Nice Treaty Referendum: Statements.

I fully respect the outcome of the referendum on the Nice treaty. Before I address the outcome in detail, I wish to state that the Government, the vast majority of the Members of this House and the vast majority of the Irish people are committed to Ireland's full and active membership of the European Union and to the Union's enlargement. Of those who urged a "No" vote, only a small number opposed enlargement.

I am deeply disappointed by the result of the referendum. I am also disappointed that we on the "Yes" side, the Government, the main political parties and the social partners, were not able to persuade a high number of voters to participate in making such an important decision. The result has also disappointed our partners and the applicant countries, whom we will meet in Gothenburg at the end of this week. Clearly the outcome poses difficulties for all involved. While it is too early to say what approach should now be taken, the Government has launched an urgent review of the factors which may have led to this result. In doing so, we will talk to other parties and organisations involved and listen very carefully. The reasons almost two-thirds of the electorate failed to vote on this occasion will be included in that review.

Our review needs to extend beyond the Nice treaty. The manner in which the Oireachtas monitors and evaluates ongoing EU business will form a core part of our work. It will be conducted in full consultation with our EU partners, all of whom remain committed to the ratification of the Nice treaty. Yesterday in Luxembourg our partners expressed their readiness to contribute in every possible way to helping the Government find a way forward, taking into account the concerns reflected by the referendum result. They have excluded reopening the text of the Nice treaty and this is one of the factors we have to take into account. The treaty is about enlarging and extending the European Union and giving to others a chance to develop similar to the one given to us 30 years ago. Ever since the collapse of communism, entry to the EU has been a primary objective of the countries of central and eastern Europe. They see EU membership as creating a framework to secure peace and prosperity and achieve the economic and social benefits of participation in the Union's programmes and policies. That is the view of the treaty held throughout Europe and it is a view I share. It is also a view shared by the vast majority of people here, however, many issues were raised in the campaign which were not directly relevant to the treaty and we on the "Yes" side might have done more to address those issues.

The treaty is totally in line with the Government's policy of neutrality and non-participation in military alliances. However, we are equally strongly committed to active engagement in both regional and international peacekeeping efforts and humanitarian tasks, provided they have a UN mandate. The treaty is not about a European army and there will not be a mutual defence pact. Any future participation in any given initiative involving the Rapid Reaction Force will be dependent on the safeguards we have set out. Those are, Irish support for the initiative, Dáil approval on a case by case basis and a UN mandate. While I am certain the vast majority of the Irish people remain strongly committed to the European Union and enlargement it is clear there are genuine anxieties and concerns about the future, including continuing democratic accountability in each member state, which go well beyond the terms of the treaty. We will have to reflect deeply on how those can be best addressed. In particular, people have questions about where the European Union is going in the long-term.

Fundamental issues have been raised in major speeches by several of my European colleagues and it has been agreed that in 2004 there will be a further intergovernmental conference on the future of the Union. Preparations for this conference are at a very early stage. It has been agreed there should be an extensive preparatory debate across Europe involving, not just governments and parliaments but the social partners and wider civic society. This will take place over the next couple of years. I have already made it clear there will be a full debate here which will help prepare our input into the European discussions.

To ensure this debate is both comprehensive and inclusive the Government has decided, in principle, at its meeting today to establish a national forum on Europe. This forum will represent the political parties and the social partners and will be broadly modelled on other fora such as the forum for peace and reconciliation and the national economic and social forum. It will be given all the necessary resources. The Government will be in touch with the main opposition parties shortly to discuss the forum's establishment and terms of reference. While it is still early days, a number of things can be said about the debate on the future of Europe. The core questions will relate to democratic legitimacy, transparency and effectiveness. How can the EU be made more meaningful to the people? How can the people better understand and control what happens in Europe? What is best done at European level and what is best done nationally? It is clear that, contrary to what some may fear, there is by no means a single vision of Europe among our partners. There are many different views about what Europe should do and how it should do it. There is no question of a uniform blueprint which will be imposed. The debate will be genuine and comprehensive and decisions will have to be based on consensus. The result therefore will reflect the will of each member state. We must have confidence in our ability to play a distinctive and positive part in this crucial exercise on Europe's future, rather than try to opt out because it is too complicated or we are not confident of our ability to hold our ownvis-à-vis the larger states. It would be wrong to pre-empt the national debate. The issues which arise will be extremely complex but we have plenty of time in which to consider them fully without rushing to judgment.

A number of basic starting points can be identified. There is an overriding need for the EU to continue to deliver practical benefits to people on the ground and to achieve results in its ongoing business. The emphasis in this debate must be more on the substance of what the EU should do and how it should do it, rather than on abstract institutional questions. From an Irish perspective, and from that of other smaller states, the traditional balance between the institutions has worked well and does not need radical alteration. The reality remains that, while people see themselves as Europeans, the great majority identify primarily with their own countries. The nation state remains the basic building block of the European Union and this will continue to be the case. That does not mean Ireland should take a narrow or isolationist view and I reject simplistic attempts to play on fears of the possible loss of sovereignty or independence. In March I said the true sovereignty of the people is not a theoretical concept, but a measure of how successfully we protect and promote our basic national interests and our social and economic well-being. Our consistent policy towards the EU over the past 30 years has done far more to enhance our real sovereignty than standing aside would have done. All countries, especially small ones, operate within very considerable constraints. Just as it was 30 years ago, the question is whether we would be better off co-operating and pooling resources and sovereignty with similar like-minded EU states than we would be on our own. All of the evidence, surely, is that we would be better off.

It has been argued that enlargement should wait until these longer-term questions are resolved. However, it is the firm view of all member states, and of the applicants, that enlargement can and should proceed on the basis already agreed. To create an unnecessary and unjustified link between it and the future of Europe debate would delay accession to the EU for several more years. It is the consensus view among other member states and the accession candidates that the changes made in the Nice treaty are all that is required for enlargement to proceed. This was again made clear by the General Affairs Council in Luxembourg yesterday. I reiterate that the Irish people want to see enlargement take place on schedule. I do not agree with any analysis that the people in voting on Thursday acted out of any selfish or narrow interest, though there is a danger that it might be misinterpreted as such. We know well that the Union, while it must bring practical benefits to its people, is also about a broader ideal.

From day to day countries are keenly aware of their own interests as they see them and rightly so. The reality is that EU membership has been overwhelmingly and directly to our benefit. Our net receipts from the CAP have amounted to close to £20 billion. Intelligent use of the Structural Funds has helped to develop our economy and has been a substantial factor in our recent social and economic transformation. Membership of the Single European Market has been crucial in positioning Ireland as a key player in transatlantic trade and investment. Our membership of EMU has brought interest rates down to what are, in terms of recent history, remarkably low levels.

While the EU has been good for Ireland in direct material ways, the Irish people have always been fully aware of its wider dimensions. I remember in 1972 a strong feeling that joining the EEC, as it was then, was a decisive step in our movement towards a more positive and outward-looking approach to the world. We realised we were opening ourselves up as a society as well as an economy and once again the balance sheet has been overwhelmingly positive in this area too.

EU membership has allowed us to play a role in the wider world which would have been impossible otherwise. It has modernised our approach to issues such as gender equality and environmental protection. It has meant that Ministers and other Members of the Oireachtas, public servants, business people, trade unionists and many others have widened their horizons. Moreover, EU membership, by changing the context in which we relate to Britain and by helping us to break out of a pattern of excessive economic dependence, has greatly enhanced the British-Irish relationship. We have moved to seeing one another as partners with many shared interests and objectives. The strong relationship between the two Governments has been the bedrock on which the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement have been built and the EU has very generously supported us in building reconciliation and in stimulating North-South links.

I am convinced the Irish people are fully aware of those benefits. Whatever reasons prompted them to vote against the ratification of the treaty, or to abstain, for most people our EU membership and the historic necessity for an enlarged European Union were not at issue.

As I indicated last Friday, the difficulties we face will not be easy to resolve. We need to take our time to consider and consult. The Government, therefore, will not come to any hasty conclusions about the next steps. I ask all of those who favour Ireland's continued full and active participation in the European Union to adopt a similar measured approach.

The public comment to date on the outcome of the referendum on the Nice treaty has focused on the reasons for the "No" vote. There were many and disparate elements in the mix which led to that vote but above all else, the referendum failed for one simple reason, namely, a failure of leadership on the part of the Taoiseach. The Taoiseach failed to organise an effective "Yes" campaign. He failed to get his Government colleagues to go out and sell the Nice treaty. He failed to get the Fianna Fáil party organisation geared up. He failed to use the position of Taoiseach to make a convincing case to the public. He did not even get a majority of the electorate out to vote. It was a major failure of leadership and a major failure of management.

In so far as he campaigned at all, the Taoiseach adopted the destructive, negative type of propaganda that has recently marked political campaigning in other countries. He queried the motives of the "No" campaigners and inaccurately cast doubts on their funding sources. He ridiculed their efforts and their commitment. I too disagree with most of the positions of the "No" campaigners but I respect them and acknowledge their patriotism and their love of our country. In these days of cynicism about the political process, we need to encourage people to participate in public life and in public debate. Democracy is not well served by ill-informed and condescending negative interventions.

