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

Atairgeadh an cheist: "Go léifear an Bille an Dara hUair anois."
Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I welcome the opportunity to debate this issue. I feel passionately about this matter and its importance for Ireland, Europe and the world. It is appropriate that the Dáil has chosen to return for this special session to debate the specific issue of the Nice treaty. It would have been good if we had been granted time to discuss other matters, but, quite rightly, the Nice treaty is being given priority.

It is not often that Ireland as a nation is asked, as is the case at present, to make a decision that will impact on the future of the 400 million people who live in western and central Europe. The spotlight will be on Ireland for the next six to eight weeks and our European neighbours will be watching to see how the campaign is run, how the Government performs, where the Opposition parties stand and, of course, what will be the result.

The EU project – formerly the EEC project – has been a huge success. As the Minister for Foreign Affairs stated, it is perhaps the greatest ever international achievement towards building peace and stability and creating a more competitive and attractive economic environment on a Continent where countries chose to come together to do just that. It was created after two divisive and tragic world wars which caused massive loss of life. Since then, the EU project and the European concept as a whole have been phenomenally successful. The Nice treaty provides for the next stage of the overall project, namely, to allow significant enlargement of what to date has been an extremely successful union.

Before discussing the details of the arguments that are considered pro and anti-Nice, I wish to share with the House an experience I underwent which has strengthened my resolve and determination to try to convince and persuade people that the right way to vote in the referendum is "Yes". In June 2001 I visited Gotland, an island off the east coast of Sweden in the middle of the Baltic Sea, to attend an EU conference on renewable energy. To the west of the island is mainland Sweden, which held the EU Presidency at the time, and to the east are Poland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, four of the applicant states. Delegates from two of these states attended the conference to try to share in the knowledge and expertise available to all EU member states. The first thing the Spanish chairperson in charge of proceedings did was to welcome the Polish and Estonian delegates as future members of the EU. Approximately halfway through the first day of the conference proceedings were stopped in order that the Spanish chairperson could announce the result of the referendum on the Nice treaty in Ireland. When the announcement was made, it was greeted with shock, disbelief, intense disappointment and a total lack of understanding as to how Ireland could vote against the Nice treaty and, as people perceived it, enlargement.

I had an extremely difficult time convincing fellow delegates that many of the people in Ireland who voted against the treaty were not voting against enlargement and that these individuals were concerned about other issues and problems relating to the Union and the EU project in a wider sense. Unfortunately, I do not believe my arguments were overly convincing because the other delegates tended to simplify matters and look upon the Irish approach to the Nice treaty as selfish. Many people here voted against the Nice treaty for what they saw as – and perhaps they were – genuine reasons. However, I must state bluntly and clearly that the perception among our friends and colleagues in the EU and, more importantly, those in the applicant states to the east, was that Ireland voted against enlargement for selfish reasons.

The irony is that Ireland has perhaps gained more from its membership of the EU than any other country, particularly in terms of development and inward investment, which has primarily emanated from central European funding. The smaller applicant states looked forward to using Ireland as a template when they joined the Union. The Estonian delegates spoke to me about the high esteem in which Ireland is held in their country and the fact that they wanted to forge closer links with us as Estonia's membership of the EU draws near. They want to follow our example and build a stable economic trading environment which will allow their relatively small country, which has many similarities to Ireland, to develop wealth creation prospects.

I wish to focus on what is at stake for the applicant countries because many people involved in the debate consider this matter in a purely Irish context in order to persuade voters here. If the applicant states are not allowed to join they will miss out on the opportunity – which was grasped by Ireland when it joined the EEC – to consolidate their recently won or restored democratic systems. Like Deputy Gay Mitchell, I believe Ireland has achieved real independence since it entered the EU. It has grown in confidence and its reliance on the UK for trade and business and in the sphere of economics has lessened to a large degree.

If they are not permitted to join, the applicant states will miss out on Single Market participation for trade and for the movement of people which have led to such stability and prosperity in western Europe. They will also miss out on being part of a law based community of states which ensures law and order, common standards of human rights, common environmental standards, etc. They will further miss out on the opportunity to learn quickly from best practice, from the mistakes the EU has made in the areas of social integration and economic growth and through our parliamentary system's legal reform and administration.

The representatives of applicant states see a positive future for their countries as part of a stable union that has a proven record. The irony is that the vast majority of applicant states are small nations just like Ireland. Ireland has an opportunity to become a leader among small nations in Europe. That opportunity will only become greater with the advent of enlargement. The danger of voting "No" to Nice this time is that the European Union will find another way to enlarge but unfortunately, in the meantime, we will have lost our friends in eastern Europe. They will see us as a country which has let them down when they are desperately attempting to join the EU as soon as possible.

The only circumstances in which we might have a right to consider saying "No" to Nice would be if there were definite and foreseeable negative consequences as a result of doing so, but I do not accept that is the case. The Nice treaty does not contain any elements which will hinder or damage future Irish prospects. It is fundamentally a technical treaty to put a structural framework around the enlargement process. That the other 14 member states do not appear to have a problem with it is evidence it is little more than a technical treaty, although some of those states would be sceptical of further European integration into the future.

I want to turn now to the more self-centred arguments for voting "Yes" to Nice this time around. Ireland will miss out dramatically on various opportunities if we vote "No". While there are also some dangers in voting "Yes" to enlargement, the opportunities far outweigh the dangers.

I have already referred to the area of politics where opportunities lie should Europe enlarge, although the case has been made that we may lose influence in the European institutions, but as a leader of a bloc of small nations in an enlarged Europe we would increase our influence, perhaps significantly, when it comes to voting through legislation and other changes in a European context.

I want to deal now with two sectors in particular which rely heavily on the decision making process in Europe. I understand many farmers plan to vote "No" in the referendum, which is a great shame because a "Yes" vote would offer more opportunities for farming. Unfortunately, farming is going through a difficult period. We have had a particularly difficult harvest, prices are down, the weather has been poor and yields are also down. Dairy, arable and vegetable farmers are feeling the pinch. Farmers are angry and they blame Europe for forcing restrictions and introducing quotas, work standards in health and safety, chemical restrictions and so on.

Farmers who have concerns about Europe should note that we are members of the European Union and farmers have benefited significantly from that membership over a considerable period of time. The support systems and structures in place to keep rural Ireland intact are a safeguard for farmers in the future. Another safeguard is the fact that Ireland punches above its weight when agricultural policy is being debated and devised in Europe, at least we have done so in the past. If we vote "No" to Nice on this occasion we will not have the same influence or power to build alliances with other countries when the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Walsh, goes to Europe seeking an aid package or a concession for Irish farmers in the event of another bad harvest because we will be seen as a self-centred country which has not opened up to the overall enlargement process. We will find it much more difficult to forge the kind of friendships on which we have heavily relied in the past to get Irish farmers a good deal in Europe.

To a certain extent we can make the same arguments in regard to those fishermen who plan to vote "No" to Nice, although fishermen can feel more aggrieved about the deal we got from Europe since we joined the EU. The only negative aspects for Ireland of EU membership is the fact that we have given over the availability of huge fish stocks to other EU nations. Irish fishermen catch less than 10% of fish in Irish waters as a result of our EU membership but we need to be realistic. The futures of Irish fishermen rely heavily on the debate that will revolve around the Common Fisheries Policy in the next six months. If we have not forged alliances in Europe and built consensus among other EU countries in terms of getting a good deal for Irish fishermen, our fishing industry will be under serious threat. It will be much more difficult for the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Ahern, to get a good deal for Irish fishermen in the Common Fisheries Policy negotiations if we vote "No" to Nice, just as it will be difficult for the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Walsh, to get a good deal for Irish farmers this year when the CAP is under review. In voting "No" to Nice we will isolate ourselves from potential allies in a European context.

On the question of general economics, Ireland exports more goodsper capita than any other country in Europe. We export 50% to 60% of all goods produced here, and in an agricultural context the figure is 70% or 80%. If we vote “Yes” to Nice and allow enlargement, as an exporting nation we will have 100 million extra consumers to target. Enlargement offers exciting opportunities for our businesses, entrepreneurs, farmers and technical experts. That is the reason groups, like the Cork Chamber of Commerce, are taking out full page advertisements in newspapers asking people to vote “Yes” to Nice. It is not because they support the Government or Fine Gael but because it is good for business and for families with children in school or college who will want to obtain employment in four or five years' time.

The Irish knowledge based industries have gone through a difficult period in the past 18 months, particularly in the IT sector, but there is considerable evidence to show that sector may be on the upturn again, albeit at a much slower pace. The knowledge based economy that has developed successfully here will benefit from the opportunities presented by a new and exciting consumer base in central Europe should it become part of our open market.

In terms of our overall competitiveness, we are the most open economy in Europe and we are heavily reliant on foreign investment, particularly from the United States. Many US companies see Ireland as a gateway to European markets but if we are seen as a country that is anti-enlargement and against the overall EU concept, we will be less attractive to foreign investment companies.

I was going to go through the "No" campaign arguments, but these have been covered well by previous speakers advocating a "Yes" vote. They include the issue of neutrality that has been dealt with and also the supposed influx of refugees, which I think is nonsense.

