to get ordinary voters out to vote on an issue that they may not fully understand. It certainly is not in Ireland's interest to vote down this treaty. That the Government is giving the people an opportunity to vote on the treaty is to be welcomed and full use should be made of that.

The McKenna judgment means that it can be somewhat difficult for ordinary people to take in all the facts. The Taoiseach and his Ministers will have a major task to ensure that the issues are fully understood and that we get the right result. There will be full support from this side of the House but it is up to the Government to lead. It is only necessary to look at the standing of Ireland since our entry to the EU. We are now a strong nation. We are one of the 15 members and regardless of what party was in power in recent years, the Taoiseach and his Ministers chaired EU affairs well when necessary and received good feedback. Our civil servants have done us proud also and we have nothing to be afraid of. The full membership of the European Union gave Ireland an extraordinary boost.

The Minister for Finance has mentioned some of the financial gains we have made. While the International Fund for Ireland was only a small European fund, it was very important at the time Dr. Garret FitzGerald signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement. It was a help for the Border region which suffered as a result of the 30 years of the Troubles. That region did not attract the foreign investment it might otherwise have done. The IFI which was a fully European fund, and more recently the Peace and Reconciliation Fund, were important and played a major role. We still need that investment, especially in my county of Monaghan where we have not had foreign investment or high-tech industry for many years. I do not apologise for saying that this is an issue the Government must treat seriously.

Agriculture has gained significantly from membership of the European Union. There are problems due to BSE, foot and mouth and other factors. We cannot ignore the benefits of the CAP and the funding received for agriculture. Some would say we would have been better outside Europe but how many farmers would we have lost? It is necessary to visit Poland or Hungary to see how they have fared. I visited Poland in 1999 to see the type of farming undertaken there. The situation there brings to mind that in Ireland before we joined Europe. Poland has a long way to go before it is brought within the EU, but it's people are working enthusiastically towards that goal. I visited Hungary last year and there were major problems there also. Ireland has achieved a minimum wage and the Hungarians were delighted to announce to us when the Irish delegation arrived there that they had also got a minimum wage of £200. It sounded reasonably good until we were advised it was £200 per month. We should be proud of some of the gains we have made since entering the EU but we will have competition from the eastern countries in terms of jobs and opportunities for European and other firms when they join the EU.

The major benefits of EU membership are clearly seen in Ireland in water schemes, the road network and education. It was my job as a young child to go with a bucket to the spout to get water. There was no running water and there were no toilets. In 1963, when a survey was done on my home parish, there was only one bathroom at farm level and that was built by people from outside this country.

We have a lot to be thankful to the EU for. Membership, with work towards a consensus among parties in this House in the late 1980s and early 1990s, has moved us forward. It is vital that we pass this treaty and ensure the continuation of our role in Europe. There will be differences. It is only common sense that if we are part of an enlarged EU, there will be changes to make it workable.

There are still major problems with illegal drugs. It was in the last Government's period in office that drugs became a European issue. Recently, we have had success in this area but we must use our influence within the EU to ensure that community-wide mechanisms are used to tackle the issue in conjunction with other police forces. These mechanisms should also be used against those who can attack the State in other ways as evidenced by the recent threat to agriculture.

I am glad to acknowledge that things have improved since Deputy Crawford collected the water with a bucket. Regrettably, there are still areas where people are neglected, particularly elderly people who do not have basic sanitary facilities. Successive Ministers for the Environment and Health, and virtually all local authorities, have failed people in this area. I do not know if there is a role for the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs in this area. Perhaps there is, as there are many elderly, vulnerable people who are not capable of filling out a form for essential repairs grants. We have no pro-active structure in place to identify these people and to improve services for them. Perhaps the Minister will build an extra wing to his Department.

The citizen's information centre is available.

Many do not know what or where those centres are. I am not trying to make a political point as successive Governments have failed.

In 1972, in the referendum vote on accession to the European Community, the turnout was just over 70% and the result was 83% for and 17% against. Some 26 years later, there was a turnout of 56% for the Treaty of Amsterdam vote, with 60% for and 40% against. Nobody can dispute that economically we have benefited greatly over the past three decades and it is impossible to paint a picture of how we might be if we had stayed outside the EU. Interaction with our neighbours has also assisted us to adopt a more humane attitude as our insular outlook was put on the backburner.

Membership has been good for us and yet, as illustrated by the comparison of 1972 and 1998, the percentage voter turnout is decreasing and the gap between Yes and No is narrowing. Now that the silver has been received from the rich granny, we are preparing to move on. Are those who have been anti-EU for a number of years taking misplaced solace from the percentage of No voters? I hope that we do not become the praying mantis of Europe. I appreciate that some have an ideological difficulty with our position, but it is less than honourable that others may vote against further integration merely because the time for taking is over and this country must now start giving.

Membership of the EU is not simply about giving or taking but very often it is depicted as so. This, the 24th amendment to the Constitution, is required to enable the State to ratify the Treaty of Nice and to add new subsections to the Constitution to provide for the treaty. The Nice treaty is a continuation of the Treaty of Amsterdam and it makes way for enlargement of the EU. Subject to the satisfactory completion of the accession negotiations with the applicant countries, this development will have a knock-on effect for the EU in several areas of its business, including the weighting of votes on the Council, qualified majority voting and other institutional changes. In addition, the treaty contains provisions relating to enhanced co-operation that may take place between groups of member states. It has been difficult to reach agreement on several aspects of how the EU should move forward and very often these are parked for a period and revisited at a later stage. This is a healthy process and by its nature it is slow and cumbersome.

With 15 members, an additional 12 members awaiting entry and 30 obtaining candidate status there is concern that the institutions will become bogged down if the composition and administration follow along current lines. At present the ten smaller states nominate one Commissioner each and the five larger nominate two each. At the appointment of the next Commission in 2005 the five larger countries will forego their second nomination and each member state will nominate one, up to 27 members. The Council will then decide by unanimity on the size of the Commission and membership from then on will be based on equal rotation among member states. The Treaty of Nice also increases the powers of the President of the Commission. The Commission will have the authority to decide on the internal organisation, portfolios may be reallocated during its term and, subject to Commission approval, a member of the Commission may be required to resign.

It is important to note that Commissioners are not there to represent member states. While we are all familiar with a passage from a recently published book which refers to wearing the green jersey when in Brussels, it is important to realise that in theory the Commission represents the Community. The extent of the truth of this will become apparent in the coming years. I hope it proves to be the case.

There will be a reweighting of the Council votes. Ireland will have seven votes out of 345 in a Union of 27 members. This is equivalent to 2.03% of the total vote and contrasts with our percentage of the EU population which will stand at 0.8%, assuming a membership of 27. We will have parity of voting with Denmark, Finland, Lithuania and Slovakia. Germany, Britain, France and Italy will have 29 while Malta will have 23 at the bottom of the scale. There will also be changes in the percentage of vote required to adopt a decision.

There will be an extension of the areas where qualified majority voting applies. However, there will be a requirement for unanimity in some areas. One such area for Ireland will be taxation. The Taoiseach and Minister for Foreign Affairs used this as a battle won to downplay the perceived potential loss of influence with the change in the make up of the Commission.

Another key aspect of the treaty is enhanced co-operation. This refers to specific provisions introduced into the Treaty of Amsterdam which allow groups of member states, fewer than the entire membership, to avail of the institutions to promote closer co-operation between themselves. To date, these have not been used. A formula is now being drawn up to facilitate this enhanced co-operation. This co-operation cannot undermine the Single Market, constitute a barrier to trade or distort competition between member states.

Some minor changes have been made in the area of common foreign and security policy. These, in the main, involve the enhancement of the capability to carry out the humanitarian and crisis management tasks known as the Petersberg Tasks. Participation by Ireland in any of the Petersberg Tasks will be a sovereign decision by the Government and will be approached on a case by case basis.

The main purpose of the Treaty of Nice is to cater for enlargement. Since the fall of the Berlin wall and the emergence of democracies in eastern Europe it has been clear that the EU would have to redefine its role. Many of these countries needed the support of a larger bloc and most are now where we were 30 years ago. The opportunity of EU membership has strengthened democracy in most of these evolving countries. It will also play a part in dealing with old and new sores. The stalemate on the island of Cyprus is a case in point. While Turkey has only candidate status it is important to realise that membership of the EU for Cyprus with the potential membership of Turkey will help to resolve this bitter problem and assist people to understand better each other's needs.

