Written Answers. - National Forum on Europe.
17 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the Government's views on the publication of the report on the second phase of the work of the National Forum on Europe; the Government's plans for the future of the Forum; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14820/02]
The National Forum on Europe published the second Interim Report of its Chairman, Senator Maurice Hayes, on 30 May. The report covered the second phase of the forum's work, in February and March of this year.
I warmly welcomed the chairman's second report. The forum has proven itself beyond doubt to be a very effective vehicle for a wide-ranging discussion on Europe and Ireland's role in the European Union. Senator Hayes and his staff, and the members of the forum, are to be con gratulated for the manner in which they have ensured that all voices are heard and respected. The decision of the forum to "go local" and hear the views of citizens all over the country has also done much to widen the scope of the debate on Europe, and I understand that it intends to hold further regional meetings in the autumn.
The chairman's second report identified a number of areas of common ground among all participants. I was particularly pleased to see the continued consensus that enlargement to bring about an end to the artificial division of Europe is a "moral and political imperative". The Government remains committed to ratifying the Treaty of Nice, which represents the legal framework within which enlargement can take place as planned.
The report also noted and explored areas of concern expressed within the forum and among the wider public. The Government has been working hard to address those concerns. In particular, the report underscored the potential value of a confirmation that Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality is not affected by the Treaty of Nice or previous treaties. The Seville Declarations provide such a clarification, in the plain terms called for by the forum. The report also emphasised the importance of enhanced arrangements for democratic scrutiny of European Union business through the Oireachtas, and indicated the broad support in the forum for the Government's proposals in this area, which will start to become operational as from next Monday, 1 July.
The forum has met twice since the General Election, including this morning. It has begun to focus in greater detail on the work of the European Convention. The welcome decision of Fine Gael to take its place in the forum further strengthens its representativeness as a place for debate.
The future work programme of the forum is in the first instance for the chairman and steering committee to consider. However, the Government believes the forum will continue to have a most valuable role to play at this vitally important time for Ireland and its relationship with the European Union. Subject to the forum's views, I envisage it continuing in parallel with the European Convention, which is expected to work into the first half of next year.