An Bille um an Séú Leasú is Fiche ar an mBunreacht, 2002: An Dara Céim. Twenty-sixth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 2002: Second Stage.

Tairgim: "Go léifear an Bille an Dara hUair anois."

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The Treaty of Nice matters. It matters to Ireland, to our partners in the European Union and to the candidate countries. There are many positive reasons we should approve the treaty and for seeking, through this Bill, to ask the people to return to this important issue. The treaty may be relatively limited in its scope and dry and technical in its details, but it is hugely ambitious in its purpose. If ratified, it will help to transform Europe's economic and political landscape to the advantage of us all. The people will be asked in the forthcoming referendum if they wish to assist in this process or to stand in its way. Ireland has been a success in the Union. Its membership has been a force for progress, jobs and development. Does it make sense to change tack at this important stage of our national development and put that at risk? Do we want Ireland to remain at the heart of the Union as a fully engaged and active member or do we wish to move to the margins?

On a point of order, will Deputies be supplied with a copy of this speech?

Yes, it is coming.

It seems to be a prepared speech.

It is being delivered.

Where is it?

I suggest that the House should adjourn until all Members have been given a copy of the script.

The speech is being delivered.

The Government has had the whole summer to ensure the speech was prepared.

It must not have been prepared.

Perhaps it is caught in traffic.

It is another cutback.

This is the broad political context in which we must consider the treaty.

The Ceann Comhairle is the defender of rights in the House. The Government had the whole summer to prepare the speech.

I ask the Deputy to allow the Minister to continue.

It is normal courtesy that the text of a prepared Government speech be circulated.

That is correct.

I suggest the Minister should sit down until it is available.

It is on the way.

Is it on the Luas?

I am merely responsible for standing up to speak.

Will the Minister send a copy to every household?

This is another example of how things have slipped.

A lot done, more to do.

The decision we will make, therefore, is very serious and very real. It will have real consequences for people in Ireland and for people across Europe. Voting "Yes" to Nice is the right thing to do from a broad European perspective. It is also the right thing to do from our own national perspective. We are not being asked to choose between our own interests and those of others. Of course we have a right to make our own choice, but I sincerely believe it would be a major mistake to think that if we vote "No" things will simply go on as before. Every single person in this country is directly affected by our membership of the European Union, whether as a worker, employer, farmer, trade unionist, parent or consumer. Every part of Ireland is affected. Therefore, everyone has a stake in the outcome of the referendum.

I am pleased that farming representatives, trade unionists, business people such as those at yesterday's Chambers of Commerce meeting in Dublin are speaking up and making clear that the decision made on the Treaty of Nice will have a real impact in the real world. For that reason, the debate must engage not just Members of the Oireachtas or the media, but all our citizens. I am pleased public meetings are now being organised throughout the country by the National Forum on Europe and other organisations but I hope discussion will not just be confined to formal settings. It should take place in homes, shops, workplaces, colleges and universities throughout Ireland. I hope it will be an honest and fair debate and that the facts are laid clearly before the people. The Government has tried to assist this process by preparing an objective and factual White Paper and a short information guide which is now being sent to every household. The Referendum Commission will also play its part.

However, we as political leaders bear a particular responsibility. If we are honest, we failed collectively last time to energise and enthuse the public, with a turnout of barely more than one third of the electorate. Analysis after the event revealed that there were many complaints of confusion and lack of knowledge. Whatever outcome we want this time, let us together resolve to do a far better job in explaining what is involved and just why it is so important to vote. Apathy is not just misplaced, it is dangerous. We must strive to ensure that every individual voter sees the referendum as being personally important.

There is an overwhelming national understanding that over 30 years our membership of the Union has been good. It has been an essential dynamic by which we have been enabled to grow and develop. European Union membership has been a vital factor in our economic success. We have moved from a situation where our national income per head was approximately 60% of the European average to today when it comfortably exceeds that average. We have expanded and diversified our trade, attracted high levels of foreign direct investment and we have come close to doubling the number of people working in this country. All this has happened in less than half a lifetime.

The direct financial support we have received, and continue to receive, from Structural and Cohesion Funds has, for example, been a key factor in building roads, opening factories and training our workers. The Common Agricultural Policy has developed the farming sector and sustained rural communities in a way which would otherwise have been simply unimaginable. We have seen higher standards across the board in such areas as environmental protection, workplace health and safety and the protection and promotion of women's equality and workers' rights.

Politically and psychologically, our horizons have broadened, helping us to place our country's historic issues in a new and wider context. Thirty years ago, we were still deeply marked by a long legacy from our colonial experience. We were politically free but still economically over-dependent. We had a restricted economy and restricted markets. Europe has changed all that. The European Union has been a steadfast and generous supporter of the search for peace and reconciliation in Ireland.

The broad picture, therefore, is clear beyond all doubt. Even most of those opposed to the Treaty of Nice – even those who have opposed every previous treaty, right back to the time of the first referendum in 1972 – now say they do not contest our membership of the Union or its benefits. Indeed they now claim to be so attached to the Union as it is that they reject any change. There are cynics who would say our approach to the European Union has been fundamentally about what we can get out of it financially. There are others who say, or who imply, that while we may have done well out of Europe up to now, that is no reason for continued enthusiasm in the future. I reject such assessments as deeply flawed and shortsighted. Of course, in joining the Union and since, a major theme has been our concern to develop and sustain our own material well-being, and we have done this well. However, in 1972, and ever since, our membership of the Union has also had a less tangible but equally important dimension of idealism. We have been proud to be part of a unique and unprecedentedly successful venture, which has helped to bring peace and stability to a Continent which was in history a byword for bloody conflict. Membership of the European Union has given Ireland a more direct say in the future of our Continent and offered us new scope to promote our traditional values of international solidarity, justice and peace. It is good for Ireland, for the economy and for the people that the wider international environment be as stable and as peaceful as possible. It is through the European Union that we have an influence on that environment.

The outcome of all this is that we now have a greater influence over our own destiny than ever before. Working in partnership with others in the Union has helped us fulfil our goals as a nation. We are better able to employ and educate our own people and to offer them a dignified old age. I regard that as the truest measure of sovereignty. By pooling sovereignty it has been enhanced, not lost.

The European Economic Community which we joined in 1973 has changed a great deal over the years. It now has more members and a dozen other countries are in negotiation to join. Its responsibilities and role in the world are much wider. Throughout this process of change we have had the self-confidence and self-belief to repeatedly agree to successive treaties. There have been prophets of doom and many of them are once again on the "No" side but time and again they have been proven wrong. The positive and optimistic instincts of the Irish people have been proven right. Expansion, development and change bring opportunities and the prospect of further progress and prosperity.

It would be quite incorrect to think that the European Union will become less significant for Ireland in the future. On the contrary, membership of the Single Market will remain crucial in offering opportunities to Irish companies and in attracting foreign investment. Hundreds and thousands of people at work today depend directly or indirectly on that investment and they will continue to do so in the future. Membership of the European Union has been a key strategic element and this has been reiterated by those involved in industrial promotion. The capacity of any one country to deal on its own with such issues as environmental protection, the fight against cross-border crime and the management of immigration issues will become even more limited and it is vital that collective action be taken by members of the Union.

In order to protect our interests and to shape developments in a positive direction, it is crucial that Ireland plays a fully engaged role in every area of Union policy and activity. In this regard our chances of being successful are self-evidently better if we vote "Yes" rather than "No" in this referendum. If we are to exercise influence and maximise our impact we must be and be seen to be credible and committed partners who are not reluctant or negative but rather active and positive.

Enlargement is the next phase of the European Union's development; it is a challenge and an opportunity of historic proportions. Since the collapse of communism at the end of the 1980s, the democracies of Central and Eastern Europe have placed their accession to the European Union as their highest priority. They regard membership as a means of developing their economies and societies and of ensuring stable, democratic government and respect for human rights. Membership also beckons for Malta and Cyprus. The positive economic and political effects of enlargement will not be confined merely to the new members; on the contrary, an expansion in the zone of prosperity, security and stability across Europe is in the interests of all European citizens.

It is clear that Ireland in particular has a great deal to gain. We prosper or falter according to the quality and extent of our trade. In relative terms we trade more than any other EU member state and more than any other country we require stable and prosperous markets for our goods. That is why we have gained from every past enlargement. There has been a huge development in our trading relationships with Spain and Portugal and with Austria, Finland and Sweden. Our total trade with Spain is over €3 billion annually and is ten times what it was before the accession of Spain less than 20 years ago. That means more jobs and more opportunities for Irish people.

As a developed, competitive and high-tech economy we are better placed than ever before to gain from the next wave of enlargement. Numerous Irish companies have already discovered that assured and free access to new markets of over 100 million people bring substantial opportunities for trade and investment. At present only 3% of Irish exports are to the candidate countries. There is great potential for improvement. The greatest fallacy in the whole argument against enlargement is that Ireland loses out as the Union grows larger. All the intrinsic evidence is to the contrary. Every enlargement has been to our advantage. Limited markets equalled limited opportunities for Ireland; expanded markets meant expanded opportunities. It is not a question of more meaning less; it is not a "zero sum" game. Both Ireland and the applicant countries will win. I am pleased that the National Forum on Europe has confirmed the continuation of a strong national consensus on enlargement across the political spectrum. I believe it is a view shared by the majority of Irish people.

I do not propose to comment today in any detail on the deeply regrettable attempts made during the summer by some opponents of the Nice treaty to whip up fears about the immigration of workers from new member states. The facts, both legal and economic, have been comprehensively and clearly set out, and have put it beyond doubt that such scaremongering is not only distasteful but has no basis. I welcome the fact that others on the "No" side, including Members of this House, have distanced themselves from these tactics and I expect they will be happy to reiterate that in this debate.

Deputies

Hear, hear.

It was in June 1993 at Copenhagen that the European Union agreed in principle that it wished to see the countries of central and eastern Europe join. Full negotiations had been under way for years. They had been tough and demanding and while the great bulk of the work has been done, some of the hardest issues remain to be settled over the months ahead. Although there is more to do, the Seville European Council in June of this year confirmed that if the present rate of progress is maintained negotiations can be completed with ten countries by the end of this year, at a European Council in Copenhagen where the journey started nine years ago.

Once the negotiations are completed it will be for each of the applicant countries to make a final decision on whether to join. If they decide to do so they will be in a position to enter the Union during 2004, probably in the first six months during our Presidency. By voting "Yes" and making it possible to stick to this agreed timetable, it is obvious that there will be huge advantages for Ireland's prestige and standing in these countries and in the Union generally.

To have got so far has required enormous effort and sacrifice by the applicants. They now want to see the Union fulfil its side of the bargain. It is not for us to determine the choice which will fall to be made by the people of applicant countries but we are in a position to decide whether they will be allowed to make that choice and I know from personal experience how closely and anxiously they are watching.

It is because we believe enlargement is in the interest of the Union, of the candidate countries and of Ireland that the Government has decided to hold a second referendum. The ratification of the Treaty of Nice is essential for enlargement to proceed as planned. We remain convinced that the terms of the treaty represent a fair, reasonable and balanced deal. This newly elected Government sought a democratic mandate to put the question again and it is strange that there are those who would seek to deny the people the chance to have that final say. It is also inconsistent and illogical to support enlargement, as many in the "No" camp sincerely do, but to oppose the only available agreed means by which it can be brought about.

In the preamble to the treaty it is made clear that its objective is to make the changes necessary for the institutions to continue to function effectively after enlargement, changes which it has been agreed for years are necessary. Consistently since then – most recently at Seville – the European Council has confirmed that the ratification of Nice is "a condition for enlargement to take place within the scheduled timescale". Were Nice not to be ratified there would be a serious crisis in the enlargement negotiations which would be seriously disrupted. There is no agreed basis other than the treaty provisions agreed at Nice.

The sweeping allegations made against Nice are unfounded. There is no new area in which the European Union will be entitled to act and no transfer of competence from the member states. It does not fundamentally alter the nature of the Union, the balances between the institutions or the relationship between large and small states. It does not erode or destroy national independence and sovereignty and it does not allow for the creation of a two-tier Europe.

I highlight briefly the truth of four elements which are frequently the subject of misrepresentation. As regards the Commission, it was agreed at Nice that for the first time ever all member states will be exactly equal in terms of their right to nominate a Commissioner. The larger member states will, from 2005, lose their right to a second Commissioner. From then on, each member state will nominate one each until the Union reaches 27, some way down the line. Membership of the Commission will then be on the basis of guaranteed equal rotation, with the details to be agreed unanimously. This outcome protects our strong interest in a coherent and effective Commission while offering us absolute equality in this area for the first time. Ireland will be on exactly the same terms as Germany, France, Britain and every other member state.

As regards the Council of Ministers, it is true that the larger member states have gained a little in relative terms to balance out their loss in relation to the Commission but we will continue to have about three times as many votes as our population would strictly suggest or about six time as many as Germany's on aper capita basis. There is no large swing towards the big states in those proposals.

On the issue of qualified majority voting, it is true that some 30 new areas will fall under this existing procedure. This is portrayed by some as a huge loss of sovereignty. What they do not acknowledge is that most decisions are already taken by QMV. It has worked to our advantage in allowing for smoother decision making, and some highly sensitive areas, including those regarding taxation, remain subject to unanimity because we and our allies sought to ensure this would be the case.

It has been alleged that the new provisions in the areas of enhanced co-operation will somehow result in a two-tier Europe. This is not true. In practice we already have examples – above all the euro – where different member states move forward at different paces. Enhanced co-operation is about creating the possibility of some flexibility on a case by case basis in a Union of up to 27 members. It is not about creating a permanent vanguard or inner core. Any member state can join any group at any time. An extensive range of safeguards will be put in place to ensure the interests of the Union and of individual member states will be protected. Enhanced co-operation cannot take place in such a way as to damage the Single Market. Under no circumstances can it take place in the security and defence area. There may be times when Ireland will wish to take part in enhanced co-operation; there may be other times when we choose not to.

As these four examples show, the approach of the treaty's opponents to its actual provisions has mixed alarmist, hyperbole and simple misrepresentation. The facts are different.

Since last year's referendum, the Government has taken a range of major steps to address specific concerns raised at that time and since. The National Forum on Europe has provided an invaluable platform for the sort of sustained and balanced debate on European issues which we have not previously enjoyed. It will continue to fulfil that role in the period ahead, up to the referendum, and as the European Convention moves forward.

A rigorous new system of Oireachtas scrutiny of EU business is now in place, with arrangements both for departmental reports on proposals for legislation and for pre-Council briefing of committees. We are working closely with the European affairs committee to ensure the new system beds down effectively and that it fulfils its objective of ensuring greater democratic accountability. The Government has also indicated its willingness to place the new arrangements on a legislative footing at an early date.

We have it in our own hands, if we approach the new arrangements in the right spirit, to rectify much of the so-called democratic deficit. We must also work with like-minded states in the EU to achieve further reform at the European level. Across Europe, there is a widespread sense that the institutions of the Union are remote from its citizens, and that there is a need for greater simplicity and clarity about how and when the Union acts. The European Convention now meeting in Brussels is addressing these issues in a very open and wide-ranging debate which is intended to prepare the ground for a future intergovernmental conference which will take the decisions.

I would like to turn now to the question of the impact on the Nice treaty on Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality. This is, I know, an issue of concern to many people this country.

During the last referendum campaign the Government made clear that the Nice treaty would in no way threaten or undermine our military neutrality. Some among the members of the "No" campaign disputed this and made a number of mistaken and misleading claims. They argued, among other things, that the entry into force of the Nice treaty would involve Ireland's membership of a military alliance and that the young men and women of Ireland would be conscripted into a European army. These claims were without substance and the Government has acted decisively since the last referendum to demonstrate that this is so.

In the first instance, the Taoiseach secured agreement at the Seville European Council to two declarations which set out an agreed interpretation of the relevant provisions of the treaties, including as they would stand after the entry into force of the Treaty of Nice. Taken together, these declarations confirm that the development of the European Union's Common Foreign and Security Policy shall not prejudice Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality; make clear that the treaties do not impose any binding defence commitments and that the development of the Union's capacity to conduct humanitarian and crisis management tasks does not involve the establishment of a European army; recognise that Ireland will not participate in a common defence arrangement without that approval of the Irish people in a referendum; confirm that Irish troop contingents will not take part in EU operations unless the operation is authorised by the UN, and the deployment is agreed by the Government and approved by the Dáil.

This is the shared understanding of the governments of the 15 member states who negotiated the treaty, backed up by the Legal Services of the EU Council. What more conclusive interpretation can there be? The "No" lobby claimed the declarations are not legally binding. However, the treaties are, and it is the treaties, into which successive Irish Governments of different complexions have successfully negotiated specific safeguards for our policy of military neutrality which provide the necessary legal guarantees. The Seville declarations confirm that these guarantees are there and that they are respected by all 15 member states.

Falling back on their next line of defence, the "No" lobby then claimed that the Government could not be trusted to deliver on its promise to hold a referendum on any move by Ireland to join an EU common defence alliance. Another false allegation. The Government has demonstrated this by putting forward a proposal which would make approval of the Nice treaty conditional on an amendment of the Constitution to prevent Ireland joining an EU common defence alliance without approval of the people through referendum. More specifically, the proposed amendment, if approved by the people, will have the effect of preventing the State from adopting a decision taken by the European Council to establish a common defence in accordance with Article 17.1 of the Treaty on European Union, and as set out in Article 1.2 of the Treaty of Nice, where that common defence would include Ireland. In putting forward this proposal, the Government has not only changed the question which is being put before the people but also eliminated the last remaining doubts that the Nice treaty poses a threat to Irish neutrality. Our message is clear. We said last time out that the Nice treaty posed no threat to Irish neutrality. We told the people there was no European army in the making. We explained that the threat of conscription was a fantasy. We promised that Ireland would not join a military alliance without the say so of the people. We have now demonstrated beyond all doubt that what we said was true and accurate. Those members of the electorate who hesitated last time out can now vote "Yes" to Nice in confidence. Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality is safe.

I know there are those – many of whom will have voted "No" to every EU treaty – who are possibly irreconcilable on this issue. I deeply regret this. The vast majority of these people share the Government's deep commitment to the principles of justice, equality and the building of a better world. They fail to see that the Union is already a major vehicle for achieving these goals and can become an even stronger force for good in the future.

I accept that, just like the individual citizens and the nations which make up the Union, the Union itself is not perfect, but it brings together the collective resources and resolve of 15 of the most wealthy and progressive nations on this planet. Through its common foreign and security policy, it seeks to safeguard common values, to preserve peace and strengthen international security, to promote international co-operation, to develop and consolidate democracy and the rule of law and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. These objectives are pursued in full accordance with the UN charter as provided for in the treaties.

The EU is not in competition with the United Nations. On the contrary, it makes a full and active contribution to the system of global security founded on the UN charter and is involved in increasingly close co-operation with the UN in pursuit of UN policies and decisions. Only last week, I participated in a conference in Sweden, which brought together representatives of European governments, the EU, the UN, the OSCE, the Council of Europe and NATO to discuss a more coherent and complementary approach to conflict prevention. This conference responded to the call from the UN Secretary General to arrange regional workshops to discuss specific regional dimensions of co-operation in conflict prevention.

The reality is that the UN is increasingly relying on regional organisations such as the EU to implement the provisions of the charter and to carry out tasks mandated under it. Europe is fortunate in having strong and well resourced organisations such as the EU to act on its behalf. In other areas of the world, such as Africa, there is a grave need to build up the capacity of regional organisations which can act quickly and decisively to head off and resolve regional conflicts. It is time to move on from alarmist talk of a European army and the "militarisation" of the EU. The EU is not a defence alliance. Those European states that wish to enter into a collective defence pact see their security guaranteed through NATO, which seems certain to undergo a significant expansion at the end of the year. Ireland is not a member of NATO and we have no desire to join.

Since its origins 50 years ago in the European Coal and Steel Community, the European Union has been about peace, not war – some commentators have justly described it as the most successful peace process in the world. The European Union succeeded in turning swords into ploughshares, enabling our generation to enjoy the fruits of the longest period of peace western Europe has known. This considerable achievement will be consolidated through the historic enlargement of the Union for which the Nice treaty paves the way.

The EU has sought to express the shared values on which it was founded through its common foreign and security policy which has given the Union a stronger voice on the world stage. Who can doubt that Ireland's participation in that policy has given us a stronger voice in international affairs? The CFSP is only one aspect of the Union's external outreach. Development aid, where the EU is the world's single largest donor, trade policy, cultural relations and humanitarian assistance are some of the tools through which the European Union is also able to act in support of the common values that we share with our EU partners.

Since the Amsterdam treaty, which was approved by the Irish people, the Union has also worked to develop a capacity in crisis management within the framework of the European security and defence policy. The aim of this initiative is to enable the Union to undertake humanitarian and peace support operations, the areas of the Petersberg Tasks. Ireland should not flinch from participation in such missions as long as the triple lock requirements I have already described are fully met. I have already mentioned that next January, the EU will assume responsibility for the UN police mission in Bosnia, where it will assist in training a multi-ethnic police force acceptable to all the people in that country. This will be the first mission under the ESDP and it is my intention that officers of the Garda Síochána will form part of it as they have its UN predecessor. Ireland's involvement is about continuing the tradition of peacekeeping in which we have justly earned a first class reputation over the past 40 years. It is also entirely consistent with the wishes and approach of the United Nations regarding peacekeeping and crisis management. Ireland is not departing from its traditional policy by participating in such missions. On the contrary, it would be an abandonment of all that we have traditionally stood for in our engagement in the international community and our reputation for peacekeeping and conflict resolution if we were to turn our back on the European Union's efforts in this regard. Approval of the Treaty of Nice will signal a reaffirmation of, rather than a departure from, that vocation.

At the end of the day, the choice is straightforward. This is not the time for us to hesitate or turn away from the path we have followed for 30 years. Europe has been good for Ireland and an enlarged Europe will continue to be good for it. For us to say "No" to this treaty definitively would damage the European Union, the candidate countries and our own interests. We would lose friends and influence in Brussels and across the Continent, which would most emphatically not be in our interests. International perceptions of our commitment to the Union would be shaken with consequences for investment, trade and jobs. The Treaty of Nice need not be feared, but instead should be supported as a key to a better future for all Europeans. It does not harm Ireland's interests, but protects them. Voting "Yes" will win us friends and open up a new pool of political good will from which we can draw in future. It will enhance our interests and strengthen our position with the new member states and in the debate about the future of Europe. Ireland needs Europe and Europe needs Ireland, which is why the Government believes that the Treaty of Nice should be ratified. A "Yes" vote is a vote for jobs, growth and Ireland's future.

I support this Bill, but before addressing the contents of the Treaty of Nice, some of which have been outrageously misrepresented, I say in passing that, as chairman, I accept in good faith the Minister's undertakings about the Joint Committee on European Affairs. However, we can only function if we have the necessary staff for the chairman, members and clerk of the committee.

There appears to be a view that there are only two alternatives for the EU, an association of nation states or a federal system. This view misses the point completely. The European Union is a unique development in that member states remain sovereign but have agreed to pool their sovereignty in certain agreed areas and have set up institutions and constitutional arrangements, by negotiation, to give effect to this. We do not have, nor have we had, the facility afforded to those who drafted the United States' constitution of starting with a blank page as we start from the basis of established states coming together after the devastation of two world wars to ensure that such terrible events would never again emanate from Europe. The difficulty is that we do not have in political science a name for such an entity. It is not an association of states nor a federation. Perhaps it is quasi-federal, but it is certainly unique and has been brought about in a civilised and democratic manner without precedence in world history.

Claims have been made that the Treaty of Nice will give rise to the formation of a European army. There is no such provision in the treaty. I formally protest at the minority of ordained ministers of Christian churches, whose duty is to preach the Gospels and, above all, to give witness to the truth, who have been among those pedalling this untruth. Unlike the previous referendum, the Government's current proposal elevates to constitutional language what isde facto the case, that is, if there should be implications in some future treaty which would give rise to common defence commitments on Ireland's part, this will be put to the people in a referendum.

I am not an enthusiastic supporter of that elevation of wording but I go along with it because it is thede facto situation. I do not share the extraordinary consensus – extraordinary because it has arisen without debate, discussion or adequate analysis yet appears to include all the left-wing parties, the majority of Fianna Fáil, most of the trade unions and most of the churches – which seems to believe that NATO is a four-letter dirty word. That consensus appears to believe that Irish neutrality, never defined and based on no known principles, is somehow a high moral policy which set us aside from and above other EU states, which, according to this analysis, are not worthy to tie our bootlaces.

In the calmest way possible, I want to say that the Republic of Ireland is one of the least protected states in Europe. This is the direct result of politicians being cowed into out-bidding each other to eulogise neutrality and denounce common defence arrangements without making any provision to equip ourselves to defend the State, unlike other neutral states. Political self-interest and lack of leadership has led to a critical failure to provide for the safety and security of our citizens, which is the first responsibility of the State.

Neutrality has always been a popular message to convey to an electorate not anxious to get involved and who hope that, by keeping their heads down, defence issues will be the care and responsibility of others. Not even Srebrenica moved us from our self-serving and self-satisfied policy. Irish politicians have always been reluctant to get involved in international defence issues and left this responsibility to others. It is no longer in our self-interest to bury our heads in the sand as the recent apparent attempted hijack of a Ryanair plane illustrates. In the run-up to the first anniversary of the horrendous attacks on New York's twin towers, it is frightening to imagine the possible consequences had the hijack succeeded. Could Ireland have been the destination of such a hijacked flight? Would we have been able to protect ourselves from a New York-type attack? What could we do to prevent an attack on Sellafieldvia Irish air space?

Make no mistake, Ireland is vulnerable because we have no comprehensive defence strategy. It is no longer acceptable that we are so ill-prepared for any such eventualities or that we are not a member of any security alliance capable of a rapid response in support of our needs. We cannot do this ourselves and we have not made arrangements by proxy for any other country to bail us out in the event of such a horror. We have denuded ourselves and have not attended to our first responsibility to the people. Who is standing by the Republic now?

Fine Gael set out in the document "Beyond Neutrality" how it believes Ireland and Europe's security and defence needs could be provided in the most beneficial and tenable way for Ireland. In light of recent events, the Government must, as a matter of urgency, put in place a contingency plan to meet such needs, in co-operation with friendly governments. In addition, a White Paper, unlike that previously published on our security and defence requirements, must be prepared and laid before the people as part of a public information process to ensure that everybody understands the reasons why changes in our defence policy are necessary.

