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 welcome the referendum on the Nice Treaty and strongly urge the Irish people to vote yes. Unlike decisions on previous European referenda, to recommend a yes vote was not necessarily the immediate obvious position to take. The outcome of the negotiations which culminated at Nice was in some ways less than ideal. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs made a number of serious concessions. They conceded our automatic right to always have a person sitting at the Commission table in Brussels. They conceded a reduction in the number of Irish members of the European Parliament and a reduction in our voting strength in the Council of Ministers. These concessions may not have been inevitable. They were made in part at least because of Fianna Fáil's weakness in any intergovernmental European negotiations.

The failure of Fianna Fáil to join in or create any serious alliance with other European political parties since we joined the Community nearly 30 years ago is regrettable. This failure is all the more remarkable given the successful terms and conditions of membership negotiated by the then Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, and the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Paddy Hillery. We are paying a high price for Fianna Fáil's subsequent failure to embrace fully our European Union membership.

Having said that, however, I repeat what I said at the outset. Fine Gael is in favour of the expansion of European Union membership and we accept the need for the consequential institutional reform contained in the Treaty of Nice. The balance of advantage for Ireland is significantly in favour of continued wholehearted membership of an expanded European Union, which will increase the size of the market from 370 million to 550 million people.

As an export oriented country, this will be an important boost to our economy. As a prime location for US and other non-EU investment, our attraction for foreign investment is likely to be enhanced when we are part of a Union of 27 countries rather than 15. I am somewhat concerned that the absence of a serious debate and the paucity until recently of publicly available information about the Treaty of Nice may place in jeopardy a successful referendum outcome.

The content of the Treaty was agreed at Nice last December. The White Paper was launched at the end of March. The debate in this House was initiated earlier this month and the date proposed for the referendum is 7 June, although the Taoiseach has not yet fully confirmed that. I am not clear why the Government has felt it necessary to compress the developments into such a short timeframe. Having committed Fine Gael to support the referendum, I will join wholeheartedly in any public awareness campaign the Government might launch to ensure a successful outcome to the forthcoming referendum.

In the time remaining between now and the referendum, I hope the Government will be active in seeking public support for the changes required by the Treaty of Nice. To facilitate the achievement of what I believe is an important national objective, Fine Gael is prepared to lend its support to any campaign, whether initiated by the Government or any of the parties opposite. It is in the national interest that the changes contemplated by the Treaty of Nice should be endorsed and on an occasion such as this, a major effort should be mounted to ensure the national interest is best served. My colleagues and I in Fine Gael are available and willing to join in such national campaigns. I hope the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste will find it possible to respond positively to my offer today.

Ireland has shown in the recent past that we can punch above our weight and more than hold our own in the conduct of our international affairs. Our track record in our membership of international organisations such as the United Nations and the European Union is one of which we can be justly proud. Liam Cosgrave led us into the United Nations in 1955. He and Garret FitzGerald successfully conducted Ireland's first every Presidency of the then European Economic Community. My predecessor as leader of Fine Gael, Deputy Bruton, successfully led the most recent Irish Presidency of the European Union. An enthusiastic commitment to the European Union combined with hard work will hopefully compensate for the formal diminution of our influence to which I referred at the commencement of my speech.

What I am saying to the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste today is that Fine Gael will support all reasonable efforts by the Government to maximise the benefits of EU membership. Through our membership of the EPPED in the European Parliament, Fine Gael has already indicated its support for the Treaty of Nice. We are happy to join with the other supporters of the treaty to bring the benefits to public attention and to ask the Irish people to continue in their support of the development of the institutions of the European Union by voting "Yes" in the June referendum.

I support the Nice Treaty and, in doing so, recognise we have come a long way since 1 January 1972, the day we joined the then European Economic Community, now the European Union. In a relatively short period Europeans have become more united and cohesive. That is recognisable no matter which country one visits in the European Union.

Europe was at war not too long ago. Unbelievable atrocities were delivered on Europeans by Europeans. That was the culmination of millennia upon millennia of wars in Europe. I do not think we could imagine members states declaring war on each other today. Europe is moving and expanding rapidly, much to the benefit of all those involved in the EU, particularly ourselves.

It is also worth recognising there is a large queue waiting to join and become part of this great and unified Europe. We must ask ourselves why that is the case. Ireland has become the shining star of the European Union. It has benefited most and I dare say has contributed most over the years, even prior to our joining the EEC.

The cynics might say that other countries wish to join just to get their hands on large amounts of loot from richer member states, among which Ireland is now included. Could we ever have dreamed some years ago that Ireland would have the highest growth rate within the Union, one of the lowest rates of unemployment, net migration to the State and increasing birth rates and all of that while we are well into progressing our £40 billion national development plan, which we are largely financing. That point is worth underlining, although we are doing so on the basis of the support we got since we joined the EEC.

It is not a cliché to suggest we are now the envy and pride of Europe. We are presented as a shining example of how effective joining and, more importantly, participating fully in the European Union has become.

As a nation, we have shown that richer states funding poorer states can bring about economic prosperity and those states can, in turn, fund poorer states and provide them with expertise. We have shown by example how they can grow and prosper. That is what the Nice Treaty is about. It is about the wealthier stronger states in the EU helping those less fortunate to become fully fledged and full participants in economic recovery throughout the European structure.

It is also worth recognising it has not all been plain sailing over those years. Joining the EU has brought undoubted benefits to our country, but it has also brought some difficulties and some of our greatest difficulties have been the introduction of new taxes, such as VAT, and the introduction of unbelievable regulations ranging from the standardisation of excise duties to awarding blue flags for clean beaches. While Europe gave, it also expected much in return. It expects high standards and uniformity. In every area of public endeavour, at Dáil Éireann level, local authority level or parish meetings, the issue of those standards have created some difficulty. Nevertheless, the EU sought to bring about major changes in governance and government.

Agriculture has been a major beneficiary by way of EU subsidies, but farmers have also been losers. Farming, as we all so readily accept, has sadly not been viable for small holders. Thousands of farmers leave the land each year. We have all expressed a fear that the current foot and mouth crisis might give rise to even more farmers leaving the land. While we recognise that the level of investment here over the years has been major and beneficial, there has been a downturn, particularly in the agricultural sector.

Joining the common market also meant we had to share our vast fishing resources with a host of other states, some of whom would appear to have been intent, at times, on plundering our fish stocks. We have come to recognise the need for strong negotiation in this regard. I am pleased the fishermen now recognise that the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Fahey, is a negotiator who will ensure the survival and expansion of the fishing industry. I note that some fishermen in County Galway whom he met last week, were pleased that this Minister has a good grasp of the issues. I wish him well in his present brief.

While there have been many problems along the route to European union, we can confidently say that Ireland has benefited from membership. More importantly, Europe has also benefited from Irish membership and this is an aspect which we should emphasise. The scenario which will continue and improve for many years to come. Poland and other incoming states can also learn from Ireland's experience of using structural and cohesion funds, not as a form of begging or being under a compliment to the giver, although it has sometimes been portrayed as such, but rather as a basis of economic development. The structural and cohesion funds will go towards ensuring that incoming states, many of whom have suffered from a lack of human rights and economic under development under communist rule, can grow, prosper and thereby underpin democratic rule.

