Private Members' Business. - 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 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.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Haughey.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to contribute to the Second Stage debate on the Twenty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill which seeks the approval of the people for the constitutional changes necessary to allow us to ratify the Treaty of Nice. About two years ago we invited Mr. Verstringer, who was visiting Ireland at the time, to the launch of the water services investment programme in Killaloe. He was a good friend of Ireland. He secured the establishment of the Cohesion Fund for Ireland, something for which we should always be grateful. He reminded us of how much Europe was doing for Ireland and in the course of my remarks, because we were in a very historic part of Ireland with monastic traditions, I reminded Mr. Verstringer that in the Dark Ages when civilisation was almost wiped out in Europe it was the Irish who maintained the light of civilisation. I said that we were merely getting something back from Europe.

We, in this House, do not need to be reminded of the benefits we have enjoyed since we took out membership of the European Economic Community as it was then known in 1973.

I suppose he thought we were all angels.

I do not think he did. He had a more realistic view of us at that stage.

The Treaty of Nice, rather than looking back as I was doing on that occasion, looks to the future of the European Union and all its peoples, including the people of Ireland. It is time we looked forward again. Whatever debt might have existed, when we needed Europe's help and assistance, has been repaid. We must look to the future. A positive decision by our people on the constitutional amendment, which this Bill proposes, is essential. A positive decision would be a telling indicator of our maturity and self-confidence as a modern and forward looking nation. It will also be a "thank you" to Europe for the assistance we got when we needed it. If there was only one lesson that could be learned from our membership of the European Union to date, it would be that nations are judged not only for their actions on an individual basis but on the contribution they can make to the wider community to which they belong. We have benefited from the Union, but we have also contributed greatly to it and given other member states the benefit of our unique viewpoint based as we are on the western periphery of the Union. The European movement has benefited enormously from our input. This is a testament to the professionalism and dedication of members from all sides of the political spectrum. It is also a tribute to our excellent public service. Any one of our European colleagues who have come into contact with Ireland, through the activities of the Union, would confirm that is the case.

The benefits of membership of the Union deserve to be acknowledged despite our facing major infrastructural deficits. We have invested heavily over the years in programmes such as roads and sanitary services with the benefit of EU assistance. I am sure Members will agree that the number of projects they have seen that bear the distinctive EU logo are almost incapable of being counted. That is an example of the level of EU funding this country has received for necessary projects. My Department received more than £1.85 billion directly from the EU in period from 1995 to 2000. The benefits of membership do not simply come from cash transfers. Membership of the Union has also conferred on us access to a free market of 370 million people. That has clearly helped to satisfy the appetite of the Celtic tiger hungry for export markets without which we could not survive.

It can be truly said that our membership of the European Union has been very good for Ireland. It has provided us with the friendship and support that was necessary for this country to advance to a position of unprecedented economic prosperity. In looking to the future, the Treaty of Nice sets out to provide a structure that will enable countries currently outside the Union to make their contribution and to advance themselves just as we have done. Just as the treaty is an opportunity to advance the cause of the States currently outside the Union, it is also an opportunity to further advance the cause of countries within that Union. Through enlargement, the treaty will strengthen the position of Europe in relation to the rest of the world. Nobody will doubt the good of strengthening the position of Europe inc. in economic terms.

In a wider context, we should seek to strengthen our position on the development of policies on global issues. One global issue that comes to mind immediately lies in the environmental area and has been topical in recent weeks. The implementation of measures to limit emissions of greenhouse gases is an international as well as a national issue. Climate change is real; it is happening now and the position will get worse. Emissions from the developed world are the primary contributor to global climate change and developed countries must take the first meaningful steps to reduce emissions. I do not doubt the necessity to pursue and attain the targets for limitations of greenhouse gases as agreed in the Kyoto Protocol. My view is shared by fellow Environment Ministers in the EU. However, while remaining wedded to working with friends and allies on means to address global climate change, the US no longer supports the Kyoto Protocol and we, in the EU, must seek to influence their view and change their mind.

To influence others, particularly some nations as large as the US, one's voice must be heard. There can be little doubt that while we have quite an amount of influence in certain circles in the US, an enlarged European Union would have a louder voice globally than the Union as it is currently constituted, a more influential voice and one that would be better heard. That voice could be used to influence policies on issues such as climate change, but it could also be used for the good of the world on a range of issues, as we have done within the UN.