Not since the cross-party consensus of appeasers in the British Parliament of the 1930s – some of whom collaborated to collect a petition signed by 11 million British citizens who wanted appeasement at all costs – has a country been so misled by a consensus of self-serving politicians who are failing to do their first duty, which is to provide for the security of the State. When will we stop running away from this issue? On behalf of Fine Gael, in a document entitled "Beyond Neutrality", I set out our views on how this issue should be addressed. I invite other parties in the House, before it is too late, to take stock and set out their proposals for dealing with it. Sadly – because false claims have been made about it – the Nice treaty does not deal with this issue.

I hope by the time the European convention report is considered by a future Intergovernmental Conference that Ireland will have put forward proposals acceptable to us to deal with the security and defence needs of Europe and of Ireland. We must become one of the architects. Security architecture should not be left to others who will make the rules just like the economic and monetary union rules to which those joining later will have to sign up.

An issue that has been raised scurrilously – if it is not racist it is certainly out of the same stable as racism – is the allegation that 75 million central and eastern European citizens will descend on Ireland if the Nice treaty is passed. This is too outrageous for serious consideration. However, I want to deal with the issue that somehow we might become swamped by unwanted immigrants descending on our shores. Most of the immigrants in Ireland today are here because the economy needs them. Their skills and energies contribute to wealth creation and, in the main, they provide for themselves. There is a second type of immigrant, the asylum seeker. The rules for asylum seekers are very clear and are being applied. I wish we had a more pro-active immigration policy which would identify the number of immigrants needed and allow us take them in, some of whom would not have skills and would be in need of opportunity.

The suggestion that huge numbers of unwanted and unneeded people will come in does not stand up. Let us look at the facts. When Ireland joined the European Union in 1973 and, later with the advent of the Single European Act, the Maastricht treaty and the Amsterdam treaty, large numbers of emigrants did not leave our shores for Germany, France, Italy and other countries. We had emigration, but it was to traditional markets – English speaking countries such as Britain and the United States. Often this was illegal but there were cultural and familial reasons for it. The same will prevail in central and eastern Europe. Ireland no longer has an emigration problem. Most of our citizens can now be employed at home.

The whole objective of extending the European Union is to have peace and stability in Europe, which are the prerequisites for prosperity. That prosperity will come to the EU applicant states as sure as night follows day provided we do not leave them out and provided we continue to build a peaceful and stable Europe. When that prosperity comes to those states, they in turn will not have an emigration problem – in fact they may need immigrants of their own, if the Irish example is to be followed as I believe it will. This is not wishful thinking. The European Union is about to become a market of approximately 500 million people, with an even greater free trade area which will include non-EU countries.

There are those who nonchalantly say, "Sure it doesn't matter, if Ireland does not pass the Nice treaty they will find some other way." Why should we not pass the Nice treaty? The Nice treaty is so innocuous that it is doubtful whether the Government is obliged in the first instance to hold a referendum. Other states, such as Denmark which held a referendum on the Treaty of Maastricht in 1991, and Britain, where the Major Government almost fell on the Maastricht treaty, have taken this treaty for what it is, little more than provisions "mainly of technical modifications and relatively minor reforms in comparison with those already agreed in earlier Treaties.", as pointed by Mr. Thomas Legge in his excellent pamphlet "Ireland and Europe, Institutional Change – the effect on small States", published by the Institute of European Affairs. I am greatly indebted to Mr. Legge for this very clear exposition of the contents of the Nice treaty and I will return to it shortly.

To deal with this nonchalant dismissal, I put on record the comments made by Mr. Seán Dorgan, chief executive of IDA, when launching his agency's annual report in July this year. He said:

Ireland's economic prospects depend on a strong confident and growing Europe. The vote on the Nice Treaty will be widely seen by investors and potential investors as indicating the degree of our engagement in the EU, whether we are participating at the heart of its future development or whether we are marginalised.

Mr. Dorgan further stated:

Member States have negotiated the Nice Treaty to provide for the future growth of the European Union and almost all have ratified it. A decision by Ireland not to ratify will be seen and represented as a withdrawal by Ireland from that European consensus. Because we are relatively small and so trade-dependent, more than any other Member State our economic prospects are tied to an intimate and central involvement in the EU.

Leading international companies are currently investing in excess of 5 billion Euro in new facilities in Ireland. We have every prospect of growing to this level of investments within the next few years so long as we are seen as outward looking, competitive and willing to take on each new challenge that faces us. Our attractiveness will quickly wane if we are seen to be turning our backs on the future of Europe.

Let those who do not want to see a return of the day when our citizens from rural and urban Ireland alike cried into their pints on the bar stools of Cricklewood public houses because they could not gain employment in this country vote to ratify the Treaty of Nice. There is nothing in the Nice treaty that is of concern to Ireland's interests and it does not contain anything of an objectionable nature. If we fail to ratify we will be putting at risk all that has been gained. This is not a time for indifference or bravado. This is a time for consolidation, taking stock and sober judgment.

As Mr. Thomas Legge pointed out, the EU is unique among international organisations because it is an association of sovereign states that nevertheless agrees to pool its sovereignty in certain policy areas. It is both an intergovernmental organisation in which each participant retains its sovereignty and a supranational organisation in which member states share sovereignty and have common responsibilities. The institutional arrangements of the European Union reflect this hybrid nature. I have tried to describe this and used the term quasi-federal, although I am not sure whether I have done the EU justice.

All the institutional changes proposed are intended to allow the European Union to operate as an effective political unit after its membership has expanded to include up to 12 new member states. The reason for that is that the current decision making structures within the European Union, for example, the voting rights assigned to countries in the Council of Ministers, were initially designed for a European Economic Community of six member states. The Nice treaty makes further institutional changes necessary for enlargement to up to 27 member states, but it only touches on one of the most important future questions: how to balance efficiency and democratic legitimacy.

An unreformed system of qualified majority voting would involve a voting system that the large member states would find unacceptable because small states together, representing substantially less than the majority of the EU's population, would hold a majority of the votes. The European Parliament in an enlarged EU of 27 member states would have so many members that it would be incapable of acting as an appropriate forum. The EU Commission would have 33 members under current rules if the larger states continued to nominate two members. Looking to the next Intergovernmental Conference, the European convention should go back to the drawing board and reinstate one commissioner per member state, but that does not arise at this time.

The Institute of European Affairs' document makes the point that, in general, rules-based international organisations are, by definition, "good" for small member states. At the price of pooling national sovereignty in some areas, small and large states alike agree to be bound by the same laws for their collective benefit. Once the rules are agreed they bind all states, regardless of the state's relative power. Smaller states, which could not hope otherwise to exert such influence on international affairs, have a particular advantage in this context. Similarly, by participating in international institutions like the European Union, small states have access to resources that they could not afford to maintain on their own. There is no more powerful argument than that put forward in the IEA document.

In relation to the European Parliament, the Treaty of Nice does not substantially increase the Parliament's power and marginally expands the policy areas covered by co-decision. The Parliament also has the right to approve the Commission as a group and, separately, the President of the Commission. The main effect of the treaty with regard to the European Parliament is reform of its composition to allow the entry of up to 12 new member states. Eventually, Ireland's MEPs will be reduced by three, not necessarily in the next European Parliament elections, but we will still have 12 compared to 99 for Germany. Germany will have approximately 1.5 seats per million people. Ireland's representation will be twice that rate.

The European Commission is an important institution because it is the sole initiator of legislation for a large number of policy areas. The Commission alone has the power to propose legislation. This right was granted by the member states as an exercise in pooled sovereignty and proposals can only be made on the basis of an article of the treaty. All the proposed legislation must go to the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament for adoption. As guardian of the treaties, the Commission also has the responsibility to refer member states that are in violation of community law to the European Court of Justice. The Commission also has an administrative role in implementing and enforcing community legislation and it acts as the Community's competition authority. A well functioning Commission is therefore particularly important for the small member states because the larger member states are better able to look after their own interests in the Council and the Parliament. That is because the Commission is independent of national interests and proposes legislation in the Community's interest, as Mr. Legge points out so well. This neutrality is particularly important for the application of qualified majority voting. Majority voting can only be acceptable if member states know there are safeguards to ensure that the adopted legislation is for the good of the European Union as a whole and not just for certain member states.

What is to happen with the Commission? The larger member states are to lose their second Commissioner. The following is the sequence for the reduction in the size of the Commission: up to December 2004 there will be no change in the existing position; in January 2005, the larger member states will lose their second Commissioner and the Commission will consist of one member from each member state; and when, in time, the European Community has 27 members, the Commission will be less than the number of member states and will be chosen in accordance with a rotation system involving all member states equally. It should be noted that the mechanism for rotation and the number of Commissioners must be decided by the Council on the basis of unanimity. If this rule is not later changed by the current convention, the maximum number then will be 26. However, this issue might change by the time that comes about and even if it does not, it is a long way down the road.

In respect of the Council of Ministers, voting strength is determined by an accommodation of the size of a country's population and the intergovernmental principle of equality between states. However, decisions are rarely taken in this manner. In the two and a half years during which I attended Council of Ministers meetings as Minister with responsibility for European Affairs, I cannot recall an occasion when a decision was taken on the basis of a vote. Decisions are usually taken by consensus.

Reform is needed in the Council voting system because each successive enlarging of the European Union has diluted the relative voting power of the larger states. It is now the case that, with the accession of up to 12 new countries in the fifth enlargement, based on the current allocation of votes, six large states with 70% of the EU's population would be left with only 49% of the votes. As a result of the decisions in Nice, the larger states increased their share of the votes from 42%, as it would be if the current system were expanded, to 49%. Nevertheless, the small states continue to hold disproportionate voting power in the Council based on their population. Under the new proposals, Ireland will have seven votes in the Council of Ministers, or about one per half-million people, whereas in the case of Germany, for example, their 29 votes will give them one per three million population.

The Treaty of Nice introduces a complicated triple majority QMV for a positive Council decision. This requires, first, 74.1% of the weighted votes, or at least 258 votes out of a total of 345 votes when there are 27 member states; second, that the votes of a majority of member states constitute a simple majority for Community measures and a two-thirds majority for pillar-two and pillar-three measures. This is an important new safeguard for smaller member states as the support of a substantial number of smaller states will be always required for a proposal to be adopted. A third requirement is a demographic threshold, requiring that a Council decision, to be adopted, has the support of votes representing 62% of the Union's population. This is a new criterion and it compensates Germany, which has the largest population in the EU, but has only the same weighted voting power as France, despite the fact that its population is greater by 23 million people.

As the IEA points out, the interesting question that arises from the Nice treaty's reforms of the Council is not the majority of votes needed to pass legislation, but rather the amount of votes that are needed to block it. The Council votes rarely, preferring to reach a consensus on most issues, but the ability of groups of member states to form a blocking minority is an important factor in the dynamics of the institution. In the current system, three states can form a blocking minority as long as at least two of them are large states. The Nice treaty allows a blocking minority in an enlarged EU of 27 member states to be formed by as few as three large member states and one small state. In addition, the treaty requires that a simple majority of member states must be in favour of a measure, which means that a coalition of small states could block a measure even though they do not represent the majority of the EU's population. As the IEA document concluded, the new voting structure in the Council will not fundamentally change the balance of power between small and large member states. Small states continue to be over-represented according to their population and, as today, decisions cannot be made if a substantial minority of the EU's population is opposed or if a majority of member states is opposed. I have referred to the role of the European Commission in initiating legislation. The Commission is the guarantee to member states that have been out-voted in Council that legislation is designed to serve the common interests of the Union as a whole.

In another IEA document entitled, Enlargement: An Economic Assessment, Mr. Peter Brennan identifies 11 key aspects to enlargement as follows. As the accession negotiations are expected to conclude this year, up to ten candidate countries will join the European Union in the near future. Given the economic size of the candidate countries, the impact of enlargement on the economies of the current member states will be small. In macroeconomics terms it will be of the same dimension as when Greece, Spain and Portugal joined in the 1980s. In GDP termsper capita, Ireland may become the second wealthiest member state when the EU is enlarged. This will inevitably influence Irish policy on the Community budget post-2006. The impact of enlargement on the single currency is expected to be modest. A clear strategy for the candidate countries has been determined by the European Commission, pre and post accession. Germany and Austria will receive the majority of migrants from eastern and central Europe. The quantum of foreign direct investment into the candidate countries will increase after enlargement. Provided business competitiveness is maintained, Ireland's relative attractiveness as a location for FDI will be unaffected. Outward direct investment from Irish owned companies to the candidate countries will accelerate. The current free trade area between the EU and the candidate countries will be expanded after enlargement to include the western Balkans, some additional Mediterranean states, Russia, Ukraine and the newly independent states. After enlargement the candidate countries will participate in a single market of nearly 500 million customers and will respect the same regulatory principles as EU member states. They will also have to take account of the dynamics of the single currency and negotiate as part of a single trading entity on the world stage and, finally, enlargement has the potential to be a win-win situation, both politically and economically.

Mrs. Thatcher and her likes fear the European Union. Of course they do. Do we remember the good old days before we joined the EEC when there were waiting lists for telephones, the only decent road in the country was the Naas dual-carriageway and if Britain got a cold we got influenza? When Britain devalued so did we. Our membership of the European Union has given us unparalleled sovereignty and independence, not only in the history of the State but of this proud nation. I wonder if we were ever truly independent before we joined the European Union. Our interest rates are decided by the European Central Bank, not by the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, and we have a member on the bank's governing council. We have access to a market which will soon have 500 million people. We could not have the International Financial Services Centre, which contributes one-third of all corporation taxes and approximately 7,500 jobs, not to mention the refurbishment of a derelict part of our capital city, if the European Union had not invested in our infrastructure.

When I look at the gallery of Taoisigh outside this Chamber, I often think that if those who founded this State could have looked forward and seen that we would hold the presidency of the European Union on five occasions and be on the threshold of holding it for the sixth time they would have been very proud. We should also be very proud. None of these things would have happened without the European Union. Wise Members of this Parliament and others outside brought us into the European Economic Community with the anchor of yesterday's men on their coat-tails. These sad and embittered men – they are mostly men – have not gone away.

Those of us who believe in the European ideal must stand shoulder to shoulder. There is no selfish interest in this for Fine Gael. When the referendum is carried, as I predict it will, it will be claimed as a victory for the Government. However, we will not shirk our responsibility to this State and to the peace and stability of Europe. We will campaign vigorously for the passing of this referendum and we will take our case confidently to the people.

In the EU spirit of pooling sovereignty, I wish to share my time with my colleague in the Green Party, Deputy Gormley.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I hope Deputy Quinn exercises his sovereignty rights over what Deputy Gormley has to say.

No. I am sure Deputy Bruton agrees that pooling sovereignty means precisely that. This debate can do with less hyperbole and more honesty. It is about the same treaty that was rejected by the people. The "No" side are right about that. However, the argument that the Irish people cannot change their minds in a new context is bizarre. Sovereignty ultimately rests with them and that includes the right to reverse previous decisions and positions, which they have done in the past. Had the recent referendum to ban the death penalty been defeated I would have confidently expected to be joined by my colleagues in the Green Party to argue the case once again. If a Border poll under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement was to confirm a Unionist majority in the Six Counties it is fair to say that Sinn Féin would feel the matter was not forever closed and that they would not forever forego the possibility of another referendum on the same question.

Let us revisit it.

Let us get rid of this issue that because the people have voted once on a matter they can never again revisit the same point. We have done it in the past and let us reserve the right to do it in the future because, ultimately, it is for the people to decide, not us here. Let us end that argument now, once and forever. I accept these arguments are not exact parallels but they reaffirm that politics is a dynamic and changing process. This country has voted on the same issue in the past on more than one occasion and as long as the decision is left in the hands of the people it is consistent with democratic principles.

My party and I argued against the holding of the Nice treaty referendum last May. We argued that time should be afforded for a full and comprehensive debate. We recognised explicitly that Europe is engaged in a process of change and argued that Ireland should prepare fully for the debate for which the Treaty of Nice explicitly paves the way. The Government refused to accept our arguments, the referendum was rushed through with indecent haste to leave the door open for the option of an autumn election, and unsurprisingly the treaty was lost.

The Labour Party argued that the referendum could not be re-run in the same context as the last one. We argued, against Government and departmental resistance, that neutrality – the fear of the militarisation of the European Union – should be dealt with in our own Constitution. The Government may set some store in the Seville Declarations; we do not. This issue had to be placed directly and explicitly in the hands of the people. Because of the new wording they now control the ultimate destination of Irish participation in foreign and security policy. The Government is to be applauded for recognising the inadequacy of its initial approach by enshrining military neutrality in the question to be put to the people if this legislation is passed. Importantly, the question in this referendum is fundamentally different to that posed last year and the Labour Party, in so far as it has contributed to ensuring that has been the outcome of the deliberations, is proud of that achievement.

The Labour Party is also primarily responsible for the establishment of the National Forum on Europe, which has done important work since its inception. Both "No" and "Yes" campaigners in the original Nice treaty campaign are to be congratulated for their participation in the work of the forum but it is important that its work does not stop here. Our initial conception of the forum was that it would do part of the preparatory work for the convention on Europe and the important Intergovernmental Conference to be held in two years time. Regardless of the outcome of this campaign, that work should continue and its proceedings should be fully reported.

I am also confident that the Government has accepted that democratic accountability within our own political system needs to be addressed on a statutory basis and over the summer the Labour Party lobbied for the progression of our European Union Bill, which passed Second Stage in the Dáil in June 2001. I am pleased the Government has acceded to that request. Again regardless of the outcome of this second referendum, domestic accountability for measures decided by our Ministers in Europe is important. If it stands as a legacy to this debate then we will all have made progress. I am reasonably satisfied, therefore, that the Government has made sufficient progress towards meeting the two conditions attached by my party to the holding of a second referendum and I will recommend that we campaign for it when our general council meets to discuss the issue.

However, I believe a genuine debate is taking place between the two sides and when rhetoric is stripped away genuine philosophical differences exist. The notion of national sovereignty is at the heart of the debate. If there has been a consistency at the heart of anti-European campaigners in successive EU-related referenda it has been the claim that at each stage we have signed away our sovereignty or part of it. It is a definition of sovereignty that is legalistic and argued along the lines of naked national self-interest. Interestingly, given that many "No" campaigners in this country believe themselves to be on the Left, it is the same interpretation of sovereignty that motivates the United States and politicians such as George W. Bush in particular. It is the philosophy that leads the United States to recoil, for example, from the International Criminal Court and to play politics with the United Nations.

Hear, hear.

However, for historical reasons, it is an interpretation of sovereignty that is understandably potent in this country. Having waited too long for our own sovereignty, to trade it or pool it with others can seem, if not peculiar, a little perverse.

Real examination of our historical legacy shows that political independence, however welcome, also revealed the limitations of national sovereignty in the new world. Regional instability is a dangerous phenomenon for small countries in particular. It is no coincidence that Ireland's movement towards relative economic prosperity was contemporaneous with the broader stability provided by the emerging European Community. The nation state, alone and absolute, pursuing its own interest exclusively, is a dangerous beast. The First and Second World Wars represent proof of that on this Continent. In case one is not convinced by that example, Yugoslavia is the most recent reminder that that danger has not gone away.

Hear, hear.

The pooling of sovereignty to bind countries together as well as to solve cross-frontier problems has been the most successful innovation in a European Continent bedevilled by war over at least the past 300 years. It is for that reason African states have recently embarked on rebuilding their own supranational initiative and the potential of regional supranational bodies is explicitly recognised in the UN Charter.

The European Union should also hold out a particular attraction for the Left. It always brings a smile to my face to listen to anti-Nice treaty campaigners who claim to be on the Left argue, for example, that ratification of the treaty would endanger our low corporation tax rate. It does not but that rate in itself is recognition, in our own self-interest, of the power of global international capital and its capacity to hop borders. The EU, for all its many problems, is the only body through which the people can hope to tackle the power of international capital. It is the only institution within which we can attempt to exercise some degree of restraint on international globalisation.

Hear, hear.

It is for that reason the Union has been able to sponsor progressive legislation in this country in regard to, for example, women's and workers' rights and the environment that would not have been allowed to proceed by our domestic conservative political establishment in the timeframe and context that progress was made.

The Union is a flawed institution as it is the creation of the work of human beings. Unsurprisingly the early work of the Convention on Europe has focused on re-invigorating the Union's democratic spirit. How exactly competing national rights and individual citizen's rights are to be reconciled will be dealt with in another treaty remains to be seen. Suffice it to say the problems have been recognised and are being discussed and there are no easy solutions.

While "No" campaigners bemoan the lack of democracy within the EU, they fail to recognise that in many cases greater European democracy would diminish the role of the nation state to which they seem wedded. When they complain the Nice treaty will undermine the position of the smaller states they forget that after enlargement the relative strength of the smaller states will be considerably enhanced, as Deputy Mitchell pointed out through the figures he quoted. Our job will be to work with these states to advance our interests and those of a decent and, I say unashamedly, social democratic Europe. I believe we can do that but to reject this treaty would seriously undermine our influence in the accession states.

Let us be clear that the Treaty of Nice is about one thing, facilitating enlargement – no more, no less. It is about the ten member states, if Nice is passed, which will decide over the next two years to join or reject membership of the European Union. It is the political agreement to facilitate that process. It is not a perfect treaty, a point recognised by those who negotiated it and agreed when they left Nice to sign on for the establishment not only of the Convention on Europe, but also the Intergovernmental Conference which would follow it. However, enlargement is the key issue here.

Ratification of the Nice treaty is essentially a moral question. Do we, the people, offer the hand of solidarity to the applicant countries and assist them down the road to the peaceful and prosperous future which membership of the Union offers them? Do we, the people, look across Europe to countries which have suffered grievously under the yoke of oppression with genuine and meaningful friendship? Or do we, a country which is a shining example of the benefits of EU membership, seek to pull up the ladder after ourselves and kick at the hands which are grasping at the bottom rung? That is the question.

I have been an internationalist all my life. To me to be of the Left is to find common cause with ordinary people at home and abroad whose human needs I share. To me to be of the Left is to see liberty, equality and fraternity as values which transcend borders and so to me to put the needs to the people of eastern Europe on hold in the interests of some form of narrow-minded and outdated nationalism is simply unthinkable. It is true there may be other means of securing enlargement but not without seriously discommoding the expectations in the applicant countries. Is that a choice we seriously want to make?

Our historical common cause with these states is sometimes exaggerated but nonetheless unlike the western EU member states, we share along with them the experience of a damaging colonisation. How often we have recoiled at the experience of others deciding our interests for us and assessing our needs. Let us not fall into those traps ourselves. Charles Stewart Parnell said that no man has the right to fix a boundary to the march of a nation. Are we, the people, now to fix boundaries, if only for a limited time, to the progress of the peoples of eastern Europe?

If there has been one considerable alteration in the tenor of the debate on this issue since last year it has been about enlargement. Notwithstanding the declaration of support from "No" campaigners for the principle of enlargement, the introduction of issues such as immigration and the position of farmers have become essentially anti-enlargement arguments. It is legitimate to raise the issue of immigration – the people are entitled to hear all the issues discussed. The manner in which it has been introduced, however, has been clearly designed to exploit a sensitive political issue in an Ireland that is undergoing a transformation in this area. I particularly welcome the condemnation of the way this issue was raised by both Sinn Féin and the Green Party which are campaigning for a "No" vote but I think they know as well as I do that the seed has been sown as it was designed to be.

It would seem that the case being made by the anti-Nice campaigners is based on the application of the worst possible case scenario to each area of our interaction with Europe. This is Irish ultra-pessimism at its worst. It means that the extension, for example, of qualified majority voting into a greater number of policy areas is viewed by "No" campaigners as increasing the possibility that Ireland will lose out. The reality is that our track record and experience is far superior to that of larger member states in relation to the exercise of this particular mechanism. It means the Government's indication of early agreement to free movement of labour for new member states is portrayed as opening the vista of unsustainable immigration into this country. I would say to my elected colleagues in Sinn Féin and in the Green Party that there is not a single medical facility in this country which could function without the presence of legally invited immigrant workers.

We agree with the Deputy.

(Interruptions.)

A Deputy

It is a distortion of the—

It is not – it is a reality. I would say to Deputy Finian McGrath that the same arguments about immigration and the flooding of member states by immigrants were made when the Iberian peninsula was about to be accessed into membership of the European Union. The Deputy should look back on the record. People who said "No" or who articulated that point of view in Germany, France and Luxembourg argued precisely the same. The record is quite the opposite.

It provides greater capacity for enhanced co-operation hence the "No" campaigners argue that Ireland will be left behind while some great historical conspiracy takes off. The reality is that Ireland is already party to enhanced co-operation in one area, the single currency, and outside it in another, the Schengen Agreement. The irony is that in the area of the common foreign and security policy all sides to this debate in Ireland are arguing for enhanced co-operation with Ireland excluded from it.

The reality is that Ireland has been a far more successful member of the European Union than the "No" campaign allows for. Those who make the case for national sovereignty are suffering from a lack of national self-confidence.

Whatever transpires over the next few weeks, I appeal for a sensible and mature debate on these issues. The prospect of either side crying Armageddon if its cause is defeated – I address that particularly to the Government side – will only serve to increase the cynicism of the electorate. I would say to the electorate that it has a responsibility to inform itself on the issues and the broader arguments.

If I have one concern it is that this issue may be influenced by a desire to deal a bloody nose to a Government and a Taoiseach who deliberately deceived the people in the run up to the last general election. It is an understandable feeling. This Government's re-election was secured on a fraudulent platform and it deserves to be punished for it.

The hypocrisy of the Taoiseach in turning up at the Earth Summit in South Africa and then lecturing other countries about responsibilities in regard to overseas development aid will surely further sicken the electorate as opinion editorials in the Irish newspapers today indicate. The very first cut to emerge after the general election was to our ODA payments when it was announced that €32 million would be cut from the budget for the current year. However, as with virtually all Government cutbacks, this was not the full story. It emerged last week that the full extent of the cutbacks was actually €42 million. A cut of €32 million was bad enough but to find that there was actually another €10 million involved is really shocking. It says much about the standards and priorities of this Government that, at a time of growing famine in much of southern Africa, one of the first targets of the knife of the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, should be the poor and hungry of the developing world. When Fianna Fáil in Government feels the need to bring up the drawbridge there is a horrifying consistency about who gets knocked off first – the poor of the developing world or the people who believed that when the Government established the treatment purchase fund it was serious about allocating it adequate resources.

