Ceisteanna–Questions. Priority Questions. - Treaty of Nice.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

3 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if and when the Government will produce its proposals or plan of action to address the concerns which led to the rejection of the Treaty of Nice in June 2001; the details of same; the Government's approach to the Convention on the Future of Europe; if the Government will be represented by a Minister; and if the Government will publish a discussion paper on the issues. [3978/02].

The Government remains wholly committed to the ratification of the Treaty of Nice before the end of 2002 so as to allow the process of enlargement to proceed on schedule. It is our intention to take the necessary steps in good time. Rather than read out the reply, the Deputy will be aware that its substance was encapsulated in our discussions yesterday.

I accept the Minister'sbona fides. He is as interested as I am in getting the Treaty of Nice through and ensuring the process of enlargement is not impeded by Ireland. Accepting our respective bona fides, does the Minister agree with my fundamental point that it is necessary to put in place measures which are visible and open to the public in advance of further referenda? If we believe there is something to be done on neutrality by way of a White Paper, an EU declaration or an amendment to the Defence Acts, these should be put in place now. If it is necessary to improve democratic accountability and make changes in relation to how proposals from Europe are considered by the Oireachtas or its committees, these should be in operation now. The implementation of any such actions is delayed because of what is happening at the Forum on Europe.

The Deputy is simply highlighting the fact that we have a complete difference of view in relation to this matter. The Deputy continues to impress upon me an approach which he favours and with which this Government does not agree; namely that we await the interim report of the Forum on Europe before putting before the Dáil the exact proposals and the discussions we will have with the EU institutions what exact proposals we will have in relation to the questions to be put before the end of 2002. I do not accept the contention that not doing so now involves any unwarranted delay. If the Deputy were present at the forum's deliberations he would see that the forum is succeeding in distilling the areas of concern which are relevant to the Treaty of Nice. There are other issues about the future of Europe which are not germane to the treaty. The structured debate which is taking place in the forum is providing us with that necessary distillation. As the Deputy is aware, there was a range of reasons for the "No" vote and the abstention vote which had nothing to do with the Treaty of Nice. The Deputy's party took a different view and continues to impress upon me that I am not going its way; I am not going its way because the Government came to a different decision which was supported by a greater majority of people in this House.

Will the Minister accept that the consequence of that Government decision is to delay the implementation of a number of measures that should be put into effect? Our time is short as it is likely that this House will not be meeting beyond the end of next month. There will be an election, then the formation of a new Government followed by the summer recess. There is a lengthy period required for the referendum process from the point of view of the legislation. There will be no time for new legislation to amend the Defence Act and the putting in place of measures to reform the way we deal with EU measures in this House and in the committees of the Oireachtas.

Should we not agree this plan of action and put it into effect so when we go back to the people we can say we have learnt from the Nice treaty process, have changed our procedures and are in a position to submit to them the treaty in a different package? Is the Minister not losing the opportunity to put that into effect because of continuing delay?

I do not agree that any opportunity has been lost by us taking careful consideration of what the forum is doing on this question. This is where both our parties differ and there is not much point in continuing with debate on this aspect because in our analysis the question of a coherent response to the issues raised by the referendum is best awaited until after the forum has considered this aspect of its deliberations. At that point a greater consensus on these matters will emerge in the House. In view of the polarised debate on the "Yes" and "No" sides during the referendum, I have had the opportunity in the forum to discuss matters directly with people like Deputy Gormley, who has described the debate as helpful and realistic. There is much common ground if we could only deal with the substance of the issues rather than dwell on worst case scenarios which are not germane or relevant to the deliberations, especially in view of the kind of national interest that is involved.