The wider unity within Europe can also be used for the good of Europe. It is all too easy to forget the trauma Europe suffered during two World Wars and the heartbreak of partition that followed, not to mention the horrific events that unfolded more recently in the Balkans. The record of the European Union in providing structures within which former enemies can be reconciled and grow is there for all to see. An enlarged Union holds the tantalising promise of continuing peace and prosperity for the majority of people in Europe. That is a prospect we cannot let slip through our hands. I am convinced the people of Ireland will recognise that and exercise their responsibility to amend our Constitution to enable the process of EU enlargement to go forward.

The Treaty of Nice provides the basis for enlargement while maintaining protection of this country's essential interests. I fully support the Bill and I will follow through on that during the referendum campaign. I urge all like minded Members to act in the same manner.

I agree with what was said by Deputy Boylan about the importance of ensuring the people get information on the treaty and of using media such as the local radio and local newspapers to ensure they do. Substantial sums of money have been made available to the Referendum Commission for the purposes of disseminating information on the Nice treaty, but there is an obligation on each and every one of us in this House to ensure that we, too, use the positions we have to ensure that information gets to as many people as possible.

I thank the Minister for the Environment and Local Government for sharing his time with me. I am delighted to have this opportunity to say a few words on this Bill, which, if passed, will allow us to ratify the Treaty of Nice. The decision of the Government to hold a referendum is correct. I accept it received legal advice to the effect that a referendum is needed. Nevertheless, the legal advice given took a cautious approach and it has been argued by others that a referendum is not strictly necessary. It seems Ireland will be the only country in the EU that will hold a referendum on this issue. That presents us with a unique opportunity to clearly demonstrate yet again our commitment to the European ideal and poses for us a special challenge.

The Government proposes to hold three other referendums on the same day, the Twenty-first Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 2001, dealing with the death penalty, the Twenty-second Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 2001, dealing with judicial misconduct and the Twenty-third Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 2001, dealing with the International Criminal Court. There is a danger that the electorate may become confused about these issues and not turn out or, if they do, vote "no" simply because they do not know. We, as political leaders, must do everything possible to avoid that happening and everything to clearly explain the issues to the people. A fall in voter turnout generally must not be allowed to result in the Treaty of Nice being rejected, as that would be disastrous for us. I am glad a proposed amendment to the Constitution in relation to the abortion issue is not being held on the same day as these referendums. This issue deserves to be debated on its own given its complexity and it is also the wish of the pro-life groups that this should be the case. I hope that referendum will take place during the lifetime of this Government as promised and I look forward to seeing the proposals from the Minister for Health and Children in this regard.

Four referendums on Europe have taken place in this country. There was the accession referendum, the referendum on the Single European Act, the Maastricht Treaty referendum and the one on the Amsterdam Treaty. On each occasion the percentage "yes" vote has decreased. This decrease must be reversed and it is the job of all of us to explain to the electorate why the development and integration of the European Union should be encouraged and supported. The Taoiseach after the Amsterdam Treaty vote was declared stated that any moves towards European integration would have to be clearly demonstrated in the future. He recognised the dangers in the decrease in the percentage of the "yes" vote. We should be conscious of that as we head towards this referendum.

The EU has been good for Ireland. On a macro level it has brought peace and stability to Europe. For that reason alone it deserves our wholehearted support. It has also brought unprecedented growth and development and will soon give us a market of more than 550 million people. The levels of employment, growth and prosperity which we now enjoy could not have been achieved if we remained in splendid isolation as promoted by some people at various times over the years. We have received substantial structural and cohesion funds which have transformed our infrastructure. Education and training programmes have been supported for many years by the European Union. Improvements in environment legislation, equal rights for men and women, increased consumer protection and social legislation would not have been achieved so quickly were it not for the pressure which membership of the EU placed on us.

The Joint Committee on European Affairs, of which I am a member, reviews EU legislation every month. We receive reports from consultants we have employed on all the directions, regulations and statutory instruments which are under consideration in Europe. None of these directives, regulations and statutory instruments would ever see the light of day were they left to Departments in the absence of the EU. We can see from that, the advances that have been made arising from our membership of the Union.