The Taoiseach has been the primary author of the political strategy which brought his party such success in the general election but which has ultimately done so much damage to our political and democratic system. However, public attitudes are changing. People are beginning to see the real Bertie Ahern. The credibility of the Taoiseach has been damaged, probably beyond repair. He pretty much absented himself from the last Nice campaign – it might perhaps require him to look at how best he wants to present himself in this campaign.

Let me repeat that it would be wrong if the aspiring peoples of eastern Europe were to suffer a knock back because of the dishonesty of a Government so desperate to be re-elected that it cared not about how it did it. My message to the people is simple: wait in the long grass and deliver your retribution to Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats where it hurts – in 20 months time in European Parliament and local authority elections. Let that be payback time for the Taoiseach's pre-election promise to eliminate hospital waiting lists in two years. If one really wants to hurt Fianna Fáil, that is the time to do it. As it proved on the occasion of the last European referendum, neither Europe nor Nice is all that important to it.

The treaty we will vote on in a few weeks is far from perfect. As I have said already, it will be revisited in a few years by another treaty. It is now time for a consolidation of what the EU is about and its relationship with member states. After 2004 the position agreed should hold for a generation. This continuous process of treaty change is in itself partly responsible for people's alienation from a body that does not stand still long enough to become familiar to the general public.

However, in many ways our vote next month is not about us. We will be asked to make a gesture of solidarity towards fellow Europeans who have suffered more than any others from the century of war and state oppression that was Europe in the last century. Ultimately, while it is they who will decide if they wish to accede to the European Union, were it to be Ireland they perceived as hindering that decision, it would amount to a terrible irony and horrible tragedy.

I thank Deputy Quinn and wish him and his wife, Liz, the best on his retirement.

During the last Nice referendum campaign I was asked a number of times what would happen if we voted "No". I had an immediate and direct reply. I said that if we vote "No", we will be asked to vote again until such time as we get the answer right. I also predicted that the next campaign would be particularly nasty. I have been proved right on both counts.

The excuses offered by the Government for holding a second referendum are as plentiful as they are absurd. "The people did not know what they were voting for", it tells us patronisingly. This accusation applies apparently only to those who voted "No". The insults continue. The Government tells us that while it has listened to the people, the context has changed. It is obvious the Government has not changed and not one iota of the treaty has been changed.

The Government refers to the Seville declaration. Let us begin with that. The Seville declaration cannot protect neutrality because there is no neutrality to protect. When I was asked about this question during the last referendum I stated that after the Amsterdam treaty and the Partnership for Peace, Ireland was no longer neutral but simply non-aligned. NATO now refers to Ireland as one of the former neutrals, some of whom, such as Sweden and Finland, insist on calling themselves non-aligned. Merely protecting our non-aligned status will, therefore, perpetuate this position. The Seville declaration protects our non-aligned status, it does not protect our neutrality.

We already know we are not members of NATO, which has become less relevant in the post-Cold War security architecture. This is the reason Partnership for Peace has been such a significant move. As a consequence of the Amsterdam treaty, the Petersberg Tasks include the commitment of troops for crisis management and peacemaking, a euphemism for war as my colleague, Deputy John Bruton, rightly pointed out. While the Nice treaty is not as significant in terms of militarisation, it does advance the cause by integrating the Western European Union into the European Union and creating a new military and security committee.

Ireland now has officers working at very senior level as part of the new European rapid reaction force. The question is whether we will ask them to withdraw from it if a UN mandate for action is not given. Can anyone imagine our Minister telling his EU colleagues that we must withdraw very crucial people from an EU operation because of the absence of a UN mandate. This simply will not happen.

The aim of the EU is, over time, to create a military force to rival that of the United States and create an arms industry to compete with that of the United States. This goes to the heart of the problem. By seeking to compete with the United States, the EU has ended up copying it. This is not the direction in which Europe should be heading. If we wish to rival the United States militarily, it will inevitably cost us. It could mean a number of things about which those on the left should be concerned. These could be either cuts in expenditure on health, education, the environment and public transport or, perhaps, the imposition of a federal military tax as suggested by the Belgian finance minister. That is facing up to the reality.

That is not what he suggested.

On the issue of militarisation, I congratulate my Green Party colleague, Tim Hourigan, who is today languishing in jail because, on behalf of the Green Party, he wanted to highlight the fact that military aeroplanes were landing in Shannon Airport. This is because we as a party are committed to peace. We are also committed to Europe and are part of the federation of green parties. However, we cannot accept the vision of Europe expressed in the treaty, which follows a pattern familiar from previous treaties, namely, creeping federalism.

I know from my attendance at the convention on the future of Europe along with Deputy John Bruton that the impetus is moving away from the partnership of states model towards the superstate or federal state model. At the most recent meeting on subsidiarity and defence, the phrase, "Europe is an economic giant, but a political dwarf", was repeated at least three times by members. It is clear that the aim of this treaty and the 2004 treaty currently being drawn up is to make Europe into a political giant. The problem is that democracy and accountability for citizens will be trampled on by this new political giant.

Those who argue that the treaty has managed to decouple enlargement from integration are being disingenuous. Most of the 107 pages in my copy of the treaty have nothing to do with enlargement, but everything to do with further integration. The Nice treaty is essentially about deepening rather than widening. Sovereignty which has been pooled is being gradually abolished. The Nice debate ought to be about the future direction of Europe. It is not good enough to argue that we can ratify the treaty and then think about the future because the treaty makes a number of crucial changes which will diminish our chances of opposing the emergence of the superstate model.

Let me summarise some of these changes. Decision making is moved further away from the Irish people, Ireland loses its veto in more than 30 new areas and its voting strength is weakenedvis-à-vis the larger states, we lose our automatic right to a commissioner and commissioners will now be chosen by qualified majority vote meaning Ireland's prepared nominee for commissioner may not be accepted.

Will my colleague accept a question?

I will take it at the end when I have used up my ten minutes.

New enhanced co-operation provisions mean the partnership of equals on which the EU was founded will become a thing of the past as it evolves towards a two-tier Europe of first and second class states. Ireland's right to veto such a development has been removed. The removal of the veto in certain areas of trade, article 133, is a spur to the headlong rush towards globalisation about which Deputy Quinn is concerned. It enables trade negotiations to be fast-tracked away from democratic scrutiny and national Governments and strengthens the hand of transnational corporations and that of the EU trade commissioner over democratically elected governments.

I will return to the question of militarisation. All these changes, apart from our loss of the right to a commissioner once there are 27 member states, will come into being regardless of whether enlargement takes place. As institutional changes, most of these do not directly affect enlargement which can proceed without the Nice treaty via the Amsterdam treaty provisions and individual accession treaties. That point has been confirmed by Romano Prodi, Giscard D'Estaing and my constituency colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, when they launched their White Paper. The Minister may recall that I was present at that press conference.

These are the facts, but instead of concentrating on the treaty the Government and its allies have sought to play down its significance and even to divert attention from its contents. They began this process by undermining the role of the Referendum Commission. Due to the legislation rushed through this House, the commission has been deprived of its essential function, that is, to provide balanced arguments for and against the proposals. Information provided in this unpartisan way enabled the voter to make up his or her mind on the merits or otherwise of the treaty. To the dismay of the Government, the voters decided to vote against the treaty, the blame for which was levelled at the commission which would have to pay. It has paid.

The real loser is democracy. We should note that the commission was set up to comply with the provisions of the McKenna judgment. The Government, in its ruthless pursuit of its objective, has abandoned any pretence of fairness. The information leaflet being sent to each household does not explicitly tell the electorate to vote "Yes", but it presents a sanitised and harmless view of the treaty which may lead a voter to come to the conclusion that voting "Yes" makes sense. It is a cynical abuse of taxpayers' money. Many arguments are made in the leaflet in an unprecedented effort to secure a "Yes" vote, but they amount to no more than an indulgence in scare tactics, some of which we have heard in this House today.

One such scare tactic is the argument put forward that a failure to ratify the treaty will lead to a loss of investment. There is no basis for such an assertion. Similar tactics were used in the most recent referendum in Denmark, where voters were told that a "No" vote would result in a loss of investment. It simply has not materialised. Just as I condemn those who use scare tactics in relation to immigration, I condemn those who are trying to scare the Irish people into voting "Yes" by making the assertion I mentioned.

Enhanced co-operation will be used as a bargaining ploy when negotiations are taking place. It will be taken out of the drawer—

The Deputy has one minute left. I wish to clarify a point in case any queries are made later. If a Deputy wishes to intervene, he or she should do so in the course of the Member's contribution. When the Member's speech has concluded, there is no provision for a question.

That is fine.

The reason I intervened earlier was to ask Deputy Gormley when Ireland used its veto in the past. Can he recall a case when our failure to use the veto damaged our national interest?

I discussed this matter with my colleague, Deputy Sargent, a few minutes ago. It is often mentioned by those in favour of a "Yes" vote. When one is in negotiations and one knows that the other side holds all the trump cards, one will face difficulties when it comes to a vote. As we face the next referendum on the Nice treaty and as more and more power is given to the larger member states, Ireland is becoming disempowered. We will find that less opposition is offered.

I ask the Deputy to conclude.

I wish to finish my point about enhanced co-operation.

I will allow the Deputy to make a brief final comment.

The Treaty of Nice is a very bad treaty for Ireland and for Europe. I ask the people to vote "No" in the forthcoming referendum.

I wish to share my time with Deputy O'Donnell, with the agreement of the House.

We have been recalled to debate and bring forward a matter of vital national interest. The decision we propose to ask the electorate to make will be a final and fully informed one on the Nice treaty. It will be a fundamental decision on wider questions about our future, such as where we are heading in Europe. What is good for Irish jobs and for the livelihoods of urban and rural families? Whose strategy for Ireland are we buying into? The referendum will signal our intentions in relation to these questions.

The context has changed since the last referendum. We are having a full debate on this occasion and other countries and international investors are looking closely at what we do next. The decision we face is immensely important. We have much to gain and nothing to fear from a "Yes" vote. Our choice gives us an opportunity to build on our successes at home and in Europe. We can enhance our reputation as an attractive location for jobs and business, we can strengthen our influence and we can secure our interests among the nations of Europe. This is a chance to go forward as an open and confident people.

The Progressive Democrats Party is fully in favour of this Bill and a further referendum on the Nice treaty. It received a mandate for another poll at the general election. The party's manifesto outlined its commitment to the ratification of the treaty. It stressed that it would work to explain the treaty and to reassure those who voted "No" or who did not vote in June 2001 about issues of concern. The Government is now keeping those promises. My party's manifesto expressed support for an EU declaration on Ireland's neutrality policy, which the Government delivered at the Seville Summit. We said, finally, that we would bring forward a referendum on the treaty before the end of the year. Nothing could be plainer. We have a fresh democratic mandate. Small Opposition parties that campaigned against a further referendum cannot credibly argue that their minority Opposition position is the only valid democratic one.

Cad mar gheall ar an IFA?

The Nice treaty involves changing the way the EU works so that it can have more member states. Nobody claims that the treaty or the way the EU works are simple because they are not. It is difficult to grasp all the details as the procedures and law making rules, for example, can seem complex. The European Union is complex because its rules have been developed slowly since the 1950s when it had six members. It is complex because it brings together many countries, with millions of people, for a shared purpose of peace and prosperity. We recognise it needs to be improved and the Nice treaty is a first step in bringing about improvement, while allowing up to 12 new member states to join. Further work needs to be done during the next two years to make the Union easier to understand and to bring it closer to the people.

We need to face the fact that large organisations are not simple. This is particularly true of organisations which make laws and rules in democratic societies. Government is complex, international organisations are complex and, similarly, the EU is complex. This does not mean, however, that we should withdraw support from it. The fact that sports and sporting organisations have their own rules does not stop people joining, taking part in or supporting Gaelic games or their local golf club. There were many Gaelic football supporters in Croke Park last Sunday, but how many of them could recite each and every rule of the game? They were passionate supporters nevertheless and their lack of thorough knowledge did not interfere in their enjoyment of the games. If there is a problem with the rules, people do not try to undermine the organisation, the club or the sport. Similarly, we should not allow "No" campaigners to use the simple fact that the European Union is complex as a bogeyman to frighten off support.

It has been argued that the modest rule changes provided for in the Treaty of Nice will lead to a loss of sovereignty. The European Union, from its original six members to the current 15, has always shared decision making by pooling sovereignty. The Nice treaty continues this to make way for more member states. Is this a surprise? It does not represent a threat to Ireland; it is simply the way the EU works and has always worked. Those who have a problem with the Nice treaty had a problem with joining the EEC in 1973. They are still fighting yesterday's battles, the battles of 30 years ago. Under the Nice treaty, Ireland will retain the same right to a Commissioner as the United Kingdom, France, Germany and all other member states. The larger member states are losing their second Commissioner. It is equal and fair for Ireland and it does not represent a threat to our interests. Ireland will have at least two and a half times more voting weight in the Union than our population should allow. Germany, on the other hand, will have half the voting weight that its population would suggest. How could this possibly be unfair to Ireland?

Ireland is a small country, representing about 1% of the population of the Union. We will never make our way by vetoes or by getting on our high horse, but by negotiation, agreement and alliances, as we have done in the past. We have almost never used our veto; the only occasion that comes to mind was during discussions on the milk super levy. I cannot think of an example of the EU forcing something on us that was fundamentally against the national interest. It has not worked that way in the past and it will not work that way in the future. Tremendous benefits have resulted from shared decision making, as part of our membership of the Union. We did not need to use a veto to get such benefits and we should not create a fuss about the removal of the veto in some areas as it is an irrelevance. Governments will continue to make decisions on their own tax rates. The Government wishes to retain such a policy and an agreement was reached to that effect at Nice. It is dishonest of "No" campaigners to suggest that the ability to make national decisions in relation to tax will be lost, especially as they do not support the Government's successful low tax policies. It is another bogeyman.

A two-tier Europe has been spoken about by those who oppose Nice. There are many detailed safeguards whereby no country will be disadvantaged if some countries want to go ahead with a common policy to which others do not wish to sign up. Effectively, this is already happening in regard to the euro. Is Denmark or Britain discriminated against by us and others because they chose freely to stay out of the euro? I am not aware this is the case. Surely it is better to recognise the value of the flexibility the European Union already has. I do not believe reasonable people in Ireland would wish to stop other members of the European Union going ahead with some preferred policies if they wanted to so long as it does not discriminate against ourselves. This is the only way this can operate under the Nice treaty. There is no other scope for this to happen.

The Seville Declaration from the EU confirmed that our fellow member states fully accept our policy of military neutrality. It could hardly be more clear that the Nice treaty involves no European army, no military alliance and no conscription. Ireland makes its own decisions on military matters which all our European partners accept. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be sufficient for some people who claim there is some hidden conspiracy to force a European army on us. All we can do on foot of wild and false claims such as these is to counter them with the truth. It is a false and vile political tactic to put up an accusation against one's opponents saying, "Let's see them deny it", which is what has been happening here. The Irish people should not be fooled by these conspiracy theories. Ireland stays totally in control of its military, without any qualification.

The Government, political colleagues and I are convinced that our vote in a referendum on the Nice treaty is of the greatest importance for Ireland. It will tell us much about how we see ourselves and where we want to go as a country. If we vote "Yes" we will be saying we want to continue to work in Europe to build jobs and prosperity at home and throughout Europe. We want to be the best place in Europe for jobs and investment. We want to continue to be open, confident and progressive. We are prepared to share decision-making in Europe and to make that work for Ireland as well as for other countries, because that is how it has worked for us up to now.

I have one question for the "No" campaigners. Which part of "No" do they not understand? Is it "No" to new jobs, new investment or to the future for Ireland and Europe? If we say "No" we will be saying "change direction". We will be taking a lead from people who want a divorce from Europe because they never wanted the marriage in the first place. How could we expect investors and other countries to read it otherwise? There will be very negative vibes in regard to inward investment if there is a "No" vote. If we make that decision our competitors for jobs and investment will have a field day at our expense. A "No" vote means we will entrust our jobs, our influence in the world and our strategy for Ireland to a no hope, no vision, "No" campaign view of the world, to hostility to international companies from the Greens, to narrow nationalism from Sinn Féin and to self-righteous fundamentalism from others.

Last July, I challenged the "No" campaign to say how a "No" vote could advance Ireland's interests in five core economic policy areas, first, to ensure sound national finances and safeguard the euro. Together in the European Union we have set a standard for each other in the Stability and Growth Pact. How will a "No" vote ensure that we and our fellow member states abide by that commitment? Second, we must build competitiveness in a pro-enterprise, pro-jobs economy. This is what the European Union is working hard at. How will a "No" vote bring jobs to Ireland or Europe? How will it build a trading and enterprising economy? Third, we must achieve balanced regional development. The focus on regional policy in Ireland and the grants received give a great impetus to regional development. We must give credit where it is due. How will a "No" vote contribute to advancing European regional development support for Ireland? Fourth, we must continually build social inclusion. European social policy has supported Ireland in promoting equality and inclusion, backed by more than €5 billion in social funds. How will a "No" vote build on that progress? Fifth, we must ensure a clean environment, safe food and sustainable development, all areas where international action is essential and the EU is taking a very strong lead. How will a "No" vote advance these areas for Ireland or Europe?

I said in July that I would wait for answers. I am waiting still and there are no answers, no positive thinking, no proposals and no way forward. There is just "no" talk, negativity, bogeymen and myths. Surely we cannot afford to take a gamble on that mentality. Let us remember we have made Europe work for Ireland and we must not stop now. This country has a reputation as a great place for investment and jobs, let us not throw it all away. We have a centuries-old tradition of being European players. Let us have faith in our Irish and European heritage. We have a new confidence in the future for ourselves and our children. Let us build on it and not lose our nerve.

The Progressive Democrats stand by their vision of Ireland as a modern, enterprising European state with full employment. It stands by the people as active builders of a European Union that works for us and for all Europeans, including the millions who suffered under oppression and communism. They stand by all that is best in Ireland and all that Europe can be. A "Yes" vote is right for Ireland and right for Europe.

Speaking as a Deputy, a woman and an Irish citizen, my strong view is that life in Ireland has been transformed for the better by our active membership of the European Union since 1973. It has been the context, catalyst and the cause of much of our progress as a people. The economic benefits are all around us in the form of jobs, community development, investment, trade, prosperity, self-confidence and an end to forced migration from Ireland.

Even though the benefits of EU membership are all around us and self-evident, they seem to be taken for granted by many of us. Thankfully, there is another chance and this rerun of the debate on the ratification of Nice and the disappointing result of the June 2001 referendum forces us to think long and hard about what we really want for Ireland and Europe in the future. This decision is possibly the most important we as Irish citizens will be asked to make this decade. A referendum, as we know from other referenda, is a blunt instrument with radical outcomes, as in the Nice ratification. The next referendum will bring us to a decisive moment. What approach do we want to take to secure job growth, prosperity and social progress in Ireland? Will a "Yes" or a "No" vote best achieve this? In my view the answer to that question is a "Yes" vote.

The Progressive Democrats will be asking people on all sides of the debate how will they continue to get jobs into Ireland. How will they ensure Ireland has real influence in Europe and that Ireland is a socially progressive European state? The Progressive Democrats would say that a "Yes" vote answers these questions positively because it is based on the right strategic actions for Ireland, building a trading and competitive economy for jobs, working as a team player in Europe as an equal, putting European standards of equality and human rights into the fabric of our laws and administration. I am happy that my constituents in Dublin South on balance took this view in June 2001 and I hope the country will say "Yes" in greater numbers over the coming weeks.

A "Yes" vote will mean that we want to be a modern open society socially and economically. A "No" vote will throw us back in on ourselves and dash the hopes of millions of eastern Europeans who wish for prosperity and progress with us in Europe. A "No" vote will put a big question mark over our economy and jobs and it would give great comfort to new and old forces of conservatism in Ireland.

Participating on an equal basis in the shaping of Europe has been good for Ireland socially and politically. We have proved internationally that we are an equal player. In the UN we debate, vote and pass resolutions and in the EU we have a direct part in fashioning and building a Europe which brings peoples and countries together after generations of conflict and the tragic divisions of the Cold War. We work with our EU partners in combating global poverty and injustice, particularly in Africa where the EU is the biggest single donor of aid. In Europe we are using our membership and we must continue as active members to bring greater choice and opportunity for thousands of Irish men and women and their families, including opportunities to study, work and live in a new way with our neighbours on the Continent, to do business and share in our common heritage and European values of democracy.

The European Union has given massive financial support for social and educational inclusion in Ireland. In 1973, under 30,000 Irish people received third level education. The figure is now more than 160,000. Ireland has received more than €5 billion from the Social Fund since 1973. In 1973 the marriage bar was a major and disgraceful legacy of discrimination against women in Ireland. Women now participate fully in the workforce. Young women rightly expect and receive the same education and career opportunities as men. The EU has been a champion and defender of equality for women. Membership of the EU provided opportunities for equality of treatment at all levels of Irish life. All our equality legislation has been enacted because of our membership of the EU. Women should not forget that fact when they vote in the referendum.

Between 1975 and 1986, five anti-discrimination directives were adopted. These directives ensure equal pay; equal treatment in employment; equal treatment for payment of social security payments; equal treatment under occupational social security schemes; and equal treatment for women and men who are self-employed. The Employment Equality Act, 1977, outlawed discrimination in employment on the grounds of gender and marital status. All these initiatives were driven and initiated by EU directives. While there has been a statutory entitlement to maternity leave since 1981, Irish maternity protection rights were improved by the implementation of the EU directive on pregnant workers. The introduction of parental leave in December 1998 was as a result of an EU directive.

These laws have facilitated increased participation by women in the Irish labour force. The female participation rate in 1971 was 25% compared to 48.6% in 2001. For the period 2000-06, Ireland has been allocated €34 million for the Equal Programme which will promote new methods of combating all forms of discrimination and inequalities in the labour market.

Conservative forces have been consistently opposed to Ireland's membership of the EU. I have always suspected that these conservative forces are opposed to our membership of the EU because that membership has brought change to Ireland. Conservatives find change frightening. They wish to keep things as they are and keep women in a subservient role. This closed and inward-looking society could no longer be controlled if it operated as an open European model. Europe has always represented progress and the ending of authoritarian, conservative, narrow nationalism which was the hallmark of Irish life for much of the history of the State. Europe has always been regarded as a demon by certain political forces. This is evident in the unholy alliance of new and old conservatives, joined by naive and well-meaning, but convincing to some, Euro-sceptic Greens and the narrow nationalists in Sinn Féin. These are very strange bedfellows who are trying to stop the clock of change and equality in Ireland.

The women in the "No" campaign are rarely seen. There are no women Members of this House opposed to the Nice treaty. Neither Sinn Féin nor the Green Party has any women Members of this House. I wonder where are the women supporters of the young and old conservative men in the No to Nice Campaign. I am not aware of the male members of the No to Nice Campaign ever speaking out in favour of women's rights and equality of treatment. Those of us who wish to see Ireland moving forward towards liberal values and greater equality between men and women must vote "Yes" in the referendum. We cannot afford to hand victory to these illiberal forces.

On a point of order, I wish to inform the Deputy that the Green MEPs are in the main women.

They are not TDs.

That is not a point of order.

This debate is taking place on a fateful date, the 63rd anniversary of the date on which the French and British declarations formally initiated the Second World War. On this day in September 1939, German tanks were rolling through Poland and within one month suppressed the independence of that country. Today Poland stands at the gates of the European Union requesting admission. Ireland and the world could not help Poland in 1939, but we can help Poland in 2002. The European Union has given western Europe 57 years of peace. The ten countries of central and eastern Europe, including Poland, deserve now to share in that structure of peace. The only serious obstacle standing in their way, apart from the remaining technical aspects of the terms of entry, is the Irish people's decision on the Nice treaty.

Irish people have often been called upon to remember 1916, 1829, 1847 and other important historical dates. As we approach decision day on the Nice treaty, we should remember 3 September 1939.

Martin Luther King once inspired his people by saying that he had a dream. The European Union was set up by people who had a dream, a dream that seemed impossible to anyone who looked over the previous millennium of European history. That dream was one of a Europe that would never again be at war with itself. For 57 years that dream has been fulfilled in western Europe, possibly the longest period of peace that this part of the world has known in recorded history, thanks to the existence of the European Union. There have been difficulties, difficulties of language, law, administration and elitism, but the dream has become a reality and a structure of peace has been built and maintained.

It was Samuel Johnson who said: "In solitude we have our dreams to ourselves, and in company we agree to dream in concert." Dreaming in concert is obviously a lot more difficult than dreaming on one's own, but it is something we must do if we are to achieve our ambitions for our people.

The next phase of European construction is built on the foundation of the Nice treaty and is also the product of a dream. That dream is nothing less than the reunification of Europe after the Cold War. The Cold War built a wall behind which people like Cardinal Mindszenty were imprisoned and millions were impoverished and sometimes persecuted.

When I was Taoiseach I paid an official visit to Poland. My wife was with me and she was on a cultural programme of the kind that is sometimes organised for spouses on such occasions. Her experience was in a way even more interesting than mine because one of the things she was shown was a presentation about life in Warsaw prior to 1939 and the German invasion. She saw pictures of a city of immense sophistication, of well-stocked shops, prosperous people and a rich cultural life. The deep scientific culture was so well developed that it was Polish scientists rather than their British or American counterparts who first broke the German military communications codes. That was all destroyed by a war in which six million Poles died and it was eventually replaced by the dull monotony of communism, so vividly symbolised by the soulless tower blocks that surround all eastern European cities. The Nice treaty offers us an opportunity to allow central and eastern Europe to flourish again and to release the potential so evident in those pictures of pre-war Warsaw shown to my wife.

The reunification of Europe is a dream worthy of Irish support in particular. Reunification on this island has been a dream of many here, pursued by different means at different times but shared by all. We should now support reunification on a larger scale, the reunification of Europe. I put that challenge to Irish republicans of all shades.

That is the positive side of things. There are possible negatives to be considered too. The First World War started in Sarajevo, the Second in Danzig, now known as Gdansk. If Europe is not re-united through the Nice treaty, if the door is slammed in the applicants' faces and if eastern Europe is Balkanised into rival blocs outside the structure of the European Union, as could happen if enlargement does not go through, can we be guaranteed that the same ethnic jealousies and hatreds that led to Sarajevo and Danzig will not rise again?