I hope the Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil will take at least one message from the events of last week. Negative campaigning does not work and will not work in this country. He would be well advised to ignore the recommendations coming to him from those foreign spin doctors and the best thing he could do is to get rid of them completely. Irish political issues are best dealt with by the Irish people.

We in Ireland have a long and honourable tradition of democratic politics. Our electorate is more sophisticated than that in many other countries with which we have close links. We take our politics seriously. Those who abstained in last week's referendum were making a comment on the way they had been treated. Those who voted "No" were expressing a legitimate point of view. I remind the Taoiseach that when Fine Gael was in Government and had questions to put to the people, we took the issue seriously. We took the people seriously. I remind him in particular of the divorce referendum campaign and the role my predecessor, Deputy Bruton, the then Taoiseach, and I, as Fine Gael director of elections, played in putting that complex issue to the people and selling the Government's point of view to them. The most glaring failure of the Taoiseach's leadership was his failure to sell the Nice treaty to the electorate. Popularity is not much good unless one does something constructive with it.

Another element in the Taoiseach's failure was his inability or unwillingness to mobilise his Government colleagues. In launching Fine Gael's Nice treaty campaign on 21 May last, I challenged the Eurosceptics in Government to play a leading role in the drive for a "Yes" vote. I specifically singled out the Tánaiste, Deputy McCreevy and Deputy de Valera and said I wanted to see them in the forefront of the campaign. What in fact happened? Nothing.

The three I named did absolutely nothing during the campaign—

Not true. Not true.

—to undo the Euroscepticism which they had tried to introduce to Irish politics over the last year. On 21 May I warned that the referendum might be lost. I said that anyone who went forward thinking that a "Yes" outcome was a done deal was making a serious mistake. In particular, I said that the "Eurosceptical Three" would have to be active in promoting a "Yes" vote.

I take no pleasure or satisfaction from the outcome. I take no pleasure in pointing out that I told you so but I am entitled to express my grievance that the Taoiseach did not mobilise his Ministers. I take particular exception to the Taoiseach's failure to respond to my offer to participate in an all-party public awareness campaign to ensure a positive outcome. I said in the House on 2 May that the achievement of public support for the Nice treaty was an important national objective and I offered Fine Gael support for a national "Yes" campaign whether initiated by the Government or by the individual parties opposite. What happened? Nothing, not even a private response.

Ireland's reputation abroad has been damaged by the failure of leadership on the part of the Taoiseach. The pointless rows of the Minister for Finance with Brussels on budgetary guidelines and on regionalisation had already created an unhelpful climate between Ireland and our partners as well as between Ireland and the Commission, for the first time since we joined in 1973. Incidentally, it would help if the Taoiseach had a quiet word with Deputy McCreevy and asked him to moderate his approach to his fellow Finance Ministers and Commission officials. He may sometimes be right but he does not need to lecture them from the lofty heights of his Kildare constituency office. A little touch of humility would go a long way to restoring the traditionally good relationship between Dublin and Brussels.

In addition to creating difficulties for our fellow EU members, we have created difficulties for the eastern Europe applicant countries. I am glad the Minister for Foreign Affairs has recognised this by taking immediate steps to assure them that Ireland favours enlargement and will, in the weeks ahead, seek a way to deal with the difficulties that have arisen. In my meetings in Gothenburg this week with leaders of European Christian Democrat parties, I intend to reinforce the Irish message that we favour the enlargement of the EU and will support all reasonable efforts to achieve this outcome.

One issue which emerged as a major point of contention during the referendum campaign were the arguments about the militarisation of the EU and the erosion of our neutrality. This was hugely significant for many "No" voters. They accurately pointed out that a rapid reaction force with Irish participation had been established on the basis of a Council of Ministers decision. There was no mandate from this House for that decision. What became of the commitment in the Fianna Fáil election manifesto in 1997? That is the question thousands of voters were asking. They thought Fianna Fáil had, in that manifesto, promised that there would be a referendum before any commitment of Irish troops to a European force would take place. Part of the reason for last week's "No" outcome lies in Fianna Fáil's duplicity in seeming to promise one thing when in opposition and failing to deliver on that promise when in office.

I will end on a constructive note and in doing so repeat a point I made when launching Fine Gael's "Yes" campaign? Broadly speaking, Fine Gael shares the European objectives of the parties opposite. The referendum result suggests that we have a job to do to bring the electorate with us in achieving these objectives. Working together, we have a better chance than working separately. That is why I support the proposal of Deputy Quinn that a European forum should now be created along the lines of earlier forums relating to Northern Ireland.

I welcome the positive response from the Taoiseach today, but believe he was churlish in not acknowledging that it was Deputy Quinn who made the proposal in the first instance. I also welcome the proposal by the Taoiseach that we will have an early meeting of party leaders to agree the terms of reference andmodus operandi of such a forum. Such a forum would provide a way of assessing the nature of our concerns about European developments and would seek to find a way to reconcile differences and move forward in the interests of all our people.

A number of things need to be said in the aftermath of this referendum result. The first is fundamental. The people have spoken and their decision must be respected. European leaders are wrong to state that enlargement of the European Union can go ahead as set out in the Nice treaty. That is only possible, as the Minister for Foreign Affairs said last night, if the Nice treaty is ratified. Otherwise enlargement issues will have to be dealt with at the next Intergovernmental Conference. That is not to say, as some of those on the "No" side have done, that other European countries should halt their ratification process and that our Government should insist that they do. We are entitled to ask them to recognise our decision, but we should respect their democratic and constitutional requirements also.

I argued that there was no need to hold this referendum this month or, as it was originally intended, in May. I did so because I believed more time was needed for an internal debate within this country and because I knew the treaty's timetable did not demand that the process of ratification be concluded until the end of 2002. The Nice treaty cannot be deemed to be passed or to have fallen until that date passes. Other countries are entitled to proceed in the meantime.

This obviously raises the possibility of a further referendum here on the Nice treaty. The people are sovereign and are entitled to review and reverse any decision they have taken. I find it strange that people who have campaigned for a "No" vote on the basis of the people's sovereignty seem to have philosophical difficulties with such a position. As opponents of European integration or even Irish membership of the Union, they have been in a position to revisit these issues at each successive referendum. I fail to see why people who support "Yes" on this occasion should not be similarly entitled to fight again another day.

Difficulties arise in respect of any prospective question to be put to the people. It would be unacceptable to go back to the people with the same proposition that was rejected last Thursday. Other member states and the applicant countries regard the Nice treaty to be necessary to facilitate enlargement. Given that enlargement is not contested by most, but not all, of those who campaigned against the treaty, if other concerns can be addressed, then surely it will be possible to refer back to the people again. While successive radio broadcasts have indicated myriad reasons the Irish people opposed this treaty from the state of the health services to the botched flotation of Eircom, issues of accountability and neutrality stand out.

In our policy paper on the Nice treaty my party drew attention to some of these issues. We suggested that we and not our European colleagues, are at fault for a part of the alienation felt from the European project. To address this issue my party will publish a European Union Bill to greatly increase the accountability of our Ministers to the Houses of the Oireachtas and by extension to the electorate. I cite, as an example, the procedure discussed earlier today in relation to a decision taken by a Minister of State to postpone a new right being conferred on European workers for a period of up to four years. While my party believes that no change of domestic law is required to deal with Ireland's participation in the Rapid Reaction Force, contingent on a UN mandate, it is clear now that further certainty is required in this regard and should be provided in law.

Nonetheless I remain committed to such a force. It is ironic that those who campaigned against this treaty on an anti-NATO basis seem to be satisfied to leave peace-keeping activity on our continent to NATO. I would have thought any movement away from this reality, such as the Rapid Reaction Force imperfectly represents, would be regarded as an improvement, particularly when that force is in some way accountable to democratically elected European institutions. I believe that is the case. As it is, Irish soldiers have participated in SFOR in Bosnia under NATO leadership and with a UN mandate. The world is not as simple a place as some pretend. The boundaries are sometimes not as clear as we would like them to be.

I do not know whether action on these two fronts would be sufficient to persuade the people to change their minds in a further referendum on this treaty. However, action on both fronts should be taken because, as we have pointed out, it is necessary in itself. Our proposal for a forum on the future of Europe, to be run along the lines of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, is now an urgent necessity.

I welcome what appears to be growing support for that concept within Government, and I acknowledge that the Government has on a number of occasions acknowledged the proposal and has now generously embraced it. That is a sound message from the House. Had the Taoiseach and the Government embraced that proposal wholeheartedly and vigorously before last Thursday, we might have reversed the result, but perhaps not. Nevertheless, progress has been made and I will respond to the Taoiseach's invitation to consult on the structure and composition of the suggested group, and the personality of the person who will take on the task of chairing it independently. It should be structured in a similar manner to the two other fora – the New Ireland Forum and the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation.