Poland, like Ireland, knows the problem of occupation and the difficulty of gaining and maintaining independence. The rise of Solidarity in the 1980s was the beginning for that country in finding its way forward. Apart from the stifling and oppressive influence of Russian rule, human and cultural rights were suppressed and democracy was denied under communism. Today, Poland is emerging as a potentially major contributor to an enhanced European Union. Just over a decade ago, Poland saw the EU edge closer, when Germany was re-united. Within a few years, Poland will find itself on the frontier of the new European Union. Already, Irish companies are playing a major role in the expansion of the Polish economy. It is now a major profit centre for AIB and I understand it is also an important part of the growth plans of CRH. Many smaller Irish companies are making their way to Poland.

An acquaintance from Poland who has lived in Ireland for the past 20 years, commented that his country is now ready for the challenge of EU membership and looks to Ireland's experience as an example. Preparation for membership has been good and the Polish people look forward to it as a continuing guarantee of democracy, underpinned by industrial investment and infrastructural support. That is an aspect of the Nice Treaty which should be recognised.

The root of Ireland's economic success can be attributed, to a large extent, to our education and training systems. Instead of our "young Europeans" leaving the country, our best and brightest are now returning to invest finance, energy and vitality into our economy and society. A few years ago, FÁS schemes had a high level of participation by graduates who were desperate to find an outlet for their knowledge and skills. Now, FÁS projects are being cut back for a number of reasons. Classroom assistants are now being employed directly by the Department of Education and Science. Local authorities are more involved in village and urban renewal and the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands funds the Arts Council to enable regional arts centres to operate.

European funding made FÁS schemes possible, giving thousands of participants invaluable experience and training, which is now being employed in the mainstream economy. Many fine local and national initiatives received a boost from FÁS European funding and that body is now running recruitment fairs overseas, to meet the varied job demands in Ireland. This provides a model of good practice for countries like Poland and Hungary, who have huge levels of unemployment and social needs, which can help them on the way to becoming good Europeans. Among the thriving and prospering economies, Ireland will be at the forefront in providing the necessary expertise. That, in itself, is a welcome change in our position compared to some years ago.

We now have a common market and a common currency. As we live in "euroland," the very jingle of coins in our pockets will have a similar echo throughout the EU and travel within that area will no longer require a change of currency. Despite its shaky start, the euro will bring stability to the economies of the member states. Its success can be gauged from the fact that, although Britain huffs and puffs about joining, it is clearly a matter of "when" rather than "if" it will join.

Many people ask why we need yet another EU-related referendum. When we voted in favour of the Treaty of Amsterdam, one of its key provisions was the retention of the important safeguard of parliamentary scrutiny. People sought assurances and safeguards and this is precisely what they are now getting, through this debate and the forthcoming referendum, which I hope they will support.

The Treaty of Nice also addresses issues which were left unresolved by the Amsterdam Treaty, including the size and composition of the Commission, the extension of qualified majority voting and changes in the other EU institutions necessitated by enlargement. It is noteworthy that Denmark, a country not given to acquiescing too readily to the wishes of the wider EU, is not putting the Nice Treaty to a referendum, as it does not involve any transfer of competence from member states to the Union.

A decision in principle has been made to enlarge the EU. This treaty will ensure that accession will be determined by the ability of the candidate countries to demonstrate that they are in a position to assume the obligations of membership.

Irish business has currently access to a market of 330 million people. Not too long ago, many of these European countries were at war with each other and now they are in a position to mutually support each other's development. The EU has brought peace and stability to Europe. Expansion will further underpin this peace and stability.

There is a small pocket of opposition to this treaty here. If this referendum is not passed then the real losers will be the countries who wish to join the EU and to follow Ireland's successful membership. Voting for this treaty is voting to make a reality of the hopes and aspirations of the Poles, Hungarians, and Czechs among others in the same way that we had aspirations in 1972.

Our Government has negotiated important safeguards to protect Irish interests. One such issue is taxation. Our favourable tax rates played a major role in transforming our economy into the dynamic force it is today. Some people are concerned about supporting the Nice Treaty because of the issue of retaining an Irish member of the EU Commission. Large member states will have a 50% reduction in the number of commissioners. We will continue to maintain our Commissioner until membership of the EU reaches 27, the point at which Commissioners will rotate. Membership will rotate regardless of the size of the country and that should be noted. We must have confidence as a nation that we can protect our interests even if we do not have a Commissioner at the table.

Peace and security is something we must value. We must recognise the importance of stability and peace by supporting each other as nations. The EU will continue to play a major role in this area in Europe. Ireland has, for many years, played a major role in UN peacekeeping and now with a seat on the Security Council we will play our part in contributing towards world peace rather than just European peace. We will be asked to contribute to EU peace missions but we will only participate if these operations are authorised by the United Nations and approved by the Dáil. Let us hope that our position on the Security Council will ensure that rapid and effective responses are made to situations such as those in Rwanda and Bosnia and that EU peace missions do not involve European troops watching as those they are supposed to protect are slaughtered. Ireland's role in peacekeeping is a noble and vital one and cannot be overstated. In an enlarged EU we will maintain and expand our role while new and existing members will learn from our vast experience.

Our infrastructure and prosperity has benefited enormously from EU membership. Individual citizens have access to our own and European courts. Human rights have been upheld and legislated for as a result of European court decisions. Consumers have had their rights upheld across the EU. Our education and training programmes have been enhanced by European learning and funding and this is a tremendous benefit. The fact that education and training programmes have been brought to every town and village has benefited our people.

The Treaty of Nice, some might say, is about payback time. As a nation we can go forward into a bigger union where we can ensure other nations prosper as we have. The EU is about rising tides lifting all boats. Never has a phrase been put to better use in this regard. I commend this Bill and hope people will vote for progress and prosperity throughout Europe. On 7 June we should recognise the huge changes that have occurred across Europe. The diversity of the people of the EU, the huge changes in living standards and the aspirations of democratic processes throughout the EU becoming a reality should urge us to support the treaty. The diversity of Europe is its strength and the enlargement to the east will increase that diversity.

Behind the question which will appear on the ballot paper in the Nice referendum is another question which the electorate of this State has never been asked explicitly by any Government and which is not asked in this Bill, but it is the real question. The Taoiseach did not address it when I put it to him here on 7 March. The question is the one put by the president of the EU Commission, Romano Prodi, to the EU parliament on 13 February. Mr. Prodi asked "Are we all clear that we want to build something that can aspire to be a world power, in other words, not just a trading block but a political entity"? My answer and that of Sinn Féin is no and that is why we are calling on people to vote no in the referendum.

We favour and actively promote fraternity and co-operation between nations across Europe. We oppose the creation of a new super power, an EU super state with its own army dominated by the largest countries. Rival regimes aspiring to be world powers have caused untold misery, including two world wars, countless smaller wars and the ongoing economic exploitation of the poorer nations of the world and the majority of the human race. Has the lesson not been learned or do we wish to repeat the exercise on an even larger scale in this century?

Since the Single European Act in 1987 the clear direction of EU development has been towards the creation of a giant state. The development has been too slow for some of the more gung-ho Euro-federalists but it has been inexorable. More and more democratic control has been taken away from us in relation to both domestic and international affairs. The EU Commission and the EU Council of Ministers have become more powerful. The Nice Treaty increases that power and removes yet more democratic control from the hands of elected representatives in this Dáil.