Within the European Union there is a structure of constant meetings and interactions between countries, which wear down even the harshest animosities. These meetings can be so boring that one sometimes wonders why one attends them, but the truth of the matter is that the very process of constantly meeting wears down the differences which would otherwise rise to the surface and inspire the worst in us. For example, Anglo-Irish relations have been much closer throughout the period since we joined the Common Market in 1973 than at any time between 1921 and 1973.

We urgently need European Union enlargement not solely for the economic benefit of a larger market from which all of us will gain, but to build a structure of peace throughout the whole Continent in which sources of conflict can slowly be talked out of existence in the context of a common commitment to democracy and human rights. One of the advantages of ratifying the Nice treaty rather than relying on individual accession agreements, which some on the "No" side would like to see, is that the Nice treaty contains much stronger guarantees of democracy and human rights in member states than can be permitted under existing treaties or could be possible under individual accession agreements. Where existing agreements allow the Union to act if human rights or democracy have been flouted already and where all other members agree, the Nice treaty will allow preventive intervention with the support of four fifths of other members. We should not forget that most central European countries commenced the 1920s as democracies but ended the 1930s with authoritarian regimes. The new powers in the Nice treaty to preserve democracy in Europe through the enlargement of the European Union are crucial.

Enlargement will change the European Union. The cosy club which we all got used to will be shaken up, the number of languages spoken will increase and the money will have to be spread among a larger number of people. However, as Heraclitus said, "There is nothing permanent except change."

These are challenges which can be overcome if we make a special extra effort to bring all our people with us. That special effort has not always been present in the past. Europe, for example, slipped into the use of exclusive jargon which non-members of the elite did not understand. We have had too much talk of pillars, Cardiff processes, Lisbon processes, comitology and the like – shorthand which the officials and Ministers involved understand perfectly and which does not require to be translated into other languages by the interpreters but which excludes everybody else. This not only generates unjustified suspicion but also makes genuine public accountability very difficult.

Some object to the European Union and some are inclined to vote "No" to Nice because they claim the European Union is undemocratic. European Union law making is a good deal more democratic than law making in this House but there is, nonetheless, plenty of room for improvement. Consider the contrast between an EU directive and an Act of the Oireachtas. An EU directive is prepared by Commission experts after exhaustive discussions with democratically elected Governments. It then must be approved in both the democratically mandated Council of Ministers and, separately, in the democratically elected European Parliament, in neither of which the Community controls a whipped majority. It also must be the subject of formal consultations with bodies representing local authorities and social partners. Finally, when it comes into effect, its enforcement is a matter for each individual member state. The Commission does not know what will come out at the end when it makes a proposal for a directive.

Contrast that open process with an Act of the Oireachtas. It is drawn up in secret in privileged communications between officials which are excluded from the Freedom of Information Act. It is approved by Cabinet, again meeting in secret. Eventually it is published and presented to the Dáil and Seanad where a whipped Government majority ensures that it is passed, where no amendment is possible other than one acceptable to the Minister and within narrow time limits which often ensure that vital amendments are not even discussed. If there is any need for enhancement of democracy it is here in Ireland that we should start.

The European law making process can be much improved. The President of the Commission could be elected directly by the people, the Council of Ministers could meet in public when passing laws, the wording of directives could be greatly simplified and they could be subject to a charter of fundamental rights. These improvements are being considered in the Convention on the Future of Europe and would answer some of the perfectly legitimate worries raised by "No" voters in the last discussion. The European Union is work in progress. It is not a final product. As a full member that has ratified Nice, Ireland would be both an architect and an artisan in the further development and adaptation of the European Union.

The argument about ratification of Nice can be boiled down to a very basic choice. We all know that most of the forces that affect our daily lives in each locality in Ireland, whether in Tullamore, Dunboyne or Tallaght, are generated outside the boundaries of this State. Rises in global interest rates affect our mortgage payments, global stock market changes affect the values of our pensions, global traffic in drugs leads to death on our streets and misery for many of our young people, global pollution of the atmosphere affects our weather and global trade underpins our jobs, either directly or by providing the tax revenues needed to pay us. As a full member of the European Union, a club which is big enough to carry real weight in the world, Ireland can have some control over these forces. If the European Union is enlarged, the reach of that control will be further extended.

The argument about Nice – I say this to Deputy Ó Caoláin – does come down to an argument about self-determination. Do we want to continue to have a real say in determining our future in conjunction with others or, like Norway and Iceland, to have the formality of independence without the substance of real influence on the big decisions that affect us? Norway and Iceland continue to have access to EU markets through the European Economic Area but, unlike Ireland, they have no say in shaping the policies that govern that market.

Nobody can be sure what will happen if the Irish people reiterate their decision not to ratify the Nice treaty, beyond the obvious fact that the treaty will then be a dead letter. We will be taking a step into the dark and 500 million Europeans will be directly affected by that step. Whatever the new context will be, if the people vote "No" again, the Irish case in Europe thereafter will be less likely to get a favourable hearing. Other Europeans, reflecting on our decision, will say to themselves: "No matter that Ireland gained more from Europe over 20 years than almost any other country, the Irish cannot be satisfied now so we might as well do what we think is best for ourselves and let them make up their own minds about whether they want to come along with us or not." If, as I fear, that is the attitude, Ireland will be in a weak negotiating position. Maybe that is not the attitude. Maybe other European countries will run after us with more concessions. Somehow, I doubt it. I do not think the advocates of a "No" vote can be sure enough in their own hearts, in their own private moments of reflection, that we will get any concessions that will justify the position they are taking. I believe fundamentally that there is no deep sincerity in the attitude of the leaders of the "No" campaign. For them this is a political opportunity. In the atmosphere of cynicism that governs every democracy, that sort of thing happens. We have all done it at some time in our careers. However, this is not an issue upon which opportunism is appropriate. It is too important a decision.

The people have a choice to make. In the words of Samuel Johnson, we can opt for solitude and have our dreams to ourselves, or we can, through the European Union, agree to dream in concert with others, agree to work with others, so that much more good can be achieved than we can ever achieve on our own.

How appropriate it is that we are having this debate on this day, as Deputy Bruton said. How appropriate it is that the Irish people now have in their hands the key that will allow Europe to be reintegrated. How appropriate it is that we are the people who will decide the ultimate fate of 500 million people in Europe. It is really quite an astonishing and awesome moment. As the Taoiseach said last weekend, Ireland really has arrived at a crossroads. Depending on the decision we take at this crossroads, we will have reason to look back on this moment in the future and say that we took the right decision or one which was catastrophically wrong.

During the last referendum campaign on the Treaty of Nice three things were missing. First, there was a lack of urgency. The point was made repeatedly by those on the "No" side that there was no need for Ireland to be to the fore in ratifying the Nice treaty, that nobody else had done it so why should we bother. The second issue was the lack of clarity. By any objective standard the campaign was full of confused messages. Again, many of those on the "No" side deliberately and cynically used confusion as a weapon. They sowed the seeds of doubt, then nurtured and encouraged confusion. Then they advised people that if they did not know what they should do, they should not ask and should vote "No". The third thing that was missing from the debate was any real sense of how important the Treaty of Nice is, not just for Europe, but also for Ireland. The treaty was seen as something abstract, of no real relevance, as something that was in some sense unimportant to us.

One of the ironies in the last campaign, which has largely been unnoticed, was that those who were advocating a "No" vote suggested that Ireland should hold back until other member states had made their decision. The very people who put forward this proposition have railed for 30 years about imagined incursions on Ireland's sovereignty. However, when Ireland is about to take a sovereign decision, they suggest we should wait for somebody else to make the decision – a denial of Ireland's right to move at its own pace. These same people, in an attempt to justify their recent disgraceful scaremongering on the issue of migration, again took the view that Ireland should not make a sovereign decision, should not make a principled decision but should wait until the Germans, the Austrians or some other group has made the decision for us. What a bizarre view of sovereignty.

While in June 2001 a majority of member states had not ratified the treaty, that is no longer the case. Ireland is the last impediment to the reunification of Europe that will be allowed by the Nice treaty. In a very real sense the future of Europe lies in Ireland's hands.

Another highly significant change has occurred since June of last year. At that time only four or five states were ready for membership of the European Union. At the moment ten states have cleared the hurdles and are on the point of entry. It is very frequently the case, as happened here a few moments ago, that Mr. Prodi's comments are misquoted, out of context, without reference to the facts. Now, however, ten applicant countries have reached an advanced point in their negotiations. These ten countries are ready and able to join the European Union and will be in Europe from 1 January 2004 if the people of Ireland vote "Yes". It is not possible for those ten countries to join if Ireland does not ratify the Treaty of Nice. If we reject the treaty a second time we will throw the Community into confusion and we will close the door on all ten countries. That will not serve this country in any positive way. By obstructing the reintegration of Europe we would do a disservice to the Community that has served Ireland so well over the past 30 years. We would frustrate the wishes of our 14 fellow member states and dash the hopes and aspirations of ten other European states with a population in excess of 100 million. We would be doing this for no good reason. There is nothing in the Treaty of Nice that we in Ireland have any reason to fear.

The "No to Nice" campaign has sought to create confusion on the impact of a "No" vote. There is no basis whatsoever for confusion. The stark reality is that if Ireland votes "No" the process of enlargement will be thrown into chaos, the timetable for enlargement will be abandoned, and we as a nation will alienate current member states and potential member states to whom, in the years ahead, we will be looking for support in future negotiations.

On this occasion there can be no doubt whatsoever about the impact of a "No" vote on Europe and on Ireland. There has been an attempt to foster the belief that we can vote "No" as a form of protest and that there will be no cost in doing so. The precise opposite is the truth. The slogan used last year by the "No" campaign about losing power, influence and money can be turned on its head. Ireland will lose all three if we vote "No". We as a nation have done extremely well from our membership of the European Community. Our economy has boomed. We have been hugely successful in terms of attracting foreign direct investment. We have received massive funding from Europe. As of the end of this year the net inflow to Ireland from Europe will have been €34 billion, the equivalent of writing off the entire national debt. A measure of Ireland's success in terms of negotiating funds within the European Community is how well we do in agriculture. We receive €440 per annum for every man, woman and child in Ireland under the Common Agricultural Policy. Greece, with a far more dramatic structure in agriculture, receives €252 per man, woman and child. We did not achieve that because we outvoted somebody. We achieved that because of the well of goodwill that exists and has existed towards this nation in Europe.

Over the years, Ireland's success in negotiating with our Community partners for funding and support has never arisen from Ireland having sufficient votes in the Council or anywhere else to force a decision in our favour. Our success has been due entirely to the good will that has been shown to us by our Community partners. The "No" campaign is proposing that we squander that good will for no good reason. Deputy Parlon spoke of challenging people on the "No" side last year to answer a number of fundamental questions. I ask them to provide us with an answer to just one question. What possible conceivable economic benefit will flow to Ireland from voting "No"? The answer is none. If we take the advice of the "No" campaigners, we will indeed lose money, power and influence. There is no benefit that will flow to the people of Ireland as a result of a "No" vote. On the contrary, Ireland will lose and lose badly.

The recent analysis by the Economist Intelligence Unit on Ireland suggests that in voting "No" the Irish people "would risk a lot". This analysis makes chilling reading for anybody with Ireland's well-being at heart. The assessment goes on to point out:

One in six Irish jobs depends directly or indirectly on foreign firms. To shoot down Nice would be interpreted abroad as a move away from Europe.

Investors will sniff uncertainty. More uncertainty means less investment, and less investment today means fewer jobs tomorrow. This might scare off foreign investors, which could mean fewer jobs tomorrow. That is the assessment of the Economist Intelligence Unit – we can simply dismiss it if we wish.

Last week the Dublin Chamber of Commerce published its manifesto and rationale for a "Yes" vote. Its message on the referendum is of vital national importance and should not be lightly dismissed. It cautioned that a "No" vote would undermine investor confidence in Ireland as a location, have a direct and damaging effect on foreign direct investment which is vital to Irish jobs and be exploited by our competitors. In bull headed fashion we can also reject that assessment on the basis that it comes from the members of chambers of commerce who only represent people involved in business and who might be less knowledgeable than Members of this House.

In a dramatic advertisement in last Friday's edition of theIrish Examiner the Cork Chamber of Commerce put the case for voting “Yes”. The advertisement pointed out that a “Yes” vote would be good for Europe and Ireland and very good for Cork. The same advertisement could be carried with equal validity in each and every local newspaper throughout the country. A “Yes” vote would be good for Europe, Ireland and each and every county and community in Ireland. The president of the Cork Chamber of Commerce pointed out in the advertisement that “the stance Ireland adopts on the Nice referendum will impact significantly in two key areas essential to employment and growth – foreign direct investment and exports. Any uncertainty regarding our involvement in Europe will impact significantly on both.”

The managing director of another major firm operating in Cork said in the same advertisement: "EU enlargement will provide major opportunities across all industry sectors and failure to ratify Nice will isolate us to the edge of Western Europe." The president and chief operating officer of SIFCO Industries is quoted as saying: "Uncertainty or confusion about Ireland's position within the EU will be an inhibiting factor in attracting business and investment." Mr. Sean Dorgan, chief executive of IDA Ireland, a man who knows something about job creation – considerably more than those who advocate a "No" vote and those who would seek to deny him his right of free speech – has pointed out that a "No" vote on the Nice treaty "will be widely seen by investors and potential investors as indicating the degree of our engagement in the EU, whether we are participating at the heart of its future development or whether we are marginalised."

The managing director of Janssen Pharmaceutical Limited, another knowledgeable person on job creation, said:

This company originally established in Ireland because, apart from financial and operational reasons, we saw Ireland's membership of the European Community as being extremely valuable to our worldwide operations in Europe. Further development and expansion followed, taking into consideration Ireland's continuing commitment to participate to the fullest degree at the heart of EU affairs.

The situation was summarised by Mr. Seamus Scully, group managing director of the Musgrave Group, who said: "In 1973, we needed Europe; now Europe needs us."

The views of the business community are reflected among leaders of the other social partners. In my contacts with leading members of the major farming organisations I was struck by their sense of personal identification with the necessity of a "Yes" vote and their determination in that regard. The view of the IFA president, Mr. John Dillon, that it is "inescapably in Ireland's interest to ratify the Nice treaty and retain our influence at the centre of the EU decision making process" is a very commonly expressed view.

Is there any logical person in this land who believes that by frustrating Europe at the time when it needs us to be positive we will do ourselves any favours? The Dublin Chamber of Commerce, the Cork Chamber of Commerce, the various other business organisations I have cited, the farming organisations and the other social partners are all committed, from various directions, to a positive outcome to this campaign. With every due respect to the National Platform, Youth Defence, the No to Nice Campaign and our colleagues in this House in Sinn Féin and the Green Party, whatever political experience they can claim, they can claim very little experience in the creation of jobs or prosperity. The reality is that very few in this House have had the experience of creating a single job. On any objective basis the experience of the Green Party, Sinn Féin, the No to Nice Campaign, the National Platform or Youth Defence is rather less impressive than that of those in the world of business, commerce, farming and civic society whose views they so blithely dismiss.

In the case of the National Platform, it is noteworthy that on each and every occasion that the people came to vote on Europe, it has urged a "No" vote. Thirty years ago its chief spokesman argued that Ireland would lose if we joined the EEC. He was wrong. He suggested that Ireland would lose its industrial base if we joined the EEC. He was wrong. He suggested that Irish farming would lose money. He even put a figure on it – £49 million. He was off the mark in that and every other regard. He even suggested that the move towards equal pay, which was then beginning to gather momentum in Ireland, would be frustrated if we joined the EEC. He was wrong. He suggested that Ireland would be denuded of population, that we would lose our industrial base and be faced with mass migration. He was wrong on all three issues. Interestingly, the record of this House shows that a few short years ago the then sole Green Party Member was making exactly the same assertions in relation to Ireland's ratification of the Amsterdam and Maastricht treaties.

The National Platform spokesman to whom I referred has recently suggested that Ireland will be flooded by 74 million eastern and central Europeans if we vote "Yes". This is not a new strategy in spite of the fact that some Deputies opposite might wish us to think so. Back in 1971 the same gentleman from the National Platform was also playing the xenophobic card, warning Irish workers that skilled English, German and Dutch workers could come here and take their jobs if we voted "Yes" to EEC membership. He has been shamefully supported in playing the xenophobic and racist card by his close associate, the main spokesman for the No to Nice Campaign – a person of some charm. On this occasion their closest colleagues were gravely embarrassed by the xenophobic and racist argument and have sought with varying degrees of conviction to distance themselves from the argument, at least in public and nationally. There is one party in the House which speaks from both sides of its mouth—

(Interruptions.)

I did not have the Deputy who interrupted in mind – I will deal with him in a moment. It is noteworthy that the same pair to whom I have been referring have recently tried to rewrite their disgraceful efforts. I commend those opposite who came out forcefully early on to distance themselves from this shameful tactic. It took a full five weeks to extract a condemnation from another group on the other side of the House.

Myths about migration patterns are not the only yarns that the "No" campaigners have been spinning. They have peddled blatant and untrue scares about Ireland's right to nominate a Commissioner and our traditional neutrality. Far from undermining Ireland in the matter of the nomination of a Commissioner the Nice treaty gives Ireland exactly the same rights as Germany, France, Britain or any large EU country in the appointment of a member to the European Commission. Under the treaty Ireland with almost 4 million people will have the same rights as Germany with 84 million people. That is hardly second-class citizenship. When EU membership reaches 27, the right to nominate a Commissioner will be rotated between member states on the basis of strict equality. Ireland will have the same right as Germany, France or any other member state and the arrangements for rotation will have to be agreed unanimously. It was scandalous on the part of a Member of this House to say yet again just now that we would lose our Commissioner.

Neutrality is another area that has been the focus of the mythmakers. The Nice treaty has absolutely no impact on Ireland's tradition of military neutrality. This fact is confirmed by the national declaration and the European Council declaration made in Seville. People on the "No" side simply dismiss this as only involving 24 Governments. We are now at the cusp of a referendum in which we are offering the people the chance to vote "Yes" to a guarantee that cannot be broken. The most important guarantee the people will ever get on the issue of neutrality is contained in the forthcoming referendum in which they will be given the power to write into Bunreacht na hÉireann, a guarantee that our traditional position cannot be watered down by any Government entering into a common defence arrangement without prior permission of the people in a referendum.

Having commented on the "No" side, I will now speak on the "Yes" side. There are many reasons to vote "Yes". First, if we do so, we will keep Ireland at the heart of Europe where it belongs. Second, we will ensure that Ireland continues to be one of the most attractive places for foreign direct investment and jobs. Third, we will ensure that Ireland continues to have friends, allies and good will, for example, in renegotiating the agricultural policy, and that Ireland continues to enjoy the social and cultural progress that has been a fact of life since joining the EEC. By voting "Yes" we will protect our neutrality by putting for the first time into the Constitution a requirement that the people be consulted on a matter of common defence. We will give Ireland exactly the same rights as major nations in the nomination of members of the Commission, and ensure that it is not sidelined into acul de sac. A “Yes” vote, as Deputy John Bruton said, will help the process of European re-integration by allowing states which have recently emerged from the tyranny of communism to enter the prosperity which we enjoy as it will expand the area of peace and progress in Europe. If we vote “Yes” we endorse the courage which, after the horrors of the last war, launched Europe on the longest period of peace, democracy and tranquillity. Above all, we will put Ireland to the fore. There is absolutely no benefit in a “No” vote, but everybody will benefit from a “Yes” vote.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Cowley if that is agreed.

European referenda results in this country were as safe as the Bank of England, but we now know that banks may not be safe after all and, as many of the old certainties fade away, we can no longer take for granted a thumbs-up for the chequered flags of Maastricht, Amsterdam, Nice or whatever harbour skyline from which the next proposed agreement comes. In 1949, Ireland was a founder member of the Council of Europe and for a generation we sought to join the EEC as the country's establishment viewed membership as an anchor of political and economic security and stability. There were, certainly, dissenting voices as the usual suspects preached fire and brimstone and celebrated when the stopped clock was correct. Their support was minimal and so society could latch onto the eternal rollercoaster of prosperity and integration that would be our Europe. The money flowed in and a cappuccino in Cannes was almost as common as a pint in Portlaoise.

To be a European was to be a superior being to a parish preacher, but, to paraphrase Kris Kristofferson, we lost it somehow somewhere along the way until the gap that could not be breached was breached and the "No" side had their day in the sun when the referendum on the Treaty of Nice was defeated. The result was interpreted in different ways by both sides of the argument and those on no side at all. One thing that can be said with certainty is that a large majority did not have enough interest to come out and vote, a trend that has become more noticeable in recent times. This lack of interest is of as much concern as the result itself. Complaints were made that not enough effort was made to provide information and that complacency resulted in the "No" selling push. After almost a full month in the broadcast and print media, I am not sure that interest has increased as the people become indifferent to the conflict between whether it is a biscuit or a bar. However, this is an important issue that ought to override all the misinformation being put into the public domain.

In a nutshell, this treaty is simply a means of enlarging the EU and trying to adjust the work and mechanisms accordingly. The argument is made about whether we will have a Commissioner and, purely in terms of a mathematical share of the cake, the proposal to rotate the Commissioners gives Ireland an increased percentage in Commissioner time, although none of this is finalised. In many respects it is irrelevant as home country favouritism does not play a role. If we vote "No" enlargement will continue through a series of accession treaties. However, our "No" opponents say they are not against enlargement and so one might ask why bother with the treaty. It simplifies the enlargement process. It is not so much the physical or administrative impact of the result but rather the psychological message that a "No" vote would send to the rest of the Continent.

There are many aspects of the evolution of the EU that I do not like, although in reality many of these may have originated in Dublin with Brussels used as a facile shield. On many occasions as a councillor and Member of the Oireachtas, I feel so frustrated in the face of authority or institutions that I want to scream. The European ideal was, and is, one of subsidiarity, but Big Brother lurks more menacingly as power appears to be removed from us layer by layer to the far distance and passing the buck has become our fifth amendment. Whether it is looking for the straw to stay on the eggs or the sewerage system that is on hold in the European court, there is no shortage of thorns in the European crown. Many of these chickens came home to roost when the Treaty of Nice was put to the vote and we must take these issues on board. We must recognise that the EU is composed of different cultures and temperaments and that the implementation of a guideline or regulation along the Ruhr may not sit well along the Shannon. An image of a bureaucratic Brussels has taken hold which, in some cases, is well founded. We must work towards a user friendly EU.

There is concern that voters will use the referendum to pass judgment on the Government's recent cutbacks. No matter how the Taoiseach wishes to have it, the present picture of the public finances and the future of the national development plan is at complete variance with what was on display a few short weeks ago. Tempting as it is, it is important not to use this opportunity as payback time. If someone chooses to vote "No", he or she must be sure that the motivation is well founded and not based on an old score.

I will look specifically at agriculture. At no time since we joined the EU has this industry been under such pressure. Beef, grain, the weather, higher input costs, consumer concerns and the dairying sector are all areas of concern. Irrespective of the well publicised land sale or reference to premia payments, it is clear that the industry no longer holds the attractions that it once did as income levels, uncertainty, time commitments and a more opportune economy drive young people into a nine to five environment. However, I fear to think where our agriculture and economy would be today if we had not joined the EEC in 1973. The CAP has been good for our farmers, but there is a difficulty. A body of opinion believes that the industry will find its own level, but the process is painful. Things have changed since Adam Smith, in comparing the trader and farmer inWealth of Nations , stated: “The capital of the landlord on the contrary, which is fixed in the improvements of his land, seems to be as well secured as the nature of human affairs can admit of.” While most of what he wrote still holds true, despite the commitment to a fair price, uncertainty prevails and the CAP has undergone a continuous change in an effort to strike the right balance. While it is difficult for us to comprehend ration cards or cartes, we must not lose sight of the fact that agricultural output is one of the necessities of life, a realisation that often finds it difficult to permeate the interior design of modern suburbia.

In April of this year in "Ireland in the European Union, Identifying Priorities and Pursuing Goals", the Taoiseach, when referring to the mid-term review of Agenda 2000, enlargement and the WTO, stated: "Ireland's overriding approach in all of these negotiations will be to seek and maintain an effective common agricultural policy which contributes to a viable agricultural sector and viable rural communities." Mr. Fischler has published what is known as a mid-term reform containing radical proposals of the Common Agricultural Policy, the main planks of which are a movement away from the production subsidies towards more direct support, an eventual drop of 20% in funding for direct support with the money aimed at the development of the rural economy, and receipt of direct support dependant on certain compliance requirements in the areas of production, animal welfare and environmental considerations if premia are over a certain income level. Some farmers have welcomed the proposals which mystifies me as no one knows for certain what is actually on the table.

Efforts are made to separate this from the Treaty of Nice, but it would be remiss of me if I did not highlight the concerns of many of the people in the agriculture and food industries. It is incumbent on the Government to give an indication of where we are and to elaborate on its policy on this issue. On occasion, good faith requires good deeds and this is one of those occasions. The rural community has most heavily backed our European policy and it now has concerns. The agri-sector accounts for approximately 10% of GDP, 10% of exports and 12% of employment. It has virtually nil import input and profit repatriation.

It is hugely important to our balance of payments. There are about 140,000 farms with an average size of 29 hectares. Some 47% of farms are less than 20 hectares. The vast majority are owned and operated by farming families. Almost €6 billion of agricultural produce are exported. They make a major contribution and their concerns need to be addressed.

The CAP, at €40 billion, amounts to almost half of the EU's overall spending. CAP reform has led to bitter rows between France and Germany and between the northern and southern Europeans. Germany, Britain and the Netherlands feel they have done their bit and they aim to lower the overall economic cost of the policy to them. Reform of the CAP in some manner will almost certainly take place but it remains to be seen how the about turn on the US farm bill impacts on European thinking.

Many of the countries seeking entry to the EU, such as Poland and the Czech Republic, have similar views on agriculture to Ireland although their production methods are not as advanced as ours. Shall we view them as important allies in the continuous CAP debate? Is a market increase of 100 million people a challenge or an opportunity? We can survive only if we change and adapt to new situations. Enlargement of the EU to include the central and eastern European countries will increase the EU agricultural area by over 43% and more than double the number of people working in agriculture within the Union.

Food, tobacco and drink account for a much higher percentage of household expenditure on average in the candidate countries relative to the EU. Membership of the EU by these countries will ultimately remove barriers to trade and thus boost trade between the two trading blocs. Concerns have been expressed about the impact on EU agri-food interests arising from expansion in agricultural production in the new member states. Trade between the EU and the new candidate countries has increased dramatically since the beginning of the transition process. Agri-food exports from the ten applicant countries have doubled from 1988 to 1998. However, EU exports to that bloc have increased almost ten-fold for the same period. The result is that the net trade balance for the EU has risen from a negative balance of €1 billion to a positive balance of €2 billion.