I reject outright the begging bowl mentality which some in this country subscribe to when it comes to the European Union. The EU is about far more than pounds and pence for Irish citizens. We have a great deal to contribute to Europe given our unique and distinctive voice. It would be a tragedy if Ireland decided to reject the Nice Treaty at the very time when structural and cohesion funds are being phased out. Such a rejection would send the wrong signals to our European partners. I have great confidence in our young people in regard to the forthcoming referendum. Young people tend to be more idealistic and ideological. They, more than any other group will see the benefits of increased European expansion and integration. I suggest to the Minister for the Environment and Local Government that their participation should be encouraged in every way possible and particularly in setting the polling date. The Nice Treaty is about institutional reform to bring about the admission of a large number of new member states from central and eastern Europe. We are morally bound to facilitate their accession now that many of them have obtained independence after years of bitter struggle. I cannot believe that Ireland would turn its back on these countries at this time of development as democratic states. That we would pull away the ladder now that we have reached the dizzy heights of economic prosperity is unimaginable. A rejection of the Nice Treaty by Ireland would be a diplomatic, political and economic nightmare from this point of view alone. Those advocating a "no" vote will have to justify why they are turning their backs on our fellow Europeans in central and eastern Europe.

The official reprimand by the European Commission and the Council of Finance Ministers in relation to our budgetary strategy was not helpful given the approaching referendum. Some might be tempted to vote "no" because of this development. As responsible leaders of society we must resist this temptation. The treaty makes provision for qualified majority voting in up to 30 additional areas. I congratulate the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance for their success in exempting taxation from this. This was a diplomatic triumph. Proposals in relation to the Commission, the Court of Justice, weighting of votes, rules on enhanced co-operation etc. will involve some pain. Nevertheless such compromises are necessary for the overall good. We should have an informed debate. We do not want spurious arguments or red herrings.

Irish neutrality is not under threat by this treaty and this must be explained clearly to the electorate. The Green Party members happily take their seats in the European Parliament and then systematically try to dismantle the whole European project or at least curtail its advancement. I wonder how long they can continue to hold this untenable position. I appeal to the referendum commission to be imaginative in its proposals to provide information on this treaty. There should not be any jargon just simple language and imaginative advertising, television, radio and press. I have no doubt that if it promotes that, the people will respond and the referendum will be passed.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Deenihan.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I am delighted to get this opportunity to speak on the future of the European Union and its potential membership, on how it will do its business and impact on the lives of many millions of people. These people are opposites in many respects but all of them respect human rights and the dignity of mankind, and want to live in democracies that are free from fear oppression and terror. The principles behind the Treaty of Rome are still relevant today. Steering a ship of 20 to 27 member states with very different cultures is a more demanding task than was guiding the future of the six countries which formed the basis of the European Union. The founding fathers had it right. The whole idea was to ensure that we had a peaceful Europe. It worked and there have been very calm waters for the participants for over 30 years. Achieving peace through prosperity is one of the fundamental benefits the EU bestows on its members. That is why there is a huge dawn of hope for the countries in eastern Europe who wish to join the EU, as well as huge responsibilities.

I remember canvassing with Macra na Feirme in 1971 and 1972 to ensure a yes vote. At that time it was easier to get people to vote, with a yes vote of 90%. We have challenged and overcome a huge inferiority complex. Our politicians, diplomatic corps and Civil Service have shown the world that we are second to nobody. I have seen them in action in Brussels, Strasbourg and every city in the Union through the years, and we have come light years from where we started.

Of course, I fully appreciate there will be huge changes in how we do our business. For whatever reason the current Commission, the Council of Ministers and the Parliament have not got their message across to citizens in the different member states. Every time we have a referendum the yes vote diminishes, and there is no reason to believe that will change this time. Anthony Coughlan is again leading the no brigade. He played a big role in 1971 and now he is at it again. He and his group only offer negative thinking. I have some serious problems with the concept of the EU, but overall it is better to expand the Union in line with the values we understand to be correct so we can ensure proper democracies and judicial structures in applicant countries. Those groups opposed to the EU forget that not every country is allowed join the Union as there are very strict standards and guidelines laid down before accession can take place. We know about this as we were years trying to make the grade, as were the British. It is against that background that the countries aspiring to entry, such as the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Cyprus, Estonia and Hungary, face a huge challenge and responsibility. A sea change will be necessary in many of the countries and we are glad that because the prize is so great they are bringing that about. The cultures in these countries may be very different from ours in many ways, but we share a huge common ground. Many of these countries are better known to young people because of soccer, a phenomenon of the past five or ten years, and they have no problem in accepting and dealing with these countries.