Chancellor Schröder of Germany has let another cat out of the bag with his proposal revealed this week to turn the EU Commission into a fully fledged central EU government with the Parliament and the Council of Ministers becoming a bi-cameral legislature having full budgetary and legislative powers. The Chancellor clearly believes that Nice is in the bag and already he and his colleagues are preparing for the next step. I hope the electorate, on whatever date the referendum is set, will give him second thoughts.

The end of 2002 has been set as the target date for the ratification of the Nice Treaty by member states, yet the Government is rushing headlong into a referendum on 7 June. There is no necessity to hold this referendum before the autumn of this year at the earliest. It is disgraceful that the referendum is being railroaded in this way including the guillotining of the debate here today. Why is this being done? This is the only EU Government so far which has had to put the Treaty of Nice to its electorate. This Government wants to deliver for its partner Governments as quickly and decisively as possible. It holds itself up as the model Government in the model economy to which all candidates for EU membership aspire. Our Government hopes that getting this treaty passed quickly will show the others what good boys and girls we are. What the aspiring members do not see is the dark side of our economy and our two tier greed driven society.

This Government's approach to the referendum shows contempt for the electorate, the same contempt shown when Fianna Fáil's pre-election promise of a referendum on joining NATO's so-called partnership was binned by An Taoiseach. With Fine Gael and the Progressive Democrats they trooped through the lobbies to join the NATO club. People were outraged at that U-turn and the Government was damaged far more than it cares to admit. It may well have taken the people for granted once too often.

The Nice Treaty is being presented by its supporters as the treaty of enlargement. It is no such thing. In reality, this treaty is about changing very significantly the structure of the existing 15 member European Union. By introducing qualified majority voting in a whole range of new areas, 30 in all, it moves away from the right of veto of individual states and away from the requirement for unanimity based on consensus. The automatic right of each state to nominate a commissioner is also going. Voting weight on the Council of Ministers will favour the larger states and our strength will be decreased. These changes will come into effect from 1 January 2005 regardless of whether there are any new EU members then.

In the treaty, enhanced co-operation is the euphemism for the development of first and second class membership. A core group of states can advance ahead of the rest, using the EU institutions to further their perceived common interests, including a common foreign and security policy.

This is a fundamental shift from the idea of the EU as a partnership of equals with no state having less power or influence because of its size, and all proceeding together on the basis of agreement. This fundamental shift prompted Deputy Quinn in the Dáil, on 13 September 2000, to describe Nice as "a disaster" and "an appalling set back." He said that "not only will Ireland's interests be damaged but those of every small state because the concession made by the Taoiseach and others, which he could have blocked, means that he has irreparably damaged the role and function of the Commission. Therefore, he has damaged the interest of every other country in the European Union, big and small."

Yet in his speech here, on 3 April, Deputy Quinn supported the treaty and castigated those, including Anthony Coughlan, who properly highlighted the Labour Party leader's previous remarks. He accused Anthony Coughlan of trying to portray him as anti-European. What embarrasses Deputy Quinn is that his own remarks show that he is not anti-European but was anti-Nice, at least until the 13 September. He has now changed position.

Deputy Quinn's colleague, Deputy De Rossa signed up with 51 of his fellow Social Democrats in the European Parliament to a statement which says that the Nice Treaty did not go far enough and calls for the EU to take up "an aggressive global stance with economic and monetary power being buttressed by equally powerful diplomacy and a world-wide position supported by a military capacity." Is that compatible with Labour Party policy?

Almost 39% of the electorate voted against the Amsterdam Treaty. Such a large percentage was drawn from the support bases of all parties. What representation are those people being given here today? Limited as it is, I am proud to give it nonetheless, along with a few colleagues in this House. The front benches of Government, Labour and Fine Gael together show a united front supporting the Nice Treaty and the back benches, as usual, echo with bleating assent, or the sound of silence. On a lighter note, I advise the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, and the Fine Gael and Labour agriculture spokespersons, to ensure that their colleagues, particularly those from rural constituencies, remain in Dublin for the next month as the movement of so many sheep around the country poses a real danger.

I hope there will be no more cross-Border smuggling.

As I said, on a lighter note. The Government's U-turn on NATO's Partnership for Peace was followed by its commitment of troops to the rapid reaction force, the core of an EU army. We have to thank President Prodi for his candour in saying that if we do not want to call it a European army, we do not have to. We can call it Margaret or Mary Ann, but it is the first such joint European effort, as distinct from bi-lateral effort.

The Nice Treaty further develops the common foreign, security and defence policies of the EU. It erodes Irish neutrality and independent foreign policy. Support for the EU armaments industry is explicitly written into it. Already, as a result of involvement in the rapid reaction force and the PfP, the State's defence spending has increased significantly. The parties of the so-called Opposition think they smell blood in pursuit of the Government on the proposed national sports stadium, an issue currently before the House, but there is not a murmur from them about increased State spending on weapons to keep up with the boys in NATO. Whatever one thinks about the "Bertie Bowl," at least it is reasonable to acknowledge that it is a venue for healthy pursuits.

There was very little reference to the effects of EU development on partition. In the 1960s, Seán Lemass promised that EU membership would make it irrelevant. His successors turned their backs on the Six Counties, and EU membership under their stewardship in the 1970s and 1980s, was manipulated to benefit the better off, particularly the rancher-farmer class. The creation of a single currency led to the ludicrous situation where we have increasing all Ireland co-operation on many levels, under the Good Friday Agreement, but a fiscally more divided island. The Nice Treaty provisions for a two class EU create the potential for a further division between the two sides of the Border. Will we find one side in the first rank of states and the other in the second? Guess where we will be? The Treaty of Nice creates that very prospect. What say do people in the Six Counties have in this process? They are under the jurisdiction of a state which does not have a constitution and where the people were not consulted on any of the major developments of the EU, which people in the Twenty-six Counties voted on often over the past 14 years.

The German Foreign Minister, Joshka Fischer, in Dublin on Monday, used a scare tactic to influence the outcome of our referendum. He stated that a "no" to Nice would mean "no" to enlargement. This is patently false as the proposed changes will happen regardless of whether any new state joins. The Treaty of Nice is not about enlargement but about further centralising the EU, placing more power in the hands of the larger states to allow them to create a two tier EU. A rejection of it by the electorate here would be welcomed by people throughout the EU and, despite contrary claims, by peoples in applicant states. By rejecting the Nice Treaty, we can help secure a better deal for applicant countries. I emphasise again that this is not about EU enlargement. We who oppose the treaty are not opposed to new states joining the EU. That is a decision for the people of those states and the 15 member states.

The Treaty of Nice should not be incorporated in the Constitution and I urge its outright rejection by the electorate, a position I am happy to adopt with my colleagues from the Green Party, the Socialist Party and the independents, Deputies Gregory and Healy. There are many campaigning groups and concerned citizens of all opinion who join in that call and urge the electorate to reject the Nice Treaty.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Wade. Deputy Ó Caoláin referred to the farming community. If we had a plebiscite among the different sectors of society, the farming community would be overwhelmingly in favour of the EU and the benefits it has brought the country. I do not represent too many rancher-farmers, but the small sized farmers. They always supported the EU and our participation in it. One of my predecessors, the late Paddy Smith, a contemporary of the Ceann Comhairle's, recalled the difficulties he had, as Minister for Agriculture, in getting a market for Irish products. The only market available to us at that time was the British market, and the British decided the prices. We had very little leverage because we had no other markets. That has changed since we joined the European Community, now the European Union, in 1973. Agriculture has seen huge changes and great improvement in incomes for the vast majority of farmers.