Most of the countries, with the exception of Hungary and Bulgaria, are, or have become, net importers of food in recent years. That puts the lie to the fear put about by some people that the membership of these countries will impact negatively on our agricultural community. It is a fantastic opportunity for our agriculture and food industries.

I firmly believe that this boat is sailing and we are best on board. Support for the referendum will be an indication of our willingness to stay on board. Defeat, irrespective of the motivation, will result in sending a clear signal to our partners in the EU, and to those in waiting, that we do not want to be part of the process.

At present, there are many people who intend to vote "No". Many of these are financially comfortable and have been sheltered by a booming economy. They resent being told how to vote. Some may never examine the consequences of voting "No". However, they owe it to those who long for the ideal for this country, and to those on the outside seeking a smooth entry and an opportunity similar to that enjoyed by people in Ireland. Those voters should at least stop and reflect on the issue and if they then still wish to vote "No", well and good. The issue should at least be given time and consideration.

Irish people have historically battled against authority and this remains the case today. They do not like State interference with their lives and abhor rules and regulations. The thirst for regulation of successive Governments is born out of a Civil Service which is a product of the so-called "intellectual socialism" of the 1960s and 1970s. The Civil Service has remained in a time-warp – though I am not suggesting that Deputy Roche has done likewise. It has given us a debate on a public transport system for Dublin that has lasted longer than it took to build the Great Wall of China.

Do not blame the civil servants.

It has given us a part 5 in the Planning and Development Act, 2000, that puts a 20% spanner in the producer's plan that has resulted in a go-slow and a policy which I confidently predict will be reversed in the immediate future, a passport system for poor old sheep that would do justice to the Mossad, and a Dublin Port tunnel turned guillotine. It is this that will make people suspend reason on Nice and not the red herrings of neutrality and the outlandish claims of foreign worker invasions. However, to do so would be an error. The upcoming vote places Ireland at a crossroads. Our only consideration can be our role and future in Europe. If people wish to play a part, exert influence and be on board, they should vote "Yes". However, whatever people do, they should make themselves aware of the consequences of their vote.

Tá mé an-bhuíoch díot as cead a thabhairt dom cupla focal a rá mar gheall ar chonradh Nice, conradh atá an-thábhacht don tír seo. I am very glad to be able to say a few words about the Nice treaty. It is a very important topic for this country. I remember many years ago discussing the EU and Ireland's entry into it with my father. I discussed the Mansholt plan among other things and we argued the toss. My father said to me that the major thing was that while there might be problems being in it, what would it be like outside it. That is relevant today.

I met with IFA members just minutes ago who spoke of their attitude to Nice. They would like to support it but have problems with the severe implementation of directives, such as those concerning nitrates and, particularly, that concerning habitats. Members are well aware of those directives because we see the results of them at our clinics. With regard to the SACs, the EU looked for 5% of the land mass to be designated as special areas of conservation. However, Ireland designated 14% of the land mass as SAC. That is over-zealousness on behalf of Europeans. In my county, Mayo, 24% of the land mass is designated as SAC. In west Mayo, where my house is, 50% of the land mass is designated as SAC. That is the problem.

When the people rejected the Nice treaty, they did not only reject the treaty but a lot more. They rejected what they saw as Big Brother – undue interference in Ireland's affairs by an outside agency. People had no proper sense of ownership of the EU and saw it as something big and bold, and outside us. They saw it as an outside body imposing stringent regulations, interfering with property rights and the right of people to use their own land, to build houses or to allow their children to stay and build in their own area.

It is only now that the penny is dropping with people that the real problem is not Nice but our Government and successive Governments since our entry into the EU. They were clearly not at the races when it came to ensuring that Ireland got fair play. We took lots of money but also a lot more besides which we should not have taken, or maybe not in such lethal doses. Governments took a severe interpretation of directives, as I have pointed out concerning the habitat and nitrate directives.

We are better with the Nice treaty in force because Europe will go on but we must not lose the momentum that we have. However, the mandate for different proposals must as much as possible come from the people. That is not the case at the moment and this is why we have the problems we have, and why people have such perceptions about Europe. What happens, and what comes out of Europe, should be what the people of Ireland want and need, and not just what the Government of the day and the bureaucrats want.

This can be done by ensuring that a system is put in place similar to the good system in Denmark which is a small country like Ireland and an agricultural producer. There should not be a European affairs committee like the one proposed for Ireland but one with teeth, where legislation to be enacted is dealt with and discussed at a very early stage. In that way, we know what is coming down the line and can deal with it and work out our strategy on it. In addition, when it comes to giving the Government a mandate, it is fed into an independent European affairs committee. There would be only one position.

This means that when the relevant Minister appears at the Council of Ministers in Europe, where things happen and the real decisions and laws are made, he or she will be representing not just the view of the Government of the day but the view of the people. He or she will be mandated by the European affairs committee to adopt the position which best represents the point of view of the people of Ireland. If the Minister does not get his or her way, he or she can always state the need to go back to Ireland and talk to the committee as he or she does not have the final say. Some might say that is to tie the Minister's hands but it is not. It is giving the Minister an ace in the pack. Previously, we just let Ministers go off and we took whatever they came back with which was not satisfactory in many cases. This would require a truly independent European affairs committee which would put people before political parties because whole structures are party politically motivated and do not help the country as they should. I urge the Government to ensure this is not another Government "yes" controlled committee which would just do the Government's bidding, but one that is truly independent which would make up its own mind in the best interests of the people.

Enlargement has challenges and potential for huge rural areas which will be brought into the EU. We will share with those accession countries a common interest and together with them we can help to ensure that legislation favourable to rural areas is implemented. That is needed to keep our people in Ireland and in rural areas throughout Europe which have similar problems. This would help ensure a fair deal for rural areas, including County Mayo.

The only reason we are having a second referendum on Nice is because of the arrogance and the ineptitude of Government which felt it could treat the people in a cavalier manner by having a limited debate on the implications of Nice. As regards any military concerns, it is not enough that good men and women stand idly by while innocent people are slaughtered in places such as Srebrenica. As regards neutrality there are other countries which are officially neutral who have no problem with the Nice treaty. The neutrality debate is a red herring. We have the Government's commitment that we will only engage under a UN mandate.

Everything the Government has done since the election by way of broken promises has created an atmosphere in which it will be much more difficult to obtain a 'Yes' vote in the upcoming referendum. The Government has shot itself in the foot to a major degree and has made it difficult for people who firmly believe that citing EU progress is the best way of getting its message across against a background of betrayal, represented by cutbacks and the standstill in infrastructural provision. If, as I hope, the Nice referendum is passed it will be no thanks to the Government or former Governments in their implementation of EU directives but will reflect the good sense and decision of ordinary Irish people.

This Government has been in office for just over three months and already it has earned a well-deserved reputation as a Government of broken promises and broken mandates. It has deceived the people in the general election with promises it knew it would not keep. It has spurned the decision of the people in the Nice referendum Mark 1 and now it is presenting us with Nice referendum Mark 2. The Government has as little regard for the referendum mandate of the people on 7 June 2001 as it has for its election mandate on 17 May 2002.

Democracy is the key and the critical issue in this debate. The publication of the Bill and the holding of the referendum is a denial of democracy. Democracy in this State has been undermined by the conduct of the Government and the EU will be made even less democratic if the Treaty of Nice is ratified.

There is no precedent in the history of this State for what the Government has done with regard to the Treaty of Nice. For the first time a proposal to amend the Constitution to facilitate an EU treaty was rejected by the electorate on 7 June 2001. For the first time a Government chose not only not to implement the decision of the electorate in a referendum but to openly defy it.

The polls were hardly closed in June 2001 when the Taoiseach flew to the EU Summit in Gothenburg and told the other EU Heads of Government that they could proceed with ratification of the treaty. The Irish electorate had mandated the Government to seek a renegotiation of Nice but the people's mandate was spurned. Instead the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs belittled the people of this State and themselves by promising the other EU states to put the treaty to a second referendum and to "get it right" on its second attempt. Thus, only a week after our referendum, and thanks to the Government's cap-in-hand attitude, the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, was stating that the Irish people would have to decide in a new referendum.

The Government threw away the political leverage and the potential bargaining power given to it by the vote of the people. That would have been critical in renegotiating a better treaty which addressed the concerns that led people to vote against Nice. By now, over a year later, such a new or amended treaty might have been in place had the Government acted according to its mandate from the people. Those of us opposed to Nice have been accused of damaging respect for Ireland internationally but only those with self-respect earn the respect of others. The Government displayed to all of Europe a lack of respect for its own people and surely that can only have diminished the international reputation of the Irish Government and of this State.

Questions have been asked throughout this debate. We have also placed questions before Ministers and other spokespersons for the 'Yes' campaign in this debate. I repeat a question I have asked many times but which has yet to be answered. If Germany, France or Britain had voted down this treaty in a referendum would their Governments have acted as ours has done? Would there be any question of the Treaty of Nice proceeding through ratification by the other states while the Government in the rejecting country went back to its people to try again? The answer to these questions is, of course, a resounding no and the Government and the rest of the "Yes" side in this debate know it only too well.

It is unwilling to admit it because it goes to the core of why the Treaty of Nice should be rejected again. This referendum is about the political elite in this State allowing the big states to call the shots in the EU. Nice increases the power of the larger states, acting individually and collectively in so-called "enhanced co-operation". It reduces the democratic power of the people in each state because it reduces the sovereignty of the nation state. The smaller member states inevitably lose out.

The very holding of this referendum sends out the message that the people of the smaller states do not have the right to say no. Under EU law the approval of each individual member state, regardless of population size, is required to ratify EU treaties. If one state dissents, the treaty cannot be ratified. This State dissented in the most definite and democratic manner possible – by vote of the people.

Ní hé an Rialtas ná an tOireachtas an Stát ach an pobal. Deir Airteagal a Sé den mBunreacht gur ón bpobal a thagas "gach cumhacht riala, idir reachtaíocht is comhallacht is breithiúnas, agus is ag an bpobal atá sé de cheart rialtóirí an Stáit a cheapadh, agus is faoin bpobal faoi dheoidh atá gach ceist i dtaobh beartas an Náisiúin a shocrú de réir mar is gá chun leasa an phobail".

The State is not the Government nor the Oireachtas, it is the people. Article 6 of the Constitution states that all powers of government, legislative, executive and judicial, derive from the people "whose right it is to designate the rulers of the State and, in final appeal, to decide all questions of national policy, according to the requirements of the common good". The final appeal on the Treaty of Nice was the referendum held last year. The same treaty should not be put before the electorate again.

Those on the pro-Nice side, including Deputy Howlin's leader, Deputy Quinn, of the Labour Party, this afternoon attempted to refute this argument by saying that issues were put to a referendum more than once in the past. It is absurd to compare the repeat of this referendum with previous second or third referenda on such issues as divorce, abortion and proportional representation.

In each of those cases years had elapsed since the previous referenda, and they were matters of domestic policy which required detailed legislation to accompany constitutional change.

To help Deputies – this is very important – there is one other essential difference. Referendum decisions of the people affecting purely domestic law or policy can be reversed or otherwise changed by the people in the future, but if the people ratify an EU treaty, it becomes EU law and they cannot change it or address it in the future. It would require all EU states to do so.

While I am addressing Deputy Quinn's contribution, I must briefly address a further issue he raised. He rightly acknowledged that Sinn Féin has opposed the raising of the issue of immigration in this debate but went on to question our attitude to foreign workers in our health system and I am disappointed that he should have done so. Our welcome for immigrant workers and the contribution they make to our health service and other sectors is undoubted, as Deputy Quinn knows.

The Deputy's colleagues caused some migration at one time.

We would welcome them in Monaghan General Hospital, but, sadly, we cannot currently recruit them. Deputy Howlin's help in that matter would be welcomed.

For the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, the new front man for the "Yes to Nice" campaign, to suggest that Sinn Féin was in any way dilatory in distancing itself from the objectionable comments of others in this debate is frankly scurrilous. Our record on this issue stands the scrutiny of all—

The Deputy was like a Trappist for five weeks.

—and I assure the Minister of State that, as the representative of Sinn Féin in this House for the past five years, I have had to contend with the serious representations from some on his own benches which I would be more concerned that he would address rather than try to mislead people in respect of Sinn Féin's stance on this issue, which stands the scrutiny of all.

I welcome that. It took the Deputy five weeks to say it.

On 13 December 2000 the leader of the Labour Party, Deputy Quinn, speaking in this House on the detail of the Nice treaty as negotiatedvis-à-vis the future role and function of the Commission, stated:

It was a disaster . As a result, not only will Ireland's interests be damaged but those of every small state because the concession made by the Taoiseach and others, which he could have blocked, means that he has irreparably damaged the role and function of the Commission. Therefore, he has damaged the interest of every other country in the European Union, big and small.

Examining the contributions of other Deputies on the same day, I noted that Deputy John Bruton, the then leader of the Fine Gael Party, stated:

This is one of the weakest negotiating outcomes achieved by an Irish Government in the European forum since Ireland joined the Union . . . It has been truthfully stated that one of the outcomes of Nice was to enhance the position of the bigger states in decision making.

It is a pity that neither Deputy could maintain to the truth that was so obvious to them on that occasion.

In the first Nice referendum the issue was straightforward – to ratify or not to ratify the treaty. There was a clear course for the Government to follow in the event of rejection which was to inform our EU partners that we would not ratify the treaty and that, therefore, it must be revisited and renegotiated. The Government has done otherwise and thus devalued the referendum process. It is, in effect, telling the people that it will only implement the result of a referendum if the result concurs with Government policy.

The Treaty of Nice is not about enlargement. The confusion that has fed into the debate on enlargement needs to be confronted head on. It is not necessary, as has been stated repeatedly, that the Nice treaty be ratified for enlargement to proceed. The Irish electorate did not vote against enlargement last year, as I did not. The President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, stated in Dublin on 20 June 2001 that "legally, ratification of the Nice treaty is not necessary for enlargement"—

For four or five states.

—and that "enlargement is possible without Nice." It is not beyond the gift of all of us to come together and find new formulas and new ways of moving forward to accommodate a much wider influx and greater number of applicant countries. Giscard d'Estaing, chair of the EU constitutional convention, stated:

If the Irish vote "No" the solution will not be to ignore the vote but to handle the situation. Probably it requires taking what is needed from the Nice treaty to carry through the enlargement.

The Treaty of Nice is about changing the governance of the European Union before any new states join. Those who claim that by voting "No" again we would be placing the applicant states at a great disadvantage seem to forget that the very purpose of the Nice treaty was to change the rules before enlargement. If the political elite in the European Union and this State were so concerned for the rights of the new member states, why did they not proceed with enlargement and then, when the new states were in, proceed with a debate about the governance of the European Union and with negotiations in which the new members could fully participate? That is a question people must ask themselves. We might also ask if the other EU Governments are so definite in their belief that all of Europe is waiting on Ireland and longing for the Nice treaty to be ratified, why have they not had referenda in their own states? The answer is obvious. They fear that the Irish example will be followed by their own people.

In a democracy the elected representatives of the people make laws and decide policies. If the people think they are doing a bad job, they can turf them out at the next election. There is no such democratic process in the European Union because it is not a democracy. Laws are made by the unelected European Commission and the Council of Ministers from each of the member states. The minimal input we have in terms of the Commission is set to be reduced under the Nice treaty as we will not have an Irish Commissioner in place at all times.

Instead of making the EU institutions more accountable to the citizens in each of the member states, the Nice treaty increases the power of these bodies. The power of individual member states, smaller member states in particular, is reduced while more laws and policies can be imposed upon us by the European Union without the scrutiny of our own Parliament, let alone a vote on them.

Under the Nice treaty the voting weight of each member state on the Council of Ministers is changed significantly. Small states like the Irish State double their voting weight, but larger states like Germany and Britain treble theirs. In addition, more decisions will be made by the Council of Ministers by qualified majority voting. In other words, the Irish Government will not be able to block decisions by a majority of EU states in an expanded list of areas and will have to implement those EU decisions even if they are against the interests of the Irish people. These changes will come about regardless of whether any new state joins the European Union.

Crucially, the Nice treaty creates a two-tier European Union. Under enhanced co-operation it allows a group of states to move ahead of the remainder of member states, using the institutions to form an inner core or advance guard. This breaks up the European Union as a partnership of equal states.

On 21 January this year theFinancial Times reported that the British Government was considering bringing forward proposals to establish an EU body similar to the United Nations Security Council. This body would comprise Britain, France and Germany as the three dominant powers in the European Union. On the same day, the French and German European Commissioners were putting forward the idea of a FrancoGerman confederation with a common army and a common diplomatic corps. These ideas may seem like pie in the sky, but they give a clear indication of how the elite groups which run the affairs of the European Union are thinking and in the Nice treaty, under enhanced co-operation, they have the potential to carry out such projects.

It has been stated neutrality is not as big an issue in this referendum. I believe it is more important than ever. Since Nice 1 we have seen the Government further violating our neutrality by allowing US warplanes to use Shannon Airport on their way to fight their war in Afghanistan. We have seen the Government allow those planes to carry out exercises over our south west coast. Today we note their presence once again as Irish citizens are arrested at Shannon for protesting against a US Air Force Hercules plane. This is the reality behind the rhetoric about neutrality and the Seville declaration. Seville did not change one syllable in the Treaty of Nice. Denmark exercised its right to opt out of the Rapid Reaction Force, the core of an EU army, and we could and should have done the same thing. A "Yes" vote will consolidate our position in that force. The people ought not to trust a party which promised a referendum on membership of NATO's Partnership for Peace but, when in Government and with the support of the Fine Gael Party, brought us into that force without a referendum.

There is an alternative to the direction in which Nice would take the European Union. It is neither the break up of the Union nor a futile attempt to create a giant European Union democracy. Peace and democracy in Europe can be served by maximum co-operation between sovereign democracies, with respect for diversity within and between nations. The alternative to Nice as advocated by Sinn Féin includes the European Union as a partnership of equal sovereign states to be the basis for a new treaty to replace the Treaty of Nice; clear recognition of Irish neutrality in the new treaty; Irish neutrality to be enshrined in the Constitution; withdrawal of the State from the European Union Rapid Reaction Force and from NATO's Partnership for Peace; Irish international policy to be based, as set out in the Constitution, on the peaceful resolution of international disputes; an independent Irish foreign policy which opposes military alliances such as NATO and works for disarmament and demilitarisation; Irish troops to train and serve abroad only as peacekeepers under the auspices of the United Nations; retention of the right of each state to veto measures as currently laid down; no extension of qualified majority voting; and the retention of the right of each state to nominate a Commissioner.

I believe the Nice treaty will be rejected by the electorate. That will be a positive outcome, one that will be welcomed by people all over Europe who want to reclaim the European Union for the citizens and to halt the anti-democratic drive to create a super state. There is nothing to fear from such a result. It will not, as Deputy John Bruton suggested, pave the way for the outbreak of a third world war or any other such incredible claim. He and others in this House and in other organisations and bodies will employ every effort to bully and frighten the electorate into voting "Yes". I call on the electorate not to be afraid. They should inform themselves of the facts, be strong and vote "No" with confidence.

I wish to share five minutes of my time with Deputy Boyle.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

This is an extremely important debate because it is an exercise of democracy in Ireland's national sovereign Parliament. We are here with a fresh mandate of the people. This is a representative democracy and we are elected representatives, gathered here to express the views of those who have sent us.

We also have a responsibility to listen to the views of the electorate as expressed in various referenda. The rejection of the Nice treaty in last year's referendum must be taken seriously by all in this House. Since the democratic will of the people was expressed in that referendum, it is important that the seriousness with which debate and analysis has taken place is understood.

Well before the Nice treaty was put to the people the Labour Party expressed the view that huge structural changes were required in the way this House conducted its business in relation to Europe and in the preparation of future Intergovernmental Conferences. Indeed, we said that the Intergovernmental Conference process, where major treaty reform is decided, needs to be fundamentally reviewed. For that reason we argued for the creation of a forum on Europe. We believed that its object would be to open to as many strata and strands of Irish society and public life as possible the debate on the next phase of European development. It was fortuitous it came into being because it also allowed for a parallel forum to consider how the rejection of the Nice treaty by the people could be understood and how their concerns could be properly addressed by this democratic assembly.

For this reason it is wrong for anybody in this House or in the country to pretend that this entire democratic process, one of the most open and extensive exercises in the consideration of opinion in the State, did not take place or that the result of the public debates that occurred and the reaching out to the will of the people has not resulted in fundamental change. The forum's reports have informed the new proposals that lie at the heart of the proposal before the House.

I regret that Deputy Ó Caoláin is leaving the Chamber because I wish to address a couple of points to him.

I will follow the debate.

The Labour Party identified two fundamental and far-reaching issues. One was the issue of neutrality. I spoke and listened to many people who were genuinely concerned, notwithstanding the content of the treaty, which I failed to impart to them, that somehow we would be involving ourselves, through stealth, in some kind of military alliance that would allow their sons to be involved in military action without the consent of the Irish people. It is important we put the facts and the truth before the people. They are now to be asked to vote on a substantial, indeed revolutionary, measure. It is proposed for the first time to enshrine not in an international treaty but in the Constitution the preservation of the right of the Irish people to consent or deny consent for involvement in military action. If the people vote "Yes" in the referendum a new subsection 9º shall be inserted into Article 29. It will state: "The State shall not adopt a decision taken by the European Council to establish a common defence pursuant to Article 1.2 of the Treaty referred to in subsection 7º of this section where that common defence would include the State."

Anybody interested in the issue of neutrality will grasp the significance by this insertion in the Constitution of a veto on involvement by Ireland in any military alliance, save by consent of the people. I recall debating this point with colleagues from the Green Party. I did not understand the logic of their argument that somehow an amendment or protocol to the treaty would be preferable to a constitutional imperative. In any other circumstances that would defy logic and the Green Party would not accept it. Why would the party prefer a protocol, whose amendment would require transnational consent, to a constitutional requirement that is exclusively a matter for the determination of the Irish people? There has never been a clearer protection of neutrality enshrined in the Constitution than that proposed here. That should be clear and unambiguous and I beg people to acknowledge that truth.

The other issue is accountability. I, like others, have fought hard for a much more transparent mechanism for dealing with the plethora of legislation that emanates from Europe, most of which is good. I am wryly amused by the anti-EU, anti-European stance of the Green Party, which is contrary to my experience, as a former Minister for the Environment, of the entire Green movement in the rest of Europe. I recall that the Finnish Minister for the Environment, who was a Green Party member, was a passionate European.

The Finnish Greens resigned from Government.

Most Greens across Europe are passionate Europeans because they know that the bulk of environmental protection legislation dealing with water and air quality, habitat protection and issues about which Deputy Cowley is concerned, such as areas of special conservation and land use policy, was forced upon Ireland by the EU. I assume the Green Party is also anxious to ensure these issues are driven onwards.

I recall that in regard to projects I wanted to drive as Minister for the Environment, one of which was located in the Minister of State's constituency, more often than not the institutions of the EU were well utilised by the Green Party to ensure there was proper environmental scrutiny. I assumed that valuable developments in environmental protection that have resulted from EU policy would have attracted the support of the Green Party.

With regard to accountability, the Labour Party published the European Union Bill, 2001, which will enshrine in statute, not by way of regulation of the House that could be changed on a whim, a new, thorough arrangement for the scrutiny of legislation, European institutions and Ministers before and after they attend councils. I listened recently to Members debating this issue on radio and they were in total ignorance of the existence of the Bill. It is not good enough for people to advocate such a line following their election to the House when Bills have been published and circulated.

Tomorrow, following the insistence of the Labour Party and the acceptance of the Government, that Bill will be referred to the Select Committee on European Affairs with an instruction that Committee Stage should be concluded before the House meets on 9 October. It will be open to all of us to improve the legislation because it was not comprehensive. The Government parties and Fine Gael wish to make amendments and I hope the Green Party and Sinn Féin will also do so to ensure that the legislation is as accountable as possible. The model referred to in Denmark can be replicated in this House by statute if that is what we want. We should not cry against the darkness. Let us provide accountability through this vehicle.

Circumstances have changed beyond measure and it is unreasonable to suggest the same legislation is being prepared and pushed through without due regard for the wishes of the people and that there has not been months of careful listening and analysis. I attended sessions of the Forum on Europe, read documentation, listened to submissions and attended regional meetings, and if people are ignorant of the forum, it is not fair that they deny its existence.

I have mentioned two fundamental changes that are taking place but I wish to refer to a few other changes. It is almost an irony that given the impact of all the treaties that we have dealt with from Maastricht to Amsterdam, which had enormous consequences for Ireland, the Nice treaty has been rejected, even though in many ways it carries the least impact. However, the treaty is unsatisfactory because a rancorous European Council at Nice produced a less than perfect result, which the Labour Party leader, Deputy Quinn, was correct to criticise. However, if one criticises something that does not mean one must vote against it. The treaty could be better but it is worth having.

I listened to submissions by campaigners on the "No" side, particularly at the Forum on Europe, where elected representatives of the applicant countries were patronised by people on the basis that they knew best for them. Ireland, above all other countries, knows how insulting it is when a country in a supposed superior position tells its democratically elected representatives that it knows what is in their best interest and it is not in their interest to be taken in on these terms even if they accept and want the terms they negotiated and say this is the legitimate voice of our nation. Let us not patronise representatives of applicant countries. We should have respect for the legitimate view of such countries.

There is a tripartite structure to the changes to be made. The first relates to the size and composition of the Commission. From 2005 there will be one Commissioner per member state, with the larger member states losing out. When 27 countries have become members a unanimous decision of the European Council will be required to fix a number of Commissioners, which will be less than 27, and equal rotation of Commissioners will take place between the member states. There will be a rebalancing of the voting structure through the introduction of qualified majority voting and the right to veto will be dropped in new areas.

I was a member of two EU councils. The Environment Council met frequently and important decisions were made. However, a veto was never used or threatened during the four years I attended both councils. No more than is the case in a multi-party Government, one party cannot veto measures because that destroys cohesion. Progress is made through consensus, negotiation and building allies, and that is how Ireland has advanced. There is a notion that everybody attends a council meeting with a big stick and that if one does not have a veto, one is bunched, but to think this way is to misunderstand how the system works. Those who have not been in the position of attending such meetings should take the word of those who have. The councils work through consensus and negotiation, mutual support and networking. Ireland is losing relative strength in the European Parliament. However, it is logical if the Parliament is to expand to 732 members that Ireland's strength will decrease relatively in a larger body. We will generate a much bigger bang in terms of number of members and it is not of great moment whether that is 12 or 15.