One of the greatest achievements of the EU is the stability it has brought to Europe. One of my greatest regrets is the amount of misinformation put out during the course of this and other EU debates. There is no point in giving those who disseminate this misinformation any oxygen. Despite many prophets of doom their predictions have not come to pass. Some politicians and commentators play on the fears of some and often create them. I have come to the conclusion that, in some cases, opposition may be less than genuine and is being used for political short-term gain. I appreciate that the McKenna judgment must be taken into consideration but I hope the national broadcasting authority, when it gets around to giving air time to this debate, will find a broad range of people to make contributions. It strikes me that a small number of people use this debate for self-promotion and not to point out the real issues.

The Ministers for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Finance, Defence and Social, Community and Family Affairs have spoken in this debate. My old politics lecturer from UCG, Deputy Michael D. Higgins, made the point that we look upon everything as a market or a balance sheet. I hope the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands will make a contribution and address the cultural aspects of the treaty. There is more to our membership of the EU than economics. A UN High Commissioner recently made the point that many Irish politicians try to make political capital from the fears and concerns of a small number of people. We must examine the broader aspects of our role in Europe and look at how we can teach as well as learn

I am glad to see Deputy Timmins, when in college, was not influenced by Deputy Higgins to change his politics, which ran in his family.

I missed most of his lectures.

I agree with what Deputy Timmins said about giving oxygen to some of the opponents of the treaty. The small minority who oppose the treaty seem to get more air time than those who support it. Coverage tends not to be proportionate but I suppose that is the price of having a free press and a democratic political system. It is important that the proportions of those who support and oppose the treaty be emphasised in the media.

The purpose of the Treaty of Nice is to make the necessary changes to prepare the Union for enlargement. The Government is strongly committed to an enlarged and strengthened Europe. The treaty ensures that a Union of 27 members will be in a position to operate effectively while making sure the essential safeguards for smaller countries remain in place.

As a country which has and continues to benefit greatly from Community membership, it is in our interests that the Union can operate and make decisions even with a larger membership. Ireland is particularly well placed to take advantage of the benefits offered by an enlarged Union. The Single Market will expand to over 500 million people. The opportunities for all our people are starkly obvious.

Ireland has much to learn and much to contribute from the sharing of ideas in the field of social protection as developed in the Treaty of Nice. The benefits of EU membership from a social protection perspective has been underpinned by EU legislation and, just as importantly, co-operation in the field of social policy development. Membership of the EU has meant that Ireland has benefited from the effects of the optimum allocation of labour which is underpinned by one of the four freedoms on which the single European market is based – the free movement of workers.

Protection of social security rights is essential to achieve this objective. EU regulations provide protection for the social security rights of workers moving between the various member states which is among the best in the world. Given the high proportion of its population living outside Ireland this degree of social security protection for migrant workers is of particular importance for this country and its people.

Legislation is also being developed to protect the rights of migrant workers under occupational and personal pension schemes. The Government and I are strongly committed to advancing these measures. EU directives provide for equal treatment for men and women in both statutory schemes, with some exceptions, and occupational social security schemes. This means that no state can gain a competitive advantage by discriminating on the grounds of gender. Ireland provides for the full equal treatment and does not avail of the exceptions permitted in this directive, which applies to statutory schemes. Further EU action continues through programmes to promote equal opportunities for men and women.

The European Council in Lisbon in March 2000 agreed to adopt an integrated approach to the development of policy in the economic, employment and social areas in what is being termed the "policy triangle". This envisages that each policy area needs to support and reinforce the others at both national and EU levels. This approach is reflected in the strategic goal for the EU set at Lisbon which is to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion. This goal is to apply for the next decade.

Social cohesion is now included as part of the overall goal for the EU on an equal footing with economic growth and employment. Irish policy development fully reflects this approach, not least in the partnership process.

The European Union, through the Structural Funds, the Common Agricultural Policy, the operation of the Single Market and economic and monetary union has made a major contribution to Ireland's economic development. Employment growth, in turn, has made available greatly increased resources to significantly improve our levels of social protection, to tackle poverty and social exclusion and thus generally improve the overall quality of life for all our citizens.

In Ireland the huge reduction in unemployment achieved by economic growth and by the employment policies devised in co-operation with other member states has released the resources which can be targeted on our older people and persons with disabilities and on improving the employability of the long-term unemployed.

EU member states have demonstrated over the years that it is possible to achieve high levels of economic development and employment and also have a high level of social protection. These realities are reflected in the European Union's strong commitment to adequate social protection and to combating social exclusion which are written into the treaty.

It is left to individual member states, however, to decide on overall levels of social protection and on how their systems should be organised and financed. There is a clear need to take special measures in a systematic and co-ordinated way to combat social exclusion and poverty. Ireland, sharing the overall EU commitment to social protection, has led the way in establishing a national anti-poverty strategy in 1997 and we were the first EU country to do so.

There is a basis in the EU treaty to legislate in these areas, but this is subject to unanimity. Unanimity is difficult to achieve when systems differ so much and huge resources are involved.

A new approach, known as open co-ordination, was agreed by the European Council in Lisbon last year. This involves agreement being reached on objectives in a particular policy area, with member states being largely free to decide on how to meet these objectives in the context of their own systems.

Experiences, ideas, research findings and good practice are then shared, with a view to member states drawing on this pool of knowledge and experience to more effectively modernise their systems on an ongoing basis. Under this approach the diversity of systems is a positive advantage as there is a more varied experience from which to draw.

Already under this process member states are committed to drawing up national action plans on social inclusion based on agreed objectives, which are to be brought forward by June 2001; a project on safe and sustainable pensions; drawing up indicators to measure progress on promoting social inclusion, on social protection and on identifying good practices. This process will be firmly rooted in the EU treaty if the Treaty of Nice is adopted. Ireland has been instrumental in getting support for the various provisions that have made this process possible. Exchanges on policy on combating social exclusion were provided for in the Treaty of Amsterdam on the basis of a proposal by Ireland.

Similarly, provision in the Treaty of Nice for exchanges on modernising social protection and for a social protection committee to co-ordinate the co-operation process generally in the social protection area is also the fruit of Irish proposals.

This treaty-based co-operation process will ensure continued emphasis on social cohesion and significant improvements in social protection and in combating social exclusion. An objective of the relatively limited changes proposed by the Treaty of Nice must be that Ireland has nothing to fear and much to gain from equipping the Union to face the challenges ahead.

We in Ireland have demonstrated during the past three decades that we are fully capable of adapting and taking advantage of the benefits and opportunities which full participation in the Union has offered us. Change holds no terror for us. Irish people are generous and outward-looking. They want the countries of Central and Eastern Europe to have the same opportunities that we had.

I reiterate the comments of previous speakers on this side in regard to us as a nation. We have benefited not only financially, but socially, economically and culturally, from our membership of the European Union. Why should we say no to other countries becoming involved? That would be unfair and ungenerous of us. This country has always shown itself to be generous. One has only to look at the myriad of delegations and visits from the countries trying to gain access to the European Union to see exactly how a country such as Ireland has developed so progressively since joining the European Union. So far as the Government is concerned, I am pleased to see an element of unanimity on all sides of the House that this is a treaty that should be supported by the people. We recommend they accept this treaty for the betterment of all the peoples in Europe.

I always find it fascinating when the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs speaks relatively soon after or before the Minister for Finance because somebody, some day, will have great fun in setting aside two speeches, whether they come from the Ministers themselves or their script writers, and trying to suggest they come from members of the same Government. I can rarely find anything in tone, tenor or content that sounds in any way coherent as between the two of them.

They look alike.

