I support a positive outcome to this matter when it comes before the people. The Constitution belongs to them and they must be fully informed about proposed changes to it. They are not informed about this referendum. A survey of the last referendum indicated that those who voted no did so because they were unsure about what was involved. They adopted the well worn phrase, "When in doubt say nought". This will happen again on the Treaty of Nice.
The treaty is very important for this country, Europe and applicant countries. The public can only be informed if the Government and the Minister are prepared to spend the money allocated for this purpose, both for and against. The national media are receiving their share of Government expenditure on the referendum, but the Minister should remember that in the foot and mouth crisis it was the provincial press and local radio which played a major role in informing the public about what was involved and how to go about combating the disease to ensure it did not reach this country and spread. In that regard the local media have done a marvellous job of work in informing the public which has responded. Here is an opportunity for the Minister to say "thank you" and recognise the role the provincial press and local radio can play in these matters. The position papers regarding this debate should be sent to the provincial newspapers and if space must be bought, that should be done. It would give them some return on their good work.
I fully support the enlargement of the European Union, the population of which is 350 million and to which we have had free access for the past 30 years. This has brought major benefits to this country. Enlargement would result in a population of over 550 million.
Recently I saw television footage of Poland, which is seeking entry to the European Union. It brought me back to the Ireland of the 1950s and 1960s. I saw horses ploughing in the fields and children and women dropping potatoes into the drills, all of which took place in Ireland before we joined the EEC. Our agricultural production was mechanised on entry and we developed further.
Our story is one of tremendous success. While we have benefited enormously from membership of the European Union, we have been very successful also. We should be thankful that we were welcomed with open arms into the EEC. One must recognise the benefits which accrued from membership such as all the payments we received.
My constituency of Cavan-Monaghan in the Border region was designated a severely handicapped area. Grants on top of those available to disadvantaged areas were of enormous benefit in lifting the region. While we have not caught up with the rest of the country, we are making progress. Because of enlargement and other developing issues I hope the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, will not say that we have received sufficient funding. That is not the case and the Minister lives close enough to us to recognise this. However, we are not ones who go with cap in hand begging all the time. We will show the Minister the benefits of the grants which we have received and the country as a whole can then show the people of Europe our success story.
I have great sympathy for the poorer countries such as Poland which are seeking membership. In Ireland there are agriculture and industry graduates who can travel to these countries and show the people how our success was achieved. We would then be playing our part as fully fledged members of the European Union. Otherwise, we would be neglecting our role. We would not be repaying our debt or saying that we are extremely grateful for what we have achieved. We should draw attention to our success story.
I noted that the Minister took an independent line recently for which he had his knuckles rapped. I am not altogether against the independent line. We should not be seen to be totally buried within the European Union. We should have an independent voice because we are an independent nation within the EU structure. We have our own identity which we should maintain.
I understand we will lose our Commissioner under the new treaty. The current Irish Commissioner, Mr. David Byrne, is an outstanding man. He has done a marvellous job in his current food safety position in the difficult context of the foot and mouth crisis in Britain which is spreading to Europe. He, certainly, has lifted the profile of this country. All our previous Commissioners were excellent people also.
There was a danger that Ireland would be used as a drop-off point by drug traffickers and peddlers from mainland Europe, but the co-operation between the Garda and police forces all over Europe has ensured we have been able to deal with the problem to some extent. The most recent discovery of drugs worth in the region of £2 million was alarming. That could not have happened if the Garda, which has done marvellous work, had not had the co-operation of police forces in Europe. Our young people are outgoing and have disposable income. It is recognised in Europe that the economy is booming and we are seen as a target area. If we had not played our part as fully fledged members of the European Union and not received the co-operation of European police forces, this country would have been riddled with drugs and our young people would have been decimated. We must recognise, therefore, that we have gained not only from the benefits of Europe, but also from working with the other member states. In return, we must play our part to show, in some way, that we appreciate what has been done.
For this reason, it is important that the public is fully informed. I would not like to see people going into the polling booth like the fellow who asked the crowd who was playing, having fol lowed them to the football match. I do not want people going into the polling booth not knowing exactly what is involved and on what they are voting. That is not good enough and unacceptable. A better informed public is a one which will better understand the issues involved and be more co-operative. The Government should spell out the system of European grants and the benefits which we have enjoyed, given the current crisis when the farming community is practically on its knees because of the restrictions in place. Numerous farmers have contacted me about overdue headage payments or some backlog. They were watching for their cheque in the post, which still has a role to play and which got them over this difficulty.
Ireland's road structure has developed enormously with the help of the European Union. Major roads and bypasses have been constructed, as the Minister will be aware having been present at the opening of the N3 bypass of Cavan and my village, Butler's Bridge, to Belturbet. It is a marvellous success story which could not have been undertaken without substantial EU funding. The moneys were provided for the work and the community has benefited enormously. While further stretches of the road will continue to be improved, I accept that the best days of European funding are over. We are now capable of paddling our own canoe. We can develop our own areas and show the benefits we have accrued from the work done. This information can be of benefit to other member states of the European Union.
I remind the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, not to forget that the local press and media can play their part in the issue.