The fundamental issue in this debate was raised by Deputy Quinn and it is a moral question. This phase of European development involves and requests a new attitude from Ireland. Previous treaties generally involved financial benefit for Ireland. The moral imperative on us is to do what the founders of the EU did in reconciling Germany and France, which were historic enemies. Let us reconcile east and west in a historic reunification of Europe.

I express my appreciation to Deputy Howlin for offering to share time. In the absence of agreed procedures, it is an offer that is gratefully accepted. I would like to address particular items while my colleagues will refer to specific issues spoken about, including the Green Party response to the so-called immigration scares and the degree of Green antipathy throughout Europe to the Treaty of Nice. Green parties in several countries oppose the direction the European Union is taking.

I would like to address briefly some of the economic questions. I am glad the Minister for Finance has joined us. The unifying trend which has existed throughout the evolution of the European Union from the European Coal and Steel Community to the European Economic Community, to the European Community, to the EU has been one of economic self-interest. While it might often be dressed up and talked about as a bulwark against future aggression – there may be talk of human rights and the need for democratic institutions – the economic questions tend to be asked first when seeking new members and when new members apply. I think we can take Turkey as such an example. It is fêted by the European Union, yet it has a disgraceful record in terms of its democratic institutions and on the question of human rights.

It is taken as read that Ireland has benefited economically from membership of the European Union, yet for half of our history of that membership – the first 15 years – all economic indicators were negative. Unemployment sky-rocketed and budget deficits soared. The situation changed in 1986 and one has to acknowledge the formation of the single market. It was the driver which brought foreign direct investment into our country and allowed for the creation of new jobs. The pretence that in all circumstances and at all times the economy benefited from our membership of the European Union cannot go unchallenged. As there were changing circumstances in 1986, there are now changing circumstances.

Deputy Gay Mitchell quoted the words of the chief executive of IDA Ireland, Mr. Sean Dorgan, as if they were spokenex cathedra. I would argue that they were not, that they were spoken ultra vires. As a private citizen, Mr. Dorgan has every right to express his views on Ireland's progression within the European Union but as chief executive of a semi-State body, he does not have that right. The circumstances surrounding that IDA Ireland report, of which more copies were produced than ever before, which did not talk about the European Union and did not address the question of Nice, although the press release which accompanied it did, and which was sent to all and sundry, including school principals, as never happened before, highlights the surreptitious ways in which the Government is trying to convince people to vote in a way which it considers the one and only way to vote.

Mr. Dorgan, however, needs to be challenged on what he said because the IDA Ireland report also pointed out that in the year covered – 2001 – there was a net loss of 4,000 jobs as a result of foreign direct investment in this country. The process has already started in that the intrinsic advantage which we enjoyed as a country in relation to the single market is already being eroded. Our tax advantages, our education advantages and even our location advantages can be equalled, if not bettered, by many of the new applicant countries, and the best of luck to them. They are economies which need an impetus and growth in terms of their own development.

For those in the business community, supported by many politically in this House, to pretend that it is the "Yes" or the "No" vote on which the economic future of this country depends is fundamentally dishonest. We need to make structural changes to meet these new circumstances which the Government and the political system are not addressing. Economically, the argument about Nice is the ultimate in red herrings. We will have to face these challenges anyway, whether there is a "Yes" or a "No" vote to Nice.

On the question of immigration, which was the subject of selective hearing on the part of the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, the day after the original statement was made, I made a statement on behalf of my party at the Patrick Magill summer school. There was not a five week delay.

We need to recognise that the culture of political debate in this country has evolved to such an extent that the people are not seen as the decision-makers. We do not live, as Deputy Howlin said, in a participative democracy. As far as our Constitution is concerned, we live in a representative democracy and when decisions are treated with the disrespect the Government has shown and which this House seems to be showing, we need to be concerned about the future of representative democracy.

I am very pleased to contribute to this debate and to wholeheartedly support the proposition that the Irish electorate should vote "Yes" to the Nice treaty in the forthcoming referendum. The issues at stake in this debate could not be higher. The choice is between a continuation of the confident, outward-looking approach which has served Ireland so well in its membership of the EU or a retreat to an inward-looking attitude and a resultant peripheral presence in the European Union.

From an economic viewpoint, the choice is also stark. It is between continuation of the huge economic benefits of EU membership, especially in the area of trade, by facilitating enlargement, or diminishing our influence at a time when major issues of economic importance to us will be on the EU agenda over the coming period. My contribution will revolve around three themes, all of which strongly affirm that a "Yes" vote by the electorate in the forthcoming referendum would be decisively in the national interest.

These three themes are that membership of the European Union has been a wholly positive experience for Ireland, the Nice treaty represents an excellent outcome for Ireland and a positive vote for the Nice treaty will leave Ireland very well positioned strategically in an enlarged European Union, which will face a range of policy issues, many with major implications for Ireland.

There can be no question but that Ireland's membership of the European Union has been an outstanding economic and social success. Apart from the major and ongoing direct transfers from the EU budget, which I will address in more detail shortly, membership of the Union has created a hugely positive framework for Irish economic and social policy. The overwhelming decision of the people in 1972 to join the then EEC primarily reflected the electorate's assessment that membership would bring strong economic and social benefits to Ireland. This expectation has been realised.

All the indicators which measure economic and social progress attest to the huge strides made since Ireland joined the EU. In 1972 Ireland stood at 60% of the EU average in terms of GDPper capita. The equivalent figure today is 122%. In 1972 the numbers in employment were just over one million. Today the equivalent figure is over 1.7 million persons. In 1972 the total value of foreign direct investment was €16 million. The figure for 2000 stood at €22.5 billion.

The vastly improved economic performance of the country, underpinned by EU membership, has also delivered a standard of provision in key areas such as education, health and social welfare well above those existing prior to our membership of the EU. Have no doubt about it, these improvements could not have been made in the absence of EU membership.

A major foundation of Ireland's economic success in recent years has been our trading performance. An ability to compete in and win overseas markets has led to an exceptional growth in exports which in turn has sustained the creation of many hundreds of thousands of jobs at home. The catalyst for this performance has been our membership of the EU.

The initial breaking down of trade barriers under the Common Market, reinforced by the subsequent creation of the Single Market, provided the environment in which Ireland's trading performance could flourish. Foreign direct investment has been attracted on a major scale. The opportunities presented have promoted the creation of the appropriate entrepreneurial ethos combined with a productive workforce.

The key point, however, is that this would not have been possible without EU membership. Access to a market of 380 million people, soon to be 500 million people, proved the spur to Ireland's trading success. The statistics speak for themselves. In 1973 Ireland had a trade deficit of €340 million while in 2001 our trade surplus was over €35 billion. Since 1973 our total trade in goods and services has increased from €2.3 billion to just over €203 billion in 2001, making Ireland one of the most open trading economies relative to population and economic size.

The record shows that Ireland is very well positioned to avail of the further trading opportunities which enlargement will offer when the Nice treaty is ratified. The Single Market has been further underpinned by the introduction of the euro. The introduction of the single currency was a major economic and logistical project of which the European Union can rightly be proud. Ireland was a strong supporter of the single currency from the outset and we played a key role in the preparatory work, especially during the Irish Presidency in 1996. From the viewpoint of economic policy, the discipline in macro-economic policy necessitated by the single currency has supported the promotion of appropriate economic policies in Ireland.

In short, EU membership has been fundamental to our successful economic development during the past 30 years. Ireland has maximised the economic potential of EU membership because we wholeheartedly embraced the ethos of the Common and Single Markets. To maintain this performance we must remain centrally involved in the European Union and avoid any perception that we have become semi-detached.

In particular, we simply cannot afford the risk of what a "No" to the Nice treaty will mean for foreign direct investment, FDI. Jobs in Ireland depend on investment. The risks to FDI from a "No" vote are already the subject of comment by international economic analysts. To quote directly from the Economist Intelligence Unit, "another No would threaten jobs by creating economic uncertainty, greatly reduce Ireland's influence in the EU (and hence the world) and so damage the country's image . one in six jobs depends directly or indirectly on foreign firms." The Economist Intelligence Unit warns that if Ireland votes against the Nice treaty, "it will be interpreted abroad as a move away from Europe. Investors will sniff uncertainty. More uncertainty means less investment, and less investment today means fewer jobs tomorrow."

I now turn to the direct budgetary benefits which have accrued and continue to accrue to Ireland from the EU budget. I underline the word continue because, to paraphrase Mark Twain, rumours that we are already net contributors have been greatly exaggerated. The factual position is that this year Ireland will be a net beneficiary from the EU budget to an estimated amount of some €1.5 billion. If this sum was to be raised domestically, it would be equivalent to a rise of more than four percentage points on the standard rate of income tax. Over the period of the current EU budget agreement – the seven years from 2000 to 2006 – Ireland will be a net beneficiary to the tune of some €6 billion to €7 billion. We are, therefore, due to remain a significant net beneficiary for each of the years until 2006. However, it is worthy of note that, were it not for the substantial CAP receipts, we would be net contributors over this period.

Since membership Ireland has received net transfers from the European Union of some €35 billion. To put this figure in perspective, it is almost equal to our total national debt which stood at €36 billion at the end of 2001. In gross terms Ireland received over this period some €31 billion in CAP receipts and €16 billion in Structural Funds and Cohesion Fund receipts.

The contribution these transfers have made to the economic and social development of Ireland is immense. The CAP receipts have helped sustain agriculture and have been and remain crucial to rural development. The Structural Funds and Cohesion Fund receipts have been invested in key areas such as infrastructure and training and education, thereby building up the economic capability of the country. This level of investment could not have been funded from domestic resources.

Ireland is the prime beneficiary of the spirit of solidarity, a core element of the philosophy underlying the European Union. We have received massive transfers funded by other European taxpayers in this spirit of solidarity. Now that Ireland has arrived among the ranks of the wealthy EU states, are we collectively going to pull the ladder up and deny others the benefits we have enjoyed? I do not believe this is the attitude that prevails in the minds of the Irish electorate. Nonetheless, the doubters would do well to dwell on the thought of what would have happened if the original six had vetoed Ireland's application on the basis that we were a poor state likely to be a burden on their taxpayers.

I now turn to the Nice treaty itself. I strongly argue that it represents a very good outcome for Ireland and small member states in general. The arguments made by the treaty opponents, namely, that it strengthens the position of larger member states and will lead to a two-tier Union, do not stand up to scrutiny. It must be emphasised again that the primary purpose of the Nice treaty is to prepare the EU institutions for an enlargement involving an accession of 12 states. This required, in particular, that the provisions in relation to Council decision making and the composition of the European Commission and the European Parliament had to be revised. The Nice treaty makes these revisions and ratification of the treaty by all member states a prerequisite for enlargement to proceed.

In relation to Council decision making, a key concern was to ensure it would continue to be possible to take decisions in a union of 27 members. This required the extension of the use of qualified majority voting into a number of new areas. QMV is not a new phenomenon. It has existed for a number of years in a wide range of areas, including agriculture. The latter is a key area of national interest for Ireland. Any objective observer will testify that, notwithstanding QMV, Ireland has generally been very effective in protecting its interests in this key area.

It is in everyone's interests that decision making gridlock should be avoided within the European Union. Therefore, the extension of QMV, as provided for in the Nice treaty, is sensible. Some critics have specifically cited the move to QMV on Structural Funds, which will take effect from about 2013 onwards, as a setback for Ireland. On the contrary, since Ireland will be a net contributor some time after 2006 it is to our advantage that the move to QMV will mean no one country can hold up agreement on regional policy simply to increase its own Structural Funds allocations. QMV in this area in an enlarged union will ensure a balanced outcome that assists the development of the Union's poorest regions without placing an unsustainable burden on the EU budget and the net contributors.

There are areas where unanimity remains appropriate. One of these, which is particularly important from an Irish viewpoint, is taxation. We successfully resisted strong efforts at Nice to extend QMV to taxation. This was an outstanding negotiating success and an example of how the vital national interests of small states can be protected.

All enlargements require Council voting weights to be reconsidered. The Nice treaty makes the necessary adjustments for this unprecedented enlargement. For all member states these changes necessarily involve a small diminution in their respective voting weight. From an Irish viewpoint, we still continue to enjoy a level of votes in Council considerably higher than would be warranted on a strict population basis. The same holds in relation to the review of the number of seats for member states in the European Parliament.

I have seen some criticisms of the Nice treaty to the effect that Ireland has significantly less votes in Council and Parliament as compared with the large member states. This is disingenuous to put it mildly. It has always been a feature of the European Union since the outset and through successive enlargements that countries with larger populations have a higher number of votes in Council and Parliament. However, the allocations have never been strictly proportional to population and the position in future is that smaller countries like Ireland will continue to have a voice greater than their population would suggest. For example, Germany will have an MEP, roughly speaking, for every 800,000 inhabitants, whereas the figure for Ireland will be one MEP for every 300,000 inhabitants, a degree of representation almost three times better than Germany's. The reality is that the changes required at Nice in respect of the Council and the composition of the European Parliament were in the context of a major enlargement a balanced and sensible outcome which protected the position of the smaller member states.

The key to the protection of Ireland's interest in Council will continue to be forceful and persuasive argument and the cultivation of excellent relations with our partners. Historically we have been excellent at this, due in large part to the respect we have commanded as fully committed members of the European Union.

The Nice provision in relation to the composition of the European Commission also represents an excellent outcome for the smaller member states. For the first time in the history of the European Union complete equality is established between the larger and smaller states in terms of nominees to the Commission. Not only have the larger member states forfeited their right to nominate a second Commissioner, they have also agreed to a system of Commission representatives on a rotating basis which will see them without a Commissioner at some juncture.

Much play has been made by opponents of the treaty of its enhanced co-operation provisions which they argue will facilitate an extension of the control of larger member states. The principle of enhanced co-operation enabling a group of member states to choose to co-operate on a specific matter was in fact established in the Treaty of Amsterdam. The Nice treaty made some revisions to the Amsterdam provisions which primarily set out a set of strict preconditions before any enhanced co-operation project can be authorised. Enhanced co-operation can only be activated as a last resort, all member states have the right to participate, there must be an initial minimum number of eight member states, it must be approved by the Council with the support of a majority of member states representing at least 62% of the Union's population and it cannot be used in security and defence matters.

Specifically in this context, I wish to contradict the statement earlier this week from the National Platform that enhanced co-operation could lead to tax harmonisation, particularly corporation tax harmonisation. Direct tax harmonisation cannot be imposed on Ireland by enhanced co-operation involving other member states. Enhanced co-operation is not a blueprint for domination of a two-tier Europe by larger member states. It allows for a necessary degree of flexibility in the context of a union of 27 states, as a smaller group of member states may wish to participate in a particular project. More generally, assertions of a divide between large and small states in the Union do not stand up to scrutiny in the light of experience.

May I ask the Minister a question?

I do not have time. Member states' policy positions are generally dictated by national interests rather than a desire to be in a particular camp. The United Kingdom has been closest to Ireland on taxation while in agriculture France has traditionally been our ally. On budgetary matters the divide has traditionally been between net contributors, ranging from Germany to the Netherlands and the Nordic states, and net beneficiaries, including small countries like Ireland and Portugal and larger ones like France and Spain.

The Nice treaty represents a good deal for Ireland and other smaller member states. As with all EU treaties, it does not, because it cannot, meet 100% of the negotiating position of any member state, but I strongly argue that Ireland's core concerns have been well protected by the treaty. This outcome has been enhanced by the recent Seville declaration on neutrality and the subsequent revised wording, which will be put to the people in the referendum, which guarantees that the electorate will be consulted by way of referendum before any common defence agreement can be entered into by Ireland. All member states except Ireland have completed the procedures necessary for ratification. Other small member states are fully satisfied, as they should be, with the protection they are afforded under the treaty. I acknowledge that the result of last year's referendum on the Nice treaty reflected serious concerns among the electorate on European issues.

Apart from the defence issue which is directly addressed in the revised wording, there were concerns as to information and accountability deficits in relation to EU matters. Subsequent Government initiatives such as the establishment of the National Forum on Europe and enhanced Oireachtas scrutiny of EU business will assist in addressing these concerns. There is a concern among the Irish electorate and, I suspect, other electorates that the future direction of Europe should respect the concept of subsidiarity and the competencies of member states. Although support for the European Union remains strong throughout Europe, this must not be undermined by ill thought out schemes for greatly enhanced integration and centralisation of power and administration. The work of the Convention on the Future of Europe is very important in this regard. The Government's position at the convention has, in general, urged a cautious and pragmatic approach to further integration and I believe this approach mirrors the view of the Irish public.

My final theme relates to the positive strategic position we can achieve by voting "Yes" in the forthcoming referendum. Ireland is the only country that will, in effect, be asked to vote directly in favour of enlargement. A positive outcome to the referendum will further increase the goodwill Ireland has in the existing and prospective member states. In an enlarged European Union of up to 27 member states forging alliances in pursuit of national interests will be more important. In this context, it should be recalled that issues of huge importance to Ireland will be on the EU agenda in coming years. These include the mid-term review of the CAP and the WTO round concerning matters of central importance to farmers, rural areas and the economy in general. The agenda of the next Intergovernmental Conference will encompass the future shape of the European Union and include specific issues such as the extension of qualified majority voting to taxation. Ireland will have a key interest in EU budget arrangements for 2006 as it moves to net contributor status and tries to protect its CAP receipts. Ireland has a great interest in ongoing issues in various sectoral Councils of major concern to our economic and social well-being.

It is apparent from deliberations to date in the Convention on the Future of Europe that there are strong and varied forces at work in favour of the extension of qualified majority voting to taxation. I wish to reiterate that Ireland will not go along with this. The best way to meet these pressures is to show that we are committed Europeans, to argue our case for national subsidiarity and not to enter discussions marginalised by a "No" vote. We must not approach the next Intergovernmental Conference negotiations on this matter in a neutered state. The reality is that by voting "No" to the Nice treaty we would not only lose power, money and influence but also jobs.

In conclusion, I accentuate the positives of a "Yes" vote. It will be an affirmation of our membership of the European Union, our desire to remain at the heart of the Union and the Treaty of Nice, which in no sense is a threat to the protection of Ireland's interests. It is for these reasons that I will vigorously campaign for a "Yes" vote and that I strongly support the proposition before the House today.

I wish to share time with Deputy Healy.

I welcome this debate on the Second Stage of the Twenty-sixth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 2002. The Nice treaty is a matter of great national importance and I hope Independent Deputies will be given adequate time to present their views to the House. The clear case against this Bill which I intend to present will not be popular with the major parties, business leaders and, sadly, the leadership of trade unions and farmers' movements. Although it may be a lonely path to follow, it is important that I outline clearly my concerns in relation to the treaty. I wish to express my anger at the way the people are being treated by the political, economic and social Establishment.

Many people are under the illusion that we live in a liberal democracy where all views are respected and heard fairly. This is not the case, however, as is demonstrated by the fact that we will have a second referendum on the Nice treaty and a second opportunity to make what the main parties see as the right decision. Trust in public representatives is of great importance for the vast majority of the people, but the major political parties are damaging that trust again. Voters are sick of the lack of fair and balanced debate in the national media. The Nice treaty is supported by 95% of our so-called independent free press. I call on the national media to stop pretending to be impartial, to come clean to the ordinary people of this country and to deal with the real issues. The people deserve to be given "the truth in the news".

I intend to address the real issues relating to the Nice treaty in a real, meaningful, caring and honest manner. I will call the debate as I see it before the people decide the way forward. There are many social, political and economic aspects to the subject on which I hope we can have an informed debate based on the national interest. I stress the importance of hearing all views and, above all, the importance of listening to those with whom we completely disagree in order to make this Second Stage debate a worthwhile process for us all. The buzzwords of this discussion should be inclusion, diversity, honesty and tolerance. Calling names and giving labels to Deputies should not be part of the debate on this important national issue.

The section of the Nice treaty which deals with economic matters fails to stand up to serious scrutiny. I listened to the Minister for Finance speak and challenge him, other economic commentators and all the main political parties to examine their hearts and the figures as they pertain to the treaty. It has been claimed that the economy will be destroyed if the treaty is rejected. The Nice treaty is a political one and contains few economic provisions. It makes limited provision for economic sanctions against a member state, the best known of which is that for exceeding the 3% inflation guidelines in the Maastricht treaty. Other sanctions are related to the breach of standards and procedures such as tendering procedures. There are no provisions in the treaties to prevent inward investment by another member state no more than there are provisions which might prevent inward investment from a non-member state. There is no provision in the treaties to facilitate the expulsion of a member state, nor is there provision for sanctions if a state rejects the treaty in a referendum. More than 60% of overseas companies located in Ireland are from outside the European Union. One will not hear this on RTE or read it in the national press. The United Kingdom is listed as the country of origin of more than 15% of the remainder. This means that after 30 years of EU membership less than 25% of overseas companies are from EU countries other than the United Kingdom. In job creation terms, this means the United States leads with 88,000 jobs, or 66%, followed by the European Union with 33,000, or 16.5%, and the United Kingdom with 11,000, or 8%. In regard to the destination of exports, EU states take 35%, though the transfer pricing element may be considerable given that our exports to the USA and Canada total just 17%. Therefore, the European Union is neither a prime creator of jobs in Ireland nor do the greater number of companies originate in the European Union. In fact, its relative strength by both these measures has declined over the last five years.

The question, therefore, is twofold. What motivates our prime job creators to come to Ireland and is there anything resulting from another rejection of the Nice treaty that might provide a disincentive to their locating here? First, as was mentioned earlier, our rate of corporation tax is extremely low at 10%, increasing to 12.5% on 1 January 2003, compared with other EU countries, or even the United States, where the rate is 35%. EU rates vary from 25% in Germany to 40% in Belgium. Other allowances, such as capital allowances, are also generous. On the world competitive scoreboard Ireland comes second in the European Union behind Finland and third in the world on the extent to which Government policies are conducive to competitors. These are the real economic arguments of the debate one will not hear anywhere else.

My concerns about the democratic argument are as follows. The vast majority of citizens in the European Union did not get a chance to vote directly on any of its treaties or decisions. Some 11 of the countries are reserving the right to exclude workers by acceptance status for up to seven years. This treaty will lead to people feeling alienated again from the European Union. It will lead to reduced power for Ireland, another central problem. It will lead to increased powers for the larger member states. Ireland will lose crucial rights to a Commissioner, the veto on important areas and effective votes on the Council. Parliamentary representation will be reduced. Enhanced co-operation means that some states will move faster than others. This means the European Union is no longer a partnership of equals.

The Seville declaration has no legal binding status and the Rapid Reaction Force can operate 4,000 kilometers outside the borders of the European Union. This force will see Irish troops operating offensively, not defensively, alongside troops from other EU countries and in co-operation with a nuclear armed NATO military alliance. The Government should go back to its EU partners to seek a protocol to the Nice treaty ruling out all Irish participation in military structures. This protocol would be legally binding and mean that Irish neutrality would really be defended. Let me make clear the definition of Irish neutrality. It does not mean sitting on the fence. It means peacekeeping and assisting in humanitarian and conflict resolution situations. Ireland's foreign policy should see us act as a broker for peace. The arms industry sees Ireland as a greenfield site, a major commercial market in which to sell its weapons. Millions of euro are being spent on armaments while the money cannot be found to feed the starving of the world. The budget was recently decreased by €32 million. Is this the kind of public expenditure the people want?

When I considered how I would vote in the Nice referendum, I asked myself a couple of simple questions. Do I want a European Union where Ireland periodically loses its Commissioner and could be unrepresented for up to a quarter of the time on the body that proposes all EU laws? Do I want a two-tier European Union where Ireland loses its veto on the big member states being able to establish an inner EU state? This state with its own constitution, army and harmonised taxes could use the European Commission, Council, Court and Parliament to call the shots for the rest of us. Do I want a European Union where the Taoiseach and Government can no longer decide who will be Ireland's Commissioner? Instead this will be decided by a majority vote of the Council of Ministers where the big states have the decisive say. Do I want a European Union where our veto is abolished in 34 additional policy areas? Do I want a European Union which takes over the running of the 60,000 Rapid Reaction Force to which Ireland has pledged 850 men and women, to which we must contribute our share of the running costs and which is empowered to undertake offensive operations without a United Nations mandate? The final question I asked myself was did I want a European Union where Ireland lost its place as an equal partner at the heart of Europe because of the unwillingness of the Irish and EU Governments to respect Irish voters' rejection of the Nice treaty by 54% to 46% in the June 2001 referendum? I concluded that I should vote "No". I say to the people that if their answer to any of these questions is "No," they should also vote "No".

The proposed Nice treaty referendum comes down to a question of trust in the Government. Can the electorate trust the Government which so dishonestly misled them in the recent general election, a Government which is fundamentally dishonest and arrogant? Can that Government be trusted on the issue of the Nice treaty? My answer is "No". During the general election campaign we were told there would be absolutely no cutbacks, everything in the garden was rosy, roll on the good times, the Celtic tiger was alive and well and producing cubs. However, the Government knew differently. Within days of taking office the cutbacks began and the Government began to heap the burden of correcting the public finances on the poor, PAYE workers, students, small farmers and small business people.

Some €300 million in cutbacks have already been implemented and a further €136.5 million are coming down the tracks on the instructions of the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy. These will be accompanied by increased and new charges for public services, while legitimate pay claims will be resisted and tax breaks for the super rich will continue. That deception and con job perpetrated on the electorate further undermines the whole basis of trust in Irish politics and politicians. It has undermined once again the decent human values of honesty and trustworthiness which should underpin political and civil society. I say, "Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me." I ask the electorate to vote "No" to the Nice treaty and send a message to the Government that it cannot be taken for granted, that these cutbacks must stop and that the Government must come clean on the real effects of the Nice treaty.

I will outline briefly the cutbacks implemented to date. There is a €2 billion shortfall for national roads—

The Deputy is moving very far away from the issue under discussion.

It is a very important matter, a Cheann Comhairle. It is a matter of trusting the Government.

Of course, it is a very important matter. A passing reference is acceptable, but this is a debate on the constitutional amendment.

It is a question of whether the electorate can trust the Government which told it three months ago there would be no cutbacks.