The purpose of this Bill is to seek the agreement of the people to the constitutional changes necessary to allow the State to ratify the Treaty of Nice which was signed by the Foreign Ministers at the end of February last. A number of Ministers have outlined clearly that 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, and the introduction, on a limited basis, of enhanced co-operation in the area of the Common Foreign and Security Policy.

In that regard, the treaty includes some limited and necessary updating of provisions for putting into effect the decisions on humanitarian and crisis management tasks agreed in Amsterdam. There is no departure from the firm commitment which is in line with this 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. Efforts to suggest otherwise are completely misleading. I would not support any Bill or legislation that would affect our neutrality.

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 may arise. Important steps have been taken in developing European Union capacity to undertake crisis management.

Many speakers on both sides of the House have stated clearly that the issues at stake are of historic importance. The divisions on the Continent of Europe over the past century led, on two occasions in particular, to global conflict which brought widespread slaughter and mass suffering of unimaginable proportions. Subsequently there was ideological confrontation and a mass denial of human rights and fundamental freedoms for close to half of the people of Europe. Against this background we must view the success of the European Union in reconciling former enemies and, over the past four decades in particular, in presiding over a basis for co-operation among a growing number of western European countries. That has been a phenomenal achievement. The enlargement of the Union will contribute substantially to that task.

The previous speaker mentioned the difficulties we have had on this island, in particular political problems in the province of Ulster. In this context I pay tribute to the European Union which has been very supportive of the peace process and has given support to different Governments here, particularly since the early 1990s. After the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1996, the European Union contributed in financial terms to the International Fund for Ireland. Following the cease-fires at the end of August 1994, the European Union, at the request of the then Taoiseach, Deputy Albert Reynolds, and the British Prime Minister, established the Programme for Peace and Reconciliation. That programme has been very worthwhile, and a new programme, Peace II, is to follow. It put £106 million into the economy of the six southern Border counties since the end of 1994. The economy of the six northern counties received support worth over £450 million from the same programme. A further £80 million will have been spent in the six years ending at the end of this year on supported cross-Border co-operative initiatives. As a Deputy representing two Border counties, I record my appreciation of the work of different Commissioners in the European Union and their senior officials in identifying the need to support projects which would help to consolidate the peace dividend.

I mentioned earlier the advantages that have accrued to this country and, in particular, to the farming community arising from the decision to join the European Economic Community, which then had six members. Now we have a Union of 15 member states. There was overwhelming support for each of the referenda put to the people in this State, and for our further participation in the European Union. The Oireachtas and people voted strongly for the necessary legislative and constitutional changes to bring into effect different treaties since 1972. The people, through their support for those referenda, indicated clearly their satisfaction with the workings of the Community and, particularly, the economic progress that has been achieved as a result of our participation in the Community. We now belong to a powerful trading bloc, a single market of 375 million people and also a single currency.

This is a very important treaty. It is another stage in the development process of the European Union. It prepares the Union for further enlargement and the inclusion of ten applicant countries. The accession of the 12 central, east European and Mediterranean countries will add over 100 million people to the European Union's population and increase its land area by one-third. Obviously, there are major challenges and opportunities. The enlarged Union will continue to work in the interests of all its citizens. One only has to travel in rural Ireland to see the large-scale improvements that have occurred since our membership of the Union in the early 1970s. There have been economic, social and cultural benefits. Ireland has received very large-scale transfers of funds, particularly to the agricultural community and also, through Structural Funds, towards building up the necessary infrastructure – roads, water, sewerage – to create job opportunities throughout the country. We see today, through the implementation of very positive economic policies by this Government, a shift in economic development away from the east coast so that a balanced regional development can occur. Were it not for the investment in infrastructure over the past number of years in less developed areas, they would not now be attracting job opportunities for their people. Providing jobs for people in their own areas helps to keep people in rural communities.

The Treaty of Nice is about reforming the European Union, having a bigger European Union benefiting more Europeans. It is about a more prosperous European Union which will underpin democracy in the applicant states of eastern Europe. This treaty is about reform, prosperity and progress.

It sets about making the institutions of the EU work for the 27 member states of the EU of tomorrow at least as well as they do for the 15 member states of today. These institutions were designed in the 1950s for the six members of the EC. Plainly they need to be reformed. These reforms must provide safeguards for smaller countries like Ireland. The Treaty of Nice does this. In the European Commission, these reforms mean that Ireland will have one Commissioner like all other members after 2005 at which time the five large states will give up their right to a second Commissioner. Later when there are 27 states in the EU, there will be a rotation system where Ireland will be represented no differently from the larger states. In the European Parliament, it will be necessary to agree a reallocation of seats to accommodate the new member states without creating a chamber which is too large to operate effectively.

Under the reforms agreed at Nice, Ireland has been allocated 12 seats. This allocation ensures that the number of MEPs representing Ireland will be twice our entitlement on a population basis. In the Council of Ministers, these reforms ensure that Ireland continues to have ministerial representation at every meeting of the Council. We will continue to have a voting weight of more than twice our entitlement on a purely per population basis. In the Parliament, the Commission and the Council of Ministers, the Treaty of Nice ensures that Ireland retains a strong voice in a reformed European Union.

Back in the 1970s, Europe did not turn its back on us. When we first joined the EEC we were the poorest country in the Community. Today that is different. Our growth rate last year was more than three times the average of other EU member states. Not only have we managed to balance the books but we have a £4.6 billion surplus, the largest of any EU member state. Our unemployment rate is half the EU average. We enjoy the lowest degree of taxation in the euro zone. Our national debt is tiny by comparison with the EU average. This record proves it. For 30 years, Europe has worked for Ireland. Today the EU candidate states are looking to Ireland as a model for their own development in Europe. We should be proud of that. Just as Europe did not turn its back on us 30 years ago, we will not turn our backs on the applicant states today.

In voting yes for the Treaty of Nice, we are offering the same helping hand that was offered to us. There are some, however, who would spurn these applicant countries. There are anti-European parochial forces who would like to see us turn in on ourselves economically, socially and culturally. They will wheel out the same tired arguments against the Nice Treaty that they wheeled out many times before. In 1973, we voted to join the EEC. In 1986, we voted on the Single European Act. In 1992, we voted on the Treaty of Maastricht and in 1998 we voted on the Treaty of Amsterdam. The very same arguments are used time and time again. They painted a picture of Ireland forced into NATO, poverty and a loss of self-determination, but they were wrong.

In 1998, Patricia McKenna threatened that if the Amsterdam treaty were ratified, we might well be saying a last goodbye to neutrality. The national platform threatened then that a yes vote for the Maastricht Treaty would lead to the conscription of young Irishmen into a European army. Roger Garland went so far as to claim that the Treaty of Maastricht, if ratified, would lead to increased unemployment, poverty and immigration. On all counts, they have been proved wrong. They were wrong in 1973 and at every other referenda and they are wrong today.