However, there is one item in particular I wish to mention and that is the issue of a two-tier Europe. This term is being used repeatedly by people who advocate a "No" vote. A two-tier Europe – in the wider context and not just in the EU – exists at the moment because there is a bloc of countries looking over the fence at a stable, prosperous, peaceful Europe of which they wish to be part, but are being kept out. It is up to the Irish people as to whether they are kept out for a longer period than necessary. If we vote "No" to Nice this time, at a minimum we will delay enlargement and keep out these countries which are desperate to be involved and which have made significant sacrifices to meet the strict criteria we have set out. We will be delaying their opportunity for peace, prosperity, stability and the benefits that a common market brings.

There is a great responsibility on the Government and the Taoiseach personally to make this campaign an open one that explains the consequences to people. I appeal to the Taoiseach not to tell people how to vote but to explain to them why they should be voting "Yes". We will be supporting him with every resource Fine Gael has to achieve that outcome.

I speak in Dáil Éireann today not just as Taoiseach, or as a party leader, but as an Irish citizen. In the course of our national life, there are historic moments when we must move beyond politics. This referendum on the European Union is one such moment.

We have reached a great crossroads – a turning point of enormous consequence for our people. Within weeks, the sovereign people of this Republic will cast a vote that will set our course far into the future. The result is awaited across Europe, within and without the Union. It will set new possibilities or new limits for Ireland and will form our national horizon. The choice we make, more than any other single action we take as a people in the next few years, will decide our standing in the world and decide whether Ireland succeeds and moves ahead in the right direction. I come to Dáil Éireann today to say, with all the conviction that I can muster, that Ireland must vote "Yes" if we are to advance as a society, as an economy and as a free people.

The arguments put forward by the opponents of the Nice treaty have a familiar ring. Whenever the issue of Europe arises, whether at the time we entered the European Union itself or when we adopted the common currency, euro sceptics have repeated the same old refrain. If we had not joined the European Union – and they asked for a "No" vote when we joined as well – where would Ireland be today?

The EU has been a powerful engine of economic and social progress in Ireland. Without aid from Europe, our phenomenal progress would have been unimaginable. An Ireland outside the new Europe would still be the same old Ireland of unemployment and emigration, with more and more of our people leaving an Ireland left behind. Instead, more and more of our people are staying and returning to an Ireland renewed and strengthened with the infrastructure and investment which have come about because we went into the European Union.

Our membership of the European Union has brought not only economic progress but profound social progress as well. Equal pay and equal opportunity in Ireland owe much to our membership of the European Union. Better conditions of employment, better health and safety regulation, maximum working hours and protection of young workers, equal treatment for men and women in social security payments, maternity leave, parental leave and child care have all been achieved in collaboration with our European partners. If we had not joined Europe, much of what we take for granted today would still be a distant hope or an unattainable dream.

Now, those who have consistently campaigned against the European project are campaigning negatively again. But the euro sceptics cannot escape history. The European Union has been good for Ireland, and our place in it has played a vital part in lifting our standards of living and our quality of life. Since joining the EU, we have been able to attract unprecedented foreign investment. We have been able to create jobs and build prosperity in large part because we have served as a gateway to Europe for the English-speaking world.

This can be demonstrated in real terms. The Structural and Cohesion Funds have been a driving force in our development through investments in roads, environmental services, public transport, education, training and the promotion of new industry. Between 1973 and 2001, Ireland received €15.5 billion from these funds, with over €800 million received last year alone. That is an undisputed fact and the irrefutable reality of our membership in Europe.

In agriculture, Ireland has received over €29 billion in market supports and direct payments – promoting our farming, keeping people on the land and sustaining our rural communities. CAP transfers from 1973 to 2001 amounted to almost €32 billion and from now through 2006, we will receive billions more. Total transfers from Europe between 1973 and 2001 amount to €45.6 billion.

Socially and politically, our horizons have broadened. In particular, the relationship between Ireland and Britain has developed through our common membership of the European Union. This has been essential in our quest for peace on our island. Those who said in the past that being in Europe would only hurt Ireland, were wrong then. Those who criticise this treaty now, are wrong again.

I am here today to explain in detail why I feel so strongly that we should vote "Yes" in the European Union referendum. I understand the concerns that people had when they voted last year against the Nice treaty. I know many people did not vote, some of whom said they refrained from voting because they were not sure which side was right. Confusion reigned and I think the responsibility for much of that lies with all of us charged with leadership, both politicians and social partners, who have a duty to make the issues as clear as possible so the people of Ireland can make the most informed choice. The responsibility also lies with others who practise the politics of confusion as a political tactic.

For our part, we have listened to the Irish people. We have addressed issues of concern such as neutrality and effective parliamentary oversight of the EU. So when people ask why we should vote on this treaty again, I tell them there are many compelling reasons to do so. This is a decision of the utmost importance for Ireland, with serious implications for our long-term prosperity and place in the world. The Government has acted to change the context in which the decision will be taken. The Seville Declarations confirmed that Nice poses no threat to our policy of military neutrality. The proposed amendment to the Constitution copper fastens this by making it clear that Ireland will never be committed to a common defence unless the Irish people agree otherwise in a referendum.

There has been, for the first time ever, a structured national debate on Europe in the national forum and the Government has put in place rigorous new arrangements to assist the Oireachtas in the more effective scrutiny of EU business. Our partners in Europe, present and future, have asked us to reconsider this question within the changed context. For the applicant countries in particular, the outcome has profound implications.

Simply put, we are asking the Irish people to vote on this critical decision again because it is the right thing to do, for others as well as ourselves; because meaningful progress has been made in addressing the concerns that people had when they first voted, and because this decision is at the vital centre of our aspirations for Ireland's future.

The issues of neutrality and effective Oireachtas oversight of EU business, which the Government has addressed, are a substantive response to the concerns expressed by voters in the first Nice referendum. The commitment we have made to a referendum before Ireland can be involved in any European common defence, is to be written into the Constitution of our country. Constitutional protection is the ultimate in government of the people and government by the people.

We have listened and we have learned. We have worked hard to answer the questions and address the concerns of the people. Important issues have been addressed and the context has now changed.

I need to sound a note of caution. This is a treaty of the utmost importance to the states and peoples of Europe. They are closely following our national debate. They rightly expect the Irish people to make their decision on the basis of the Treaty of Nice. We, the Irish people, owe it to ourselves to make the decision on the basis of the Treaty of Nice. Already issues such as the free movement of workers and the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy have been thrown into the debate. These issues are important, but have nothing to do with Treaty of Nice. They are part of the normal day-to-day business of the European Union.

Ireland has manoeuvred skilfully to protect and advance its national interests in Europe. We have not achieved our aims by threats or tantrums. We have achieved our aims by building alliances and constructing compromises. To attempt to use the Nice treaty as a bargaining chip in the day-to-day business of the Union would be both short-sighted and wrong.

Finally, to use the referendum on the Nice treaty to make a party political point would be a case of cutting off one's nose to spite one's face. Weakening Ireland's position in Europe by voting "No" will make it more difficult for any Government to deliver economic and social progress. Therefore, the debate that begins here should focus on the real consequences of our choice. My message today is to vote "Yes" for jobs, for growth and for Ireland's future.

Every time Ireland has voted for a new European Union treaty, we have gained increased jobs, increased trade, and increased investment and we have benefited more than any other member state of the European Union. We will benefit again if Ireland votes "Yes." The treaty is a good deal for Ireland. It protects both our rights and our standing within the European Union.

Some of the sceptics suggest that if this treaty is ratified we will lose power and influence, that we will lose our right to appoint a member of the European Commission. This argument is a red herring. Passage of this treaty establishes for the first time equality among member states with regard to membership of the Commission. At present, the five larger countries – Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Britain – have a right to nominate two members of the European Commission and smaller states such as Ireland have the right to nominate one member. Under the treaty, Ireland, like all other members, will have one commissioner after 2005. That will be the case until membership reaches 27 nations. From that point forward, the right to nominate a commissioner will be rotated among the member states on the basis of strict equality. This system ensures that Ireland will be represented no differently from the largest states and will have the same right to representation as Germany, France or any other member.

If there is no doubt about the benefit Ireland has received from our membership of the European Union, is it right for us to deny that chance to others? Is it right for us to deny the chance for other European nations to participate in this Union and to advance themselves through that participation? Is it right for us to deny people who desperately want and need the chance to join the rest of Europe, to raise their standard of living and secure their social progress? It is not right to deny the opportunity for a better life to so many of our fellow Europeans. Ireland should not be the barrier to the march of other nations. Their progress is our opportunity.

There are some who even raise the spectre that the passage of this referendum will lead to a wave of immigration to our shores. Of all the objections I have heard about this treaty, this is the worst and the most unworthy. It is the worst because it is simply not true. It is a shameful and distasteful piece of propaganda. Fears of mass movements of people at the time of previous enlargements, for example, when Spain and Portugal joined the Union, simply did not materialise. What disturbs me most, when I hear the charge that immigrants will flood our shores, is what it says about how the treaty's opponents see us as a people. Surely we do not want to build a wall around this island and tell all others they are not welcome? This is the nation of the great Irish diaspora. The emigrants who left here and their descendants have gone on to be leaders and nation builders around the world. Based on the facts, there is no credible reason to believe enlargement will be accompanied by large movements of people.