It is too early to make a call on what should happen from here. In that, I share the view of the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs. However, I am concerned about some of the noises coming from the rest of Europe which I fear could undermine the sense of democratic legitimacy of the Union project. Nonetheless, it would be churlish of us not to understand the dilemma we and the other member states now have to face together. They have to talk and deal with the disappointment and instability generated in the applicant states. I understand too the reluctance to open up the Nice treaty for full or even partial re-negotiation, a position confirmed in Luxembourg this week. A right like this accorded to one country would have to be afforded to all. Total uncertainty and instability would ensue. It would be difficult to persuade any country to ratify treaties in the future if the hope of constant re-negotiation is held out.

All sides to this referendum debate have been at pains to state their support for enlargement. No doubt there are some people who voted "No" that are opposed to enlargement but my fundamental instinct is that they represent a small minority of the electorate. The reality is that as a result of our decision, the enlargement process has been fundamentally derailed and that poses consider able difficulties for all applicant countries as well as the member states. It is simply not true, as some "No" campaigners have suggested, that the existing treaties contain sufficient powers to deal with the scale of enlargement that the Treaty of Nice would have facilitated.

An eminent law lecturer, in an article published in recent days, talked about using the existing treaty provisions to provide for enlargement as we experienced it and as did the most recent applicants for enlargement from 12 to 15. Technically she was correct, but the political reality is that all of the existing 15 member states have said such enlargement cannot continue as it has until now. Building an extension to the extension of an extension is no longer possible. Notwithstanding the legal interpretations of that position, which from an academic point of view cannot be challenged, all of the existing member states said initially in Amsterdam, and confirmed after painstaking negotiations in Nice, that certain complex changes had to be made. Those changes concerned the composition of the commission, the qualified majority voting and its extension to 30 new areas, capping the size of the European Parliament and adjusting the membership accordingly. All of those things did not come about easily as anyone party to European Union negotiations knows, or anyone whose political party is associated with other European parties already knows. It is inconceivable to think that those hard fought for and painfully extracted compromises can somehow be reversed. That will not happen. Therefore we have to realise that whether people on the "No" side like it or not, the groundwork in terms of enlargement, as set out in the Treaty of Nice, is the only groundwork on which enlargement will take place. Some reality, as far as this House is concerned, will have to prevail.

If it is the case, and I concede that it may well be, that it is not possible for this State to ratify the treaty we will, at least, have put back the time table for enlargement. The honest thing to do at this stage for us all is to accept that this is the case, regardless of the consequences for our reputation and standing in central and eastern Europe.

If there is a democratic deficit within the European Union this country has a representational deficit among the applicant states. It is time to dust off the proposals for residential embassies in those applicant countries, particularly those most likely to join the EU in the short-term. The programme for representational expansion must be brought forward within the Department of Foreign Affairs. Other than the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, Ireland has the smallest diplomatic representation of all EU member states in applicant countries. It is inconceivable that we can repair some of the damage done to our reputation in countries like Estonia or Slovenia if we do not proceed to open up residential embassies. The costs, relative to the Taoiseach's aspirations to spend money on other areas, are small. The commencement costs are no more that £600,000 to £700,000 and operational costs are about £500,000 per annum for a three-person embassy including a representative from Enterprise Ireland. If ever there was a compelling argument to move quickly on that, the argument has taken on a new sense of urgency because of the damage done to the perception of Ireland as being an "Ireland of the welcomes". We have become something different in the eyes of those people. I urge the Taoiseach to review the plans which no doubt already exist for this to be advanced.

The people have sent a message to us in this House about how we conduct our business. It is one the Taoiseach should heed. Since I became leader of my party I have sought to make one important point in respect of this country's relationship with the European Union. Namely that it was entering a new and fundamentally different era from the one that has existed in the past. From its first day in office and the embarrassing failure to appoint a Minister with specific responsibility for European affairs, the Government has ducked that issue. Those of us who support the European project are the most frustrated as a result. I have placed in the public domain a record of my private correspondence with the Taoiseach in respect of the timing of this referendum. That he chose to ignore my advice is something I regret. My fears have proven to be correct.

It is important that we learn lessons from this. A single lengthy speech to the Institute of European Affairs does not constitute the initiation of a debate on an Intergovernmental Conference. Nor does a published speech at the Irish Council of the European movement. More could have been done in a systematic and structured way. Despite repeated requests it was not done. Leadership is about more than the endless pursuit of photo opportunities. Similarly being a member of the Government means more than just supporting that Government's policy when it suits. Minister of State, Deputy Ó Cuív please copy. If one does not like or cannot support Government policy, then one must get out. It does politics no favour to see junior ministers like Deputy Ó Cuív make hypocrites of themselves. He should take no comfort from the fact that the Taoiseach does not have the authority to stand up to him. Taken in conjunction with the Local Government Bill, I think we can expect an increasing number of Fianna Fáil backbenchers departing from script over the next few months.

Ultimately the Government has to exercise moral leadership to convince the public of its case. The problem with this Government, whether Deputy Harney likes it or not, is that it has spent its time in office undermining and disparaging the case for Europe. We know what Deputy Harney has said and has been reported as saying in public, heaven knows what she has said to people in private. It is little wonder that the people have copped on. The contrast between how this Taoiseach sought to sell this treaty with the lead shown by his predecessor in the divorce referendum is considerable as Deputy Noonan has already indicated. In the latter days of that campaign, Mervyn Taylor and others indicated to Deputy Bruton that given his authority as the leader of a party that is a member of the Christian Democratic family in Europe, he had to go on radio and appeal to part of the constituency of this Republic that had reservations about divorce. He did so and many people credit him with turning the extra few votes into what was the narrowest majority in favour of any referendum in this country. That required courage, sadly there was none of that from the current Taoiseach.

Deputy Quinn might recall our efforts as an Opposition party.

Yes, but there is only one Taoiseach, and the people listen to the Taoiseach.

There is still only one Taoiseach.

I support the Government's analysis that we cannot rush into any instant conclusions as to the correct strategy to pursue. It is essential that the full seriousness of where we are now is understood by everybody in this House, by every Minister in the Cabinet and by the Ministers for State. I find it inconceivable that Deputy Ó Cuív is still a member of the Government. For someone to display openly his rebellion and contempt and to get an apparent absolution from the Taoiseach is incomprehensible. We will continue to have this debate and I hope the Taoiseach will ensure that there are proper questions and answers provided for before he goes to Gothenburg.

I intend to share my time with Deputies Higgins (Dublin West) and Ó Caoláin. The decision of the people to reject the Treaty of Nice was an historic one. I am proud of the role played by the Green Party in that decision. The people have spoken, but are the politicians listening, particularly those in the establishment?

I do not see any signs of humility and it appears that no lessons have been learned. We have been informed that the Government and the establishment parties will interpret what the people have said. What appears to have been said is "We respect your decision, but now you will have to change it". That is not respect, it is contempt. We saw an exhibition of that contempt yesterday in Luxembourg when we were informed by the Council of Ministers that we could like it or lump it. The Government campaign was characterised by a great deal of huffing and puffing, bluster and bluff, smear, innuendo, the politics of the gutter and, above all else, condescension and total arrogance. We dealt with the facts; we wanted a calm, rational debate. Unfortunately, it was not forthcoming.

I congratulate the Referendum Commission. Not a single previous speaker has had the courtesy to congratulate the commission on its role. The Referendum Commission was established by the Oireachtas – I voted with the Government in favour of its being set up – but no one has congratulated it on the role it played. The commission did an exceptional job under extremely difficult conditions and it was hamstrung in its efforts by the Government. I spoke to the staff of the commission and I am aware that they were in total chaos because they were not allowed to do their jobs. Let us learn lessons from that. The Referendum Commission must be allowed to do its job on the next occasion. It is clear there will be a further referendum and I want the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, to admit that. They are shaping up to hold another referendum but they do not have the guts to say so.

We dealt with the facts in our campaign. The first was that the Attorney General stated that the referendum had to be held because of the enhanced co-operation procedures, which, clearly, would lead to the creation of a two-tier Europe. Under the Amsterdam Treaty, we had a veto on enhanced co-operation. However, that has been removed. Eight countries will now be able to proceed with enhanced co-operation projects under the procedures provided at Nice. We made it clear that this was not the type of Europe we desired.

The second fact was that we stated that the treaty was not concerned with enlargement but that it was about further integration and deepening. The people believed us. Deputy Quinn quoted Professor Conlan of the University of Limerick who confirmed our assertion that enlargement can continue. Günther Verheugen, the Commissioner for Enlargement, also stated that enlargement could continue. He has changed his tune, however, and has stated that he is not so sure about the position. It is clear there is confusion among European Commissioners at this stage, but the people believed the view we expressed. That view is valid and it has been confirmed by legal analysts.

We have informed our European colleagues that we favour enlargement. I know the Taoiseach has taken this fact on board, but I want the message to go out from this Chamber. Last weekend we met our colleagues from Poland and the Czech Republic in the Hague with the European Federation of Green Parties. They clearly understood our position and issued a statement to the effect that we must step back and reconsider the treaty. I appreciate that the Taoiseach is in a difficult position, but what would be the outcome if this treaty was put to the people of France or Germany? It would be defeated and the Taoiseach knows that.