Many people forget that after all the years of European membership the Italians are more Italian today than they were 30 years ago and that the Irish are more Irish then ever. All we have to look at is the strength of our Irish games and of the GAA, which has never been more popular. I heard a man saying on a public platform in Ballinasloe in 1971 that Irish dancing, music and hurling would be lost forever, but they have never been stronger. This diversity of culture is very important. Outside economics we have something to give to the EU and it certainly has much to give to us. Integration is possible while still maintaining an individuality, and people must be reassured about this.

There are issues I would not like to see resulting from integration. For example, I would not like a diktat from the EU that we introduce limited abortion here. This issue is important to each individual country. I agree with the comments of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government on taxation. I do not like the idea of small countries not having a Commissioner. I am aware of the weighting system and qualified majorities, but I have huge problems in this regard. At the end of the day there is a difference between large and small countries and there is no doubt that in various negotiations – I am most familiar with those in the area of agriculture – most of the time larger countries have a bigger say than smaller countries. That is why I genuinely believe it is important that all the small countries have a Commissioner. What will happen when we have a Union of 27 members is another story.

Another very important matter is the potential market of 500 million people, which suits an exporting nation such as Ireland. We have the best young salesmen and women to be found and the best techniques. We can see what has been done in the IT sector and in the arts, for example, where we are at the top of the pile.

I sincerely hope that we go about our business in the next couple of months in such a way that we convince enough people to vote. The issue is not people voting no, but apathy which will result in people not voting, which is the worst result. Therefore, I hope the referendum will be held on a day which is most suitable, including for young people, and that the campaign is sincere and informative so that many people will want to vote yes, which is the right thing to do.

I thank Deputy Connaughton for sharing his time. Membership of the EU has been good for Ireland, including from an economic, environmental, social justice, agricultural and educational perspective. In education for example, which is one of the driving forces behind our economy, most of the funding for the institutes of technology, both in terms of student fees and development, comes from Europe. This also applies to universities, with most research in recent years being driven by Europe.

We cannot under estimate what European investment has meant to this country. Neither should we forget the importance of American investment in recent years. We seem to have given the message to Brussels that now we are secure and up to the pace of the rest of Europe. This is not the case. I come from a rural constituency on the periphery of Ireland and I know there are growth infrastructural deficits in many parts of this country. However, the perception in Europe is that we are a first world country with a first world economy. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have an antiquated railway system. People are horrified when they travel on the trains that are provided. The British-Irish Parliamentary Body met recently in Killarney. The MPs who travelled from Dublin by train were horrified at the condition of the railway service between Dublin and Killarney. They travelled to a beautiful modern hotel in Killarney on a train with antiquated carriages which were 30 years out of date. We have lost the run of ourselves. We have been a bit over-boastful of our current riches. We are ostentatious in our wealth and the impression both in Europe and in America is that we are now well-off and we do not need any more hand-outs. We are not totally self-sufficient.

I agree with Deputy Connaughton that we have become much more confident as a nation since we joined Europe. It took the Europeans to recognise our unique culture and music. Europeans of all nationalities appreciate our music and they come in great numbers to the annual Fleadh Ceoil. Enlargement will bring us into contact with other nations such as Poland and the Czech Republic, who also have a great love of music. There will be a great mix of cultures in a new enlarged Europe. This point should be emphasised to those who are against enlargement and who regard themselves as the custodians of Irish culture. I am thinking of the likes of Sinn Féin. I do not see how Sinn Féin can justify its opposition to enlargement. Our role in culture and the arts can only be enhanced in the future through enlargement.

Europeans have made us aware of how valuable and precious is our environment. The Minister for the Environment and Local Government spoke about the American President's attitude to global warming. He should remember that we have failed to put in place a number of very important EU directives on environment protection. We now find ourselves in the European Court as a result. Ireland was summoned to the European Court to answer a case on the Habitats Directive. We do not have a good record on the care of our environment. We have to take more action on emissions and protection of areas of special significance. It is good that because of European membership we now have designated natural heritage areas. If we were not in Europe I doubt if this protection would have been afforded to our environment.

Euro scepticism has emanated not only from the usual quarters, but statements were made by the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands while in America. That is always a good place to talk about green issues. The late Brian Lenihan went to the United States in an effort to kill the Anglo-Irish Agreement. There are great audiences in America for anything that seems to be green.