The best way to ensure, now and in the future, that Ireland will not be a magnet for immigration is to make other European countries stronger, not weaker, economically. The best path is to raise their standards along with ours and allow them to move along with us into a new era of growth and opportunity. That is what Europe did for Ireland. That is what Europe will do for them.

There is no evidence that Ireland will have a problem with free movement of workers on accession. In any event, Ireland, like every other member state, retains the freedom to take measures to protect the labour market. The agreement reached in June last year between the existing member states, including Ireland, and the applicant countries provides that member states will continue to apply their own national policies on free movement of workers to the citizens of the new member states for a period of two years. In Ireland, our policy will, of course, be determined by conditions in the domestic labour market. After the first two years of enlargement, Ireland, like the other member states, will have the option of continuing to apply its existing national measures for a further three years. National measures may be applied for a further two years with Council of Ministers' approval, if the necessity arises.

An expanded European Union single market will provide significant increases in trade, investment and job opportunities for Ireland. Irish exports to the ten largest of the enlargement countries have grown from €160 million in 1994 to €1,190 million in 2000, a sevenfold increase. Such exports will continue to grow strongly in the future, as these countries become more prosperous and more integrated into the European Union. A "No" vote would put this developing trade in jeopardy and adversely affect Irish jobs.

Ireland also needs a "Yes" vote to increase foreign direct investment in our domestic economy. Foreign firms provide almost 140,000 jobs directly in Ireland, and indirectly support many thousands more. That is why we truly can promote ourselves as the gateway to Europe for the United States. Unhindered access to the European market is a huge attraction for foreign direct investment, since 70% of our exports are to the European Union. If we were to vote "No", then foreign based companies would perceive that we are in full retreat from our stake in Europe, from our full commitment to the single European Union market, and from the expansion of that market by enlargement – an expansion of 100 million new customers creating a European market of almost 500 million customers. This negative signal to foreign investors would be exposed and exploited by our competitors, and this would cost us new business, new jobs and new growth. To be honest, every one of us knows that.

We have learned the hard lessons of protectionism in the past. We correctly decided to leave behind the unsuccessful protectionist era and to embrace the open global market. At the heart of that commitment is our membership of the European Union. Not only have we realised an extensive trading benefit from this participation, it has also facilitated a stable macro-economic regime with historically low interest rates, all of which has underpinned Ireland's economic development. If we were to draw back from full engagement with an expanding European Union single market, it would go against the whole thrust of European economic policy, an economic policy that all Governments have practised and perfected in recent decades, an economic policy which has been so successful in providing virtually full employment and finally ending involuntary emigration from our shores. That would be a devastating reversal for Ireland.

What would hurt us in the European budget process is not voting "Yes", but voting "No". If Ireland became the barrier to progress, our partners would be far less likely to respond to our priorities – a point well made by Deputy Coveney earlier. We will shortly be entering the next budget round and the up-coming mid-term review of the Common Agricultural Policy. Our goal there should be to protect our farm families and secure the gains made in Agenda 2000 in Berlin in the spring of 2000. These will be difficult negotiations. We need to engage in them from a position of strength and centrality, not as obstructionists.

We should give credit where credit is due. The EU deserves credit for its support of the peace process on this island. That support has been both political and financial, assisting economic development, North and South, and especially in the Border regions. Since 1995, the EU has provided some €1.3 billion in Structural Funds in support of the peace process. This funding has particularly focused on investment in Northern Ireland and the adjoining regions of the Republic. It has focused on the areas and individuals most affected and afflicted by the years of violence. It is another real world example of why the EU has been good for Ireland.

In the final analysis, reflecting on the peace process may be the best context in which to decide how to vote. We on this island understand the meaning of political division and separation. A country or a continent split asunder stands at odds with the spirit of republicanism, which we, at heart, all share. The principles that compel us towards the realisation of the goal of one Irish nation, achieved by mutual consent and understanding, are the same principles that inspire a greater European Union – that greater unity can lead to greater strength; that we are bound together by a common history and shared destiny; and that we all want to create a place where we can live in freedom and tolerance, and where our children can build an even better life in an even better Ireland, which is fully and truly part of a better Europe.

Ireland should show, not block, the way at this historic crossroads. For Ireland and all of Europe, let us be the ones who take the right direction. Let us choose progress by voting "Yes" for jobs, for growth and for Ireland's future.

At the start of the summer I offered the Taoiseach some advice: that the next Nice campaign should be one in which facts and not fear were sovereign. I explained that he should engage the people, not harass and belittle them; inform them, not insult them; persuade them and not berate them. I am pleased that he has taken some of that advice. Clearly, when it comes to Nice, it is all change for the Government. It will therefore see to it, as a matter of urgency, that the newly formed Committee on European Affairs, chaired by Deputy Gay Mitchell, will be adequately resourced. Without such resources it can achieve nothing. If confusion about Europe is one of the threats to the "Yes" vote, and the job of the committee is to dispel such confusion, it behoves the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs to provide the necessary resources immediately. I will support the Government in any decision to provide the committee with adequate resources to do its job properly.

Fine Gael is and has always been a great believer in Europe: what it could do for us and what we in turn could do to advance the European agenda. When others were prophesying doom, gazing steadily inward, Fine Gael looked outward to the Continent – to the French, the Germans and the Belgians. From our tiny island we embraced the people who would, through the years, become our valuable customers, our trading partners, our social, political and economic allies – our community.

Europe has been good to Ireland. Centuries ago France and Spain embraced our exiled aristocracy: the Wild Geese became the Wine Geese. At a time when the prevailing political circumstances prevented scholarship at home, places such as Louvain and Salamanca became important centres of Irish learning. As a Mayo man, I have lived my life with the stories of Generals Hoche and Humbert, whose attempts to prop up rebellion coined the phrase "by hook or by crook" and gave us the Year of the French. Paris and Trieste adopted James Joyce and Sam Beckett, nurturing their creativity when neither man felt sufficiently at home here among their own. Now Florence, Madrid, Brussels and Berlin are once again welcoming our young scholars. SOCRATES has succeeded ERASMUS in giving thousands of Irish students the chance to undertake some of their studies abroad.

All in all, Europe has been good for us, economically, socially and politically. In purely financial terms, the EU has given us over €40 billion in assistance. We in turn have contributed just over €11 billion. In the 1980s and 1990s when we desperately needed the kind of infrastructure that would eventually make us a first-world economy it was largely European money that helped us start to build it. Crucially, membership of the EU gave us economic independence from Britain. Our near neighbour lost its ability to dictate our level and range of exports. Suddenly we had valuable new markets for our products. We had, potentially, over 370 million new customers for our goods and when enlargement is complete we will have 106 million more.

I want to state quite clearly that it is Ireland's membership of the EU, more than any other single factor, that has made us the economic success we are today. Moreover, I want to debunk the prevailing myth that Ireland, all by itself, created the so-called tiger economy. Not a bit of it. To say we did is to delude ourselves utterly. Make no mistake: it is our membership of the EU that has underpinned at every level our marvellous economic transformation. I hear many people saying, "Look at us, we are doing great. We do not need Europe at all now." They are wrong. In fact, were that view widely held it would be fatally damaging not alone to our already confused economy but to Ireland's continued influence on global affairs.

There is no doubt that inward investment, particularly from the USA, has helped to transform our economy. Our status as a fully committed member of the EU, and the attendant perception that we have an influential voice in European affairs, has underpinned our becoming the preferred US portal to Europe. Ireland has only 1% of the EU population, yet it attracts 6% of American investment to Europe, by any standards a good deal. Therefore we have every reason to preserve the integrity of our European relationship. Already, an estimated 100,000 jobs are dependent on US investment. It is important for us to maintain and encourage the growth of that level of US commitment to Ireland, its nearest European neighbour.

However, the benefits of membership of the EU have been more than just economic. Thanks to Europe, we have better consumer protection and legislation guaranteeing the rights of workers; we have had deregulation of the air-travel and telecommunications industries resulting in more competition, lower prices and better opportunity; and those living with disability have benefited from broad-ranging EU generated legislation giving them equal opportunities for working and living, although that is just a start.

So, yes, we are a strong and confident people. Yes, we are proud of our role in European and international affairs. It is by staying with Europe, by committing ourselves again to the European project, that we will continue to play such a role. Ireland is a noble nation. The Irish are mindful of our separate and ancient heritage, and that will always be the case. However, we are also realists. We know how critically our involvement with Europe has boosted our influence socially, politically and economically. For example, it is our strong European credentials that gave us a seat on the UN Security Council. It is those strong European credentials that see Pat Cox as President of the European Parliament, that made Peter Sutherland director general of the WTO and GATT, that saw the rainbow Government chair the talks paving the way for monetary union. Yes, Europe is good for us, and it can be even better. In truth, we need Europe as much as ever, if not more, and Europe needs us.