We could usefully start off this debate by reaffirming what the Treaty of Nice actually does. In so doing we necessarily define also what it does not do. It deals with the Amsterdam leftovers but it is primarily the provision of a decision-making process. It is the building blocks for enlargement of the European Union. It is not enlargement as such, it does not bring about enlargement, it does not guarantee enlargement, but it gives us some of the wherewithal with which to start into that major project or to continue that major project. That is an essential part of understanding what this is all about because there will be difficulties attendant to enlargement. There will be national interests which appear to conflict. There will be problems as between existing member states and applicant member states. Those problems are not dealt with in Nice, nor should they be. What Nice gives us is the basis, the structure, the building blocks. It is thesine qua non and nothing more. As a result I suspect much of the language and the content of the Treaty of Nice is arcane or, to use a more usual word, boring. It presents a difficulty and a challenge to those of us in this House and elsewhere who will be seeking to encourage the people to support the content of the treaty.

Our experience in the past 30 years is instructive and interesting. Thirty years ago, before joining the European Economic Community, as it then was, in terms not only of our geography and our thinking, we were an insular country. In the meantime a great deal has changed not only in terms of the prosperity of our people and other tangible things but our practices, culture and thinking. Many Irish students have studied abroad. Many tourists have visited other European Union countries and do so in increasing numbers. Thankfully they still come here and we do an increasing amount of business with mainland European countries. Many younger Irish people will eat and drink European food and drink. They will have looked at Manchester United and Bayern Munich last night and will have been as familiar with the names of those on the Bayern team as those on the Manchester United team and probably just as well able to pronounce them. This has been a gradual and important process of assimilation and feeling that we are part of the same group of countries, nations and peoples who share a great deal, not just in terms of history, but in terms of where we wish to be and what we feel ourselves to be.

This is also the nature of the difficulty with enlargement. For many, including those of my generation, Europe stopped at the Iron Curtain – the Oder-Neisse line. Eastern Europe seems far away and, by and large, we have not done business with it. Most of us have never been to or rarely visit eastern Europe and we have not had the kind of experiences with Bucharest, Sofia and Budapest that we have had with Barcelona, Brussels or Paris. It will be difficult and something of an effort to extend the feeling of being part of the one group which is essential to underpinning the enlargement of the European Union at the level of ordinary people. While this has to be encouraged and achieved, it will, inevitably, take time.

In November 1989 we saw on television the people of Berlin taking down the wall. They did so in real and tangible ways – brick by brick, they pushed it, shoved it, dragged it down and popped champagne on top of it. A few weeks later we saw the surging mass of people on the streets of Prague as they engaged in what became the Velvet Revolution. Hundreds of thousands took to the streets demanding the overthrow of a totalitarian regime.

What was different about some of the seminal events of the 20th century and recent history was that we saw them take place on television. In a sense we participated in them and understood the importance of what was happening. In a real way, divisions were, literally, bulldozed down. It is important that they stay down and that we underpin the desire of those peoples for democracy. It may not be trendy to say so these days, but communism was not all bad. Purely in terms of money in the pocket or access to services, some in eastern Europe, particularly pensioners, would be better off if they were still living under a totalitarian regime. Some communist regimes in eastern Europe made a half decent effort to provide a measure of access to health and education services on the basis of equality which many countries in western Europe have not achieved in 30, 40 or 50 years. There are people who are materially, if not in other ways, worse off because of events.

I make this point because we should not assume that democracy is entrenched in eastern Europe or that it does not have to be anchored and underpinned. This has to happen because forces are at work and there is a level of dissatisfaction, such as in the former German Democratic Republic, which undermines democracy in a real, tangible and, potentially, dangerous way.

Those of us in western Europe who have settled into our relatively prosperous ways have to do our bit. We owe it to the people of eastern Europe because we have been there. We lived under a colonial power. That was 100 years ago, but the folk memory is, perhaps, more recent. We were a poorer country in the more recent past – 20 or 30 years ago. As a result we should have some understanding of what the peoples of eastern Europe went through and because of our size and history, we have a role to play in ensuring the democracy they overwhelmingly opted for 12 and 13 years ago is anchored and made safe for the future.

We need to achieve these objectives because the consequences of not doing so are, potentially, very dangerous. We are aware of the situation in the Balkans and the dangers posed by events in Macedonia. In addition, we saw what happened following the break-up of Yugoslavia. We should also be conscious of minorities in Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and the Baltic states which have not always been treated well by the majorities in those countries.

There are unresolved differences regarding boundaries and the rights of nations in eastern Europe. These differences will be resolved in the context of an enlarged Europe in a peaceful way by democratic exchanges or in different ways. We saw examples of the latter in the recent past. Such events are dangerous and ugly and we should do all we can to ensure these disputes do not go down that road.

The tendency in Ireland can be to paint everything too negatively. We see the threats rather than the opportunities and regard workers from eastern Europe as taking our jobs and houses. In addition, we regard these countries as competitors because, by and large, their economies are agricultural. These countries are viewed as taking the Structural Funds which were once ours and which some in this country still regard as rightfully ours.

This situation is not, nor should it be, a zero sum game. We in Ireland have grown up and the country has moved on. We must see these events as opportunities, not threats. The countries of eastern Europe are markets for our goods and business people. However, we need to bed down their practices. It is no secret that some Irish companies seeking to do business in eastern Europe have had less than pleasant experiences. The way of doing business in eastern Europe is not of the same standard as in Ireland. However, we do not need to look too far into our past to realise that we have also done a bit of growing up in this regard.

Looking at the situation from a selfish Irish point of view, workers in eastern Europe are as much a resource as a problem. The days when Ireland is eligible for Structural Funds will be over in four or five years. There is no point in lamenting this fact or blaming others for it. We should welcome the day when we are net contributors to the European Union rather than taking money from the rest of Europe.

The current situation presents political opportunities for Ireland as we share a good deal with some of the applicant states. Many of these countries are similar in size to Ireland and look to us as a role model and a country which has done well through the European Union and which has contributed much to it. I visited Estonia 18 months ago and was taken by the fact that opinion formers and business people were anxious, as they probably are all over the applicant states, to learn from the Irish experience. This offers us an opportunity in terms of linkages and political influence which we have never had and which we should view as a positive development.

I wish to deal with some of the details of the treaty one of which is that Ireland will lose three seats in the European Parliament. In the context of capping the numbers in Parliament, there is little to worry about as regards this measure. There is unlikely to be a revolution in Connacht- Ulster, Munster, Leinster or Dublin because people's representation in the European Parliament is being reduced. This may disconcert some of the individuals concerned, but it will little disconcert the public. The bottom line in terms of the principle is that the weighting – our level of representation – remains the same and may even increase slightly. We should not be concerned about this matter.

A more substantive argument concerns the Commission. It is important to realise what has happened in this regard and what is in prospect. The five larger countries have agreed to forgo their second Commissioner from the commencement of the next Commission in 2005. It has been agreed that until there are 27 member states, each country will be guaranteed a Commissioner. We have not yet decided what will happen when there are 27 member states. However, we know that this will have to be decided unanimously.

Countries such as Ireland should be clear that our interests lie in having a strong Commission. I do not believe that Ireland is best served by intergovernmentalism. The Commission has always been, and continues to be, the guarantor of the small member states, the rights of citizens and Europe as a whole. That is something from which we have benefited and from which we stand to benefit in the future.

I support the provisions of the treaty that enhance the powers of the president. We saw the lamentable failure of the Santer Commission to come to grips with obvious difficulties in the bureaucracy of the European Commission and we must give the power to future presidents to allocate portfolios between the members of the Commission, to remove people and to shift people around as he or she might choose to do.

QMV is a mess. We would all be better served if there was a much more straightforward, simple system of qualified majority voting. To borrow a phrase from a different context, to have this sort of triple lock that we have is, to say the least, very confusing. In particular, the provision dealing with the population requirement is something that we could have done without. I understand why it is there but I am sorry it is and I hope it will not be invoked very often. We would all be better off if a QMV system applied over a wide area which was much more straightforward. Qualified majority voting with the requirement of a majority of members would have done the job more than adequately.