In bringing the benefits of EU membership to 12 new states we will also benefit Irish business. We are in a superb position to take advantage of the business opportunities which enlargement will provide. At present, Irish business has access to a market of 370 million. When enlargement is completed, this will expand to about 550 million. Already our companies are exporting and investing heavily in these applicant countries. As the Minister for Foreign Affairs recently mentioned, our exports to the applicant states in central and eastern Europe rose by 3.3% to 7% in the five years to 1999. These states also provide Irish business with excellent investment opportunities, with our companies already investing over £1 billion. We have nothing to fear economically from the Treaty of Nice nor have we anything to fear in regard to our neutrality.

The Treaty of Nice includes some limited and necessary updating of provisions for putting into effect the decision on humanitarian and crisis management tasks agreed at Amsterdam and accepted by the people in 1998. There is no departure from that firm commitment and it is in line with this Government's policy on military neutrality that Ireland would participate only in operations authorised by the United Nations and subject to Dáil approval. The Treaty of Nice will not alter our military neutrality.

In addition, it does not take away our right to set our own taxes. Fianna Fáil in Government has championed the lowering of taxes for Irish workers and business.

What about the Progressive Democrats?

Nothing in the Treaty of Nice will alter our ability to continue this policy. For 40 years my party, Fianna Fáil, has backed a closer Europe where there is economic and social co-operation and where the cultural fields have replaced discord and conflict. Seán Lemass made our first application for membership in the 1960s and Jack Lynch presided over our entry into the EEC in 1973. We continue this long and proud tradition in calling for a referendum on the Treaty of Nice and for a clear yes vote in the referendum. Nice will not affect our military neutrality. It will not affect our ability to set our own taxes. It will reform the European Union and will bring the benefits of the European Union to millions more Europeans. It will aid prosperity in Ireland and throughout Europe. A vote for Nice will be a vote for reform, prosperity and progress.

I am glad to have this unexpected opportunity to speak on the Nice Treaty. I expected to be here but dealing with other business. This is an extremely important issue and like so many other important issues that we are putting to the people, I hope we can have a structured debate across the country.

One of the things that frustrates people is their so-called betters either in Brussels or in Dublin making decisions and expecting them to rubber-stamp them. We have a growing sophisticated population which will not tolerate that approach. It is extremely important for us to radically refine the process by which we prepare positions for the people and the mechanisms we use to engage with people in explaining the important journey this country is making with its brother and sister countries that make up the continent of Europe.

The Nice Treaty, the next step in the incremental development of the European Union, presents particular challenges to us as a people and as a nation. As the certainty of economic benefits, the clear cash transfers, diminish we are required as a people to reflect and to vote not merely on the basis of what is in it for us in direct money terms, but rather to begin in a much more generous way to look at the shape and governance of the European continent into the 21st century. Since Ireland joined the EEC in 1973, this country has changed beyond all recognition not just in terms of prosperity, but in every discernible way and not least in terms of our sense of confidence in ourselves. It is true, if at first sight an apparent contradiction, to say that as our sovereignty was pooled in the growing institutions of the European Union so too the greater our sense of Ireland and Irishness has become. That apparent paradox is important for us because the notion that we have somehow diminished our sense of Irishness or controls over our governance through participation in the great European project is argued constantly in these debates. We can play a significant role and have an impact on the European stage with confidence. In sporting parlance we can box above our weight.

The question now is what Ireland's view is of the future. How will we progress the European ideal? What kind of Europe do we want over the next 20 years? What role are we content to play in its development? The debate on previous treaties has largely focused on market and economic matters. This treaty gives us an opportunity to begin the debate on the type of institutional reforms within the Union which will enable it accept 34 or 35 new nations as members. Not all the necessary changes have been agreed. It is fair for people to attack the Treaty of Nice as in many ways it is an imperfect document. If we were to put our hands on our hearts none of us would be particularly delighted with the outcome of the Nice Council, but what is being offered are the reforms which can be achieved and it would be sterile to reject what is there and hold out for something better when there is nothing better on offer.

The simple principle before us is that of enlargement, and it is on this that we are required to make a central decision. For me and my party the approach to this issue is clear and direct. We should not, nor will we, deny the benefits of membership of the EU to the former communist states of central and eastern Europe. The Continent was artificially and structurally divided on the conclusion of the Second World War. While the political leadership of western Europe, shaped by the horrors of that war, set about the task of making conflict in Europe institutionally impossible, countries which came under Soviet influence were effectively separated from that great enterprise. The threat of war between the two power blocs after the conclusion of the Second World War created a fault line for 50 years through the middle of the continent. We all celebrated the end of that awful threat with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the subsequent liberation of countries and the democratisation process which spread rapidly though the countries of central and eastern Europe, constituting the rolling collapse of totalitarianism.

Our celebration of that collapse and our applause of the people who initiated it would be hollow indeed if we denied to those brave citizens the right of full and equal participation in the EU. However, enlargement is not put forward merely for altruistic reasons. The new EU will consist of enormous numbers of new citizens, new consumers for Irish products and will present new markets and new opportunities for Irish entrepreneurs. Much more importantly, the future security of Europe and our own security will be immeasurably strengthened by the process of enlargement. There is always a view that somehow because we are an island on the periphery we would not be affected in any great way by a new maelstrom of war which might ignite on the continent. In a modern world with modern weaponry that is a ridiculously naive hope.

The defeat of the treaty would be grist to the mill of those forces of reaction currently building nationalist movements throughout the Continent. It would give to those forces an argument that the applicant countries are to be permanently excluded from status equal to that enjoyed by current members, and that the burdens of institutional reforms which we as a Union have demanded of them are for no real purpose. We cannot allow that happen. The threat of new nationalistic forces stirring up domestic xenophobia are real and manifest themselves in growing right-wing parties, fascism and a growing incidence of racism.

I listened with wry amusement to a representative of a so-called Nationalist party speaking from the backbenches talking about our duties. It is very clear that Ireland has had the benefits of EU membership for a very long time, economically and culturally. In every discernible way we have improved ourselves as a result of membership, and we must now play a part, not on the periphery looking to see what is in it for us but contributing to the heart and shape of the evolution of an idea whose journey's end is not yet clear or absolutely defined. We have achieved much in Europe in the past half century, not least relative peace. We have seen remarkable economic regeneration and social expansion. Through a series of citizens' rights we have enjoyed freedoms throughout Europe as a result of charters of non-discrimination. We changed Europe so much that most young Irish, French or German people would rightly regard the prospect of war between France and Germany, or Britain and Germany, as utterly unthinkable. However, we have a long way to go.

How do we set about building the next phase of this project? How do we ensure it is people driven and people led? The leader of the Labour Party, Deputy Quinn, proposed one idea at the beginning of this debate which I hope will be engaged with by the Government. He pro posed an Irish forum on the future of Europe modelled on the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. This goes to the heart of what we are about. We have been reactive in the past, humble in our own involvement, believing that the momentous decisions were for others – Germany, France or Britain – to make, that it was for them to drive ideas and that we were there to see how we could fit in at the end with some negotiated benefit by way of almost benevolence from the larger countries. We are now in a uniquely different position. We have respect and ideas and can drive, model, build and develop the concepts for the governance of a developing Europe. I would like acceptance of the proposal put forward by the leader of the Labour Party for a forum which would be inclusive of all strata in Irish society, a people's forum and not a political forum, which would engage in the type of debate and argument now required if we are to bring people with us on the important journey we are undertaking.