Soon our people will make an historic and momentous decision that will affect the lives and the social and economic well-being of millions of people across the Continent. It is we alone who can decide how the great European project, which has brought 50 years of peace, stability and prosperity to the Continent, is to develop. The eyes of the world are upon us. There is no plan B. Will we uphold the priceless principles of liberty, fraternity and equality? Will we support the new democracies and emerging economies of Eastern Europe? Will we welcome our European brothers and sisters, many of whom have weathered acute conflict and frightening transition to form this vital union with their neighbours? In 1995, when I was Minister for Tourism and Trade, I met delegations from these then fledgling democracies. They were working furiously to meet the demanding criteria set for accession to our club, the EU. They were determined to meet the criteria, however tough, and I am delighted they have done it. They have turned their backs on communism, taking enormous personal and political risk to embrace the democratic process of their neighbours, like us, in the West. Above any other country, they took Ireland as their role model. These small, peripheral countries looked to us and thought that if we could do it so could they. Now, is their much admired role model to turn them away?

It is true, of course, that an enlargement of sorts can happen without Nice. Some candidates would be admitted, others who are equally ready would not. Such rejection could have serious political consequences for these fragile democracies. With Nice, we can send a message to Europe and the world that in Ireland we believe no country to be more equal than another. To send that message we must vote "Yes". Enlargement has been an enduring feature of the EU. We have gone from six to nine, to 12, to 15. Now the union needs a new injection of economic opportunities. It will get that through enlargement. Over the next few weeks, the eyes of the world will be on us. Parents in Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Poland and Malta, to mention but a few, know that the future of their children is in our hands. Europe needs us if it is to grow, if it is to continue to prosper, if it is to guarantee a strong voice for small nations like ours in international affairs.

As I said at the start of the summer, the Government has a great deal of work to do to get the "Yes" vote through. At that time I explained to the Government that it had a long way to go to dispel the confusion in people's minds regarding Europe.

Since becoming leader of Fine Gael I have attended meetings in various parts of Ireland and have seen how the poor and often sloppy transposition of EU directives into Irish law has a negative impact on the public's perception of Europe. In all too many cases, the fault was not with Europe but with the Government. It has been all too easy for the Government to blame the EU. It would be a sad day for the country if those euro chicks were to come home to roost.

At the time, the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, took issue with me for, as he put it, "speaking out of both sides of my mouth." This is a misrepresentation. I have always been unequivocal in my support for the Nice treaty. I hope that the Government will work much harder in the next few weeks and explain to the people Jean Monnet's theory that Europe was a process, not a product. On our own heads be it. In the eyes of many, this Government was elected on a platform of gross deception. The people are sore. I would ask them to remember that "Yes" to Nice is not a vote for the Government. It is "Yes" for a strong economy, for equality, for new opportunity and for a secure future. A "Yes" vote is a vote for Ireland and not for the coalition.

Fine Gael is convinced of the critical nature of that vote. Quite simply, Fine Gael believes in Europe. We do not require the Pauline conversions of the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste or the Ministers. We may have taken holidays in Boston but we prefer to do our business with Berlin. Quite simply, Fine Gael has always believed in Europe, from the time of James Dillon onward. When the naysayers were prophesying doom, we embraced the European "thing" with courage and a passion that was, perhaps, out of the ordinary for old Fine Gael. Through the European People's Party we put our faith in Schumann, Adenauer and de Gasperi – the fathers of Europe. We said it would be good and it was good. Today, we still believe. For us, "Yes" is not a door into the dark; "Yes" is for light, for life and for all our futures.

The Nice treaty is not perfect but it is all we have to give us the kind of Europe that will be good for Ireland and the world. It is true that in a new, enlarged Europe the voting power of every country will be slightly reduced. However, we will continue to have a bigger vote per head of population than our larger neighbours. It must be remembered that if influence was measured in voting strength alone, the EU would never have been the success it is today. Crucially, voting power and influence are not the same. The truth is that Ireland has always enjoyed influence in the EU disproportionate to its size. Many of our MEPs belong to strong groupings in the European Parliament. We can form powerful alliances in the Council with like-minded countries on issues of mutual concern. In that context, Nice is an excellent chance for us to think again about the kind of Europe and, by extension, the kind of world we want for our children.

The Irish are notoriously generous. We give unceasingly but we also like to do. How many of us looked at our television screens wondering what we could do for the people of East Timor, Afghanistan, Srebrenica, Kosovo and Mostar? We must remember the Kurds, Sabra and Chatila, the current and escalating Intifada, the suicide bombings in Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv and the case of Amina Lawal Kurami who is awaiting death by stoning under Sharia law even though she is still nursing a ten-month old daughter. More immediately, there is the threatened military strike against Iraq.

I firmly believe that Ireland must remain at the centre of European decision making. As a country with a proud record in international peacekeeping and humanitarian support, we should be there helping shape Europe's response. A "Yes" vote means we can do as well as give. A "Yes" vote will ensure that we are part of an independent European voice in world affairs. Yes, we will keep our neutrality; but we can still effect change.

By 2025, China and India will have emerged as great powers. All over Europe, states must begin to decide whether they want to be mere clients of the superpowers or whether they will see to it that there will be a powerful and independent European voice in global affairs. With that power comes responsibility. There is no escaping the fact that we live in an utterly interdependent world. What happens in New York, Kabul or Baghdad now affects all our lives and in a matter of mere hours. Therefore, a powerful independent European voice is necessary and desirable. We need to vote "Yes" to be part of that voice. If we become semi-detached from Europe, I guarantee this House that Ireland will not just be silent, but silenced and irrelevant regarding what is happening in, and to, our world. If we are not fully in Europe, how can we shape its future and, in turn, the future of the world?

I note that the Green Party is saying "No" to Nice. I find that stance quite extraordinary. It is, after all, the Green agenda that has gained most by our being part of Europe with a raft of environmental initiatives on water, air, waste and noise. Their worries about democracy are odd. Democracy is exactly what enlargement is about – securing peace both in, and for, the emerging economies of Eastern Europe and putting distance between them and the legacy of Cold War politics. I believe that the cultural diversity brought to the Union by the advent of so many small states will further strengthen and enhance that democracy. It is a chance to achieve what Seamus Heaney once called a kind of reformation. Just as in the original Reformation, it is the taking out of the big mind of Europe and replacing it with the individual mind of Ireland, or the mind of Slovenia or Malta. I believe that the reformation – the de-colonising of the mind of Europe – is central to the underpinning of democracy in the new Union.

Today I wish to make a special appeal to that repository of wisdom in this country, our women. We need women to vote "Yes". It is Europe above all else that has driven the equality agenda. Initiatives such as the charter for equal pay and new opportunities for women have brought Irish women to the fore. However, in critical areas such as child care, maternity leave, paternity leave and family-centred work arrangements, we are trailing miserably behind our European partners. As a family man I know how impossible it can be to juggle work and home. We can, and must, do better. Clearly there are many men and women who would like to leave the paid workforce to look after their children full time. Many of those who wish to stay at work believe their career prospects to be damaged by parenthood, given the lack of appropriate supports. If we are to have a truly caring modern society, all of these must be accommodated. Only by being a full partner in Europe, where we have much to learn from our neighbours, can we pursue this urgent equality agenda.

The equality agenda extends to the workings of the EU itself. With Nice we will, for the first time, have true equality between the larger and smaller states, as we will have a single commissioner per member. If the number of states ever reaches 27 and there is a reduction in the number of commissioners, the implementation of such a reduction could only be achieved by unanimous agreement. Over the next few weeks Fine Gael will be taking the current urgent European agenda to the country at 17 meetings and we invite people to come and hear our point of view.

I am delighted that most leaders of the agricultural community are calling for a "Yes" vote. The future of Irish farming is within Europe at decision making level. Confusion exists about the Common Agricultural Policy and I would like to hear Commissioner Fischler explain to the people of rural Ireland what his proposals entail so as to end that confusion.

For millions of people in eastern Europe the Nice treaty is the final and best escape hatch from the secluded politics of the Cold War and the residual cultural and economic isolation of the Iron Curtain. Just as we once looked east, they now look west to the furthest, remotest corner of the Continent. They look to us alone to let them become members of the European family and to let them into the heartland of human freedom, dignity and democracy. Who are we to keep them out?

In many ways this country did not share the history of Europe; we did not have to. Consequently, we did not marvel as our neighbours did at the strength of the EU, coming so soon after the possibility of there being no Europe at all. It is ironic that we, of all Europeans, are to be given the ultimate say in deciding the future of the Continent.

A new and enlarged Europe might be economically and politically inevitable, but it is surely morally compulsory. I ask the people of Ireland to do the right and decent thing and to vote "Yes". To do otherwise would see the second Nice treaty referendum become anaide memoire for a possible initial destabilisation of this Continent, a continent which could have become a powerful, independent and compassionate Europe.

Le cead an Tí, déanfaidh mé mo chuid ama a roinnt le mo chomrádaí, an Teachta Ó Conchubhair.

Is cúis áthais dom an deis seo a bheith agam páirt a ghlacadh ins an díospóireacht thábhachtach seo ar reifreann Nice. Iarraim ar mhuintir na hÉireann teacht amach agus cuidiú le leathnú na hEorpa sa reifreann tábhachtach seo. Is soiléir dom go bhfuil tromlach Bhaill an Tí ag iarraidh an aidhm sin a bhaint amach.