What sort of Europe are we creating? It is a Europe with a democratic deficit where people do not matter, a Europe for the élite and for bureaucrats. We want a different type of Europe. If the proposed European forum can help create our vision of Europe, count us in. We will put forward our views in the same forceful manner in which we set them down during the referendum campaign. We won the head-to-head debates which took place during the campaign and that is why the people chose to vote "No". We will win again unless there is a clear re-negotiation of the treaty. However, there will be no re-negotiation. The matter will simply be put before the people again.

I will now deal with the question of militarisation. Deputy Quinn put it to me that if we do not have a European Rapid Reaction Force, we will be faced with the involvement of NATO. However, I believe we demonstrated that there is a correlation between ESDP – European Security and Defence Policy – and ESDI – European Security and Defence Identity – as put forward by NATO. That is clearly spelt out in the annexes of the treaty. Those involved in the "Yes" campaign failed to convince people on this score. How could they do so because in this Chamber in 1996 the Taoiseach stated that the Western European Union is the European wing of NATO. It is obvious the Taoiseach made these comments when in Opposition and promptly forgot about them. However, we recalled them and we threw them back in his face. In this treaty, the Western European Union is being fully incorporated into the European Union. We will, therefore, be faced with militarisation.

It has been stated that some form of declaration will be made to convince people that everything is all right. If the Treaty of Nice has nothing to do with militarisation, why is it necessary to draw up a declaration? During the next referendum campaign, the Taoiseach will be obliged to explain to the people why he is contradicting himself.

We must be careful about protecting the vision of Europe. This has been outlined by Joschka Fischer, of the German Green Party, and Gerhard Schröder. Mr. Schröder has stated that the Council of Ministers should become a second Chamber. Let us consider the sort of second Chamber with which we will be faced in a federal Europe.

I remind Deputy Gormley that he has used almost half the time available. He should remember that he is sharing time with two other Members.

My final point is that, at present, Ireland has three votes out of 87. In an enlarged Europe, we will have seven votes out of 237. It is clear there will be a shift, because the votes of larger states will be trebled. Contrast this to the United States where each state, regardless of its size, is entitled to equal representation in the Senate. We do not have that in Europe, we do not have equality. I want a Europe of justice and equality.

I commend the electorate who rejected the Nice treaty on 7 June. This was a tremendous victory for Irish democracy, sovereignty and independent foreign policy. I also commend those who campaigned for a "No" vote against the odds. We did so despite attempted moral blackmail, misinformation and arrogance on the part of the "Yes" campaign. The people's approval for this treaty was taken for granted and they were treated as a rubber stamp. However, it was our stance which was vindicated by the electorate in the rejection of the Nice treaty. It is farcical for Fine Gael and the Labour Party to seize on the loss of the referendum by the "Yes" campaign as a stick with which to beat the Government. They all stood together in support of the Nice treaty, despite the scathing criticism of it by the Fine Gael and Labour leaders when it was negotiated last December. They have all now been given their answer by the people.

The Nice treaty is now legally dead, particularly as it must be ratified by all members states. This State has refused to ratify the treaty in the most democratic fashion, that is, by the vote of the people. It is an outrage to suggest that the same treaty can be put before the people again in the hope that this time they will make what some would describe as the "right decision". This point of view is clearly held by those who do not like the decision made on 7 June.

There is a growing sense of anger and disbelief among people that their will as expressed on 7 June is being flagrantly violated by the Government and its EU counterparts. The statement of the EU Foreign Ministers in Luxembourg is a disgrace. The Ministers claimed in one breath to respect the will of the Irish people and then excluded "any re-opening of the text signed in Nice" and proceeded to state that "the ratification process will continue on the basis of this text and in accordance with the agreed timetable". In agreeing to such a statement, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, clearly defied the decision of the electorate. The people were asked to accept or reject an amendment to the Constitution to ratify the Treaty of Nice and they said "No". There have also been statements by the Swedish Presidency and the French President, Jacques Chirac, that the Nice treaty must be ratified. President Chirac described the Irish referendum result as a difficulty which would have to be overcome. EU Commission President, Romano Prodi, says he "does not know and does not care" if the Commission's attempt to dictate the contents of the Irish budget had any influence on the referendum outcome.

These arrogant pledges to proceed with the Nice treaty, regardless of the fact that the result of the Irish referendum was a refusal to ratify it, confirms everything we in the "No" campaign have said about the anti-democratic nature of the drive to an EU super state There is no doubt that the defence of Irish neutrality and independent foreign policy was one of the key issues for people who voted "No". They remembered the broken promise to hold a referendum on NATO's Partnership for Peace and, therefore, did not trust the Government's promises on neutrality and the Nice treaty. The Government should withdraw from both the Rapid Reaction Force and NATO's PfP.

The EU enlargement process can proceed. This time we can have an arrangement which, unlike the Nice treaty, is really about enlargement and not a device to empower further the larger states and the EU bureaucracy at the expense of sovereign democracies. We cannot and should not proceed with the further integration and centralisation of the EU and the creation of a two-tier system as provided for in the now rejected Treaty of Nice. We must take time for a real debate on the future of the EU and I welcome the announcement of a forum on Europe. It should be an all-Ireland one.

I look forward to the promise of the Taoiseach of consultation with the main Opposition parties on its terms of reference. The main Opposition parties in the House on this issue are my party, Sinn Féin, the Green Party and the Socialist Party. In that debate, Sinn Féin advocates an EU of the people and not of the bureaucrats and the arrogant political élite who were rejected by the electorate last week.

(Dublin West): So far in these statements the contributions of the Taoiseach and the leaders of Fine Gael and the Labour Party have amounted to a phoney squabble among the “Yes” family on who should take the blame for the cow kicking over the bucket of Nice milk. We need a genuine debate on the issue. The rejection of the Nice treaty was a stunning rebuff not only for the Government parties but for all the political establishment, including Fine Gael and Labour, the church establishment and the business and trade union establishments. It was a rejection not only of the Nice treaty but of the cynical manoeuvre of the Government to railroad it through with a few weeks' debate.

It was also a rejection of the betrayal by the Government in failing to hold a referendum on the Partnership for Peace which was previously promised by Fianna Fáil. A majority did not believe the Government and the "Yes" campaign on a number of key issues. They did not believe the Nice treaty was unrelated to a policy to create a military wing for the EU, and they were right. The treaty consolidated the move to create an economic superbloc to rival the United States and with a military wing to give it more weight in world politics.

The Nice treaty and what preceded it is an endorsement of the reprehensible armaments industry within the EU. This is the ugly face of the EU kept hidden successfully, but which has annual sales of £50 billion and profits of more than £10 billion from manufacturing and selling weapons of mass destruction throughout the world. It has bribed and corrupted senior politicians in the EU and, under the guise of humanitarianism, has persuaded EU Governments to continue to spend massive extra sums of money. There was no reference to the people on the creation of the Rapid Reaction Force which is an EU army in the making.

The Nice treaty was also designed to consolidate the already massive clout wielded by multinational corporations. The European Round Table and other business organisations have had their agendas foisted on the people of Europe, especially the privatisation agenda, to which the Government has taken with a vengeance. The privatisation drive has been driven by the EU, and the European multinationals are already busily buying public services in eastern Europe. Their agenda is not to lift the poor and small farming people but to soak them for more profits.

There are horrific economic, social and environmental problems in some east European countries with decades of Stalinist misrule being followed by multinational economic dictatorship. That is not the way forward. No answer was given to me in the campaign when I asked what was the future of the millions of small farmers in Poland and Romania. They will be wiped out by the agri-businesses of existing EU member states.

Let the political establishment be warned. A cynical move to use some type of neutrality protocol as a fig leaf to cover the unacceptability of the Nice treaty will not be tolerated. That will not succeed in a second referendum. The Socialist Party did not oppose the Nice treaty as a Nationalist party but as an internationalist one. Genuine internationalism embraces all the working people and the small farming communities of Europe, east and west, but rejects a Europe dominated and dictated to by multinationals and the armaments industry.

The Europe I want to see is a genuine community of peoples and a confederation of European democratic and socialist states where the resources and wealth are run in the interests of ordinary people and where the safeguarding of the environment and eco-systems are paramount. It is not a Europe provided by the Nice treaty. It is the only way the poor, small farming and working people of eastern Europe will be lifted from the poverty and problems they endure.

Last Thursday, a European electorate spoke on the Nice treaty. That is a fundamental fact which must inform our considerations and actions at national and European levels. Although many people regrettably chose not to vote, it was a democratic result and we must respect it as such. We must listen to the views of the electorate and take time to address its concerns. We must not pretend or assume the electorate did not know or understand what it was doing in voting "No". There were many reasons a majority voted "No" as there were many reasons people voted "Yes" and others abstained. Even if we disagree on the reasons for a "No" vote and with the result and even if we are disappointed, as I am, we must bow to the primacy of the electorate in a referendum.

There are other facts which will be central to our considerations and actions going forward as a Government and Oireachtas. The fact remains that Ireland's national interest lies in playing a constructive and positive role in Europe and the wider world. This applies across the board diplomatically, economically, culturally and socially. Our recent economic prosperity can only be sustained by being open, competitive and adaptable. Hundreds of thousands of people in Ireland owe their livelihoods to this policy and to their positive attitude to working in the wider world. The people are not narrow, nationalist, self-centred and isolationist.