Irish people support Europe but are always suspicious of any authority they feel is attempting to keep information from them, to limit debate or full participation. That is a very healthy scepticism. We should not be seen to rush any of these proposals. We should allow for the fullest debate in the House and I regret the Government is insisting on a vote this morning. If an open ended debate were allowed it would not take up much more time than the guillotine imposed by the Government. Such a measure also gives an argument to those who allege that something secretive, underhanded and excluding is happening. That is a pity.

I will support and canvass for a "Yes" vote in the Nice Treaty referendum campaign. It is only a small and in many ways flawed step to achieve the structures required for the massive expansion of the EU envisaged over the coming years. We should not give spurious arguments to those who oppose the treaty. There is a predictability about their arguments on every EU referendum. It is almost as if they will be right some day if they repeat the same thing for 20 or 30 years. Yet a modicum of humility should attach to them to the effect that if they are proven fundamentally wrong they might have the good sense not to warn that the same things might befall the nation if people vote against the treaty.

The debate on every other EU treaty has centred on the maintenance of national sovereigntyversus the pooling of sovereignty in a unique way through what is a unique project. There are no direct equivalents of the EU. It is not and will not be a united states or a federal or confederate state. It is unique. We must shape it in a way that suits the independent interests of a culturally rich continent that needs to have its diversity of language, culture, skills and tradition understood and enhanced, not pooled in an American version of a plurabis unum. We are not striving for a plurabis unum but are concerned with a vibrant continent of diversity.

The institutions of the EU are imperfect and often weak as those who have dealt with them will testify, be it at Commission or Council of Ministers level. I had the honour to deal with both and was President of the Environment Council of Ministers during the last Irish Presidency. I could outline at length the weaknesses but we must address the solutions to them. Not all 15 member states agree with those that may be suggested by me or by Ireland.

One inescapable truth, however, is that the institutions of Europe have been a guarantor of rights, pushing progressive legislation through often reluctant Governments. It has made us reform. In the area of labour law a raft of amendments from our earliest days of participation were forced through by Europe giving rights that we now take for granted. Personal rights and freedoms have been underscored by Europe and have often been used by Governments as a defence for doing things that might offend elements of conservative society. Those winds of progressive change have come from Europe. I welcome them and wish they would blow stronger.

Europe pushed us into monitoring and protecting the environment. The Government faces a number of legal actions because it has not been adventurous enough in bringing to completion agreements it freely entered into at European level. There is a big stick forcing us to act correctly. All this has been good for us.

The debate now and for the future is how we will next develop and who will travel with us. Fundamental fault lines are emerging. The debate in the past year from Ministers, including the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, the Minister for Finance and the Minster for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, on the dichotomy of whether we as a nation should look to Boston or Berlin is a frightening development. It is almost as if conservative forces take the view that while we got the economic good from the Union we do not share the vision. They propose a different model of less engagement with the principles of social and Christian democracy which have characterised Europe. I look forward to that debate because I am clear about a social democratic view of the future. I hope a forum will be created to allow it to happen.

I had hoped to address the issues of membership of the European Parliament, the Commission and qualified majority voting. On numerous occasions I have pointed out to the committees of the House of which I am a member the huge deficiency in this Parliament's scrutiny of the Council of Ministers. We allow Ministers to make decisions in our name with little control over them. We need to reform our institutions to ensure the democracy we demand at the heart of Europe applies for a start in this Parliament.

There are many aspects of the Nice Treaty I would have liked to be different and many of the proposals should have been more developed. However, in this debate, which is concerned with whether we take a small step to embrace future developments, especially with regard to the emerging nations who wish to participate in this great project, the House and the nation should give a resounding "Yes" in answer to the proposals in the Nice Treaty.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Foley.

We have come a long way since 1 January 1973, the day we joined the then European Economic Community, now called the European Union. In a few short years Europe has become more united and cohesive. Not too long ago Europe was at war. Unbelievable atrocities were inflicted on Europeans by Europeans.

Europe is moving and expanding rapidly. A large queue of applicant countries is waiting to join the Union and become part of a great and united Europe. Cynics may say these countries wish to join to get their hands on large amounts of money from the richer member states, including Ireland. Did those who negotiated Ireland's membership of the EU ever dream that Ireland would have the highest economic growth rate, one of the lowest unemployment rates, net immigration and increasing birth rates? At the same time the country is spending £40 billion on the national development plan which it is largely financing from its own resources. We are the envy and the pride of Europe and are presented as a shining example as to how effective full participation in the Union can be. As a nation we have shown that the model where richer states fund poorer ones can bring about economic prosperity and that these newly wealthy states can in turn fund poorer states, provide them with expertise and show them by example how they can grow and prosper.

Joining the EU has brought undoubted benefits to the country but it has also brought us some of our greatest difficulties, for example, new taxes and unbelievable regulations. While Europe gives it also expects much. It expects higher standards and uniformity and it has sought to bring about major changes in Governments and governance.

Agriculture was a major beneficiary from EU subsidies but farmers were also losers. Sadly, farming has become unviable for small holders. We see thousands of farmers leave the land each year. I fear that the current foot and mouth disease and BSE crises will give rise to even more farmers leaving the land.

While there have been problems along the route of European expansion, we can say with confidence that Ireland has benefited from membership of the EU and what is more, Europe has benefited from Irish membership. We all hope that will continue for many years to come.

Incoming members such as Poland can learn that receiving Structural and Cohesion Funds is not a form of begging and of being under a compliment to the donor. Far from it, Structural and Cohesion Funds will go towards ensuring that incoming states, many of whom suffered from a lack of human rights and economic under development under Communist rule, grow, prosper and underpin democratic rule.

Poland is a country like ours which has experienced occupation and which knows how difficult it is to gain and maintain independence. The rise of Solidarity in the 1980s was the beginning of that country finding its way, far from the stifling and oppressive influence of Russian rule. Under Communism, human and cultural rights were suppressed and democracy was denied. Poland is now emerging as a country that will make a major contribution to the enhanced European Union. Just over a decade ago, Poland saw the EU edge closer when Germany was reunited. Poland will in a few years, find itself at the frontier of the new European Union.

Irish companies are playing a major role in the expansion of the Polish economy. Poland is now a major profit centre for AIB, and is an important part of CRH's growth plans. Many other smaller Irish companies are making their way in this noble country. The Polish people are ready to accept the challenge of membership of the EU. It will be the first time in that country's history that it can look forward to continuing and guaranteed democracy.

The roots of our current economic success are found in our education and training systems. We are still the country of the young Europeans but instead of leaving the country, our best and brightest are returning to invest finance, energy and vitality into our economy and society.

Not many years ago, FÁS schemes would have had a high number of college graduates participants. They were desperate to find an outlet for their knowledge and skills. FÁS projects are now being cut back. Classroom assistants are now being employed directly by the Department of Education and Science, local authorities are now more involved in village and urban renewal, and the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands funds the Arts Council in such a way that regional arts centres can now operate. European funding made FÁS schemes possible – they gave thousands of participants invaluable experience and training which is now being applied in the mainstream economy. Many fine local and national initiatives and enterprises received much needed funding from FÁS and European funding. FÁS is now running recruitment fairs overseas to meet Irish market demands.

Countries such as Poland and Hungary who have high levels of unemployment and social need, will have a model of good practice which will help them on their way to becoming good Europeans as thriving and prospering economies. Ireland will be their model.

We now live in euro land. Very soon, the jingle of coins in our pockets will have a similar echo throughout the EU.