I propose to share my time with my colleague, Deputy O'Connor.

We have enjoyed the benefit of enormous economic and social progress from our membership of the European Union in the past 30 years. Our economic growth during those years is directly linked to our membership of the European Union since January 1973. Our full and equal partnership in the enlarged European Union of the future will enable us to continue to contribute to the formulation of European Union policy and to build on the level of prosperity we have achieved to date. We have reached about 50% of our capacity to grow the economy of this country. To achieve the final 50% of total opportunity for our people, it is critical that we approve the Nice treaty when the opportunity is presented to us.

Membership of the European Union has been particularly beneficial for the Irish agriculture and food industries and for our rural communities. We have received approximately €30 billion in price supports, including direct payments from the guarantee section of the European agricultural fund in the period to 2001. Our farmers have benefited from the European Union system of market and price supports and from our unlimited access to the higher prices available to the European Union market. Our exports to third countries have been facilitated by the EU system of export refunds. It is easy for some to forget our dependence on the single British market prior to our membership of the European Union, especially those who do not remember the difficulties we experienced in the decades prior to 1973 when Ireland was on its knees.

We have also benefited from transfers of almost €3 billion from the guidance, or structural, section of the European agricultural fund. Together with matching national funds and the contributions of the beneficiaries themselves, these Structural Funds have resulted in massive on-farm investment which has increased productivity and facilitated anti-pollution and hygiene measures throughout rural Ireland.

That the economy is heavily reliant on our indigenous food industry is without doubt and that our food industry is dependent on markets abroad is even more startlingly evident. We are self-sufficient in all of the major commodities. For example, we are more than 1,000% self-sufficient in beef and butter. We cannot, and will not, survive unless we can market our produce abroad, particularly into an enlarged Europe.

European Union funding has enabled our food industry to keep up with ever changing consumer trends and demands, in both domestic and export markets, through investment in research and development, training, marketing and promotion as well as in plant and equipment. The levels of investment which have taken place in this country in primary agriculture and food processing would not have been possible without the assistance of monetary transfers from the EU.

Our agri-food industry has been completely transformed since our accession to the EEC in 1973. We now have a sophisticated modern food industry, with some of the major Irish companies having a world wide presence. This is a far cry from our pre-EU days when we were reliant on basic commodity exports to one market, the United Kingdom.

Some stark facts about the importance of our agri-food industry should not be overlooked or diminished: 85% of our farm output is exported in one form or another; the agri-food sector contributes more than 10% of our gross domestic product; output from the food industry is over €13 billion per annum, or almost 25% of all industrial output; the total agri-food sector accounts for 10.5% of total employment in this country; over 40,000 people are directly employed in the food industry itself; over 200,000 people are directly employed within the food industry at wholesale and retail levels; indirect employment is provided for over 280,000 people; the industry comprises over 700 companies; our food and drinks exports in 2001 were valued at €6.6 billion; and food exports account for 27% of net foreign earnings.

These facts speak for themselves. We are dependent on exports, and especially on Europe, for our markets. After enlargement it is estimated that the European Union population will increase by another 105 million and the land area by 34%, a staggering new market for a small open island economy such as Ireland.

Enlargement will not pose a threat to the Common Agricultural Policy or to the existing funding arrangements. On the other hand, it will provide us with many new opportunities. The accession of the 12 central and east European and Mediterranean countries will add over 100 million to the population of the European Union. The creation of a single market of approximately 500 million consumers without tariff or other trade barriers will create a new impetus for growth in the market, with increased possibilities for all member states, both old and new.

Thanks to EU investment over the last 30 years, we have a food industry which is second to none and is well positioned to exploit future opportunities as they arise. Our agri-food exports increased annually by 9% in the years from 1975 when the UK was our only major market. Now our markets are spread throughout Europe and across the entire world and the outlook for the food industry is very positive.

Nearly all the accession states will be dependent on food imports and a major new opportunity for Ireland's agriculture and food industry will exist when we ratify the Nice treaty. The House is aware that we promote Ireland under the banner of Ireland, the Food Island. Last Saturday, Bord Bia had a major international promotion which was seen across the globe by 1.2 billion people. We could not even contemplate such an approach unless we had potential guaranteed markets across Europe. Ireland is seen by Europe as the food island and we stake our reputation on producing high quality food, to the highest standards of hygiene, and we will continue to do this at every opportunity in the new Europe with, I have no doubt, the same resounding success that has enabled our food industry to thrive and grow in the past three decades.

Society at large has benefited in the form of a better environment, higher levels of food safety, additional employment in food processing and a positive contribution to our balance of payments. In addition, value-added processed products now account for a much higher proportion of our exports. The agri-environmental, early retirement and forestry measures, which were introduced as part of the CAP reform process in 1992, are continuing to make a substantial contribution to the environment and to the socio-economic development of rural communities.

The progress we have made has been possible because the conditions for our progress have been guaranteed by the existence and effective working of the positive decision-making institutions of the European Union. The institutional arrangements allow smaller member states to participate fully and to influence policy formulation. The Nice treaty aims to put in place equally effective arrangements for the enlarged Union and I have no doubt that, under the proposed arrangements, Ireland will continue to play and influential role in EU affairs and to ensure further economic and social progress for our people.

I thank the Minister of State for kindly facilitating me and congratulate him on his address. I am happy to acknowledge the presence in the House of my constituency colleague, Deputy Crowe, and my county colleague, Deputy Gogarty. I assume they are here to support me, and I appreciate their presence.

All of us will have listened with great interest to what the Taoiseach said today. He set the tone for us all when he pointed out that we are here not only as Members of the Dáil but as Irish citizens. I am very aware of the privilege we all have in participating in what I consider to be a very historic debate and I am happy to be able to do so.

There are occasions when the development of a country's confidence, pride, place and position in the world is the subject of much discussion. As we in Dáil Éireann debate the Nice treaty referendum, we are clearly marking such an occasion. In the past 30 years, we in Ireland have become important members of the European Union, and we have clearly participated in its growth and development. The prosperity we as a nation now enjoy can be attributed both to the dedication of our people and the opportunities which EU participation has offered. As with all change, there will be a section of our community that will vote "No", and in this country, that right is both respected and facilitated. In relation to the Nice treaty, this "No" sentiment was frequently presented in the form of considerable misunderstanding and blatant misinformation.

At the European Council meeting in Seville in June, the Taoiseach, Deputy Ahern, clearly won support from his European colleagues to ensure that the most blatant piece of misinformation promoted by the "No" campaigners at the last referendum was clarified. I speak of the declaration agreed by the Council that Ireland will not adopt any decision taken by the European Council to move to a common defence arrangement or ratify any future treaty which would involve a departure from our traditional policy of military neutrality unless it has been first approved by the Irish people in a referendum. The success of the Taoiseach in having the European Council adopt this declaration finally puts an end to the myth that the Nice treaty undermines our valued tradition of neutrality.

Before being elected to Dáil Éireann by the people of Dublin South-West, and aware of the ongoing build-up of this referendum debate, I was always conscious of how little the public seemed to know about the detail and the issues contained in that treaty. To this end, the meeting of the National Forum on Europe in Tallaght – which was well attended and constructive – was a recognition of the size of my constituency and its growing contribution to our economic and social development. I would have hoped Tallaght could be included on the new schedule of meetings and have appealed for such a decision, a move I hope local colleagues will support.

I welcome the launch of the information guide on the Nice treaty and the Seville declarations, which will be distributed to all households. I support my party leader's call that everyone take the time to read the guide and use it to answer the questions raised in this referendum debate.

The Nice treaty is about EU enlargement. It is important to our partners in Europe and is important to the accession states. I support the view of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowan, who has stated that ratification of the treaty is a matter of vital national interest to Ireland. It is clear that enlargement cannot proceed fairly unless the treaty is ratified. We should recall the impassioned plea by the prime minister of the Czech Republic to Ireland not to stand in the way of the accession of the new children to the Union. This clearly demonstrates the concern within these new democracies, which have made great efforts both politically and economically to meet accession requirements.

As I go about my constituency business in Firhouse, Templeogue, Greenhills and Tallaght, where I live, I am reminded of the benefits of EU participation – the Tallaght Hospital, the Institute of Technology, the local enterprise centres in Bolbrook, Brookfield and in Killinarden, the grants to local communty and voluntary groups and, most importantly, the increase in employment which has resulted in a better standard of lifestyle for us all.

As many in the House will be aware, my constituency, and particularly Tallaght, the third largest population area in the country, has suffered high unemployment in the past and, therefore, we can all understand the fears expressed to me by my constituents on the issue of the free movement of workers when enlargement is agreed. I therefore particularly welcome the clarification from the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, when he issued a three point statement in July spelling out that there was no major worker migration in the past when new countries entered, that Ireland, like all EU states, has the right to introduce transition measures, and that this Government, while not expecting any problems, will respond if required, and that it is not true that there is an open-ended or immediate right to Irish social welfare and other benefits.

As a nation, we have continued to grow and mature in an ever-changing world. Ireland's record of contribution to the development of the EU in the past 30 years, as well as our influence in the United Nations and other arenas, is something of which we can all be proud. At this point, let us as a people have the confidence in our abilities and our futures to say "Yes" to the Nice treaty and to demonstrate to both our existing EU partners and, more importantly, to those countries awaiting accession, that Ireland is there to support and encourage their development.