There are people in this House who oppose the treaty, as they have opposed all previous treaties, who make much of sovereignty and who link the notion of sovereignty with the veto. The veto is a very much overrated commodity. I remember well the comments of Prime Minister Blair on this issue when he returned from Nice, which I thought were interesting. He said that people who argue for the veto seem to automatically assume two things. They automatically assume that one cannot persuade anybody else to agree with one and that one will always be the oppressed min ority rather than part of the frustrated majority that wants to get things through. The reality is that it very rarely happens that a country has to use the veto. I am not aware of a single case in which Ireland's national interests have been trampled on during the 30 years of membership. We remember the celebrated case of the milk levy when the then Taoiseach, Garret FitzGerald travelled to the capitals of Europe and forcibly put the case. That is, in many cases, the more substantive bottom line. If there is a genuine political argument to be made that a country's national interests are at stake, by and large, that argument will hold good and will hold sway.

The guarantor or the guarantee of the treaties is fine but one cannot, politically, use it all that often. The truth is that the combination of countries that people conjure up to try to make an argument against the treaty provisions is unlikely to happen. We are looking at technical possibilities which, in the real world of politics and the European Council, do not tend to occur.

The issue of the human rights declaration is an interesting one. I read it just last week and it has much to contribute. It deals very much with the rights of Europeans as European citizens and of countries as part of the European Union. It is good that it should do that but we could overstate this. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is responsible for the incorporation into Irish law of the European Convention on Human Rights which has a tested jurisprudence. We know from where it is coming and we have been party to that convention for many years. We know what to expect and that is probably the better template for protecting human rights in Ireland into the future. There is no contradiction between protecting our rights as human beings and protecting the rights of citizens as citizens, but at least we know from where the convention is coming. It is early days yet in terms of its incorporation into the Constitution and it will be interesting, to say the least, where that goes.

I would like to address some of the arguments against the treaty and the primary one is one of sovereignty. There is nothing in the Nice treaty which, in any way, seriously affects sovereignty. What I find particularly galling is the argument that is frequently made that somehow isolationism is a left wing or progressive thing or that being opposed to the various treaties which have underpinned the European Union is a left wing or progress thing. It is nothing of the sort. The suggestion is that we in little Ireland are the angels and that we would have brought in environmental and social protection legislation were we left to ourselves. We would have done nothing of the sort.

Even these days we are still lagging very much behind in terms of our implementation of European directives – for example, in regard to heritage or the environment. We could not do some of these things ourselves. We could not take on the international polluters and the multinationals except on the basis of equality which comes from pooling our sovereignty and decision-making processes with other countries. If we on the left have learned anything in the past 30 years, it is the need to pool sovereignty and effort to deal with those forces coming from a different set of priorities. Perhaps one would get no better example than the issue of global warming. Is it being seriously suggested by some of those who oppose this treaty that we in little Ireland could possibly do anything about this by ourselves if we wanted to? It clearly would not be possible. It is clearly one of those issues where pooling of sovereignty and effort is not only desirable, but absolutely indispensable.

Looking at television and the experience in Berlin in November 1989 when those bricks were pulled down, we in Ireland have a unique role in this whole process of enlargement. Each and every one of our citizens over the age of 18 is given a unique power because uniquely the people will be consulted directly on the issue of enlargement. We alone can do a great deal of damage in putting back up those divisions and in putting back up, in a very symbolic way, the bricks in the Berlin Wall. We should not do that because to do so would be wrong and dangerous and it would not be in our national interest. We can do our little bit in creating what Mikhail Gorbachev once called our common European home.

Ireland's participation in the EU has been invaluable to the Garda Síochána in its fight against crime. Drug traffickers and other organised criminals do not recognise national boundaries. Co-operation between the relevant national authorities is vital in counteracting the threat posed by transnational organised crime, and our membership of the EU has facilitated this co-operation. It has also enabled Ireland to participate in the development of EU strategies to combat the twin problems of drugs and organised crime.

The Treaty on European Union provides that the Union's objective will be to provide citizens with a high level of safety within an area of freedom, security and justice by developing common actions among the member states in the fields of police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters and by preventing and combating racism and xenophobia. A series of joint actions, Council decisions and action plans have been adopted to achieve this objective. For example, in June 2000 the European Council endorsed the EU action plan on drugs. The plan sets out a series of detailed measures in relation to tackling the supply and demand for drugs.

A notable achievement of the EU in combating organised crime has been the adoption of the Europol convention which entered into force on 1 October 1998. Europol supports member states by facilitating the exchange of information and intelligence and by providing analyses, expertise, training, co-ordination and technical support. The Garda has liaison officers based at Interpol headquarters in Lyons and Europol headquarters in The Hague and in London, Paris and Madrid. These officers provide assistance to home-based units involved in investigations with an EU or other international dimension.

Officers from the relevant home-based units are in contact with their colleagues from other EU member states on a regular basis regarding investigations on drug trafficking and other forms of criminal activity. This contact involves information and intelligence sharing, with joint operations which may involve a number of jurisdictions in a single operation. The Criminal Assets Bureau has successfully conducted investigations resulting in the confiscation of illegally obtained assets and wealth, held both inside and outside this jurisdiction. It maintains close contact with its EU partners in the identification, tracing and seizing of illegally obtained assets or wealth. It is noteworthy that the UK is to establish a unit with similar functions to the Criminal Assets Bureau.

Practical co-operation between the law enforcement agencies has been greatly facilitated by the adoption and implementation of programmes funded by the EU. These programmes take on various forms and provide an opportunity for an exchange of experience, best practice and the establishment of contact points within the EU law enforcement agencies. Specific programmes include OISIN, developed during the last Irish Presidency of the EU, which has encouraged and promoted co-operation between law enforcement agencies and FALCONE, which has a focus on organised crime.

The Garda has hosted a number of projects under these EU programmes which have proven to be extremely beneficial to it and to law enforcement agencies in other jurisdictions. One such OISIN project, hosted by the Garda in conjunction with the law enforcement agencies in five other member states, had as its objectives the identification of drug trafficking trends and best practice in combating drug trafficking within the EU. This project has been successful and of considerable benefit to all involved. For example, as a result of contacts made during this project a number of Irish criminals residing or operating outside the State were identified and targeted resulting in major seizures of drugs and firearms intended to be brought into this country.

EU programmes not only deal with police co-operation in the fight against organised crime but also provide assistance in enhancing police expertise in other ways. For example, the Garda recently received an award for an EU-backed project aimed at eliminating racial discrimination. The award, worth 30,000, will go towards producing guidebooks for the Garda and ethnic communities aimed at improving relations between the two.

Our membership of the EU has been extremely beneficial in enabling Ireland to tackle the inter national aspects of drug trafficking and other forms of organised criminal activity. The level of co-operation between Ireland and its EU partners in this area is likely to increase over the next few years. In this regard the special meeting of the European Council in Tampere laid down common objectives and strategies for dealing with international crime.

All member states recognise the importance of mutual assistance in criminal matters and are parties to the Council of Europe Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters. Parties to the convention are committed to helping each other in relation to criminal proceedings, such as obtaining evidence in one country for use in another, or serving summonses issued in one country in another. The convention dates from 1959, however, and was generally perceived to be in need of updating. Member states, therefore, completed negotiations and signed last May a Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters between member states of the European Union, the aim of which is to supplement the 1959 convention as it applies to them.

The convention seeks to supplement the provisions of the Council of Europe Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters, 1959, and build on the co-operation that already exists among member states. The main provisions of the convention set out the circumstances in which mutual assistance may be requested and detail the procedures governing the sending and service of documents in such requests. It enables evidence to be taken in accordance with the law of the requesting state rather than the requested state.

To facilitate requests for assistance the convention also makes provision for the spontaneous exchange of information; the return to the rightful owner of property seized in the course of investigations; the temporary transfer abroad of persons held in custody for the purpose of giving evidence; new ways of hearing witnesses and experts by video link and telephone conference; controlled deliveries of suspect consignments to be allowed on the territory of another member state; the setting up of joint investigation teams, where agreed between member states; assistance being given by way of covert investigations – Ireland proposes to make a declaration at the time of signature of the convention that it will not be bound by the provisions of that article; and interception of telecommunications. This convention is a good example of how member states have come together and agreed to co-operate to combat crime. The convention will contribute to further streamlining of assistance between national authorities in their pursuit of organised crime across Europe.