That is a good one.

The success of the euro can be gauged by the fact that although Britain has not yet joined, it will not be too long before it joins the euro zone. We voted in favour of the Treaty of Amsterdam and one of its key provisions is that parliamentary security remains an important safeguard. This is why we are debating this Bill. The people have sought assurances and safeguards and this is precisely what they are getting. The people will have the final say in the forthcoming referendum.

The Treaty of Nice seeks to address issues that were not resolved by the Amsterdam Treaty – the size and composition of the Commission, the extension of the qualified majority voting, and changes in other EU institutions necessitated by enlargement.

There is a small pocket of opposition to this treaty. If this referendum is not passed then the real losers will be the countries who wish to join the EU and who wish to emulate Ireland's successful membership. Voting for this treaty is voting to make a reality of the hopes and aspirations of the applicant countries just as we voted to obtain our aspirations in 1972.

Our Government has negotiated important safeguards to protect Irish interests. One such issue relates to taxation. Our favourable taxation rates played a major role in transforming our economy into the dynamic force it is today.

Large member states will have a 50% reduction in the number of Commissioners. We will continue to retain a Commissioner until the membership of the EU reaches 27 and Commissioners will then be retained on a rotational basis. Membership will rotate on a strict basis regardless of the size of the country. We must have confidence as a nation in this regard.

I commend the Bill and I appeal to the people to support the referendum.

I am pleased 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 essential to allow the State to ratify the Treaty of Nice which was signed by 15 Ministers of the European Union on 26 February 2001.

I understand the decision to have a referendum is based on the clear legal advice that ratification of the treaty by the State requires a change to the Constitution. In the absence of an amendment, having carefully identified those options and the discretion which may be exercised by the State, subject to the approval of the Oireachtas, it is now necessary to make specific provisions to permit the exercise of the options or discussions included in the Treaty of Nice. 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 clearly desired that any risk of legal uncertainty on matters of such importance to the State as the treaty in establishing the community and the Union, should be avoided.

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 the country's essential interest. It is intended to prepare the way for a significant enlargement of the Union.

The purpose of the Treaty of Nice was to bring to a conclusion the process of institutional reform which began with the Treaty of Amsterdam, and which was intended to prepare the Union for the admission of a significant number of new member states. In June 1999, the European Council decided to convene an inter governmental conference to settle the issue left unresolved at Amsterdam. These included the size and composition of the Commission, the weighting of votes in the Council, the extension of qualified majority voting, and changes in other EU institutions necessitated by enlargement. In June 2000, the European Council subsequently added enhanced co-operation to the agenda.

The European Union is continuing to seek ways of playing a greater role for 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 that it would wish to see them go. 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 lead to an enhancement of the capacity of the EU to carry out humanitarian and crisis management tasks. Existing security arrangements and procedures have been adapted to carry out these tasks and Ireland is actively participating in improving European responses to challenges which can arise.

Important steps are being taken in developing an EU capability to undertake crisis management. Therefore, one can say that the issues at stake are of historic importance. The divisions on the constitution of Europe in the past century have lead, on two occasions, to global conflict bringing in its wake slaughter and massacre of massive proportions. That was followed by confrontation and massive denial of human rights and fundamental freedom for close to half of our fellow Europeans. Against this background, the success of the European Union in reconciling former enemies, and in providing over the last four decades a basis for co-operation among a growing number of western European countries has been a tremendous achievement.

In 28 years, from 1973 to 2000, Ireland has received almost £22 billion in price supports, including direct payments from the guarantee section of the European agriculture fund. In addition, our farmers have benefited from receiving higher prices for their exports through the highly supported Union market. All of these benefits have enhanced farmers' incomes and transformed their living standards in line with the rest of society. The consequences are obvious throughout rural Ireland. They take various forms such as new and refurbished houses, increased car ownership, general purchasing power and full participation by farmers in the life of local communities.

In addition to these benefits in the form of price supports, agriculture, the food industry and rural areas have benefited from the European agriculture fund. These benefits have been enormous over the 28 years since our accession. Structural funding was the leverage for matching funds from the Exchequer and, together with the contribution of the beneficiaries, amounted to a massive investment in the agricultural food industry and rural structures. Farms have been modernised and made more productive. There has been major investment in anti-pollution and hygiene measures. There have been benefits not only to farmers in the form of higher productivity but to the public in the form of a better environment and higher levels of food safety.

Rural areas have benefited directly from structural funds. Hundreds of small development projects started with the assistance of structural funding. Perhaps more important than the benefits which flow from the projects is the confidence that initiatives like Leader have given to rural Ireland. There are many rural areas which were depressed for generations, where the people had become despondent, even hopeless, about the future. Leader gave these people not just funding but some measure of control over their own futures. The change of attitude, from near despair to confidence, has been one of the hallmarks of a rapidly developing rural Ireland in recent years.

What is certain is that the benefits of EU membership for the Irish agriculture and food industries and for rural development have been tremendous. These benefits have occurred because the EU institutions function well. They allow the voice of a small country to be heard and its interests taken into account. They also allow for decisions on the running of the Union and on the formulation of Union policies to be taken at reasonable speed. It is in Ireland's interest that this process continues in an enlarged Union. The institution changes and changes in decision making procedures in the Treaty of Nice are designed to protect this process. That is why I believe the people should strongly endorse the changes in this referendum.

The Treaty of Nice is concerned with preparing for enlargement but it is also about the continuing development of the Union, of which we have been a full and committed member. During the period of our membership, the people enjoyed substantial and economic benefits, reflected in our unprecedented levels of employment, growth and prosperity. Our network of roads and services have benefited substantially from structural funds, averaging more than 2% of GNP during the 1990s. Our education and training programmes have greatly benefited under the European social fund down through the years. We have gained from and contributed to important advances in areas such as the environment, social programmes, equal rights for men and women and consumer protection, all of which are matters of direct concern to every citizen. Nobody seems to believe that these advances would have been achieved to anything like the same extent if we were outside the Union.

Support for our full participation in the Union is not based on economic calculation alone. Being at the heart of Europe has given Ireland the opportunity to bring its distinctive voice to a wider audience. In return, we have opened ourselves to new influences which have broadened our experience and enriched our national life. Nobody realises this more than this generation of young people. Many of them know through experience that whether in Paris, Dublin or Warsaw we are part of a common enterprise, facing the same issues of worthwhile jobs, strengthening our communities, and building a decent society in which all can participate. These are the real challenges facing the Union in the years ahead.

As a country which has benefited and which continues to benefit greatly from Community membership, it is in our interest 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. A single market would expand to over 500 million people. We are in an excellent position to take advantage of the opportunities offered by enlargement.

Our record as a nation is one of generosity. Long may that continue. I am confident that the people will say yes to enlargement.

I am glad of the opportunity to contribute to this debate. During my contribution I want to concentrate on the security aspects of Nice and of the treaties which preceded it. Ireland's neutrality should not continue to be eroded by stealth. I agree with that. However, it is time for Ireland to go beyond neutrality and to do so on terms most favourable to ourselves. There is an opportunity to do so and we should avail of it. If not, it is possible, even likely, that traditional neutrality as we know it will disappear on terms which are not so favourable. The reason we are not taking the opportunity is the fear which has been created by reckless politicians who trade on fear.