We must clearly show that we are a proud and confident member of the European family. It is important, as we go about our political business, that we remember it is about the future of this nation. It is important, whether we represent Dublin South-West or any other constituency, to emphasise that we all have a responsibility to present the facts in an accurate and responsible way, and I hope the people of Ireland will respond in that regard. I know other Members have made this point during the debate, but it is important, when there is so much talk about scepticism towards politics, that all of us who are democrats, who are Members of this House and who have a responsibility as far as political life is concerned, do what we can to ensure people come out to vote on referendum day. All of us take that view. There will be some difficulties – the Taoiseach made that point earlier – but whatever the view of the people as expressed in their voting preferences, people should be encouraged to come out to vote. Local authorities are currently updating their registers and we should ensure everything is done, regardless of political perspectives on this issue, to encourage people to vote. It would be a shame if people did not take the opportunity to do so in October.

I look forward to the referendum debate, the campaign and to encouraging people to come out to vote. I look forward to voting "Yes" for the future of this country and I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I wish, however, that speeches had concentrated more on the future of Europe than on the legacy of benefits it is suggested we gained from membership of the European Union.

In fairness, those of us who respect the complexity of this issue and those making the case for or against the treaty are trying to put forward ideas that will deal with the process which will define what is rather loosely described here as the European project. It is not good enough to give the impression that we will leave Europe if the referendum is not carried. That is not the case.

Hear, hear.

Equally, the notion that on the last occasion we did not speak clearly enough and the people did not understand is just as patronising and insulting now as it was immediately following the referendum. The issues involved are complex.

The Taoiseach's supporters found his speech so inspirational that they burst into immediate and spontaneous applause. I am afraid that I found it less than inspiring given that it was a repeat of the old speech which suggested that we did not really know what was good for us, we would be seen as an ungrateful shower and he will try his best again. At the end of the Taoiseach's speech, one was left to question whether it is a good thing for him to take part in the campaign.

If we are to address these issues we should be straight about them. I am a critical advocate for a "Yes" vote for a number of reasons. The fastest route possible for the largest number of countries is facilitated by a "Yes" vote. Their entry into the European Union is important not because they constitute a component of what is being described as 500 million consumers, but because they will be powerful allies in the preparation of the next treaty and we will be coming to the end of the treaty formation process. These countries in transition – I have visited many of them – are facing problems which would worsen if their entry was delayed. Some were state-led economies which provided housing, medical services and free education as part of one's employment contract with the state, however corrupt that state may have been and that it may have also rejected fundamental human rights.

These countries are now faced with a choice of going down the road of adapting their economies, such as the road faced by the former Soviet Union between 1990 and 1999 when industrial production fell by 60% and people who had previously enjoyed pension, health and housing security found themselves homeless, without income, in poverty and suffering and sick in the streets. This choice is recognised by people who are hardly raving lefties, such as the chairman of the group of economic advisers of former President Bill Clinton, Joseph Stiglitz, who wrote in his bookGlobalisation and Its Discontents about what he calls “who lost Russia”.

Many of the countries face, as an alternative to entry into the European Union, the possibility of having mirror Mafias like the one which emerged in Russia. That Mafia was facilitated by the structures of the International Monetary Fund. The great failure of the IMF is the transition in Russia. Its second greatest failure is the 1997 response to the east Asian crisis when it provoked the crisis in Thailand and bullied Malaysia and its neighbours into a form of economic management which was destructive of employment, increased poverty and destroyed the lives of millions of people.

I want these applicant countries to be part of a struggle within the European Union for a social model that will stand as a real alternative to the market fundamentalism of people like the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, and others – the Boston rump of the Cabinet, which includes the Minister of State, Deputy de Valera, the Tánaiste, Deputy Harney, and the Minister for Finance, who prides himself on describing himself as the most successful centre right Minister in Europe.

I used the words "market fundamentalism" because of the kind of questions any half literate economist would ask if they took the Taoiseach's speech seriously. He ended his speech with a great flourish, suggesting it was in the spirit of true republicanism – almost as though he was speaking at the Wolfe Tone annual commemoration – and that we must all vote "Yes". I suggest to him that even at the centre of even the smallest versions of republicanism were concepts of equality. The question can be reasonably put to him, given his five glorious years in office – the platform on which he ran his election – as to who benefited. These questions are rarely asked but they are very important and they are being put by people in the street in relation to Europe.

An important point in this regard is what is happening in terms of real wages and what is happening in other economies. Market fundamentalists will argue against regulation. The years 1947 to 1977, following the Second World War, have been described in literature as 30 glorious years. They are described as such because it was the time of Keynesianism when capitalism was saved from itself by welfare states and public health systems with adaptations built on a type of Keynesian model. From 1977 to 1997 many inequalities in terms of poverty, housing and health opened up right across the economies. I can translate this into something small. What is happening among the public in relation to Europe? People are not stupid and they know it was Europe that pushed an equality agenda and an environmentally responsive agenda. However, they are appalled at how little is explained in this House and how much is taken for granted. They do not appreciate hearing about how great we are and that we are letting in natives of other countries who, in turn, will be as great as us.

There is something appallingly dull about that kind of speech. We are asked to say where we stand on these issues. Where does the Government stand on issues such as the choice between market fundamental Europe and social Europe? Why does the Irish Government oppose what other Governments in Europe do not – the right of workers to information? If it is because we would frighten off foreign direct investment from the United States, then let us say so. We should not try to suggest that the public can be conned into thinking big issues are not involved. There are big issues and the Fine Gael Party and others must realise that also.

The nature of changes taking place all over Europe is very interesting. There is a destruction of social security. There is little less than a war going on regarding what is happening in security and the protection of workers' lives and jobs. Long-term unemployment in France, for example, has risen dramatically in recent years. There is the real danger of changes in working life. People sometimes think that I merely imagine these things, but a publication by Professor Michael Dunford, Globalisation and Theories of Regulation, which contrasts the United States' economy with that of Europe, argues that the 1977 massive transition to market fundamentalism was very destructive and created inequality. Deputy Harney should take note of the changes in the United States where the average worker had to work 257 hours more in 1993 than in 1973 just to stay in the same place.

Regarding wage inequalities, Dunford states:

In each case the main victims are those who lack skills. In the United States, the real wages of the unskilled fell by 30% in the period between 1973 and 1993. Indeed, in that period just 20% of the population gained from an increase in nearly one third in the wealth produced. In France, to take just one European example, unskilled employment has risen from three to 20%.

Therefore, the kind of Europe which is being created is important. I am not interested in those who use great phrases about the European project or obstructionists and facilitators. People have the right to ask of those who campaign for a "Yes" vote where they stand on the future relationship between economics and society. I favour countries joining as fast as possible so that they can be invited to participate in the argument for a socially secure Europe. It was despicable that the Taoiseach referred in his speech to arguments on both sides and that he said that the immigrants will not be coming. Is it a fair construction of his speech that he favours removing every obstacle to capital movements but wants special obstacles to labour movement? If so, let him work it out. Where, for example, have liberalised capital movements produced a single digit of economic growth? No economic literature supports that contention.

In this debate we are discussing the kind of Europe we live in and so it was interesting to listen to the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, speak of 500 million consumers to whom Ireland's food products could be sold. He should have listened to Deputy Ahern, the citizen Taoiseach, talking about republicanism. It took only about a quarter of an hour to go from discussing citizens to consumers, which is the kind of talk that switches people off.

I worry about this referendum and hope that people make their choices on the basis of what is good for the future of Europe, and that they are not put off by this long litany, like the prayers for the conversion of Russia, about how we were just poor savages in sackcloth until we joined the European Union because it is boring, rhetorical and shallow. It suits a shallow Taoiseach to deliver that kind of speech. The public is entitled to respect for the complexity of the issue. Neither should we insult each other. I respect the position of the Green Party and Sinn Féin which distance themselves from those raising the immigrant issue. They are right to do so and would also be right to suggest that there is no homogenous grouping on the "Yes" side. There are probably more differences between Peter Sutherland and myself over international trade than between any group on the "No" side.

After the last referendum, the Labour Party suggested that we should not tell the people that they were not listening or that we were not using the right tone, but we will still hear that again and again. The Taoiseach ought to have said that the Government did not discuss the issues and that it went through the process of preparing the treaty in conventions and Intergovernmental Conferences without consulting the Dáil. Three things were knocked out of the Government. First, the forum which has been useful in enabling people to offer their views. Second, the explicit change to the Constitution which goes beyond what was gained at Seville and which makes reference to the United Nations and our conditions for military engagement. Third, which will emerge between now and 9 October, is the institutional change to how we discuss what will come up at the Council of Ministers. The Government did not offer these changes after the last referendum but it was pushed on it. It must abandon the nonsensical idea that it was just a PR job that went wrong because it is much more than that.