The Treaty of Nice provides for an expected significant enlargement of the EU. I will avail of every opportunity I can to raise with my colleagues in the candidate countries how my Department can be of assistance to them in the successful conclusion of their application for EU membership. I will also meet the Hungarian Minister for Justice in Dublin next month for similar discussions.

I have only touched on a few areas where EU membership has benefited Ireland in the justice and home affairs areas. EU membership has also been of benefit in the equality area for which I am responsible. Equal pay legislation and legislation outlawing discrimination in employment on grounds of gender and marital status was introduced on foot of provisions in the treaties. Employment equality and equal pay legislation enshrine the rights to equality in remuneration and opportunity between men and women and is undoubtedly responsible in part for the more equality conscious environment in which we live and work. The Treaty of Nice ensures that Union incentive measures will be taken which support anti-discrimination measures taken by member states.

The Government, with the assistance of EU funding, has significantly increased investment in child care funding initiatives in recent years to support existing child care places, increase the number of child care places and facilities and improve the quality of child care services. More than 40 million has been allocated under the equal opportunities child care programme for capital and staffing purposes since July 2000.

There have been a number of significant developments in the immigration and asylum areas. Under the EU EURODAC regulation, the fingerprints of asylum seekers and of certain illegal immigrants who may have claimed asylum in the EU or may do so in the future will be taken and compared through a central database. This will help to establish which member state has responsibility under the Dublin Convention and will deter multiple claims and abusive asylum claims more generally.

The regulation facilitates the detection of multiple applicants and it is essential for the effective application of the Dublin Convention. It will act as an effective deterrent to those who would wish to make multiple asylum claims in this State alone or here and in other member states. Fingerprinting of asylum seekers is not unique to Ireland and has been an integral part of asylum law for many years in European countries, the US, Canada and elsewhere. The intention is not to criminalise or stigmatise but rather to deter and prevent abuse of our asylum procedures.

A framework for the creation of a common European asylum system is contained in the conclusions of the Tampere European Council and in Title IV of the EU Treaty. At Tampere, in particular, the Council agreed to work towards the creation of a common asylum system in the EU on the basis of the full and inclusive application of the Geneva Convention. To date we have had proposals in the asylum area on the EURODAC fingerprinting regulation, a decision on a European refugee fund, a directive on temporary protection and, most recently, a proposal for a Coun cil directive on minimum standards on procedures in member states for granting and withdrawing refugee status. Proposals are also expected in the coming months on the revision of the Dublin Convention and rules on the recognition and content of refugee status.

EU membership has been of enormous benefit to the economy. While our education system and social partnership have combined to help the economy rise to unexpected heights, it would be remiss of anybody to ignore the fact that membership of the EU has been a vital cog in Ireland's success.

It is important to remember that without the transfer of substantial funds, either by way of Structural or Cohesion Funds or under the CAP, Ireland could not have hoped to attain the economic success which has been attained in recent years. It is all too easy to forget these matters. However, it is incumbent upon us to recall that when Ireland entered the European Economic Community in the 1970s it was a far poorer country. Previous decades had seen mass emigration and the country had suffered from chronic unemployment for many of those decades. We also had our difficulties subsequent to joining the European Union but slowly and surely membership, along with the factors I mentioned, ensured that Ireland would take its place among the best economies in Europe. It was no accident or coincidence. It happened because our education system, social partnership and membership of the European Union combined to lift the State from its previous position.

It is difficult to understand how there could be opposition from a political party in the State to enlargement under the Nice Treaty. Nonetheless, the Green Party in this country has decided to oppose the treaty. It matters little to the Green Party in this jurisdiction that the far larger Green Party in Germany has no difficulty with the treaty. The arguments which the Irish Green Party have put forward have been cogently answered but the party is intent on holding on to its wacky image as it teeters on the brink of normal political life in this country. Often the assumptions and arguments put forward by this party have not been adequately challenged either in the House or outside. It is time the Irish people were told the truth about this party, however small it may be. It has some of the wackiest proposals of any political party in the European Union and it is fair to conclude that if the party ever became a majority Government party here, we would have the wackiest republic not just in Europe but in the world. I have no doubt of that.

Even worse than the ones we have had in the past?

Reference has been made to the European Convention on Human Rights. We are set to incorporate the convention into Irish law in the near future. The European Convention on Human Rights was signed by Ireland almost 50 years ago but was never incorporated into Irish law. While it has been law for Ireland, it is not law in Ireland. Until incorporation, people will be obliged, as they have been, to bring their cases under the convention to the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, having exhausted all constitutional possibilities in Ireland first. Incorporation will mean that for the first time in the history of the State, people will be in a position to go to the courts in this country to vindicate their rights under the convention.

I do not believe this will result in a radical change in how this country conducts its business. However, it is a Pandora's box so it is impossible to say at this point precisely what will emerge. The 1937 Constitution has been extremely useful in terms of the enforcement and protection of human rights in this jurisdiction. Nineteen rights are outlined in the Constitution and these have been most useful. The Irish Supreme Court, over the decades since the promulgation of the Constitution, has sought to interpret the human rights provisions in an expansive way. The argument could be made that human rights in this country have been given a greater degree of expression by the courts than is the case in convention countries, that is, countries in which the convention has already been incorporated. This is a great tribute to the Supreme Court. That court has had a succession of eminent judges who ensured that Irish human rights were among the most expansive in the world.

Nonetheless, the European Convention on Human Rights has proven to be an extremely useful tool across Europe in the protection and enforcement of human rights. The incorporation of the convention in this jurisdiction will be welcomed by all right thinking people. It was stated in the Good Friday Agreement that we would examine our human rights legislation to see if it could be improved and, in this respect, the Government decided to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights. The convention has already been incorporated in Great Britain. A human rights commission will be established here on a statutory basis under the legislation which will incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights. It will have a broad remit and, no doubt, will help to buttress the rights already in existence and which have been given expression both in the Constitution and by the Supreme Court.

In short, Europe has been good for Ireland. It has been good in so many ways that it would be an act of gross negligence and deep injustice were Ireland now to vote against enlargement. That injustice would be perpetrated not just upon the countries which are applying to join the European Union but it would also represent an injustice to ourselves. Enlargement of the European Union is not a threat for Ireland. It is an opportunity for Ireland to display its talents to the world and the creation of a greater market within which Ireland can export without restriction. Ireland can make a major and significant contribution to an enlarged Europe.

The word "wacky" intrigues me. I tried to think of its various applications but since our colleagues from the Green Party are not present, I cannot test the word on them either.

They are never here.

However, I am sure I will have an opportunity to do so in the course of the debate that is likely to take place on this issue.

They only come in for the Order of Business and then vanish on their bicycles.

There will be plenty of time to exchange views on the meaning of the word in its context.

Like other Members, I have campaigned actively in my constituency on every referendum on Europe. I will do so in this campaign too. Ireland has benefited greatly from membership of the European Union. It has also made a good contribution to the Union, something that often tends to go unnoticed. We might have entered as a poor country in comparison with our more powerful colleagues. Greater credence is now put on the Structural Funds they created for our benefit than the real reason for our success in Europe, which was access to bigger markets. Without doubt, access to the Single Market gave Ireland and other countries like it the opportunity to trade without obstacle and freely. The past ten years have proven that.

Before that the bigger countries had a huge advantage and, fair play to them, they used it very effectively. They had a lot of experience as colonisers, which they used to their advantage – they still do so when they get the odd opportunity. We accepted thestatus quo for far too long but we came into our own when we got the opportunity to trade as an equal entity within the EU. We were and will continue to be very successful.

I welcome the opposing views that have been expressed, which are important to any debate because one can dispel them when one hears them. Scare stories emerged during the Amsterdam treaty but we should face reality and deal with those views. I am chairman of the Joint Committee on European Affairs and we are engaged in public hearings on this issue, which is another opportunity to encourage the debate and dialogue necessary. We can then come to a conclusion we can stand over with authority rather than skulking away from the issue. All committee members have adopted that policy and I compliment them on that, on the work they have done to promote Irish issues at every possible European forum and on their work in assisting the applicant countries gain greater access to information and to our first-hand experience of membership of the EU.