The Minister Deputy de Valera's speech was widely reported in Europe. She is a very prominent Minister with a very prominent name and her statement was noted in Europe. We then had the whole débacle of the Minister for Finance's disagreement with the European Commission. He could have explained the position to his European counterparts but his manner displayed arrogance. It gave the impression that the Irish were rich now and did not need the European Union any more. However, we might need European help again. The American economy could shrink and our economy has been driven by American and European investment. If the Americans decided to consolidate their operations back home, then we could be going to Europe for help.

The outcome of the referendum should not be taken for granted. The traditional opponents of greater integration are far better organised than the last time. They have joined forces and will have a stronger campaign for a "no" vote than before. There will be support for that view in some sections of the media. There are statistics to show popular support for the EU in the past decade. Support for the European Union has fallen from 82% in the 1991 referendum, to 69.5% in the Single European Act referendum, to 68.7% in the Maastricht referendum, down to 60.4% in the Amsterdam Treaty referendum. The turn-out of voters has fallen from 70.9% in 1991, to 56.2% in 1998. I remind the Government that all of us who support the Nice Treaty must go out and campaign for a "yes" vote. We do not need ambiguous statements from Government Ministers which confuse people. The statements issued by Deputy de Valera and others will be thrown back at us when we are canvassing. We must make a clear commitment and statement to the people who have been good to us that we totally support enlargement. There are great opportunities for Ireland in an enlarged Europe.

I welcome the opportunity to debate the issues which face us as a country, both in Europe as it is presently constituted, and in an enlarged Europe.

In this debate on the Nice Treaty we should remember that all politics is local. While the House debates the issues and while the language in the documents we read is all very European, as political leaders we will have to debate this issue with the public. We must give the public a clear understanding of what is happening in Europe, and how Nice will affect Ireland and it's position in Europe. In spite of most political leaders in Ireland being pro-Nice, we must do more to use this debate to increase public support for Europe.

Referenda over the past 28 years have seen fewer people supporting a pro-European position on each successive occasion. It is vital that we relate this debate to the electorate in a way that they understand, and point out initiatives taken by Europe that have helped this country, and helped us to play our part in the global markets in which Ireland is now involved.

Looking back on the campaign to join the EEC, and then moving to the European Community and from there to the European Union, we see each time a very different Ireland. I recall Ireland during the debate on accession to the EEC. While enjoying the fruits of EU membership in recent years it is easy to forget that we came from a very low base.

I am glad the various documents associated with Nice, and the synopsis of the White Paper, will be delivered to every home. I hope that a clear picture will be given of the tangible effects of EU membership on the lives of Irish people. We should ensure that the website dealing with the treaty is updated, considering the technological advances and the increasing use of the internet, particularly among schools and community associations. The most recent information regarding Nice should be available on the internet.

Explaining enlargement to the public is a challenge to the political parties. People will always relate to the benefits received in the past from Europe or what we will receive. This is not necessarily a begging bowl mentality. People always look at the positive side. We need to explain the positive side of enlargement with the electorate. We also need to discuss the negatives of enlargement which exist and have serious implications for Ireland.

I return to what Deputy Deenihan said about various Ministers comments on the development of Europe. I am pro-European. I support the Nice Treaty and I speak in favour of this Bill. However, I uphold the right to challenge any policies debated within the EU, because they will affect this and the next generation. I have an input to make and any politician should not be afraid of making a statement on European affairs. There is the politics of keeping everyone on side. There is also the politics of debate which will move Europe forward in a fashion desired by the Irish people.

On the economic side, we can point to road infrastructure and services which have benefited enormously – to the tune of 2% of GNP in the 1990s. About us we can see the economic success achieved. Europe has contributed in a positive and tangible way to the lives of Irish people. In education and training enormous progress has been made. The various programmes bring on board people who have often been excluded in terms of social justice. There are new opportunities and this is due to the funding made available by Europe.

We have also seen advances in the environment. That is an area which not only brings improvements throughout the economy but brings huge challenges. The current issue of waste management and the fact that Ireland is not in line with current EU directives is an example. That is another area where the public need to understand the current debate.

The EU to some people is a matter for politicians and not for the public. They should understand that the public is Europe. The challenges of waste management and EU directives should be explained to the public in a clearer way. It should be explained how they can take cases against their local authority or the Government regarding the satisfaction of EU directives. We should ensure that the justice system is made easy to follow in terms of that interaction with the public. There should not be justice by exclusion. Justice should not be so expensive that local communities feel isolated and deprived of access on EU matters. We need the full participation of the people so that they understand their rights within Europe and are not miles away from the centre of events, or excluded from the courts of justice and other EU mechanisms. With such assistance they will begin to participate and perhaps learn to challenge particular directives.