It is as difficult now in the Republic to get a sane, rational and reasoned debate on Ireland's neutrality as it is for a delegate at a DUP conference to try to bring about a sane, rational and reasoned debate on the Good Friday debate. Why? Because of reckless politicians, elected and unelected, trading on fear, building up falsehood and filling people with irrational doubts. By holding these fear-based doubts, sane people are missing the opportunity to secure accommodation for their views so that we could decide on a case by case basis when we will remain outside conflict and when we will become involved, as a support for the common good.

I hear people in this House extolling the virtues of the European Union in the area of economic benefits and human rights. The greatest virtue of the European Union and what went before it is the peace and stability it has brought to Europe. Some 60 million Europeans, most of them in their prime, lost their lives in the first half of the last century because we did not have a structure like the European Union, an integrated democratic body. That Union is worth defending. It is worth our while participating in that Union when it defends the rights of others. When we talk about virtues, that should be at the top of the list – the peace and stability which forbids German, French, British and other peoples from going to war to kill each other in large numbers when they are little more than children. Is that not the prerequisite for prosperity? How else can we have the other great virtues which have been extolled? What has happened to this House that all its Members must be politically correct and extol the same sentiments and virtues while omitting to talk about the greatest virtue of the European Union, the security it has provided for this and future generations? It is time we played our part in providing that security, without apology to anybody.

We live in a changed Europe, one that is no longer bitterly divided between two blocs but which is increasingly coming together in an enlarged European Union. Unlike any previous union, this Union is not the result of military conquest but of the freely given consent of the people of Europe. It is a union based on democracy, respect for human rights and solidarity between peoples, regions and generations. The Nice Treaty marks the next crucial stage in that process of development. It adapts the institutions of the Union so it can welcome our fellow Europeans in the applicant states. For this reason and despite certain misgivings about aspects of the treaty, to which I will return later, I welcome the treaty and look forward to its ratification by the Irish people.

Unfortunately, that ratification has been put in doubt by the manner in which the Government is handling the treaty referendum and by the manner in which it has handled European affairs from the day it took office. It does not give me any pleasure to recite the litany of confusion and subterfuge which has been the European record of this Government. On the day the Government took office there was the botched effort to install the new Minister for Defence, Deputy Andrews, as a Minister for European Affairs at Cabinet. Following this fiasco, there was a failure to desig nate a Minister of State to take responsibility for European affairs. Ireland is one of the few, if not the only European state, which does not have a Minister with responsibility for European affairs. Having failed to appoint a Cabinet Minister with this portfolio, we do not even have a Minister of State with that remit. As a result the Minister for Foreign Affairs and his Minister of State were understandably, and correctly in many cases, preoccupied with Anglo-Irish matters and there was often no Irish political presence at Council of Ministers meetings.

Then there was the appalling cynicism with which the Government approached Irish entry into the Partnership for Peace. Fianna Fáil railed against PfP both in Opposition and in Government. The current Taoiseach told the House that PfP membership would bring the Germans back to Bantry, the British back to the Curragh and made other similar comparisons. Under Fine Gael pressure, however, Fianna Fáil in Government executed a U turn and, without the promised referendum, took Ireland into the Partnership for Peace.

There was also the spectacle of the Taoiseach denying that the European Union was developing its security and defence capabilities when every other government in the EU was not just admitting it but was advocating and explaining its importance to their electorate. A significant element of the Nice Treaty is that there has been a reversal of what happened in the Amsterdam Treaty. The Western European Union is to be taken out of the treaty with the exception of a single mention. Why? It is because the European Union intends to do the business itself. However, Members of this House are told it is not happening.

Then there was the spectacle of various Government Ministers embarking on anti-European tirades. The Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Deputy de Valera, complained about Europe imposing decisions on Ireland. The decisions were, no doubt, previously agreed by her or her officials in the Council of Ministers. She was simply following in the tradition of her leader who, as Minister for Finance, voted to abolish duty free sales and seven years later tried to blame Europe for a decision which he could have prevented. Meanwhile, the Tánaiste was chasing some form of Boston paradise rather than the European Union, through whose disciplines and assistance we created the Celtic tiger. There was also the Minister for Finance ranting and raving about the EU because it dared to question his budgetary strategy.

Then we saw the mishandling of the Nice Treaty negotiations, with the Taoiseach opting to have a sham fight about national control over taxation. That veto was never at risk given the publicly stated positions of the British, Luxembourg and Swedish Governments, to name but three. As a result, the Government took its eye off the ball and conceded that Ireland would not always have a seat in the Commission. The European Commission is the key instrument of the Union and is the only body that can initiate change. Large states, due to their size, can perhaps live without a Commission seat, although I remain sceptical as to whether that will ever happen given that there will be at least two further Intergovernmental Conferences before the Union reaches the critical figure of 27 member states. For small member states such as Ireland, however, a permanent presence in the Commission is vital and the Government should not have agreed to give it away.

I am sure pressure about the size of the Commission was exerted by large states. It should have been resisted. Such pressure was applied during the Amsterdam Treaty negotiations but was strongly and successfully resisted by the rainbow coalition and the then Taoiseach, Deputy John Bruton, the then Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Spring, and myself as Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs at both Departments.

Given the record of cynicism, incompetence and in-built euro-scepticism on the part of some members of the Government, it is no surprise that the forces opposed to European integration believe they can win this referendum. I anticipate there will be the usual lethargy on the part of the Fianna Fáil organisation and Deputies during the campaign. If that is the case, there is every possibility that this referendum could be lost. Traditionally, Fianna Fáil has relied on Fine Gael organisations in the constituencies to motivate the electorate. It is time the Fianna Fáil Deputies spent more of their time on serious issues.

We are lucky to have the Deputy's party. I am surprised it is on the Opposition benches, although it will be there for a while given the way the Deputy is talking.

I wish I could have the same admiration for the Minister of State. Telling the truth never did anybody any harm. The Deputy should give it a try.

Just when one thinks the Government realises the danger—

Is the Deputy suggesting I am telling untruths? The Chair might tell him to withdraw his remark.

—and the Minister for Foreign Affairs seeks to project a more positively pro-European message, one sees the incompetence surrounding the referendum on the Nice Treaty. While an all-party committee recom mended a clear, lengthy, deliberative process for proposed change to the Constitution,—

Typical drivel.

—a 90 day gap between publication of a referendum Bill and its passage through the Oireachtas and a further 90 day gap until polling, the Government's response is to publish a wording, push it through the Oireachtas in less than 30 days and hold the referendum just over 30 days later in a country fighting to prevent the spread of foot and mouth disease. All this is for a treaty which does not need to be ratified for a further 18 months. Again, Government incompetence hands anti-Europeans a stick with which to beat it.

European Union supporters have nothing to fear from a lengthy, considered debate and the Government should think again about the timing of the referendum and postpone it until the autumn. More time would also allow for a broader debate about the type of European Union we wish to develop and what role we believe Ireland should take in that Union. A key part of that debate must be about Europe's developing security architecture and how we see Ireland's role in it. I wish to make the case for a departure from traditional Irish neutrality in a pro-active way and in circumstances and on terms best suited to Ireland.

I believe our neutrality has been compromised and that it is intended to abandon our traditional view of neutrality. The Government, having made that decision, as it did on Partnership for Peace, refuses to tell the people. I will be happy to return to the question of Irish neutrality when the debate resumes.

Debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.