Every Member should contribute to this debate. Not everything the EU does is right – that is something to be stitched into the record. For the past few years protection of the food chain has concerned me. The Minister of State, Deputy Davern, will agree with me that the EU had a central role in that area and it failed. We had an excellent record in this area until recently and now it is suggested that freedom of movement was the cause of our current problems when of course it was not. Regulations can be put in place at any time to restrict that freedom of movement if it affects vital national interests, animal health, human health or the food chain in particular. What happened as soon as there was an outbreak of disease in Britain? The French Government instantly banned all imports. Does it not automatically follow that if there were a risk in any of the procedures between the member states prior to that, action should have been taken? That action was not taken. Consumers have rights in this area as well and consumer protection is paramount in what we are doing at present.

The European institutions – the Commission, the Parliament and so on – must look at themselves and ask if they moved with one accord. The answer is no, and that issue must be tackled, regardless of whether we in the EU like it. The applicant countries will also be anxious to see that done. They have concerns and they want to be able to show their people, to whom they are giving the message of expansion and integration, that they have seen at first hand that the EU is capable of dealing with this problem.

Look at how the French truckers' strike affected the EU. It affected one country first but there was no meeting of minds on the matter and unilateral action was taken which had a domino effect in Belgium, Holland, Britain and ultimately here. It is surely not too much to ask of the combined wisdom of the EU that it tackle that issue. Transport is vital to the EU if we are to bring people together. It should be possible for the great minds in Europe to think as one on such an issue but they have not done so.

They will need to, however, because if that issue is not addressed we will have problems in the future. I am loath to quote Abraham Lincoln, as I have often done in the past, but he said that a house divided within itself cannot stand and he was right. Huge efforts were made in the United States to ensure their house would stand and not be divided, and tragic decisions were made, but they succeeded in keeping the house together. The challenge to Europe now and for the future is the extent to which Europe is prepared to keep its house together. The challenges are great and we stand at the crossroads of the evolution of the European project. If all member states and applicant nations are successful, then Europe has a bright and prosperous future.

However, it is important to remember Europe's tragic history. Hardly a decade in the past 500 years passed without a major war. The diversity of cultures and nationalities throughout Europe, together with the bitterness that exists to this day across a variety of borders, is an issue that will emerge again and again. From dealing with both applicant nations and our colleagues within the EU, I feel far too great an emphasis is placed on the EU's ability to resolve these issues. If the participating parties, or enemies, do not themselves come to grips with the situation, the possibility of a resolution and ultimate peace and prosperity within the EU is also threatened. Not only are the countries directly involved threatened, the entire surface of the EU is also threatened. We must also learn that from our history.

We all support the concept of European enlargement and integration. The Amsterdam treaty has already been passed but we must also support the Nice treaty. However, we should not be so protective about our positions simply because someone points the finger at us. We should also be able to pick holes in it to cast more light on the issue. If we do not do so we leave ourselves open and we would be weaker in the future if pressure is put on the EU from a variety of sources.

I am amused by the suggestion that the greater the degree of integration and immersion within Europe, the greater the threat to our culture, a point that has already been made. The reverse is the case. It has been proven beyond a shadow of doubt that we did not have economic independence all those years ago and that as soon as we got that economic independence our culture flourished. We became international personalities all of a sudden and Irish people were welcome all over the world. It was far from the begging bowl attitude for which we were known in Europe and elsewhere. We were suddenly respected, authoritative, forthright, outgoing and progressive. The lesson to be learnt is that without doubt our future is within the Union. The degree to which we participate will determine the extent to which we will benefit from it in the future.

In the present economic climate we have a moral duty to explain to applicant countries the benefits of membership of the Union and the degree to which they, like us, can contribute to its stability. Some of the more powerful member states contend that while smaller countries are welcome in the Union they benefit greatly from membership. The smaller countries make a very important contribution to the Union in terms of stability, which is a critical element of the European project. Instability was created by the past actions of the more powerful member states. The emergence of the smaller countries who have an interest in the future of the Union is reflected in the extent to which stability has prevailed.

When the founding fathers – Adenauer, Monnet and Schumann – forged the concept of European unity they acted in the legacy of two world wars in quick succession. In the Second World War approximately 60 million people were sacrificed to enable the European peoples prove to themselves that they could not win against each other and that something else would have to prevail. The founding fathers decided to draft the future of Europe from the ashes and they did a very good job. Other Members have commented on the extent to which they achieved their purpose.

In the aftermath of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain we are in a new era. There is a new challenge and an opportunity for all Europeans to reflect on 50 years of the emerging European Union and contrast that with what went before. The comparison leaves the Union as a concept well ahead of anything previously. As Irish people and committed Europeans it is in our interests to further commit ourselves to the concept of European enlargement and integration, including the deepening and widening of the Union.

The Irish Business Bureau is the EU representative office of IBEC. An article in its publication, theEuropean Monthly Newsletter of December 2000 states:

"The Nice negotiations were a success for the applicant countries and exhausting for the participants. Any remaining ambiguity about the EU's commitment to a wide and deep enlargement has been removed."

It goes on to state that the applicant countries will join once they prove they have the capacity to adopt the necessary criteria and in this context some may join as soon as 2005. I agree with that, although the start date envisaged has a habit of moving and it does not always relate to the degree of readiness of the applicant countries. We will have been aware of this from our own application for membership.

The article continues:

"The main casualty of the summit was the French presidency. Its diplomatic relations with many member states was strained to the limit. The implications for the future working methods of the European Council, caused by President Chirac's aggressive style of chairmanship, will need to be considered. The fraught relations between some other partners will also have to be mended. Many leaders, including the Taoiseach, remarked that a repeat of the Nice experience should be avoided in future."

This indicates the long knives that must have been repeatedly wielded. Some of us, including the Minister of State, Deputy Davern, will have had experience of this from our engagements with our friends in Europe over the years.

As a former colleague of President Chirac I cannot have a word said against him.

The article goes on to state:

The Commission left Nice battered and bruised. The credibility of the institutions suf fered as it was sidelined at crucial stages of the negotiations. The semi-public critique by the Commission's secretary-general of the French presidency's handling of the summit no doubt struck a chord with some, but not a high note. With staff morale at an all time low the Commission is facing difficulties over the next few years.

We need a strong Commission. It must be purposeful and aspire at all times to the European ideals. The danger is that it could be weakened arising from developments over the last couple of years, especially arising from the Parliament's influence and its intention to exert it to a greater extent. That is generally accepted but it is not necessarily a useful development for the smaller countries.

We must balance all the issues. I will not deal with the weighting of the votes, which has been addressed by others. With the growth of the Union there may be a tendency by some member states to request a greater degree of flexibility on the extent to which each member state would commit itself to the concept. That may be good initially but in the long-term it would be a bad development. It would be a great weakness if any treaty or agreement is entered into or formal negotiations concluded on the basis that one, all or any can opt in or out at their convenience. We must be very careful to ensure that this is not allowed because the weakness of the Union could undermine its credibility in the future.

The sole purpose of this Bill is to allow Ireland hold a constitutional referendum for the purpose of ratifying the Treaty of Nice. Ireland is the only member state to hold a referendum on the treaty. It is good to hold referendums on issues of this kind. It is nothing of which we should be afraid.

A number of previous treaties have been approved by referendum with varying majorities. The legal advice to the Government is that it is necessary to hold a referendum on this treaty. The Government could have ratified the treaty following a debate in the Dáil but that would have left the treaty open to legal dispute. Given the independence of the Judiciary nobody could say how the courts would rule on any action taken. The Government is taking a prudent approach in consulting the people in the first instance.

I was not a Member of the House when some of the previous debates on treaty ratifications were held but there was always an understanding that future treaties would be put to the people by way of referendum. There was a general understanding that that would be the case but it was not a precise commitment. I am pleased that the Government is following the general pattern of previous referenda and providing for a referendum on this occasion.