What has confused international observers is that many of the party political groupings opposed to the Nice treaty can be accurately described as narrow, nationalist, self-centred and isolationist. I am and will continue to be critical of the policy platforms of these political groups which range from the destructive to the naive.

(Dublin West): More arrogance.

They would destroy jobs, suffocate enterprise and reverse the progress we have made on reducing poverty. I do not believe these parties can credibly claim support for their other policies from those who voted "No" to the Nice treaty.

We never have.

The process of ratification of the Nice treaty continues in other EU member states. Each country is entitled to organise its ratification process in its own way and to proceed at its own pace. We would not like to be criticised by other member states for our requirement to hold a referendum on treaty changes. Similarly, it is not for us to tell other member states how or when to ratify the treaty.

It is also a fact that the deadline for the Nice treaty to come into effect is the end of 2002 with the requirement that it would be ratified by all member states by then. This means we have considerable time for debate on the issues relevant to the Nice treaty in addition to the wider issues of the future direction and structure of the European Union.

The Government's decision to set up a special forum in which all these issues can be debated and teased out is the right way forward. Only with such a long period of debate and reflection will we reach a resolution of how we want to proceed in Europe and how we wish to play our part in enlargement. Only with an inclusive debate close to the people and without the jargon will we reach a clear view on how we want to proceed in meeting our own requirements and the legitimate expectations of fellow EU member states and applicant countries.

It is also a fact that people have genuine concerns about the most important European issues. These wider issues are about democratic accountability, national and European decision-making, national social norms, neutrality and the use of military force. I and my party understand these concerns and do not dismiss them. Some of them go to the heart of how we organise our democracy at national and international level. We must debate them fully, openly and honestly and with the people and not merely among ourselves in politics and administration.

The people want to see robust debate on all these issues. They want the European Union to have the right policies as well as the right decision making structures. They want to see normal politics on European and national issues. That means the contest of political ideas and policies. The people do not want to see debate closed down and policy discussions carried on behind closed doors, either in Brussels or in Dublin. They do not want the word "Europe" to be used – or rather abused – in an attempt to close down real debate on issues of concern to them, free citizens of Ireland and Europe.

That is why I express my views openly and honestly on European, Irish and international issues. A debate has already started among European political leaders on these questions. They speak frankly and frequently and so will I and my party. Since last Thursday the Opposition has indulged in a blame game. I have been charged, for instance, with causing a "No" vote because of a speech I made last year and because I expressed what I saw as the national interest last February in relation to budgetary policy. I would do exactly the same again. I do not believe in stifling debate, as the clear implication of the Opposition's position would be. The people do not want their political leaders to become programmed robots when it comes to European issues. The issues are too important for that. I expressed my views clearly and honestly for the Nice treaty and enlargement but against a European super state; for Euro-realism and against Euro-scepticism; for enterprise and job creation but against State barriers to jobs and employment, whether those barriers are Irish or European, private or public.

The leader of the Labour Party would do better to stop harping on about a speech I gave last year, although I am flattered by his obsession with it. I am flattered also that he should imply that my remarks would have turned around his former political adviser, Fergus Finlay, a former Labour Attorney General, John Rogers, Mick O'Reilly of the ATGWU and many others.

(Dublin West): That was no turn around.

He would do better to ask whether the people agree that the destiny of Ireland is as one region in a big Europe, like Walloon region of Belgium, as he said himself a few years ago. The Irish people would not swap the sovereign republic of Ireland for a small European region named Ireland, as Deputy Quinn suggested some time ago. This idea, I am sure, contributes more to Irish concerns about the future direction of Europe than anything members of the Government may have said.

In recent speeches the president of the Labour Party asks us to believe his party is the real European party in Ireland. This is, he would say, on the basis that the European Union is necessarily socialist and a place where the Labour Party's policies are safe, always implemented and essential to the very project. This sort of political vanity is another turn off for voters and it is so wrong. The European Parliament, the European Commission and the member state Governments are made up of many more parties and policies than Labour and the European Socialists. There is a contest of political ideas in Europe but the more the Labour Party puts out the idea that in the EU there is one set of policies the more people will see this as undemocratic.

As for Deputy Noonan's speech, we need take no lectures from a party which saw fit to spend £100,000 on a Celtic snail billboard earlier this year when important issues such as the Nice treaty received a truly sluggish response from his new leadership. Unique among parties on the "yes" side, Fine Gael chose the launch of its Nice treaty campaign to attack other political parties. It was negative from the start. I cannot help thinking the party's Nice treaty campaign would have been quite different if previous leaders of his party had been in charge.

The divorce referendum was carried on the last occasion, unlike the first occasion it was put to the people when it was roundly defeated. On that occasion Dr. Garrett FitzGerald was Taoiseach and it was not a lack of effort on his part which caused it to be defeated. The then main Opposition party, Fianna Fáil, decided to change its approach and support the change in the Constitution. As any objective observer would agree, that change made a crucial difference because the proposal was carried by 1% of the electorate.

Ireland's future is as a fully engaged, active participant in a dynamic and expanded Europe. This will need appropriate democratic decision making at national and European level, allocated in ways that have the confidence of the population. We need the right policies for a dynamic, job creating Europe as well as the right structures for decision-making. We need to play our part to secure peace and prosperity on the entire European continent through enlargement. The challenge before us is to work out, together with the people, how we want to do this in the coming years, and particularly how we will co-operate with our partners and the applicant countries to make it possible.

For the past 50 or 60 years the applicant countries have lived under Communist regimes. It is only in the recent years that democracy has been bedded down in many of these countries. They suffered enormous internal and external oppression during those years. They deserve the opportunity to participate in the EU with the other 15 member states so that democracy can be supported and peace and stability maintained. They also deserve the opportunity to grow their economies, just as the Irish economy has grown so successfully in the 28 years since we become a member of the EU.

After a prolonged and reasoned debate we will be ready to take further decisions to achieve our shared goals in Europe. My party and I will play a full and energetic role in this process.

I am glad to join in what amounts to a post mortem on the failure of the Government to convince the electorate to support the Nice treaty. It is important that the Government contributions be honest and realistic. The point made by Deputy Noonan is clear. The failure to secure support for the treaty amounted to a failure of leadership on the part of the Taoiseach. The Taoiseach did not discharge his responsibility and the country, not the Government or the Fianna Fáil Party, suffers as a consequence. My country has been severely damaged as a result of that failure of leadership.

Why did the electorate fail to turn out to vote – the main reason the referendum was lost? There was complacency on the part of the Government, amounting to gross negligence. The Government took the electorate for granted. It took the easy way out of rolling speeches off word processors and photocopiers and assumed that type of media campaign would be sufficient to engage and energise the electorate and persuade voters to turn out. This obviously would not work and it did not.

I am concerned that the suggestion of a politically more sinister motive for the "No" campaign may have some substance. Was there an unwillingness on the part of the Government parties to confront the "No" lobby for fear of alienating votes in the upcoming general election? That suggestion has been made. The Government owes an explanation to the country as to why it did not engage in a campaign of any consequence to persuade the electorate to vote and support the treaty.

(Dublin West): Can the Deputy explain his own party's failure?

The only "Yes" campaign on the ground was the Fine Gael campaign. Deputy Higgins should not be taken in by the media sheep.

The Tánaiste has attempted to justify her Boston rather than her Berlin approach. It was not Mary Harney who made that speech but the Tánaiste of this country and, therefore, it has an impact. It is important to bear in mind that statements of that sort, including one in theFinancial Times, encourages Euro-scepticism. The Tánaiste's statement was supported by the speech of the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Deputy de Valera and by the cavalier attitude to Europe of the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy. The conduct of the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Cuív, was of a kind with that approach. The only difference was that his approach was entirely dishonest. While in Dublin he supported the treaty, he made a pre-emptive strike in the west on TG4, presumably designed to compete with Dana in his Galway West constituency for the “more Catholic than the bishops” fundamentalist vote in the next general election. That is cynicism and dishonesty at their worst but it is a matter for Deputy Ó Cuív to confront.

I am concerned about the Taoiseach's further appalling lack of leadership in dealing with this type of dishonest politics. It seems to be quite normal for the Taoiseach and his Fianna Fáil Ministers to speak out of both sides of their mouths. The Minister of State, Deputy Ó Cuív, was merely following in the ignoble footsteps of the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, who was also happy to travel on both sides of the road when it came to taxi deregulation. In Dublin, Deputy O'Dea was prepared to support the party position, yet in his constituency he took exactly the opposite point of view.

The relevant issue is not the gombeen approach of these Ministers of State but rather that the Taoiseach seems content to approve of it. Even more interesting is that the Tánaiste, Deputy Harney, also seems prepared to endorse that approach. It would not be so important if such grave issues were not at stake. It is clear that Ireland's failure to ratify the Treaty of Nice has severely damaged the name of our country abroad. This is obvious not only from the reaction of the existing member states of the European Union but particularly when one gauges the reaction of the applicant countries whose route to EU membership has been blocked.

I accept that accession negotiations can proceed but they cannot be completed until the Treaty of Nice has been ratified. I am not surprised that the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, found it necessary to engage in a series ofmea culpa meetings with representatives of the applicant countries in Luxembourg. That is only a start. Serious damage has been caused and those responsible for it have done a grave disservice to the country.