I thought we were 19%—

Deputy Healy, I will accept a passing reference, but the issue is the Twenty-sixth Amendment of the Constitution Bill.

I am fully entitled to outline briefly the cutbacks.

This debate is about the Twenty-sixth Amendment of the Constitution Bill.

Yes. It is also about—

A passing reference, yes, but a detailed debate is not acceptable.

—whether the people can trust a Government which has shown itself to be completely untrustworthy. There have been cutbacks on roads, defence, the IDA, FÁS and social employment schemes. There have been huge increases in student registration fees and overseas aid has been cut by €40 million. There has been a clampdown on local authority social and affordable housing. There have been 800 job cuts in the health services. The list goes on. A government which has done all this has proved its untrustworthiness and does not deserve to achieve a "Yes" vote in the Nice referendum.

I wish to nail the lie that a rejection of the Nice treaty would stop the enlargement process. Last June, Romano Prodi, the President of the European Commission, stated that, legally, ratification of the Nice treaty is not necessary for enlargement. Up to 20 members will not be a problem and those outside that number may need some change in the accession agreement but it is not legally necessary. From this specific point of view, enlargement is possible without Nice.

Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, the President of the Convention on the Future of Europe, speaking recently on the possibility of a second "No" vote in Ireland said that the solution will not be to ignore the vote but to handle the situation. He stated that it will probably require taking what is needed from the Nice treaty to carry through the enlargement. There is no question of enlargement being an issue if the Nice treaty referendum is defeated as I believe and hope it should be.

The changes proposed by the Nice treaty will mean that Ireland will be without a voice at the table where vital decisions which directly affect Irish citizens will be made. Ireland will also lose its right to veto the choice of Commission President who will be chosen by qualified majority voting under the new Nice treaty arrangements. The involvement of Ireland in the developing military structures will compromise Ireland's neutral status. The removal of references to the Western European Union is effectively its absorption into the EU. This represents a significant militarisation of the European Union. The extension of qualified majority voting into the areas of Common Foreign and Security Policy and the conclusion of international agreements further compromises the ability of Ireland to maintain an independent foreign policy. The Seville declarations were much heralded but are worthless as they do not have the legal status of a treaty.

In my view, Ireland should have obtained a protocol to this treaty, as was the case with Denmark. The changes caused in the weighting systems by qualified majority voting gives too much power to the larger countries and would mean that as few as three countries could block any decision. Ireland's voice in the EU will be weaker under the new system at a time when Ireland will also be sending fewer representatives to the European Parliament. The treaty makes it easier for the richer and more powerful member states to move ahead of the rest and so create a two-tier Europe.

I have serious concerns about agriculture and I note that these concerns have been recently echoed by the Minister, Deputy Walsh. Current proposals and suggestions are the beginning of discussions to negotiate away the position of agriculture as a significant national industry. The effects will devastate rural Ireland and the food processing industry which employs over 19,000 people throughout the country. We must be able to protect our vital interests but this does not appear to be possible under the post-Nice veto changes.

Two years ago, the Danes were warned that if they failed to adopt the euro in place of the Danish currency they would be marginalised and there would be a flight of capital from the country. They refused to be frightened and they voted "No". Their currency was strengthened and the economy did not suffer. Alarmist statements about the dire economic consequences of voting "No" to Nice are a form of bullying. There is no carrot offered by the Nice treaty, rather a reduction in Ireland's power and influence because of the changes proposed in the European Union's decision-making rules. These changes will be in the interests of the larger countries and will effectively destroy the European Union as a partnership of equals. If we are to vote to re-affirm last year's democratic decision to reject Nice, we will still remain full and committed members of the European Union with all the entitlements and obligations of membership. I believe that voting "No" is central to our economic interests. The changes proposed by the Nice treaty in the decision-making rules will alter the EU that we have known since 1973 and will be to our disadvantage. It is against our economic and political interests to have a European Union in which Ireland will be deprived, possibly for long periods, of a representative on the Commission. It is in our economic interest to prevent the larger states from using the European Union institutions for their own purposes. The Nice treaty's two-tier provisions will allow an inner group of member states to adopt policies with which others fundamentally disagree. I urge the electorate to vote "No" to Nice so that this Government understands that it cannot take the Irish people for granted, that the cuts must stop and that it must come clean on the effects of the Nice treaty.

I wish to share time with Deputy Woods. I wish to refer to Deputy Healy's opening statements. Mr. Fergus Finlay has been a strong defender of the Left.

He was a defender of the Labour Party, not of the Left.

During the election campaign, Mr. Finlay stated that it was a disgrace that the outgoing Government was making no promises. I find it amusing to read now about all the promises that we were supposed to have made, despite the fact that they were few and far between. There was a report that the Government was over spending by 19%.

Did the Government promise to cut 800 health jobs?

If 19% of an over spend is a cutback, then I am a Dutchman.

I will be forced to ask Deputy Healy to leave the House if he does not afford the Minister of State the courtesy he himself received and be allowed continue without interruption.

The Minister of State is asking questions of me.

I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak in favour of this motion and in favour of the Nice treaty. The decision facing the people of Ireland on the ratification of the Nice treaty is one of the most important decisions which we have had to make in some time. The outcome of the referendum to be put to the people will determine in large measure the nature of our foreign relations for some time to come. It will also have a long-lasting impact on society and the economy, and on how we view ourselves and our place in the world, as well as how others view us. Ireland has long had a reputation as an open country, sympathetic to those who are suffering and who have suffered, and keen to work with all of those who are seeking to improve their standards of living. We are regarded as open-minded and helpful. We have built this reputation in many ways, and we have also benefited from it in many ways.

Our positive, active and constructive engagement in the European Union is a demonstration of our open approach to international relations and our belief that we are strengthened in many ways by sharing in a rule-bound international system. This approach has allowed us to support successive enlargements of the European Union, which have brought benefits to those acceding to the Union and to ourselves, as more countries participate in the EU Single Market.

The countries of the European Union make up Ireland's largest export market. Last year EU countries took 62% of Irish exports, over €57 billion. Seven of our ten largest markets are in the EU: the UK, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands. Between them these seven countries accounted for 58% of Irish exports last year. The primary reasons for the importance of those markets to us is the existence of the Single Market in which more than 19 million businesses operate and compete.

However, the Single Market is not simply an economic structure. At its heart are almost 380 million people seeking better employment opportunities, improved living and working conditions and a wide choice of quality products and services at lower prices. The Single Market is working in their interest. As the tenth anniversary of the implementation of the internal market approaches, negotiations with the candidate countries are reaching their conclusion. By the middle of the decade almost 500 million people will be part of the Union's internal market, a population nearly twice as big as that of the United States.

It can be easy sometimes to forget just how much progress has been achieved since 1992. Ten years ago, lorries were obliged to stop at Europe's internal borders so that loads could be inspected and paperwork stamped. Europe's telecommunications sector was still dominated by monopolies with telephone charges uniformly high and the quality of service often poor. Banks and insurance firms faced licensing requirements that added considerably to the costs of doing business. The chances of winning a public procurement contract in another member state were low. Citizens' rights in respect of living and working in another member state were often difficult to exercise, while Europe's consumer and environment policies were still in the early stages of development.

Now, the euro is a tangible reality. Its introduction has stimulated price transparency and comparability, encouraging competition and price convergence in eurozone markets. Indeed, its introduction has been far smoother than anyone expected. In Ireland, as in the rest of the European Union, the introduction of the euro has been enthusiastically received by the people in general, as well as by the business community and representative interest groupings.

This positive reception reflects an appreciation of the benefits which the single currency confers on individuals and on businesses by doing away with currency exchange costs and by making trade, holiday and business travel in other euro countries less cumbersome and costly than heretofore. Its introduction has also heightened awareness of the fact that Ireland, one of the more geographically peripheral member states, is an integral part of the European Union, sharing a commonality of identity and purpose with the continent. In addition, it has demonstrated the potential of shared political decision making for impacting in a meaningful way on the economic, social and cultural contexts which so centrally inform the quality of daily life. Perhaps more than any other initiative to date, it has given demonstrable meaning to the notion of the citizens' Europe. Today, thanks to the Single Market, every European citizen and business can benefit from, and enjoy, a number of basic rights and freedoms.

The practical consequences of this for the day-to-day life of EU citizens and businesses are significant. Individuals already enjoy the right to work throughout the Union, doctors can practise their profession in any other member state without major obstacles and consumers can benefit from lower prices. Faster and cheaper cross-frontier deliveries resulting from the absence of border controls on goods, in turn allow a wider choice of suppliers. A wider range of products and services are available to retail, public sector and industrial consumers at lower prices, particularly in newly liberalised service sectors such as transport, financial services, telecommunications and broadcasting. Companies can bid for public contracts in other member states, driving down the cost of public works for the taxpayer. The Single Market sets basic standards of health and safety, equal opportunities and labour law which ensure a level playing field for all EU companies, while industrial standards prevent the use of different national standards as barriers to trade.

By its nature, the Single Market is an enormous advantage for exporters by giving them direct access to one of the largest and richest markets in the world, and also to importers, who can source their necessary inputs at competitive prices. Access to these markets has been a key factor in our superlative record in attracting investment to Ireland. The companies which have chosen Ireland as a base have not done so because of our domestic market, but because of the ease with which Ireland can be used as a location from which to target the entire European Single Market.

Expansion of the Single Market, which will be the result of enlargement, and which in turn is the prime focus of the Nice treaty, will contribute to maintaining our attractiveness as an investment location.

Furthermore, by voting "Yes" to the Treaty of Nice, Irish voters will send a message to those who have already invested here and to those who may do so in the future that we remain committed to the principles of active engagement with our European neighbours, to the openness which has been so characteristic of our economic approach in the past and to working with our European partners to bring the benefits of EU membership and participation in the Single Market to all those countries which wish to join. Equally importantly, we will be sending the same message to the many Irish companies who are making plans for their futures on the assumption that their confidence in our commitment to maintaining the open economy which has served us so well is justified.

Enlargement of the European Union is the core purpose of the Treaty of Nice. It brings with it substantial benefits to Irish companies as an additional 12 countries will join the Single Market. This means that exporters will have full and free access to those markets.

Rejection of the Treaty of Nice and, therefore, of the enlargement of the European Union, will put those benefits at serious risk. For all of these reasons I strongly urge the people of Ireland to support enlargement and to support the Treaty of Nice.

When the Berlin Wall came down at the end of 1989 and the Cold War ended, the whole western world was overjoyed. The long road to a lasting peace had opened out before us. Economic and social development and prosperity for all the peoples of Europe was a real possibility. We watched with bated breath the velvet revolution in what was then Czechoslovakia and applauded those who risked their careers, their possessions and even their lives to build the new parliamentary democracies. Armies were reduced, barriers removed, fundamental human rights guaranteed and freedom of association, freedom of speech, freedom of the press and the right to hold and promote one's own political and religious convictions were restored.

On 1 January 1990, Ireland assumed the Presidency of the European Union. Almost immediately the then Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, called his Cabinet together and asked each Minister to offer and provide every help, advice and assistance to the new democracies to support and underpin their efforts to develop within Europe. Theirs was an awesome challenge but Ireland, above most other countries, understood their needs and had itself, in the recent past, laid the foundations for unprecedented growth and development. We were in an excellent position to begin the contacts and get them well established during the first six months of 1990 when we held the Presidency of every sector of the affairs of the European Union. Ireland was a leading light in showing the hand of friendship to the people of the expanding Europe. Since then Irish Ministers in every Government have held out the hand of friendship and support to all those countries that aspired to membership of the European Union. Business, cultural, vocational and educational interests followed suit. We now have many friends in the countries that aspire to join us in the EU. We have developed trade and shared investments, and the potential for growth and development that we foresaw for the expanding EU is now coming to pass.

This is a moment of great promise for future peace and prosperity for the peoples of Europe. We must not let it pass us by nor delay its progress. We are a confident, outgoing people with much to offer in this rapidly changing world. An expanded EU will provide challenge and opportunity especially for our younger people. Ireland is a part of Europe. It has grown and prospered as part of the EU. We have nothing to fear and much to gain from the proposed expansion in social, cultural and economic terms. We have our concerns and must pursue them vigorously, but our answer to the Nice treaty must now be a resounding "Yes".

When we first joined what was then the EEC, the European Economic Community, almost 30 years ago we took a giant leap forward. Led by Jack Lynch and Paddy Hillery we set out to inform and convince the Irish people that our future lay in the European Community. There were those who opposed the move and raised many potential difficulties. Some of the same people are here today still raising their fears and concerns. Of course there are concerns and I will refer later to some of them. However, we live in times of great opportunity for our young and highly educated population.

Last year 85% of our leaving certificate students went on to further and higher education and learning. Few countries in the world can match that standard, and they know it. We have made huge investments in innovation, research and development aimed at keeping us in the front line of change and competition. We are ready to help, advise, share with and develop the nations of the expanded EU. They see us as the great example of how a small nation can grow, prosper and contribute within the EU. We have the ability and skills to develop and prosper with our new partners in the expanded EU.

The enlarged community with its expanded market of 482 million people will offer new opportunities for Irish workers. Since we joined the EU the number of jobs has grown constantly, changing to high-tech, highly skilled, knowledge-based employment. No longer do we depend on low-cost, low-paid, labour-intensive industries. Our future will be based on highly-skilled and qualified young people graduating from our much-envied education system. Ireland is well prepared to take its place in the enlarged EU. As the economies of the new countries prosper they too will follow a similar pattern of new investments, increased employment and higher standards of living. That is why there should be no fear of migration to Ireland from the new member states. There are at present citizens from the candidate countries working in Ireland. They are here because the Irish economy needed them, and Irish recruitment agencies brought them here.

Changes are already under way in the candidate countries. For example, the Czech Republic, where there is already significant Irish investment and developing trade, has more EU citizens working there than Czech citizens working in all EU member states combined. Following accession to the EU employment conditions and opportunities will improve in all the candidate countries. Accordingly, people who have concerns about a massive influx of people taking Irish jobs have nothing to fear.

The aim of the European Council is to have the Treaty of Nice ratified by the 15 member states by the end of this year. Already 13 states, some large, some small, are ready to sign. This includes Northern Ireland. Belgium is on target to complete shortly. This leaves only Ireland to decide. It is interesting that Northern Ireland supports the Nice treaty but Sinn Féin wants us to vote against it.

Following last year's referendum a number of measures have been taken to improve the arrangements for scrutiny by the Dáil and Seanad of the business of the EU. A Select Committee on European Affairs has been established. It will track closely developments in the EU and monitor any pending decisions or proposals. It will guarantee openness, transparency and accountability to the Irish people. It will provide much closer liaison between Oireachtas Committees and Ministers during negotiations before EU Council meetings and regular information and briefings.

At the Seville European Council in June last the Government made a national declaration which reaffirms Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality. This stated that Ireland is not a party to any mutual defence commitment, that Ireland is not party to any plans to develop a European army and that Ireland will take its own sovereign decision on whether Irish troops should take part in humanitarian or crisis management tasks mounted by the EU. Any such decision will be based on the "triple lock" of UN endorsement, Government decision and Dáil approval. The national declaration also made clear that Ireland will not adopt any decision taken by the European Council to move to a common defence or support any treaty which would depart from our policy of military neutrality unless it has first been approved by the Irish people in a referendum. The European Council confirmed in a declaration that this policy fully conforms with its treaties and with the Treaty of Nice. These provisions will be copperfastened by our acceptance of the referendum.

It is now time to move on to the real issues at stake in the referendum on the Nice treaty – enlargement and maintaining Ireland's position and influence in an expanding European Union. The Council of Ministers is the key decision-making powerhouse in the EU for each area of Government. The Commission manages the work of the EU and makes proposals for development, change and improvement. Hence Commissioners, like Civil Service departmental heads, are important and influential people and are recognised as such. The Presidency is more important. It may modify the Commission's proposals, seek consensus on them or propose alternatives to the Ministers at their Council meetings. However, it is the Ministers who make the policy decisions. This, in practice, is the key safeguard for smaller nations like Ireland. The ultimate power rests with the Council of Ministers, not the Commission. Ministers may approve their proposals or disapprove, amend them and agree unanimously or vote on them. In my experience, they will always try their utmost to meet the needs of smaller nations. These are democratic processes. People may lobby the Commission, the Presidency or individual Ministers. Ministers may communicate or meet to agree an approach in advance of a meeting and gain support for their position.

We need to have the goodwill of the current member states and those who are about to join. The candidates are real people whom we know well. They are part of Europe and they have worked for years to prepare themselves to meet the democratic and developmental criteria for participation in the EU. It is time now for a new vision of a new European Union of the nations. I have had the privilege of representing Ireland in that process. I say to the people of Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia that they are welcome to the EU. They will have my full support. I will be voting and I will campaign for a "Yes" vote to the referendum on the Nice treaty.

Deputy Woods was beginning to sound like the Pope in one of his broader addresses to the peoples of Europe and the world. I am sorry his time ran out before we heard a full listing of all the countries Deputy Woods wished to address.

If the Government is serious in its wish to have the Treaty of Nice ratified, it would do well to look primarily to convincing the ranks of its own supporters of the merits of a "Yes" vote. Whenever I hear this matter debated, I get a definite impression that the most sceptical group of voters on this issue are Government supporters, especially Fianna Fáil supporters. Last year this group took its cue from the tone set by the Ministers, Deputies McCreevy, Harney and Ó Cuív, in pouring cold water on every policy initiative and comment from Europe. They succeeded in transmitting this coded signal to their supporters. Now they have the task of recoding this message and substituting a new pro-Europe message. It is obviously an uphill job. Last year's message went deep into the psyche and the consciousness of their supporters. It is not easy to say now that it was a dangerous message and that it needs to be re-coded. Government Ministers – Deputies McCreevy, Harney and Ó Cuív – have had to cast aside their deep euroscepticism and hostility, particularly towards a social Europe. As I listened to the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, I wondered who had persuaded him to state, "Ireland is, in fact, the prime beneficiary of the spirit of solidarity which is a core element of the philosophy underlying the EU". I wonder if he had to drink something during lunch time to enable him to say that convincingly.

We are faced with a major task and I do not believe the Government strategy is making much impression on voters. It is sending the wrong signals. The tone is almost like a warning of apocalypse now – dire warnings, as we have heard from the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Dermot Ahern and others, that disaster looms if we choose to say "No" again. Ministers are beginning to sound like old style Redemptorist preachers who delivered spine chilling warnings, at annual school retreats, about the horror of hell fire and what awaits those who stray into sin. Again and again, Ministers have spoken of the horrors we may experience if the electorate chooses to say "No" again. Dire warnings of excommunication from the European fold have been delivered in such tones that if this continues for the next six weeks, voters will grow weary, with negative consequences. That is a dangerous route and I strongly suggest it is highly counterproductive. Ministers should get off the pulpit and leave the hell fire sermons at home. When that style of preaching was used consistently by the anti-European campaigners in the 1970s and 1980s, it did them no good. It simply did not find any echo in the instinctive feelings of the majority of voters, who really wanted to end the dreary isolationism of Ireland in earlier decades.

Everything the anti-European people said 30 years ago is being repeated today in different guises and it is as wrong now as it was then. I suggest that "Yes" campaigners should not go down that road. They should take the positive outlook that an enlarged Europe is our best chance of continued prosperity and growth. Young voters, above all other groups, have to decide on this. I was surprised by the number of young voters who chose the "No" route in last year's referendum. Tens of thousands of young people travel the length and breadth of the new Europe every year. Hungary, Slovenia and the Czech Republic are all regular ports of call for the current generation of inter-rail travellers. Thousands of Irish students are travelling throughout Europe this month.

These young voters must surely recognise from their travels how deep is the desire in all of those countries for restoration of the ancient European borders and the reintegration of those countries into mainstream Europe after the dark decades of post war Stalinism. I cannot believe young voters would want to stand in the way of this. Prague, Budapest and Kraków are European cities with an equally great tradition as Paris, Madrid or Florence. Their separation from the rest of Europe was one of the greatest acts of vandalism in history and it is time to remedy that. Voting "Yes" is part of that process. Enlargement, as a policy, is good in itself. It is also good for us in Ireland by any economic yardstick. It provides an enlarged market for our exports if we choose to take the opportunity.

A "Yes" vote is also important for other reasons, not least for those issues which came under scrutiny in the jamboree in Johannesburg in the past couple of weeks. The best strategy for improving the environment has always been through joint action, common policies and initiatives throughout Europe. I fail to understand how Green Party Deputies, for whom I have great respect, can believe that Ireland on its own can ever deliver effective measures to protect the environment with anything like the force of common European actions and directives. The countries now seeking EU membership have huge, oppressive environmental legacies from the communist years. Their green movements are looking to Europe as the driving force to assist in that clean-up. Hopefully, their accession and involvement in Europe will lead to a greater generosity in that regard from the rest of Europe.

The greens in applicant countries must look with some astonishment and bewilderment at the ostrich-like attitude of some of their Irish brothers and sisters. I find the attitude of the Green Party in this regard incredible. I do not doubt there are flaws in this treaty and I hope the Convention on Europe can identify them for early remedy, notably by providing more transparent and accountable decision making.

The Labour Party negotiated, demanded and has finally wrung from this Fianna Fáil-PD Government a constitutional guarantee that the Irish people will have a constitutional lock on our neutrality and that only the Irish people can decide if there should be any changes. This was a key plank in the "No" campaign in the previous referendum.

The move to militarism is another issue which concerns me. It is arguable that only a fully engaged, neutral country, such as Ireland, can effectively make the case against increased militarism in an expanding EU. I speak from experience as a Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs when I was privileged to initiate Ireland's intense involvement in the move to restrict and end the use of land mines. I believe we could not have exercised such influence, which was continued by subsequent Ministers and Governments, if we had not been an actively participating member of the European Union. In relation to militarisation, there is a serious issue as to whether it is best pursued as a full participant in Europe or, perhaps, as the Greens – unlike Joschka Fischer – argue that it can be done from outside by calling a halt to any further European expansion. That is a very serious issue which we must address in the debate.

I am a sceptical "Yes" voter. There are many aspects of the EU which I thoroughly dislike. The development of a permanent political class in the EU is at the core of the democratic deficit which is so distasteful to many voters throughout Europe. One symbol of that is the endless jamborees of heads of state, which many people find deeply offensive. The EU must really find a better way to do its business. With regard to the Taoiseach's trip to Johannesburg this week, that trip was not solidarity on the part of the Taoiseach or the other Heads of Government who went to Johannesburg for 24 hours. We had two Ministers there already who took a detailed part in discussions as I know from the media. Such a 24 hour trip is one of the things that gives the EU and its style of government an increasingly bad name, particularly among young people. It is not social solidarity as Deputy McCreevy stated, but self-indulgence and stems from being excessively led by the media. The hypocrisy of the Taoiseach's speaking of our sense of solidarity with people in the developing world, while his Government was party to a €40 million cut in promised EU spending, beggars belief. It is a shocking betrayal that the Department of Foreign Affairs, as its only cut in spending, offered the overseas development assistance budget. It is no wonder that voters are sceptical about the Taoiseach and his intentions on this treaty.

The key element in changing the result the next time will be those who stayed at home the first time. My advice to the Taoiseach, when he returns, is that he should put his anorak on again and go out to beg the Fianna Fáil voters who stayed at home to come out this time. He must convince them that he has had a change of heart and is now thoroughly committed to the treaty. Only such an appeal to the Fianna Fáil voters will cut any ice.

I am a sceptical "Yes" voter. One reason I will vote that way is because a "No" vote will mark a profound shift in Irish politics and a retreat into isolationism. That is not the intention of many on the "No" side, but it will be the result. Before we retreat into this isolationism which we broke out of in the last 30 years, we must consider the consequences for the country. If we look at the period from the 1930s to the 1950s, when, as a country, we were intensely isolated, we remember the cultural oppression and censoriousness which drove not only those in economic need away but also many of our best writers and artists. Anyone arguing for a return to that is not doing Ireland any favours.

A critical element of the "No" campaign, although not supported by all, is the question of immigration. In earlier campaigns over different developments in Europe, "No" campaigners resorted to arguments that increasing integration would lead to divorce and other social changes. This time they use immigration. It is a profoundly reactionary argument but it is also an important issue. The "No" campaigners know that it strikes a chord with many people, particularly those who will be most disadvantaged by the savage cutbacks that the Government is rolling out now that the election is safely over. Such an argument is like a genie in a bottle and once it is out, it is difficult to ignore it. People in the "No" campaign who do not support immigration scaremongering or pandering to any kind of racism, must deal with this issue more clearly or else our political life will suffer regardless of the outcome of the vote on the treaty. This is an occasion when political leadership, as opposed to political pandering, is called for.

InThe Irish Times today there is an article by Professor John Fitzgerald on immigration which is a detailed, scientific rebuttal to those who argue that supporting the Treaty of Nice will result in a wave of unskilled immigrants resulting in downward pressure on wages. What he shows, which I know from living abroad at different times, is that the most vibrant economies, such as those in America, Canada or the Far East, are those with net immigration. This is the case for a variety of reasons, not least because, in a modern economy, consumer demand and a growing consumer market are essential in creating prosperity. To argue that we should reject the treaty because of an increase in net immigration is wrong as such immigration will probably be skilled labour and will add to our prosperity. Other countries, such as France, have experienced this. Similar arguments were used about southern France being flooded by cheap labour on the accession of Spain and Portugal but the net immigration was small with the additional skilled workers contributing positively to the French economy and increasing the consumer base.

It is noticeable that, post 11 September, the main thrust of economic policy in the USA, particularly that of Alan Greenspan, is in shoring up the consumer market. The "No" campaigners who are not taken in by these quasi-racist arguments ought to debate this honestly so that genuine fears are addressed. I have a particularly strong interest in the question of multinational companies' capacity to act outside state boundaries. Only in an enlarged EU with a better system of government can we seek to address the proper control and regulation of these companies. I am a sceptical voter, but my reasons for voting "Yes" are sound.

I wish to share my time with the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Deputy Aylward.

One of the most interesting aspects of the campaign so far is how the focus of argument on the "No" side has shifted since the last campaign. The lie – I use that term deliberately – used on the last occasion involved raising the blood curdling prospect that the young people of Ireland would be conscripted into a European army the moment the votes were counted. The spectre of the Vietnam war and the body bags returning to the United States was deliberately and falsely raised to confuse and mislead. That lie has now been laid to rest. A sober analysis of the provisions of the Nice treaty, which after all is only about institutional reform, would have been sufficient but the Government, because of public pressure and media perceptions, has been forced to engage in the process of getting declarations at Seville. However, those declarations reinforce what was true anyway.