There are externalities which are important and people must restrain themselves from feeling deeply angered at a Government which did not tell the truth about economic and social matters such as employment, health, housing and education. The people on both sides of the campaign with whom I deal are interested in issues such as world poverty and war and peace, but they are rightly appalled by the fact that the next time we will table parliamentary questions on foreign affairs will be 9 November. By then, hundreds of thousands of people could be dead. Does the Government assume that people are not outraged by that? As we are on the verge of war, should it not offer us a choice between several proposals for discussing its implications. What, for example, has our Minister of Foreign Affairs discussed with Jack Straw, the British Minister, or what is our position on the alternative French proposal before the Security Council regarding the return of inspectors to Iraq? The notion that it is good enough to tell the people afterwards created the confusion about the previous referendum, and the same could happen again.

The Labour Party supports a critical "Yes." I do not like how this treaty was negotiated and believe that unnecessary concessions were made. It could have been handled in stages. The first referendum ought to have had a longer period of explanation of the options and there was insufficient discussion in this House about it. That is in the past and the question now is how one will vote in the next referendum. I will vote "Yes" because I believe that it is the aspiration of people who want to make a significant change in their own countries and that can best be achieved in a version of society, economy and polity that is there for the making. I cannot guarantee it as Europe has gone to the right, in France and Spain, for example. This rightward shift is not just in the economy but in issues of personal freedom and civil liberties. Across Europe, there is a growth in right-wing thinking and it is suggested that we should believe in the politics of fear which distorts the debate about defence.

It is necessary to have a positive debate about the kind of Europe we are trying to create, whether we want all of the countries to join in the short-term and what issues will be debated. The debate will be about the issues I mentioned – the type of security that will be available and the relationship of the economy to society. The "Yes" voters frequently give the game away and many of them will do it again by saying that the treaty will create a wider economic bloc. Creating a Europe of citizens is a different project from creating an economic bloc that can compete with other economic regions. That is where the deficiency lies.

I believe we need the workers of the applicant countries and the people in those countries who believe in social change. Furthermore, they need to be saved from the type of misery the Boston section of the Cabinet would have them wish for, which is to be in the throes of some kind of international institutional market fundamentalism.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I always enjoy Deputy Higgins's contributions; he tends to work himself into a frenzy—

There is much about which he can work himself into a frenzy.

—and always has the ability to face both ways. While I disagree with his criticisms of this Government, I agree with his conclusions about the changes that have occurred since the last referendum with regard to the three issues he outlined. However, he did not refer to one of the main arguments of the opponents of the treaty, that not all the applicant countries are ready and that under the Amsterdam treaty at least five of them can be admitted. They have not offered any suggestion as to how the other five applicant countries could be admitted, other than through subsequent accession treaties, nor have they said how we should choose the first five to be admitted under the Amsterdam treaty. The Laeken conference changed that situation, however, because all ten applicant countries are now ready to join. That is the reason we need a workable EU enlargement.

The Nice treaty is about reforming the Union and delivering an enlarged Union which will work for the benefit of all members. It will give other countries the same helping hand Ireland has received since 1973. It will deliver Irish jobs so it is in Ireland's interest to support the treaty. It is the right thing to do. In an enlarged European free market our industries, businesses and workers will benefit. Nice will mean more jobs for our people.

Opponents of the treaty argue that Nice will lead to an end to neutrality, loss of self determination and the introduction of abortion and euro taxes. The treaty does none of these things. It does no more than reform the structures of the Union to pave the way for a workable enlargement. Those who oppose the Nice treaty today also opposed Maastricht, Amsterdam, the Single European Act and Irish accession to the EEC in 1973. At all stages they opposed the social and economic solidarity of European nations through the EU.

The arguments they advance in opposition to the Treaty of Nice have nothing to do with the treaty itself. Their problem is, in effect, with the Treaty of Rome and the idea of a European Union. They advance the same arguments today which they advanced in every debate on every referendum on EU issues. Their opposition is to the notion of Ireland in Europe. Let us be clear about what this means – it is opposition to the funding, the jobs and the assistance we have received from Europe.

When Ireland joined the EEC in 1973, it was the poorest country in the Community. Today it is one of the richest. For every £1 our European neighbours had in their pockets in 1973, Irish people had just 58p. Today Irish people have €1.11 for every €1 our European neighbours have. That is the difference EU membership has made to Ireland.

The benefits of EU membership are plain across all areas of Government. The Irish seafood industry has benefited significantly from membership of the EU and access to the European free market. The Treaty of Nice will bolster these benefits and provide access to the larger European Single Market. The offshoot of this is more jobs. In 1972, just 85,500 tonnes of fish were landed in Ireland. Today the figure is 320,600 tonnes. That is an increase of 235,000 tonnes or 275% as a result of access to free markets. The growth is stunning in financial terms. In 1973, Ireland landed €62 million worth of fish while today it is landing €250 million worth of fish, an increase of €188 million or more than 300%.

Across the sector similar growth, again driven by the EU, is the norm. Aquaculture development has taken off in the last two decades and production has grown from a base of less than 6,000 tonnes 20 years ago, with a value of just €2.5 million, to almost 60,000 tonnes in 2001, with a value approaching €110 million. Ireland'sper capita consumption of seafood is low by international standards. Fish is a much larger element in the diet of consumers in many of our EU partner states. There is little doubt that the threefold increase in the volume and value of our fish landings and the exponential growth in aquaculture is largely attributable to our access to the EU market.

The Treaty of Nice, by providing for the reform that is necessary for workable enlargement, will increase this market by millions, further benefiting our coastal communities. This means more exports and more jobs. The Irish seafood industry and the 15,000 jobs it provides in largely peripheral coastal communities is heavily dependent upon exports. The importance of the EU free markets in this sector is highlighted by the fact that 80% of all exports last year went to our EU partner states. Without the preferential market access which EU membership provides, it would be significantly more difficult to sustain present levels of production, processing activity and employment.

The EU fisheries market support framework has also guaranteed that prices achieved by fishermen for their produce do not drop below an agreed minimum and ensures that fisheries producer organisations have access to EU funds for market development. Access to EU markets has benefited our coastal communities and will continue to do so in the reformed and enlarged Union which Nice creates. The Treaty of Nice in no way affects our position regarding the Common Fisheries Policy. The treaty is purely about making the administrative reforms necessary for workable enlargement. Like abortion, neutrality, CAP and taxes, the Common Fisheries Policy is not mentioned in the treaty.

I will go to the EU Fisheries Council to secure the best deal possible for our coastal communities. The ratification of the treaty does not affect Ireland's position in this regard and anybody who says it does is being deliberately misleading. If Ireland is the impediment to workable enlargement of the European Union, it is only natural to expect it to lose some of the goodwill built up over 30 years. This will affect our strength in relation to the CFP, the CAP and other policy areas where Irish Ministers must fight for the national interest.

The benefits of EU membership are clear in every section of my Department. The European programme of liberalisation of the telecommunications sector during the 1990s, in which Ireland participated, has brought about substantial improvements in the telecommunications sector. There have been reductions in prices for services, especially for long distance and international calls, better service quality and more choice of services.

The EU has been to the forefront of developments in mobile technology, in particular through fostering the development of the GSM standard by European industry. In addition, the EU has been a leader in putting in place the necessary licensing and regulatory structures for the introduction of third generation mobile services. Irish consumers have benefited from the availability and convenience of this technology. EU rules on data protection in this sector have ensured the protection of consumer rights regarding such things as unsolicited telephone calls, the protection of telephone directory data from abuse and the security of networks. Europe is also driving the information society agenda through e-Europe 2005 and is leading the way in areas such as e-government, e-learning and e-health.

The EU has been at the forefront of developments in mobile technology, in particular through fostering the development of the GSM standard by European industry. In addition, the EU has been a leader in putting in place the necessary licensing and regulatory structures for the introduction of third generation mobile services. Irish consumers have benefited from the availability and convenience of mobile technology. EU rules on data protection in the telecommunications sector have ensured the protection of consumer rights regarding such areas as unsolicited telephone calls, the protection of telephone directory data from abuse and the security of networks. Europe is also driving the information society agenda through e-Europe 2005. The EU is leading the way in the areas of e-government, e-learning and e-health.

In Border counties like my own, Europe has really made a difference. On the passing of the Single European Act, I remember that the huge customs control queues on both sides of the Border disappeared almost overnight. The budget for the INTERREG III cross-Border initiative, which will run until 2006, is €179 million between North and South. Some €72 million of this is allocated to Border counties, €53.6 million of which comes from the European Union.

The European Union responded to the loyalist and republican ceasefires of 1994 with the establishment of the European peace and reconciliation programme. For the most recent programme, running between 2000 and 2005, the EU has made a contribution of €106 million for projects for the Border counties. The European Union is also the largest single contributor to the International Fund for Ireland, accounting for 40% of overall spending.

Those who oppose Nice today – the same "nay-sayers" who opposed Maastricht, Amsterdam, the SEA and EEC accession – stand against all these measures and benefits. Nice will build on the benefits to date, opening up huge new markets to Ireland and providing more jobs while at the same time giving the applicant states of eastern and central Europe the helping hand which we in Ireland have received since 1973.

I thank the Minister for sharing his time. In the forthcoming referendum on the Treaty of Nice, the people have every reason to vote "Yes" and to support the treaty. Equally, they have every reason not to vote against the treaty. If we vote "Yes", our vital national interests will be promoted and advanced, if we vote "No" our vital national interests will be seriously and perhaps irreparably damaged.