Every conceivable mistake was made in the run up to the referendum. No explanation has been given as to why the issue was rushed. Fine Gael supported the Treaty of Nice but asked that the referendum be deferred to the autumn to allow for a proper information campaign beforehand. A mix and match approach was taken, combining it with other referenda, including an attempt to throw in one concerning judicial conduct. That was not the way to proceed on an issue of such grave importance. Above all, there was no campaign on the ground by the Government. I appreciate that the Minister, Deputy Cowen, led a campaign through the media, although he did not get much support from many of his ministerial colleagues.

I categorically reject the suggestion that there was no "Yes" campaign. The Fine Gael party ran such a campaign in every constituency and I was the party's director of elections. There were cynical sneers from some of the media sheep as to the type of postering that was used but, as Oscar Wilde said, there is only one thing worse than being criticised and that is being ignored. At least they knew there were posters featuring the endorsement of the Treaty of Nice by Fine Gael's public representatives. They were the only "Yes" posters in most of the constituencies. They were supplemented by more than half a million canvass cards and leaflets which we attempted to bring to as many houses as possible, explaining in detail why we supported the treaty. Nothing similar was done by any other party endorsing the Treaty of Nice and, as a consequence, we are now paying for it.

What should be done now? We have to examine what went wrong and look beyond the Treaty of Nice. If one examines European referenda over the past ten years, one can see that no major information campaigns were associated with any of them. Why? Going back to Maastricht, the main issue was whether we would receive £6 billion or £8 billion as a consequence of that treaty. There was a dispute over the amount of money involved but no serious debate on European issues. When it came to the Amsterdam Treaty, less money was involved but there was a major focus on the financial implications arising from that treaty. In addition, it was associated with the Good Friday referendum on the same day.

When it came to the Treaty of Nice there was no money and no campaign on the part of the Government. That was the essential difference and why it was lost. As regards any future European referendum, we will have to ensure a more serious sustained information campaign in the lead up to the introduction of legislation in the House, following the passage of such legislation and in the lead up to the referendum date. The All-Party Committee on the Constitution considered these issues and its draft report has been made available to the Government, although it has not been published. In the report we made serious proposals for time limits to ensure proper information campaigns both from the point of view of the Oireachtas debate, 90 days, and, thereafter, a further 90 days in the run up to the referendum date. That would allow adequate time to confront what, in the case of the Nice treaty, was wilful misinformation on the part of some, although I am not accusing all.

Including Deputy Gormley.

I am not pointing the finger at Deputy Gormley but there were some gross aspects of wilful misinformation by the "No" side.

Including him.

However, there was not time to combat them. What do we do now? All the signs indicate the Government is talking about another referendum but some thought should be given to what would happen if that referendum is lost.

Have another one.

That appalling vista should be considered. There is no procedure for leaving the European Union or being thrown out of it but there is a precedent. Greenland left, as a region of Denmark, in 1976. As part of our debate on this matter, however, we should consider that appalling vista. How would we stand – and where would American and other foreign investment go – if we found ourselves isolated from the other EU members states? If the other 14 member states want to ensure enlargement by admitting 12 applicant countries, 26 versus one might mean that we would be in a very difficult situation. That is one of the issues that has to be examined.

I make a number of suggestions. First, the Government should appoint a Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs. I do not mean any criticism of the Minister, Deputy Cowen, by this but such an appointment would help, given his responsibilities in Northern Ireland and on the UN Security Council. I was,de facto, a Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs because the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Peter Barry, was so engaged in Northern Ireland. My experience was that it was an advantage for the country to have a Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs who was able to co-ordinate what was happening in Europe on behalf of the country.

Second, I am delighted the Labour Party's proposal for a forum for Europe has been accepted; it will help to promote a rational debate based on more information.

Third, the proposal of the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on reform of the Seanad should be considered from the point of view of using the Upper House as a bridgehead for Europe by allowing MEPs and EU Commissioners to attend sittings. Above all, such reform would ensure that debates on EU directives and other regulations took place in the Seanad.

Fourth, there is a strong case for resourcing more adequately the Joint Committee on European Affairs. It is clear that a major effort has been made by my colleague, Deputy Durkan, as chairman of that committee, but he has been struggling valiantly without resources of any consequence.

Fifth, consideration must be given to the way referenda are run. I referred to the provision of adequate time, but funding must also be examined. There is a proposal in the draft report regarding the provision of funding for Members in order that they can explain to their constituents the position they are taking in regard to a referendum proposal.

Sixth, the ballot paper should be examined. I was told there was a great deal of confusion regarding the way in which the ballot paper was framed. If so, let us see if we can at least provide a ballot paper that people can fully understand.

Finally, if there is a further referendum, there should be a proper Government campaign. Without such a campaign, there is no hope of success.

I returned from Luxembourg this afternoon having attended a meeting of EU Foreign Ministers yesterday and having met individually 11 Ministers of the accession countries this morning. The other Minister was not available.

Our EU colleagues unanimously expressed concern and disappointment at the outcome of the referendum on the Treaty of Nice and I share their disappointment. I explained that the decision to hold a referendum was based on legal advice provided for the Government and informed my colleagues on the General Affairs Council that the campaign against the treaty was composed of a variety of disparate elements. Matters raised by them included issues not germane to the treaty. There were also interpretations given to aspects of it for which there is no treaty reference. There were, therefore, myriad reasons given as to why the voters may have decided to vote "No".

I also adverted to the historically low turnout and the unfortunate confusion among sections of the electorate about what the treaty did and did not contain. Our EU partners accepted my assurances that the vote was in no way a vote against enlargement. They also pledged to give whatever assistance was possible in helping Ireland to find a way forward taking into account the concerns reflected by the "No" vote.

At the same time the reality, as reflected in the Council conclusions adopted yesterday, is that none of our EU partners is willing to renegotiate the text of the treaty. The treaty took the best part of one year to complete, including four days at Heads of Government level at Nice last December. All member states and candidate countries remain committed to the treaty as being the basis for enlargement. This is an important reiteration of the legal and political position as far as the 15 member states and the candidate countries are concerned. There is no method by which enlargement can be triggered other than ratification by all 15 member states. In respecting our position as a result of the referendum last Thursday, it is clear we have also to respect the Council's firm position which it reiterated yesterday.

Those who have suggested the Government can somehow call a halt to this process are fundamentally out of touch with the situation as it stands. Each member state is fully entitled to pursue national ratification in line with its own democratic procedures and principles. To suggest otherwise is contrary to their democratic rights as member states.

We are not suggesting that.

As a matter of legal fact, it is, therefore, impossible for any member state to veto the ratification process in other member states. Such a suggestion, made yesterday evening by the "No" lobby is, therefore, ludicrous and based on an ignorance of the legal procedures.

There is, however, another reality. Many have real concerns about the treaty or, in some cases, what they believe it contains. It is the job of Government to listen to these concerns and answer them as best it can. The Government will in the coming period attempt to find solutions to the identifiable reasons behind the "No" vote and reflect on the substantial number of voters who opposed the treaty in good faith and because of sincerely held convictions. There are people who voted "No" because they have a view that the EU is perceived as not being adequately accountable to them and their interests. We must try to address their concerns in a satisfactory way.

It is ironic that the Nice Treaty sets out a mechanism for a thorough debate on the future of the Union: what we want from it, where we want it to go and, importantly, what we think is best left to national governments.

That is the post-Nice debate.

This debate is not being rushed. National debates will take place, beginning this year, and will be concurrent with a debate at a European-wide level commencing next year, with decisions being attempted at the Intergovernmental Conference in 2004. We should promote the broadest public involvement and a greater understanding of the European Union's working methods is one of the key goals of this process.

I am pleased that the Taoiseach informed the House that the Government intends shortly to convene a forum on Europe to discuss these issues. At the Institute of European Affairs I replied to Deputy Gormley's colleague, Joschka Fischer, the German Foreign Minister, who is a keen advocate of the ratification of the Treaty of Nice and made it clear it was a constructive proposal which we should examine carefully. I am glad the Government has come forward with this decision at this time.

We agreed with it.

I am convinced that open public debate and consequent understanding of what the European Union does and how it operates will dispel many of the fears which led people to vote "No" in last week's referendum. I was able to reassure my EU colleagues and all the candidate states in Luxembourg of Ireland's unwavering support for the enlargement process and our continuing commitment to the development of the Union. Unfortunately, the reason it was necessary to give such reassurances was the "No" vote in the referendum, encouraged by some in the House who protest they are in favour of enlargement.

Let us be quite clear. The General Affairs Council conclusions in this matter, adopted yesterday, confirm that the Treaty of Nice was and is about enlargement. Enlargement remains the key historic task facing the Union and one to which all the member states and all the candidate states remain fundamentally committed. Any misrepresentation by opponents of the treaty of that basic fact does not contribute to finding a solution which will enable the enlargement process to be successfully completed.

The enlargement process remains the key objective of the Union in the period ahead. The reasons for this are straightforward. Europe was artificially divided for half a century. The people of Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and the other candidate states clearly deserve to be part of the European Union. Their accession will do justice to their sustained and determined effort to transform their societies and economies based on democratic principles and the rule of law.