The treaty completes the process of institutional reform to allow for enlargement. At present there are 15 member states and at the end of this long process there may be as many as 27 member states. When I was a young fellow in school, which some people might say was not that long ago, I remember trying to learn the 32 counties of Ireland and the number of counties in each province. I would safely say that if one stood anywhere outside this House – I might even say inside this House – and asked people to list all 15 member states, most people would know ten, 11 or 12 but many people would struggle to list them all. We will find it far more difficulty to list 27 member states in due course. For the record, I want to state the 12 countries conducting accession negotiations with the European Union. They are: Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. The list will appear strange to the majority of Irish people. The vast majority of Irish people have had no dealings whatever with these countries in the past and it will be a new experience. In truth, the only reason many Irish people would have heard of those countries would have been as a result of Ireland playing international soccer matches against them. Therefore, in a curious way sport has to date made the world a smaller place and now we will do it formally through the political process.

When we complete this process of enlargement the population of the European Union will increase from the current level of about 370 million to 550 million. When we campaign for the referendum, people will ask us what will ratifying the Nice treaty mean for Ireland in the short-term. It will mean very little in the short-term. This treaty is not as significant in its own right as the Single European Act, the Maastricht Treaty or the Amsterdam Treaty.

We will see the first impact of this treaty when the next Commission is appointed in a couple of years and for the first time the five large countries will give up their second Commissioners. To date the five large countries have had two Commissioners each and on that occasion they will agree to have one Commissioner only. Therefore, in the short-term one can argue that there will be a benefit for the smaller countries in that the larger countries will be ceding some of their influence and power on the European Commission.

Eventually after perhaps ten years, when all the new 12 member states have joined and the membership of the European Community has increased to 27, the Commission will decide by a unanimous vote on the size of the Commission for the future. The important element of that is that that Commission will contain fewer than 27 members, which means that there will be fewer Commissioners than member states. For the first time, ten years from now or whenever this will occur, every member state will not have a Commissioner in every Commission. The practice to be adopted will involve rotating Commissioners and I am pleased that this treaty states that this will be done on an equal basis, irrespective of size of population. Therefore, on some occasions we will find that some of the bigger member states will be without a Commissioner during a particular period and on other occasions a smaller member state will be affected. No doubt on rare occasions every few years Ireland might find itself without a Commissioner for a period but we will have close working relationships with small groups of nations of a similar size which will represent the interests of Ireland on the Commission at that stage.

On the Commission itself, votes are decided by a majority. That is a straightforward process which we all understand. When it comes to the Council of Ministers, however, the voting is far more complicated and much of the negotiation at Nice dealt specifically with these issues. There will now be a greater level of voting by qualified majority on many, but not all, issues.

There are three essential components to the process of voting by qualified majority. To date, Ireland has had three of the 87 votes in the qualified majority voting system. Eventually at the end of this process, we will have seven of the 345 votes. In those situations, any member state can ask to ensure that any decision by qualified majority voting will have the support of at least 62% of the population of the expanded European Union. That is quite a high percentage, well above a simple majority. In addition, there must be a majority of member states in favour of a particular decision made under those procedures. Therefore, there are three fallback positions. There will not be simple voting majorities at Commission level on many of these issues and that is an important point.

People have said that Ireland will have much less influence than it had in the past. Ireland will have about 0.8% of the total population of the 550 million in the European Union but it will have 2.2% of the weighted votes. We will have two and a half times more votes under the weighted voting system than our population would justify strictly on a numerical basis. From that point of view, we cannot complain. It is not a bad arrangement. It is as good an arrangement as the country could expect in this situation.

The question of military neutrality is an issue which has arisen in all these debates in the past. It is not something which will feature on this occasion to the same extent, but I am quite sure it will raise its head. I am aware of a meeting held in Portlaoise during the week on the Nice treaty and I suspect it is a bandwagon for some group or organisation to stir up the debate and state that we will all be conscripted into a European army before the end of the decade. I expect to hear such comments as the debate develops but we will have no difficulty dealing with those comments and bringing a bit of reality to the debate.

Some years ago the Amsterdam Treaty specified a clear role for the Western European Union, which was to act almost as an agent for the European Union, but under the Nice treaty that role has been diminished. That is a good development. Those people who were fearful of the role of the Western European Union in the past and its connections with NATO did a great deal of scaremongering but we are now seeing the role of the Western European Union being diminished considerably. One of the reasons for this is the European Union's capacity in its own right to deal with and carry out humanitarian and crisis management and conflict prevention tasks have increased. That has involved a long and difficult negotiation process but there have been significant improvements in that area under what are generally called the Petersberg Tasks. Such phraseology is well understood in the Department of Foreign Affairs in Iveagh House and in the Joint Committee on European Affairs but it is not understood by 99.99% of the public. In our debate we should shy away from using phrases like that which the people of Ireland do not understand. We should conduct debates like this in simple English and not get carried away in the jargon to which people, who deal with these issues on a daily basis, are accustomed.

For Ireland to participate in any of these crisis management or conflict prevention tasks it will be necessary for the Government to give the go ahead. It is not a European decision and it would not be covered by the qualified voting majority process. The Government of Ireland would have to give the go ahead and our policy to date, which will continue, is that we will only participate in such activities where it is a United Nations operation. That is something which the people of Ireland will readily accept when we explain it to them if it arises during the course of the referendum campaign.

We are also looking at changes in the membership of the European Parliament. Currently there are 626 MEPs and in the last referendum we made provision to extend its membership to approximately 700. Under this treaty, we will extend its membership to 732. When there will be 27 member states and 732 MEPs, Ireland will have 12 MEPs rather than 15, as is currently the case. Some people might say that will result in a diminution of our representation but I would always argue that it is quality not quantity that will count. Given that Ireland in an enlarged Europe will have only 12 MEPs, their role and status and the power, influence and respect with which they will be held will increase over time because people will find that the European Parliament will become more important and more powerful. Those 12 MEPs who will represent Ireland may have far more influence on matters affecting us here than Cabinet members at home. We will have to monitor that situation as it evolves. A reduction in the level of representation was the only area on which we had to make a concession in the negotiations in Nice. I do not think that will pose a major problem for Ireland. If we have good quality people working in Europe in conjunction with our Commissioner, the Government and parties in the European Par liament, we will be well represented at European level.

It is important to stress that the reduction in the number of MEPs may not necessarily happen in the next European elections in 2004. It will happen over a period as the membership of the Union increases from 15 to 27. It could be at least ten years before that process is fully completed and the number of our MEPs will be reduced to 12. I do not envisage that happening at the next European elections. It may happen in stages, with the number of MEPs reduced by one in the next European elections, by a further one in the following elections and by a further one in the subsequent elections.

I take this opportunity to praise the Taoiseach for his input into the negotiations. He was ably assisted by my constituency colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen. Many speakers said that they were difficult negotiations as those participating in them had different perspectives. It was essential that those representing us were aware of the critical points that had to be dealt with. They ensured that taxation matters were not incorporated into the treaty and that national Government would have sovereignty on them, which is as it should be. I remember the debate on the last referendum when the buzzword was "subsidiarity", which means passing the decision-making process down as near as possible to the people on the ground. To take taxation matters out of the hands of national Government would be the opposite to subsidiarity, it would be an element of centralisation at European level. That would be the opposite to what the people were informed would be the case in signing up to these treaties. When anyone raises that issue again, we should ask them how it would reflect subsidiarity. We were successful in arguing that we and each other member state is in the best position to determine its own taxation levels rather than they being decided by the European Commission or European Parliament.

Ireland is the only country that will hold a referendum on this treaty. I am pleased it will be held early in the year, as member states have a long period during which to ratify the treaty. It is only a few months since it was signed. While it is fresh in everyone's mind, now is the time to put it to the people.

During the various debates on the last referendum, there was much talk about the democratic deficit. That is being added to across Europe by member states deciding not to hold referenda. We should not be afraid of holding one. I have no doubt it will not be an easy one to win and it will not be overwhelmingly carried to the extent that an earlier one was carried on whether we should join the EEC in the early 1970s, but such is life. We must accept that the complexities of modern political life are more difficult and not as black and white as they used to be many years ago.

As to when the referendum will be held, that will depend largely on the foot and mouth disease crisis. I have every confidence the Government will set the most appropriate date in light of that situation. I hope it will be held this side of the summer, as that would be in everybody's best interest given that the debate is ongoing here.