I thought, at that point, the "No" campaign had reached rock bottom. Now, having reached rock bottom, the "No" campaign is starting to dig. A more sinister and nefarious spectre is being conjured up – xenophobia and racism. Mr. Justin Barrett, one of the leaders of the "No" campaign, boasted publicly that he would bring racism and xenophobia to the centre of the campaign. The lie now told is that the moment the strains of "Auld Lang Syne" fade away on 31 December 2003, we will be over-run by lesser breeds from eastern Europe. Time does not permit me to deal with that falsehood but I will have plenty of opportunity to do so during the campaign.

Our fellow Europeans and investors in Ireland understand why the Nice treaty was rejected on the last occasion. They realise that the welter of activity which preceded the general election meant that there was not sufficient focus on the key issues involved or on the importance of Nice to the people of this country. We must admit that the Nice treaty was not sufficiently explained to the people. However, our fellow Europeans, investors and potential investors also realise that in view of the publicity generated by the first refusal and the extensive debate which has gone on in the interim, much of which has taken place under the aegis of the Forum for Europe, a second rejection would be a cold, deliberate, calculated decision to reject European enlargement. It would effectively abandon our perceived position as being at the heart of Europe.

This would have the most profound consequences for the Irish economy. Regardless of whether we like it, foreign capital has transformed the economy and is the source of much of our recent success. For example, 40% of the total inward investment from the United States in electronics in the EU since 1980 has been to Ireland. There has been much debate about the reason for our success in attracting foreign capital. No doubt the world class education system we have has played its part and the benign corporate tax regime has also been a factor. However, it is no coincidence that this trend has accelerated since the creation of the Single Market in Europe.

Since the creation of the Single Market, Ireland has sold itself as the gateway to Europe and we must remember that unhindered access to the European market is hugely attractive to foreign investment. Turning our back on Europe at this stage will put all that at risk. I am not just talking about future investment but, more worryingly, investment that is in place at present supporting 150,000 jobs directly and many more indirectly.

The House need not take my word for this but should listen to the IDA, the farming community and its leaders, the business community and the gloomy prognosis of the Economic Intelligence Unit published last month. These groups should be listened to because the Nice treaty has direct relevance to the people walking the streets outside this House. I have spoken to senior management of multinational corporations currently located in, and adjacent to, my constituency and they have conceded that a rejection of Nice may compel their parent companies to rethink their commitment to Ireland. If companies such as Dell, Howmedica and Analog – I could name many more from Limerick – were to withdraw from this country, the region I represent, the midwest, would become an economic wasteland literally overnight. That is something that would be replicated throughout the country.

What proposals do those intellectual Luddites who advocate a "No" vote have to replace those jobs? If those companies withdraw from the midwest, what are we to do for the people displaced? Who will give them jobs? Sinn Féin will not give them jobs. It will be no use knocking on the door of an academic economist with a safe job in Trinity College. It will avail us little to talk to Mr. Justin Barrett or his colleagues in Youth Defence, although Youth Defence will probably have a ready made solution to unemployment. That would be to open concentration camps and lock up anybody who denies that Ireland has moved on from the valley of the squinting windows.

In excess of 100 million people are seeking access to some of the prosperity that we currently enjoy. Do we have the moral right to deprive them of that opportunity? These are people just like us, with the same hopes, dreams, ambitions and aspirations. There is one crucial difference however. While we have enjoyed political and economic independence for the best part of a century, those people have suffered terribly under the yoke of totalitarianism. Does anybody in Ireland realise what it must be like to live under a totalitarian regime? The reality until very recently for many citizens of the countries now seeking membership of the EU has been endless repression, grinding poverty, an omnipresent secret police and people disappearing from the midst of their families after the midnight knock on the door, ending up in a kangaroo court, prison and, in many cases, dead.

The economies of many of these countries are fragile. They need membership of the EU to enable them to secure their new-found freedom. If that is denied them it is almost certain that, in some cases, their economies will collapse and they will inevitably return to the darkness of totalitarianism. Are we, a nation that has enjoyed unprecedented economic prosperity, morally entitled to condemn them to that?

The worst advertisement for the "No" campaign is its adherents. Mr. Anthony Coughlan was spectacularly wrong in 1972 but this has not prevented him repeating exactly the same losing arguments over and over again. His arguments today are as good as they never were. His behaviour resembles a clock which ceased to tick in 1972. He is the quintessential example of the man who cannot take yes for an answer.

Meanwhile, his accomplice, the roving evangelist Mr. Justin Barrett, contrives to appear like a shiver searching the world for a spine to ascend. He tries to sound like superman but his thought process resembles that of Jack Frost. By his own admission his main collaborators, whose foot soldiers and premises he uses, are that body of people known as Youth Defence – a group not widely noted for its moderation, humanity or ability to tolerate any point of view other than its own. It would be a sad day for this country if the people were to ignore the IDA, the leaders of business, the farming community and every independent economic commentator who has spoken on this subject and take their lead from these latter-day examples of King Canute's courtiers: Anthony Coughlan, the Nostradamus of Trinity College, and Justin Barrett, the man who could never resist taking a public bath in his own prejudices.

The Nice treaty is about protecting and securing our economic success. It is about extending to 100 million people on the borders of Europe the economic opportunity to secure their freedom. It is about contributing to world peace and to a new world order in which an enlarged Europe can play a central role. The leaders of Ireland's fight for freedom and independence wanted the people of Ireland to be able to decide their own future as a sovereign nation. Little did they dream that we would one day have it in our power to decide the future of all of Europe. We must not squander this opportunity by pandering to petulance or xenophobia. The case for a "Yes" vote is unanswerable.

As a people we in Ireland do not live in isolation nor would we want to. Even more so as a country, Ireland cannot exist and go about its business without significant interaction with the rest of the world. We travel to and trade with all these other nations on a regular and extensive basis and we have done that well. We have developed and grown hugely over the last century, particularly since we took the momentous decision 30 years ago to join the EEC, as it was known then. Over that time we have prospered and changed without any real threat to our identity or losing our deeply held culture. Apart altogether from the economics of it all we have been enriched by the experiences we have undergone and our quality of life has improved. I am not putting all that down to the EU, but our progress within the EU has been a major part of it.

I wish to turn to the implications that European Union membership has had for an area for which I am responsible, that of animal health. We are all aware of the significant trade advantages conferred on Ireland and other member states by virtue of EU membership which confers access to a market of more than 350 million people. We are also aware that Ireland is a very significant net exporter of agricultural products and, for example, that in the case of beef we are required to export 90% of domestic production. What may be less obvious is that intra Community trade in agricultural products could not take place without the development of harmonised animal health rules in relation to disease control, animal identification and traceability. These rules serve to minimise the risks which international trade in such products poses to human and animal health. This is not to say that such risks no longer exist, but the work which goes on unseen in the EU's Standing Committee for the Food Chain and Animal Health, and other similar committees in which my officials participate, plays a vital if unappreciated role in minimising the risk to human and animal health while at the same time lubricating the wheels of trade which are so vital to the well being of Ireland's agricultural economy and the economy generally.

In the field of disease control we have seen, most prominently in relation to BSE and foot and mouth disease, that the rules established by the Commission in consultation with the member states ensure that all members of the European Union are obliged to take similar measures to deal with the threat of disease – a threat which has the potential to significantly impact on the agricultural economies throughout the Union. We have seen the benefits of this approach most recently in the context of BSE and foot and mouth disease. The existence of harmonised rules for eradication and control, and a regulated mechanism for assessing the risk posed by the existence of such diseases in particular member states, means that trade restrictions are imposed not by individual member states who might be tempted to make such decisions on the basis of economic or trade advantage, but by the European Commission on the basis of a scientific assessment of the disease risk. This approach meant, for example, that last year the European Commission confined the restrictions on trade in animal products from Ireland to the County Louth area. This protected this country from unilateral trade sanctions by individual member states and allowed for a significant increase in trade in beef to the United Kingdom which played a crucial role in maintaining prices in Ireland. It is equally the case that, despite difficulties in the sale of beef to some third country markets because of consumer concerns about BSE in Europe, the fact that we are officially categorised by the European Commission and the World Animal Health Organisation as a low incidence country has allowed us to continue to trade freely in Europe. The European Commission makes a significant financial contribution to disease eradication and control measures in Ireland, as it does in other member states. Of course organisms which cause serious animal diseases do not confine their travels to European Union countries. Animal disease is a global issue, and foot and mouth disease is endemic in many parts of the world. This is a real and very serious issue for trading countries like Ireland. Rules for trade on an international level are determined through the World Trade Organisation, but the European Union plays a vital role in the development of harmonised views on animal health issues among member states and in the application of pressure to maintain and improve animal health standards in third countries.

Animal based produce from third countries may be imported to the European Union only after an assessment of the effectiveness of the veterinary controls applied by the authorities in such countries, and premises wishing to export produce must be inspected by the EU Food and Veterinary Office to ensure they operate health and hygiene standards equivalent to those operated in the EU. As a member state of the European Union we have a direct role in all of this, and veterinary officials from my Department have been involved in such visits in conjunction with colleagues from other member states from time to time.

Our membership of the European Union allows us to bring our influence to bear on all of these matters, which are of central importance to the protection of human and animal health, to the development of international trade and the protection of our economy, in a way which would simply not be possible as outsiders. It is important, therefore, for the farming and wider community to understand the extent to which the EU, even in a changed and enlarged form, will continue to represent the best place for us to be on the international stage. Farmers may well have grievances in one form or other, as we all do from time to time, but voting against the Nice referendum would not resolve anything. The opposite is the case.

For instance, on the customer service side, for which I have direct responsibility, I realise that the performance and standard of service provided by the Department of Agriculture and Food has been the subject of much comment in the farming media. However, what can sometimes be lost is that the Department administers over 250 different schemes and services in a wide sphere of activity out of 70 public offices to over 140,000 farmers and a diverse group of other clients. The Department's total expenditure per year is €2.7 billion. The total indirect payments to farmers is €1.4 billion, coming through the Common Agricultural Policy. These payments represent some 50% of farm incomes. There is generally a high degree of satisfaction with the majority of this business. We are strongly committed to providing an excellent service to our customers and we are continuing to develop an improved standard of service when and where we can. We have made specific commitments on payment and related services in the protocol on direct payments to farmers agreed with the social partner farm organisations under the PPF in July 2000. These commitments are independently monitored and the Department has to date met most of the protocol targets.

Last December the Department published its most recent customer service action plan for the period to 2004 which we are now in the process of implementing. It has pre-set targets for all the main Department services and contains commitments in relation to all the Government principles on quality customer service. The new independent Agriculture Appeals Office promised under the PPF was established on 13 May 2002 and farmers can go to a statutorily independent office to have the Department's decisions reviewed. The Department also operates a formal complaints procedure for those who are dissatisfied with the standard of service they receive as distinct from the decisions. All complaints are vigorously pursued until the customer's complaint is answered. The Department has significantly improved its customer service and I can assure the House that every effort is continuing to be made to meet our customers' requirements. I am personally committed to driving this work on so that farmers and all customers can see and appreciate the real benefits the EU has enabled us to deliver to them.

Whatever our short-term difficulties, I am satisfied and I will seek to persuade the farming community that we have done well in Europe, that the Department has delivered substantial EU based payments and services for farmers since we joined and that it is within the enlarged EU, playing a full role as we have always done, that our long-term most significant interests are best served. We owe a great deal to our membership of the European Union. Our economy could not have modernised and developed as it has in recent years were it not for EU membership. The Single Market provides a framework for the development of our trade. The Structural Funds provide finance to improve our infrastructure, enhance our productive capacity, train our people and modernise our farms. The Common Agricultural Policy provides the market and income support for our farmers while the EU's system of export refunds enables us to export our produce to third countries. Economic and monetary union has provided low interest rates and the currency stability that attracts and encourages enterprise.

The benefits have not just been in the economic arena. As members of a group of nations who share a common vision based on democracy, respect for the individual and peaceful methods, we have benefited socially, culturally and politically. We are a more outward looking and confident society. Despite concerns being expressed now and in the past, we have retained and enhanced our national identity and culture. One of the objectives of the Treaty of Nice is to ensure the continued effectiveness of the EU's decision-making processes after enlargement. The realisation of that objective is essential if Ireland and other member states, old and new, are to continue to obtain the benefits of membership.

I strongly support the Nice treaty and trust the people will see the bigger picture here and vote "Yes" in the upcoming referendum.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to wholeheartedly support the Bill and the referendum. It is in the interests of this nation, our people and future generations that we do so. Fine Gael could be politically opportunistic and use this issue to highlight the inadequacies of the Government, the difficulties it is currently experiencing and the untruths it held out during the course of the general election, but to do so would be to go against the principle of putting our nation first and it is in the interest of the nation that the Nice treaty is supported. It is in the interest of this generation and future generations that Fine Gael wholeheartedly supports the Nice treaty and the European ideal of developing Europe. We must enhance our sovereignty by influencing what is happening in Europe rather than going back to the time of isolationism which affected so many generations in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s when 50,000 emigrated each year. That has now changed completely and we are talking about immigration, which is a feature of the success of our involvement in Europe. Those who say that our sovereignty and independence will be damaged are totally misrepresenting the position.

Next year we will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the execution of Robert Emmett who wanted Ireland to take its place among the nations of the earth. We have taken our place among the nations of Europe and in doing so we have enhanced our reputation and influenced events in Europe. To withdraw from that stance would be to go back to isolationism. Those who fought for and won our independence would be proud that we had the Presidency of the European Union on five occasions when we led Europe as an independent nation. We have enhanced our independence and our sovereignty by doing that.

There are certain issues which we must immediately refute. Any question of a European Union army and Ireland's involvement in future conflicts is misleading. Future common defence commitments will have to be put to the people in a referendum. The people will decide that matter separately and it will have nothing to do with Nice.

I was interested in the remarks of the Fine Gael spokesman on Foreign Affairs, Deputy Gay Mitchell, on the question of NATO and our neutrality. He seriously questioned our ability to defend ourselves against the threat of terrorism in that if the Ryanair aircraft had been hijacked and flew into Irish airspace with the intention of attacking a building in this city, would the State have the provisions to stop such an attack and protect itself? Isolating ourselves militarily is an issue that deserves to be discussed.

I have always had concerns about our neutral stance during the Second World War. James Dillon was the only politician who questioned this country's neutrality with regard to the Allies versus the Nazis. We should frown on the fact that during the Second World War, we remained neutral in the face of terrorism and the appalling acts perpetrated by the Nazi regime, but that was a different time in history. We were 20 years from independence and other difficulties were being experienced, which we must acknowledge with hindsight, but the question of our neutrality should be examined. At the end of an objective examination we may decide to remain neutral but the question has been raised by Deputy Mitchell and it is worth considering.

The European Economic Community was set up in 1957 following a terrible period in Europe during which states tore themselves apart and millions of people were slaughtered. People had an ideal that peace should replace the many wars over the centuries and their success must be recognised. Who would ever have thought, on reading history up to 1950, that today Germany, France, Ireland, Spain and Greece would be partners? When I was young nobody emigrated to Europe. We had no contact with Europe. I remember a debate about whether we should become a state of the United States. We looked to Britain and the United States for work, yet there was a large bloc of markets and many opportunities in Europe to be availed of. Joining the European Community in 1973 changed that and enhanced our economic independence because up to that time we were largely dependent on Britain for our exports. We are now looking at a further unification of Europe involving central and eastern European countries.

I attended plenary sessions of the Organisation of Security and Co-operation in Europe in July in Berlin and I had a long discussion with the Maltese delegation one evening whose members were extremely concerned about Ireland's attitude towards the Nice treaty because it might prevent their full involvement in Europe. That brought home to me the effect of our attitude to this issue on other countries. The Maltese delegation members asked me if the Irish would allow them into Europe or prevent them from fully participating in Europe. We should facilitate these countries to avail of the opportunities we had in 1973. If the eastern European countries become part of the European Union, they will experience the same economic success as Ireland because they will be members of a larger Europe with greater opportunities.

The dream of 1957 must continue. Europe must continue to expand all its borders and enhance our Continent with the involvement of the eastern European countries. They have sophisticated cultures and have had economic success, particularly prior to the First World War, but that success was neutralised by communism. They are now entering a new phase of opportunity during which they can achieve their previous successes because their leaders have the capacity, the will and the energy to do so.

The scare tactic that 75 million people will swamp our labour market is unfair and untrue. People emigrate to cultures similar to their own, just as we did when emigrating to English speaking countries, including Britain, the United States, Australia and New Zealand. Most Irish emigrants went to those countries rather than the Continent, which is much closer than the United States, Australia or New Zealand. Ultimately, we must be confident that these people will overcome the difficulties that may necessitate emigration and that they will successfully develop their economies.

There is concern about human rights issues in some of the applicant states. Their involvement in the European Union will ensure they are addressed. As members of the Union the various organisations and individuals concerned will have redress to the various European institutions and courts, just as many people in this country sought to have their human rights in this country vindicated.

Deputy John Bruton is the Fine Gael director of elections for the referendum campaign. Like his predecessors and successors as leader of Fine Gael, he is a committed European and is at present playing a vital role in examining the development of the European Union. Deputy Bruton pointed out that the ratification of the treaty and the arguments around it can be reduced to a basic choice. We know that many domestic issues in this country are not exclusively generated or influenced by what happens here. As a small island nation we are largely influenced by events outside the State and in view of this we should seek to influence what happens elsewhere. For example, a rise in interest rates will affect mortgage payments. Our involvement with the European monetary system has had a controlling effect on interest rates and monetary policy, to our advantage. In addition, global stock markets affect the value of pensions. Surely we would wish to influence what happens there. Similarly, there is a need to influence what happens in a European context in terms of crime, and international policing of the drug trade and other criminal activity. Given the impact of the Dutch influence in the drugs trade in this country we surely want our views to be heard.

The argument about the Nice treaty is ultimately about self determination. Do we want to continue to have a real say in determining our future, in conjunction with our partners in Europe, or do we, like Norway and Iceland, want the formality of independence while having no influence on decision making? While those countries have access to European Union markets through the European economic area, the rules of the market are made by the Union. Through ratification of the various European Union treaties since 1973, the Irish people enthusiastically gave this country the opportunity to participate in this aspect. It has contributed to the success of the economy and has enhanced our cultural development. Now that we have achieved success the people should reflect carefully on whether they wish to continue with further engagement by ratifying the treaty.

Alternatively, by voting "No", we will send a signal that now that we are rich we have achieved enough and we do not want to allow other nations to share our opportunities for success. If we reject the treaty we are less likely to get a favourable hearing from our European Union partners. They will point out that Ireland gained as much if not more from the Union than any other country, yet now that the country is satisfied it has rejected an opportunity for other countries to similarly benefit. Accordingly, they will no longer be inclined to listen to our concerns and our influence will be diminished.

The referendum will have serious consequences for Ireland and for the rest of Europe, especially central and eastern Europe. A "Yes" vote will broaden and develop Europe and will ensure that Ireland has an enhanced role within the Union. From our own perspective it is also right that we should vote "Yes". We are not being asked to chose between our interests and those of other countries. A "Yes" vote will enhance our influence.

Those who disagree with my views will campaign against the treaty and that is a right I will protect to the end. However, a "No" vote would be a major mistake. The Union will carry on but the impact on this country could be negative. Every person has benefited from membership of the Union, regardless of their role or career. In view of this, every voter has a stake in the result of the referendum.

Today we met farming representatives and yesterday we met trade Unionists and business people. They are making it clear that the decision made in the referendum will have a significant impact. For this reason the debate should not be confined to the Members of the Oireachtas or the media. All citizens should be involved. I look forward to campaigning vigorously for a successful outcome.

I wish to share time with the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food, Deputy Treacy.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this important debate and to set out the case for a "Yes" vote in the forthcoming referendum on the Treaty of Nice. Previous speakers have referred to Ireland's positive experience of membership of the European Union and the contribution it has made to economic and social development here. It has been vital in expanding our trade and tourism, attracting foreign investment and creating jobs. Most importantly, it has helped increase our living standards so that we are now in international terms a wealthy nation. However, our membership means much more than that because, in spite of our peripheral geographical position, it has broadened the horizons of our people, given us a greater sense of our European heritage and provided us with a real voice in important European decision making affecting our future.

In 1973 when we joined the then EEC our GDP, at current market prices, per head of population equalled 60% of the average of our Community partners. In 2001 our GDP equalled 111% of the EU average. In 1973 Ireland had a trade deficit of €341 million while in 2001 our trade surplus was €35 billion. Since 1973 our total trade in goods and services has increased from €1.7 billion to €98.2 billion. EU membership has also been the catalyst for growth in agriculture and agri-business. We have been the largestper capita beneficiary of the CAP. Of the €2.6 billion Ireland receives annually from the EU, €1.68 billion, or about two thirds, comes from the CAP. This support has been of critical importance in helping to keep people on the land and in sustaining our rural communities.

The support Ireland has received from the Structural and Cohesion Funds has been vital to our development through investment in roads, environmental services, public transport, education, training and the promotion of new industry and tourism. Between 1973 and 2001 Ireland received more than €15 billion as a result of its membership of the European Union. A second rejection of the Nice treaty would send all the wrong signals to our international partners, could be badly misinterpreted by the accession countries and put us down in history as lacking in generosity at a time we were never better off ourselves. As a top class tourism destination, Ireland cannot afford to be complacent about its image abroad. Currently, that image is second to none, particularly when it comes to the warmth and friendliness of the Irish welcome which is favourably commented on by nearly 90% of visitors who are surveyed. However, a second rejection of the Nice treaty could easily jeopardise this extremely important part of our appeal, giving a wrong impression of us as anti-enlargement or anti-European.

In the aftermath of the 11 September terrorist atrocities, the international market for tourism has become more challenging. We debated the issue at length in the House prior to the summer recess. Ireland has traditionally looked to the American market to sustain its tourism industry. Americans have always come here in large numbers – more than 1 million in 2000 – and spent their money generously when they visit – more than €700 million in 2001. However, following 11 September, US tourists have been less inclined to travel by air choosing instead to go to destinations closer to home. This trend has been borne out in our own tourism figures, which show a drop of 14% in the numbers of tourists arriving from the US by the end of 2001 and into the first three months of this year. While we will continue with our efforts to attract US visitors to Ireland, we need now more than ever to broaden our appeal and focus more attention on other markets.

Continental Europe holds the key. Our European neighbours represent a unique growth opportunity that could help to secure the future of the tourism industry here. There are more than 370 million EU citizens on our doorstep who have a tremendous appetite for travel and who are within an average two hour flight from Ireland. In addition, when it comes to top tourism spenders, the Europeans run a very close second to the Americans – particularly German tourists who spend almost €50 billion on tourism annually. That is why, in our agreed programme for Government, we have set ourselves the target of increasing our share of the continental European tourism market. A measure of the tourism potential available is that in 2001 more than 1.3 million continental European tourists came to Ireland. This represents a tiny fraction, 0.3%, of the total population of the region.

Already, Tourism Ireland Ltd, the North-South body responsible for the international marketing of the island of Ireland as a tourism destination, has been more vigorously marketing Ireland in Europe, with a strong focus on Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands. Ireland's positive image is a key element in their marketing mix. This image owes a great deal to our recent economic success, our enviable profile in the world of artistic and sporting endeavour and the view of the Irish as a people who are open and friendly and who have a strong affinity with their European partners. This perception has been enhanced by the many thousands of young Irish people who travel to Europe to live, work and study and, in many cases, return with enhanced skills and experience. From a tourism marketing point of view, we are in an ideal position to benefit from this positive profile. Voting "No" to the Nice treaty has the potential to undermine this image in the minds of our fellow Europeans just when we need it most.

There is another factor to be borne in mind in the debate on the Nice treaty. Ireland is rightly considered to be one of the big success stories of the "great European project".

Can I ask the Minister a question?

Many of the candidate countries for accession have studied Ireland's impressive record in using the opportunities of membership and the funding available through the Structural and Cohesion Funds. It is widely recognised that our spectacular economic growth over the last decade is due in no small part to the significant investment of EU funds into Ireland.

Such EU funding has helped to transform Ireland as a tourist destination over the last ten years. Two major EU programmes have resulted in investment of more than €1 billion in the tourism sector alone. Using this money, we have managed to vastly improve the quality and range of tourism facilities available, enhanced our quality of service to world class standards and raised the profile of our country to a level where it can compete on equal terms with the best international destinations. It is no coincidence that over the same period our tourism sector has grown significantly. Tourism receipts from overseas visitors are worth almost €4 billion a year and the industry supports 150,000 jobs in the economy. Visitor numbers have doubled and foreign revenue earnings have increased threefold over the past ten years. Through the intelligent use of EU funding, Ireland has become a real player in the global tourism marketplace.

In debating the specific issues relating to the Nice treaty, it would be unwise to ignore the impact of this referendum on the broader question of our relationship with the EU. Ireland has managed to secure such a high level of EU funding on the back of the close and positive working relationship between successive Governments and the governments of other member states. It is very much in our national interest to maintain this relationship, which has yielded so much for Ireland. Ireland needs to remain a full and active participant at the heart of an enlarged Europe. A rejection of the Nice treaty would clearly damage a bond that has been built up over many years and would undermine our traditional affinity with Europe.

While our achievements in tourism have been remarkable, 2001 highlighted just how vulnerable is the international tourism market. The double blows of foot and mouth disease and 11 September brought an abrupt halt to a growth in visitor numbers to this country which had persisted for the previous decade. Therefore, from a tourism perspective, this is not a time for complacency; it is a time to seize any and all opportunities to raise our profile and enhance our image abroad. It is certainly not a time for being insular or ignoring the basic realities about how the outcome of the Nice treaty referendum will impact on perceptions of Ireland abroad.

As a Government, we have listened to and addressed the concerns of the Irish people in important areas such as neutrality and parliamentary scrutiny of European affairs. The National Forum on Europe was established to promote debate, canvass views and discuss the issues directly with the people. We must safeguard our future and the future of our children. We must remain at the heart of the European Union to safeguard our own interest. We must ensure our continuing economic and social development. We must say "Yes" to the Nice treaty.

May I ask the Minister a question?

No, the Minister has concluded.

Cuireadh an díospóireacht ar athló.

Debate adjourned.
The Dáil adjourned at 8.30 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 5 September 2002.