We often take for granted that Europe has been at peace for over 50 years. This is in no small part due to the role of the European Union in overcoming historical rivalries and creating a Union based on democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law. Perhaps in Ireland we should reflect on the alternative to a rules-based European Union. It would be a Europe dominated by the large countries where shifting alliances would lead to instability – in other words, the sort of Europe that helped create the conditions historically for conflict and crisis. It should be recalled that even during the present period instability and war are still a feature of parts of Europe outside the embrace of the Union. An enlargement incorporating the present candidates will include one of the former Yugoslav republics. Perhaps more will join in time, each enlargement reinforcing the strength and stability of a Europe voluntarily united on democratic principles.

The economic benefits of enlargement are also significant. Irish companies are already investing and trading heavily in candidate countries, maintaining jobs and prosperity here. This process will accelerate when they achieve full membership. Trade and investment are the life blood of a small open economy such as ours. Those who campaign against enlargement or the European Union put this at risk. We currently export just 3% of what we produce to the 12 candidate countries with a present composite population of 130 million people. The potential in terms of two way trade as colleague members of the European Union would be significant. Enlargement poses challenges for the candidate countries, many of which have only in the past decade emerged from half a century of centralised state control and isolation from markets. Ireland is sensitive to these special needs and the other needs of all the candidate countries.

Ireland is looked upon as a model member state by the candidate countries. That was repeated to me by Foreign Minister colleagues from these countries whom I met today. They see us as a country which has managed its membership of the European Union well and taken full advantage of the opportunities, while at the same time maintaining a positive image with its fellow member states. I cannot emphasise enough, as Ireland's Minister for Foreign Affairs, that it is imperative we maintain this positive image with the candidate countries. To do so now, we will need to redouble our efforts at our bilateral meetings and in our relations with these countries to avoid misunderstandings or the development of attitudes which affect our present and future political, economic and cultural interests with the peoples and Governments of these states.

It would be unfortunate for Ireland if the vote last week was misconstrued as an anti-enlargement vote. It would harm our relations with future partners who will be vital to us as allies and colleagues around the European Union table. It would also result in drawing into question Ireland's positive reputation internationally as a country which supports the development of countries which are less well off than ourselves. We must continue to set the record straight in the weeks and months ahead by our words and deeds to ensure that Ireland's name does not become associated with being greedy or selfish in pursuing our interests. Ireland, which has gained so much from its membership of the European Union, believes that today's candidates have as much right as we had 28 years ago to become full members of the European Union and share in the stability and opportunity which membership brings. By overcoming this present political problem, we look forward to the candidate countries becoming full members in the near future. In the interim, Ireland will play its full part in ensuring that the accession process goes forward at the fastest possible pace. It is vitally important that we continue to take a constructive role in that negotiating process.

I will now deal with the false claim that enlargement could take place without the changes contained in the Treaty of Nice, as some in this House unfortunately continue to maintain. The Treaty of Nice agrees changes to the voting weights in the Council, a change that must occur for enlargement to take place. The Treaty of Nice agrees changes to the allocation of seats in the European Parliament, a change that must occur for enlargement to take place. The Treaty of Nice also agrees changes to the European Commission, a change which, it was agreed at Amsterdam, would be made along with changes to voting weights, prior to the first enlargement of the Union.

That is not the case.

It has been made clear that those issues are not up for re-negotiation. The treaty also makes further changes to ensure the Union can continue to operate effectively with a significant increase in membership. The Court of Justice will be improved, as will the Court of Auditors. The use of qualified majority voting has been extended, including in relation to the environment, where one recalcitrant state will not be able to block environmental measures important for Europe as a whole, which is currently the case. Small changes have been made to the already existing rules governing enhanced co-operation which allows a group of countries to co-operate more closely in certain areas provided they meet strict conditions. This will emphatically not lead to a two-tier Europe, as sometimes claimed, as the rules specifically state that no country can be excluded from an enhanced co-operation group either at the beginning or at a later stage and that they must work under Articles 43 and 44 of the treaty in a single institutional framework. It is not legally possible under the Treaty of Nice to create a club within a club.

That is not what Joschka Fischer said.

However, although the case for the Nice treaty was, to my mind, strong, the public was not convinced or did not exercise a franchise arising out of a failure to communicate the substance of the issues involved, for which we all take responsibility. Two million voters did not vote at all because of this failure by us to connect with the public on this issue. The Referendum Commission, operating independently of the Government, had the task of explaining to the public the issues involved in the Nice treaty referendum and the two further referenda taken on the same day. It was undoubtedly a difficult job and I pay tribute to its work and diligence.

Whether the operation of the commission can be refined to improve voter understanding will and should be a subject for examination.

The Government also made strenuous efforts to inform the public of the issues at stake. We published a White Paper explaining in detail the changes which the Nice treaty would make. A summary of the White Paper was distributed to every household in the country. We had lengthy Dáil and Seanad debates on the treaty and the referendum, during which 58 Deputies from all sides of the House contributed. I participated in numerous television and national and local radio discussions and I joined party colleagues in campaigning on the doorsteps for a "Yes" vote. That we were unsuccessful clearly gives us pause for thought. It is important that an historic issue, such as the enlargement of the Union, does not become a scapegoat for a protest vote in respect of disappointments people may have about a range of issues, most of them domestic policy issues unrelated to EU matters.

As I mentioned, our colleagues in Europe are not prepared to re-open the substance of the Treaty of Nice. In the course of negotiating the treaty, every member state made compromises, an essential part of any negotiation, but each committed itself to the final outcome. To seek to unpick the substance of the agreement and to tell 14 other countries what to do is not an option that is open to Ireland or to any other member state. That was reconfirmed by my 14 member state colleagues yesterday. We must respect that. Respect is a two-way street.

Deputy Gormley is wrong when he suggests that people, when they do not agree with him, are being contemptuous. The rational thing to do is to consider how the specific concerns which emerged during the campaign and gave rise to the support for a "No" vote can be addressed, given the political and legal reality that confronts us as a country and as members of the European Union.

The Government has stated that nothing in the treaty undermines our policy of military neutrality. Nothing commits us to a mutual defence pact. Perhaps this reality needs to be further articulated. The issue of democratic oversight of European activities was also a recurring feature in the referendum campaign. We can surely do more at national level. I am thinking in particular of the role of the Oireachtas in scrutinising EU legislation and informing the public of what is being done at European level. I have already told the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Joint Committee on European Affairs – the chairman is here today – that I would welcome such a development in the interest of democratic debate on EU issues.

Most of what happens in Europe, even if the general public does not follow it closely, is often relatively mundane. For example, the Commission, the Council and the Parliament have debated issues such as aircraft noise control and Community patents. However, they also consider issues of great importance for Ireland and our partners, issues such as the euro, the single currency, the Common Foreign and Security Policy or the Common Agricultural Policy. In each of these areas, initiatives taken at a European level have benefited us far more than any action we could undertake at domestic level. More could be done to explain these processes to the public and to explain the European structures.

Surveys of public opinion continue to show that a great majority of Irish people recognise the benefits of EU membership, moreover they consider themselves European in the best sense, identifying with the achievements and traditions of our continent.

Many of our young people continue to work abroad, and at this point in our history, thankfully, they go voluntarily. When they return, as they usually do, they bring their experience of other European countries to enrich ours. I agree with Deputy Michael D. Higgins, for example, when he emphasises the need to recognise the cultural as well as the economic and political importance that enlargement represents.

Our people are pro-enlargement and the challenge for the Government is to ensure that this sentiment is reflected in a positive endorsement of the enlargement process and in putting in place structures for guaranteeing that the people of a small state retain their sense of ownership of the European project. It is a challenge that we must all rise to in the national interest, as full and committed members of the European Union. We fully subscribe to and derive great benefit from the treaties of the European Union which govern the operation of the institutions to date. We must reflect and then act on the issues which brought a "No" vote, so the Treaty of Nice can be seen in the same light in the future.

I propose to share time with Deputy Coveney, giving us seven and a half minutes each. I know Deputy Joe Higgins will be very interested in what I have to say but there is no need for him to stand up during the course of my speech.

This is a time when lessons can be learned by the Government, so that early and adequate debate takes place in this House and in the media on issues such as the Nice treaty. The Government must ensure when supporting and promoting a treaty such as the Nice treaty that all its own soldiers and Ministers are on board and voting in the same way. There is not much sense in having a united front and expecting the support of the Opposition to get a result, if the Government does not have its own people on board as well. I genuinely sympathise with the Minister, as it must be absolutely infuriating that somebody on the Government ship's deck voted in the opposite direction. That is the worst possible thing that can happen to dent the confidence of a Minister at any time. I am not making a political point, it is just a fact of life.

There are also lessons to be learned by the general public. I have been a member of the European Affairs Committee for a very long time, and while I am not an expert on Europe, I am a keen observer and have learned something about it. I hope we do not have a similar result after another visitation to this issue. If we do, we will go down a road which will have serious consequences for our economy and our people. In case the "No" vote campaigners think otherwise, that is a fact of life.