Months and months of endless debate is not required on this proposal, as there is not as much in this treaty as there was in earlier treaties on which referenda were put to the people for ratification. This treaty is straightforward enough for people to digest. That is one the reasons three other referenda will be held on the same day, one on abolishing the death penalty and one on reform of the Judiciary. Those are straightforward issues. People will have a clear view on whether they are for or against the abolition of the death penalty. That does not require endless debate. When the think about it for a few minutes, most people will know their own minds. I do not think we will get caught up in endless debates on those issues as time goes on.

The referendum on this treaty will be a real test of the maturity of our people, more so than earlier referenda. It was easy for us to say yes to Europe in earlier referenda when our position was strong on the beneficiary side. We benefited substantially financially in the past through the various funds and we were due to do so in the future. This is the first time we will be asking the people to vote yes for Europe when we are not being offered substantial funding for the decades ahead.

It boils down to us simply asking the people to give the 12 countries seeking accession the same chance that we were given 25 or 30 years ago. We were given a chance as a small country to join what started off as a group of six countries, which expanded to nine, then 12 and now it stands at 15. We got the chance to join, gain the benefit of a large Single Market and draw down funds, and we used that opportunity well. The Irish example will be one of the examples that will be used by the 12 applicant nations of how European Structural Funds and other funds can help a country grow and prosper, but it is essential such funds are put to good use, as they were here. It would be selfish if Ireland said, "No, we will not give those countries the same chance we were given on an earlier occasion".

A minority would have a different attitude to this treaty. Such an attitude is reflected by the example of a couple who get permission to build a house in a rural village and a few years later when they have settled in and other couples from outside the area wish to build houses they are the first to object, complaining that such houses would spoil the view and that outsiders should not be seeking to build houses in the village. We must resist that attitude. We must welcome people in applicant countries into the European Union as we were welcomed.

I call on the Referendum Commission to issue information for and against the treaty. It is not the Government's Constitution, it is the people's Constitution and the people have a right to hear both sides of the argument. People panicked during the run-up to the referendum on the Good Friday Agreement and argued that taxpayers' money was being spent informing people about a no vote. Be that as it may, the result at the end of the day was better for that information being made available. We should go through the same process on this occasion.

I ask that the Referendum Commission ask journalists or people who are good at writing in simple English to write the script for the advertisements and not to ask people from a legal or technical background to do so. The advertisements on the last occasion were written in a style similar to the small print on the back of a hire purchase agreement. They were unintelligible to most people. People with legal or technical expertise could oversee the scripts, but they should not be involved in writing them. It is important good information on arguments for and against ratifying the treaty are made available to the public.

An expanded Union with a population of 550 million people will be a bigger and stronger player. We will have more responsibility even though we are a small nation, as we will be part of a much bigger and stronger organisation on the world stage.

I commend the Bill to the House and the Nice treaty to the Irish people.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Boylan.

In an enlarged Union a bigger Single Market would be very much in the interests of Irish businesses, such as our trading with Poland. It is in our interests, politically and economically, for the continent of Europe to be prosperous, stable and democratic. The possibility of business growth here following the accession of applicant countries can only be good for this country. It is welcome that the Treaty of Nice will not change the State's policy on neutrality and Irish peacekeeping troops will continue to serve only in operations authorised by the Minister for Defence.

The Government must clarify its intentions on the holding of a referendum and publish the wording required to amend the Constitution. It must produce clear and concise information to enable people to understand what the treaty is about and the implications of the changes it proposes to the voting strengths of each member state and our place within the Commission. That is important. Advocates of the Nice Treaty will face a certain resistance from some people and it is important that people know what they are voting for.

Popular support for the European economic and political process has fallen from 82% in the 1971 referendum on accession to 69.5% in the referendum on the Single European Act in 1987, 68.7% in the referendum on the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 and 60.4% in the referendum on the Amsterdam Treaty in 1998. Turnout has also fallen. While 70.9% came out to vote in 1971, just 44.1% – a dramatic drop – voted on the Single European Act in 1987 despite the fact that the referendum coincided with the European Parliament elections. The holding of the referendum on the Maastricht Treaty on the same day as a series of referendums on abortion enthused just 57.3% to vote. Even holding the referendum on the Belfast Agreement on the same day as the referendum on the Amsterdam Treaty in 1998 only brought out 56.2% to vote. Compared to these issues, the three questions to be decided on the same day as the Nice Treaty are unlikely to send the electorate into a frenzy of popular participation.

The people will be asked to delete the reference to capital punishment from the Constitution, provide for the disciplining of judges and approve Ireland's acceptance of the remit of the International Criminal Court. There is a danger of a very low turnout, about which Government sources are right to be concerned. It is very important, therefore, to sell the referendum to the public, a matter on which past referendums failed and the reason there has been such a decline in voter turnout. It would be very unwise to take public participation for granted.

Previous speakers mentioned neutrality which other articulate debaters and the Green Party are using among other scare tactics to change the benefits of this debate. They are frightening people off by mentioning peacekeeping, neutrality and other issues. People are getting the wrong end of the stick listening to these articulate debaters promoting these issues. It is very important that the Government make the electorate aware of what it will be voting for. I am concerned that it be informed that it will be voting for the enlargement of the European Union. The Government should clarify the matter. The benefit of an enlarged Union is a larger market.

The treaty provides for the reform of the institutions and decision-making procedures of the European Union to equip an enlarged Union to function effectively while maintaining important balances. From a national perspective, Ireland has an obvious interest in the success of an enlarged and well functioning European Union, from which we have gained considerably. Every member state is represented in the institutions and has an opportunity to influence their decisions, shape the rules and gain from co-operation. Ireland has benefited enormously from its involvement and changed profoundly as a result. That is the reason it is necessary to re-examine EU policies and strategies and policy making procedures to determine if they are still appropriate. An update is important to ensure what was effective is still beneficial. Ireland has much to gain from and contribute to an enlarged Union which is likely to be the main focus of debate in the forthcoming referendum on the treaty on which the message needs to be communicated more effectively to the public.

The European Union is in negotiation with the following countries: Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Turkey, etc. The purpose of the new treaty is to complete the programme of institutional reform designed to prepare the Union for significant expansion of its membership. It is important that Ireland's voice will not be diminished in any way due to the admission of so many new member states. It was eventually agreed that from 2005, the date of the appointment of the next Commission, the five large states would forgo their right to nominate a second member to the Commission. It is important that Ireland should retain its Commissioner. Mr. Byrne is doing an excellent job and it is important that he is in place at this time of crisis. Having a Commissioner at the Cabinet table has been beneficial to Ireland.

Each member state will nominate one member of the Commission until the European Union has 27 member states at which point the Council will decide. What this means is that each member state, including newly admitted member states, will nominate one member of the Commission until the European Union reaches 27 member states.

The Treaty of Nice will also increase the powers of the President of the Commission. The President will now have the authority to decide on the internal organisation of the Commission in order to ensure it acts consistently and effectively on the basis of co-operation. He will have the authority to allocate tasks among Commission members and relocate portfolios among Commissioners during their term of office.

Another change concerns the vote allocated to each member state under the system of weighting in the Council. The change will provide for compensation for those member states who will lose the right to nominate a second Commissioner. The new treaty provides that from January 2005 the votes of existing member states will be weighted as follows; Germany, France and Italy, 29; Spain, 27; the Netherlands, 13; Greece, Belgium and Portugal, 12; Sweden and Austria, ten; and Denmark, Finland and Ireland, seven. It was agreed that to adopt a decision in the Union of 15 that from 2005 it will be necessary to secure 169 votes, or 71.31%, of the 237 available. The current figure is 62, or 71.6%, of the 87 available.

Ireland's voting strength is very important. We will have seven votes, or 2.03%, of the 345 available in a Union of 27 member states, maintaining parity with Finland and Denmark. Ireland's share of total EU population in a Union of 27 member states will be 0.8%. Qualified majority voting already applies in the case of a large number of Council decisions, usually in conjunction with the co-decision procedures which give the European Parliament a role as co-legislator. There are 626 Members of the European Parliament in respect of which the Treaty sets a limit of 700. With the expected enlargement of the Union, it will, therefore, be necessary to agree at the Intergovernmental Conference a reallocation of seats to accommodate new member states without creating a chamber that is too large to operate effectively.

Debate adjourned.