I see no wrong in the situation in which the Minister for Finance found himself recently regarding the European Commission. We must stand on our own. Ireland has it's own identity, integrity and culture. Diverse cultures make up Europe and this makes it different and politically challenging. We have the right to defend our country and to defend our economic policy while at the same time allowing the space to debate, and participate fully in European affairs. There is nothing wrong with that. The day that debate is not possible is the day Europe has failed us. There is room for that debate and it is nonsense to suggest otherwise.

In the 28 years from 1973, £22 billion in agricultural supports and £2 billion in agri-structural funds was received by Ireland. We have to look at that funding beside the advances in agriculture.

There is an onus on the Government and the people to develop the agriculture sector in Ireland and Europe in a way which ensures Irish agriculture is green and produces a quality product. That is not the case currently.

We speak about the huge European market of 500 million people. Nevertheless, if one visits a French or Spanish supermarket, one finds it difficult to find an Irish product well labelled on the meat counter. In French supermarkets one finds an abundance of French products aggressively marketed. We have not achieved the same degree of market penetration. We must identify Ireland as the source of a quality product of a standard next to none in Europe and market that product in the European and global market. It is up to the Government, using the billions of pounds we have received from Europe, to ensure this, but it is not being done. Within Europe we have not achieved a level of market penetration where we can say that the Irish product is accepted by consumers and we are happy with its position in the market.

I question the direction we are taking with regard to agriculture, product marketing and looking after rural Ireland. Through the Leader programme we have played our part in developing rural Ireland. European money has been given to projects in rural Ireland which would not have been possible without EU fund ing. The positive results of this spending can be seen throughout the country. I want to see that spending continue within the framework of protecting rural Ireland and our farming methods rather than adopting methods of intensification to the point where our product is the same as that of every other country. We must have something which makes us different from the rest. We should spend money on creating a quality niche market. It is up to us and the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development to access this market.

I am concerned that young farmers are not encouraged to follow their parents into agriculture. I see a huge drop in the number of young farmers, something which should concern us. The foot and mouth crisis has shown that where agriculture is affected, the whole economy is affected in turn. We must continue to monitor the problem.

We have created a positive profile within Europe of the Irish entrepreneur who is willing to take a risk and become involved in the development of information technology in the global market. People are confident of our product in that area. We have become serious exporters of software and related products. In an enlarged Europe, technology is one of the areas which will be targeted because of the availability of cheap labour. Technology products can be produced more cheaply elsewhere and because we are an island off the coast of Europe, other countries will be able to access the European market more cheaply. Technology was the first industry to suffer in the current slowing down of the United States economy. This should be a matter of concern for the Irish economy. The development of the IT industry has been very intense in the past five years with investment from both America and Europe. Successive wage agreements are affecting our costs and we can expect to see more competition from an enlarged Europe. While we can currently access 370 million people, when European enlargement is completed the European market will consist of 550 million people.

As we become more involved in an enlarged Europe the power of the Oireachtas will decline. More and more activity in Ireland will be dictated by European finance. The effect will be seen throughout the chain of our democratic structure. Local government will also be affected. Most local funding is dictated by Europe, bypasses this House and is almost spent before it gets to local authority level. The region has acquired a new importance. Local democracy should be given greater importance. The spending of European money should be built from the bottom up. It should not be dictated at European level through the Oireachtas to local authorities. There is a role to be played at community level. The value of our democracy is based on the full participation of local communities and local authorities throughout the country using the powers they have enjoyed for the past 100 years. As far as possible, we should insist that European funding for Ireland comes through the Oireachtas to local authorities and that Members of the Oireachtas and members of local authorities are made responsible for the spending of that money and understand how it is being spent in their local areas. This would achieve a direct connection between the people who are being asked to vote for the Nice Treaty and the centre of European power. This is essential to our democracy.

Ireland has shown how a small country can make an enormous contribution to Europe. It has been acknowledged that Irish representatives in Europe, from every political party, have made an important contribution to the development of Europe. They do not merely represent Irish interests. They understand the European dimension of the work of the European Parliament. As long as we continue to make this contribution, we can maintain our role within an enlarged Europe.

As well as the benefits of European membership, there are huge challenges. We must acknowledge these challenges and be prepared for them.

Debate adjourned.