While Europe is delighted to have us on board and has helped us out in many ways, it would hate to find that when we begin to progress, we might pull the rug and move away independently. I am not so sure we are strong enough economically to do that. I hope we do not find ourselves aligned solely with our next door neighbour, in the future as we were in the past, and who so far has professed a high degree of euro-scepticism. I say that without disrespect to our immediate neighbour.

There are lessons to be learned by the European leaders in general. It is not in order for a European leader at a sensitive time, to make a statement that has implications for the entire union. It is absolutely unfair to all the other participant countries should one leader set the pace for everybody and fly a political kite that suits his or her electorate at a particular time – the theory that each member state must influence to the ultimate the forward march of the Union if it goes at all. We all know if that is the case then it will go nowhere. There has to be some kind of compromise, meeting of minds or dialogue and a treaty is the only way to facilitate it.

I was somewhat concerned by the Tánaiste's remarks tonight. It would not be any harm to refer back to the original vision of the founding fathers of the European Union. When they drew out their vision for Europe from the ashes of the last war, they saw the necessity at that time to move forward as one and move closer together so that there would not be the division and dissension that the Minister spoke of earlier. If that vision becomes blurred and we decide to forget about it and unilaterally move ahead in a haphazard group with some kind of flexibility to suit each country on each different occasion we can forget about progress, because it will not work. It has not ever worked anywhere, and comparisons elsewhere will show that unless there is a clear vision, unless people work together and bring others involved along with them in so far as it is possible, then nothing can be achieved.

I do not agree there are no circumstances in which a country can be left out of the Union. We need to be careful about how we go forward now, so that we do not find ourselves on that road. It can and will happen. It can happen by virtue of our geographical location on the European map. That is a serious prospect and I hope people, as a result of this referendum, have also learned a few lessons. Far be it from me to lecture the public, but one of the lessons to be learned is that if people stay at home and allow others to go and vote one gets the decision anyway. Whether or not one likes it afterwards, one just has to put up with it and live with it. We should all learn lessons and I hope we will be able to sit down and do something positive to bring matters to a satisfactory conclusion in the future.

The European Affairs Committee has tried to be the conduit for debate on this issue and we did the best job we could. We have often been at meetings in Brussels where other colleague countries had delegations of some 20 or 30 people, including legal teams backing them up. We do not have those kinds of resources, and we almost had no secretariat, but for the actions of the members of the committee five weeks ago. I say to the Minister that we must ensure we do not have that kind of nonsense in future.

Mr. Coveney

Last Friday when the news broke that the public had rejected the Treaty of Nice, I was on an island, which is part of Sweden, called Gotland, in the middle of the Baltic Sea. I was attending a conference with other parliamentary colleagues from European nations, MPs and MEPs. In opening the conference the Spanish chairman welcomed, in particular, a delegation from Poland as aspiring members to the EU under future enlargement.

Being in the Baltic Sea with Sweden holding the EU presidency to the west and to the east, Poland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, four of the applicant states, I got a real sense of the enormity of the potential consequences of a rejection of the Nice treaty by Ireland. The response from my European colleagues was one of shock, disbelief and intense disappointment. I know the Minister for Foreign Affairs has also witnessed these reactions.

Their shocked reaction was because the result of a referendum in Ireland could prevent or delay enlargement and a move towards a more stable peaceful and larger Europe. I had a difficult job to persuade them that Ireland's rejection of the Nice treaty was not a vote against enlargement but was because of other concerns among Irish people with regard to the issue of Europe. I believe I was correct in making these arguments and in the immediate and short-term, both the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, must work around the clock to explain to our EU colleagues and more importantly to the 12 applicant countries that Ireland as a nation is most definitely not against EU enlargement. It is essential for our reputation in Europe to ensure the good will shown towards Ireland by other EU member states continues into the future.

We must accept the result of the referendum and analyse, as public representatives, the reasons the people chose not to follow the recommendation of the vast majority of Members of this House in rejecting the Nice treaty. If the ratification process here had been handled differently, a "Yes" vote for ratification was possible and a much higher turnout could also have been achieved.

I do not enjoy personalising the blame game in relation to a referendum result, but the Government, the Taoiseach in particular and his Minister for Foreign Affairs, must take responsibility for the mishandling of the referendum. The ratification of the Nice treaty by referendum in Ireland is an issue of such magnitude and importance in relation to its consequences for EU enlargement that the Government needed to give much more time to inform citizens of what was contained in the treaty. What was the rush? We have another 18 months before we are required to ratify the treaty. Why did we have to be the first state in Europe to try to do so? That was the first mistake. The Government got the timing wrong. We have been reminded in no uncertain terms that people will not vote for something just because they are told to do so by a Taoiseach, regardless of how personally popular he is, or by any other public representative. Instead, people want to make up their own minds based on facts, figures and public debate.

The second failure of the Government was in the campaign build-up to the referendum. The Government's failure to mobilise its own Ministers across the country, with the exception of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, did not inspire confidence in anybody to vote "Yes". In my own constituency, while campaigning in Cork, people expressed amazement at the lack of a Government party presence in selling the "Yes" vote to the Nice treaty. It is bad enough rushing the referendum on the people without adequate information and debate, but not ensuring a vigorous campaign resulted in a disillusioned, disinterested electorate, of whom 63% they did not even feel it was worth their while going out to vote. If the Taoiseach could not even enthuse his own Ministers to campaign, how could he expect to convince the nation that it should vote "Yes"? As we have seen, one of his Ministers did not even do so.

The third mistake the Government made in the campaign was its treatment of the "No" campaign activists during the debate. I agree with the Taoiseach and the Minister, Deputy Cowen, when they say that many of the arguments made by the "No" campaigners were not relevant to the Nice treaty. That may be so, but to dismiss public representatives raising issues and concerns relating to the future shape of Europe as misleading extremists receiving funding from a far right wing American financier is not the right tactic to bring people on board when trying to convince them to vote for something. There were three main factors. Timing, without adequate debate, hapless campaigning and treating the opposition to the Nice treaty with contempt led to a poor turnout and a "No" vote.

Where do we go from here? That is the question everybody is now asking. It is true that the Nice treaty cannot proceed without the ratification of all 15 member states. Despite the arguments made earlier by activists for the "No" campaign, enlargement cannot happen without the ratification of the Nice treaty by all member states. The Amsterdam Treaty is not sufficient and we have heard a clear message coming from the applicant states, in particular, that this is so. I welcome the announcement of an EU forum proposed by Deputy Quinn. We clearly need a wide ranging European debate dealing with all issues and concerns of Irish people in relation to European issues. This has not happened yet in a real way, but it must happen before the people are asked for a second time to make a decision on the Nice treaty.

The Minister pointed out today that it is very unlikely – in fact, it will not happen – that the Nice treaty will be scrapped or renegotiated. For this reason, the fears that Irish people have must be dealt with through debate and real information in order that issues such as a European army, a threat to neutrality or a movement towards NATO can be dealt with in order that people can see the real truth behind them, which is that the Nice treaty does not deal with those issues. We can deal with them in other ways and in time, if the Government ensures the necessary debate takes place, people's fears about the Nice treaty and European enlargement can be dispelled.

Ireland's story in the European Union has been one of success and wealth creation, one that the applicant countries admire, particularly the smaller countries seeking entry to the Union. The Foreign Minister from Estonia said today that he looks on Ireland as a role model. He wants to base Estonian policies on policies that have been put in place here in order that the people of his country can benefit in the way we have benefited.

It is time now to reflect carefully on our responsibilities and the way in which we wish to move forward in a Europe that will enlarge. As a small nation, we can only do this through information and full debate. I look forward to that process.

This is a very sombre debate, one which would not have been expected two weeks ago. The result of the referendum is astonishing, as is the misinformation, the disinformation and the clouds of confusion on which much of the debate was based in recent weeks. It is also a salutary debate because the political establishment here has to look into its heart and understand the reason we failed in regard to this particular episode because the reality is that 96% of those who represent the public in this House, all the leaders of all the major political parties, the bulk of the leaders of the trade union movement and the other social partners were positively disposed towards the Nice treaty, yet the people voted "No". I agree with Deputy Coveney and the sentiment expressed by the Minister. There is no point in recriminations at this stage, but there is a great deal of work to be done by all of us in the political establishment to understand the complexity of the message we got last Thursday from the people.

The European Union and its predecessor organisations going back to the time of the ECSC have been the foundation stone on which peace, tranquillity, progress and social justice have been based on the continent of Europe for the past 50 years. I have always believed that the Irish people have adapted to the European Union not just because of what we got out of it, but that we were very active participants because of what we could put in. It is with a great deal of sadness, therefore, that I address the House on this particular issue.

The European adventure was built out of the ashes of the war. As some here know, I have lectured on this particular aspect of European integration and history for the past 21 years. I was speaking to one of the best known authors in this area after a radio programme last Saturday and he and I simply could not believe what had happened. The great aspect of the European Union, from my point of view, was not that we had gained considerable and immeasurable financial and economic benefits, but that we had been able to elevate ourselves beyond this. As a nation, we had been able to put ourselves on an equal footing with any other European nation. We could engage in the rich and diverse culture of Europe. They got to know us and we got to know them.

Debate adjourned.