The choice is simple yet critically important for the future of every citizen. This debate on the Treaty of Nice is historic. The vote of our citizens will also be historic because the outcome of that vote will define Ireland's relationship with our European partners and the world. The result will be looked at closely by our European partners, by the countries in eastern Europe and by the wider world as a signal of where Ireland stands among the nations of the world.

A "Yes" vote will signal that Ireland is a country at the heart of European and world affairs. A "No" vote will signal that Ireland has set its face against the enhanced international co-operation which has brought the longest and most sustained period of peace and prosperity in Europe for 400 years. A "Yes" vote will give the eastern European applicant countries the same opportunity that Ireland was given in 1973. A "No" vote will tell those countries that we are withdrawing the hand of friendship, prosperity and peace afforded to us 30 years ago.

I make no apologies for making this point and take issue with what Deputy Michael Higgins said in the House not long ago. The proposition I am making is not guff, as he would put it, and not dull. Whether we provide the same opportunity for the applicant countries that we received 30 years ago is a moral issue for this country. Not to provide that opportunity would be deeply immoral and not a dull matter or guff as Deputy Higgins suggests. I defend the Taoiseach's position in this regard.

Enlargement is where the treaty begins and ends. To argue otherwise does a disservice to the treaty and to the Irish people. Despite continuous efforts by those opposed to the Treaty of Nice to argue otherwise, the entire reason for the treaty is to facilitate the orderly and efficient enlargement of the European Union and to reform its institutions in an organised way. This is so that an enlarged union does not become unwieldy or unworkable due to increased numbers.

In the 18 months since the last referendum, I have been asked frequently why we are being asked to vote in favour of this treaty. Unless we can answer this question – in this regard I agree with Deputy Higgins – and explain the reasons in a clear and cogent way, the people will have every reason to fear what the treaty contains. Fear is preyed upon and exploited by those with agendas far removed from what is in the Treaty of Nice.

For this reason, the essential element of this debate is information, clear and concise information to the people detailing what the Treaty of Nice is about. Those I have met recently who have read the Government information guide have said to me that they are perfectly comfortable with what is in the treaty and that it makes perfect sense to vote "Yes". These are people who told me in an emphatic way, when the treaty came before them less than 18 months ago, that they would vote against it because they did not know what was in it.

The treaty is first and foremost about reforming the structures of the European Union and making them more workable in a larger Europe. This makes perfect sense. Only last week, I spoke to a constituent who runs a medium-size business and is considering doubling the size of that business. He told me that it would be unworkable and totally illogical if he was to do so without reforming the structures, processes, rules and procedures of his business. The Treaty of Nice works in exactly the same way. To attempt to argue otherwise does the people a great injustice. For this reason, I wholeheartedly welcome the information guide which has been, or will be, sent to every house in the country, setting out in clear and simple terms what the treaty is about. There was a serious failure to do this at the time of the last referendum and the people, not unreasonably, voted "No".

People have a right to information on the Treaty of Nice but they also have a right not to be misled by those who speak inside and outside this House about everything except what is in black and white in the treaty. I have said that we have every reason to vote "Yes" and every reason not to vote "No". I have set out some of but by no means all the reasons for voting "Yes". However, I want to single out one critically important reason the people should not vote against this treaty. In my area of Limerick, and in the mid-west generally, there is the highest dependency on foreign inward investment outside Dublin. In my immediate area, there are thousands of people directly employed in non-national companies. Throughout the mid-west, tens of thousands of people rely on jobs generated by foreign direct investment. This investment has been the engine which has propelled economic growth in the mid-west for the past 15 to 20 years.

Over recent months, I have had detailed consultations with business leaders in the mid-west, including senior executives in multinational, particularly US, companies. They are extremely concerned about the implications for foreign direct investment in Ireland should Ireland vote against the Treaty of Nice on this occasion. They tell me that one of the main reasons for the level of foreign direct investment in Ireland, particularly the mid-west, is our involvement at the heart of the European Union, now the world's largest trading, commercial and economic bloc. If we turn our backs on Europe by voting "No", one does not have to be an economist to realise that this will have serious and irreparable consequences for Ireland's reputation as a prime location in which to invest in Europe. From my contacts with these people, who are at the coalface of employment in the mid-west, I have no doubt that a "No" vote will have a negative and immediate impact on jobs in the region.

This is not scaremongering, as Deputy Michael Higgins would have us believe. It is simple economic reality and is not difficult to foresee. In July, IDA Ireland, which has been responsible for encouraging foreign direct investment and jobs in the mid-west, confirmed that its reputation as an attractive investment location would be seriously damaged if we vote "No". Furthermore, we would be naive to think that our competitors in Europe and beyond would not exploit our disengagement from Europe in a ruthless way if we vote "No". We do not want to present our competitors with such a gilt-edged opportunity.

We are at the beginning of a campaign which will determine our place in Europe for a generation to come. We are at a defining moment in our relations with the European Union and the world at large. It would be ironic if we were to deny the applicant countries the opportunity to partake in a union which has brought great benefits to this country, while at the same time perhaps inflicting irreparable damage to our own vital national interests. That is why the outcome will define Ireland's place not alone in Europe but also in the world at large. The referendum result will be examined closely throughout the European Union to determine where Ireland stands, as Wolfe Tone put it, among the nations of the world.

A "Yes" vote would signal that Ireland is at the centre of European and world affairs, while giving east European countries the opportunities they deserve. A "No" vote would signal that Ireland has set its face against enhanced international co-operation. A debate such as this gives rise to diverse views. Some people are genuinely against the concept of European union and have been so for the past 30 years. I believe, however, that the Irish people as a whole support the European Union and the benefits of peace and prosperity it has brought. The people will express their support in a positive way in October.

I have endeavoured to set out a brief historical perspective of the issues at the heart of this referendum but it would be wrong to confuse it with the many important issues which are unrelated to it. Given the historical significance of the forthcoming referendum, I am happy to have had the opportunity to contribute to this debate which is my first since being elected to the House. When the next generation looks back at this decision, I hope they will be able to say that this House and the Irish people recognised where our vital national interests lay.

I welcome the opportunity presented by this second referendum on the Nice treaty. I voted "Yes" the last time and I will do so again on this occasion, while encouraging others to do the same. Nobody can deny that the handling of the debate on the last Nice treaty referendum was an utter shambles. There was much discussion as to what went wrong and whether it concerned the so-called democratic deficit, our neutrality or a lack of information about the treaty. On the last occasion, years of pent-up antipathy and suspicion about Europe suddenly exploded when it found an opportunity for expression, although the treaty itself contains quite limited reforms. At the time, the Government was completely unprepared for such an outpouring of antipathy and suspicion which, initially, it failed to recognise. When the Government did recognise what had happened it was too late and it failed to take action.

This time, however, the Government knows what is required. It knows it is not fighting a referendum simply on the substance of the Nice treaty but on two different levels. The first one concerns the substance of the treaty, the reforms we have spoken about, but the second one is the much more strategic and critical issue of whether we are committed to remaining at the heart of Europe and the EU decision-making process, or do we intend to take an enormous leap into uncharted waters? In posing that question I do not wish to engage in scaremongering because, as my colleague Deputy Michael D. Higgins has said, it does not necessarily mean that we want to leave the EU. It may lead in that direction but the danger is that we do not know where such a decision may lead. We are as certain as we can be that we have done well out of being at the centre of Europe and we do not know how we will fare if we take the alternative route whose destination is unknown.

The way to win a referendum that is being argued about on two levels is to provide accurate information and use honest persuasion in a logical debate. I regret, however, that the Taoiseach and others have dismissed the fears that have been raised. Such concerns have been simmering away in the background for many years and it is wrong to dismiss them by calling people dingbats. It is counterproductive to dismiss such fears and suggest that people are daft to be worried about the enlargement of the European Union, which is a big step. That is not the way to win the hearts and minds of people. Some people have decided to vote against the Nice treaty no matter what, but a significant number want to have their fears allayed. They are seeking information on which to make a decision and they want politicians to appreciate their concerns. The Taoiseach must recognise that fact and should stop calling people who oppose the Nice treaty, or otherwise disagree with him, dingbats.

Our diplomats have done valuable work with the applicant countries in forging alliances by identifying and promoting the common cause of European union. Such work will be vital to our interests in future. Having already voted "No" in the previous Nice treaty referendum we have damaged that relationship somewhat, although I feel it can be rectified. I do not think the applicant states will hold that decision against us, any more than we held it against France which effectively vetoed our application to join the then European Economic Community by blocking Britain's attempt in the 1960s.

We have not yet damaged our standing with our existing EU partners, although they seemed to be mystified by the previous referendum result. They cannot understand why Ireland made such a decision since we have benefited demonstrably more than any other country from EU membership.

European political leaders may not be too mystified, however, because there is hardly a country that is not experiencing the same creeping, albeit unspecified, disaffection with the European ideal. Brussels appears to be out of touch with the concerns of citizens who believe that decisions are being foisted upon them by faceless bureaucrats. It has been evident for some time that citizens have lost their sense of ownership of Europe, but that would be a problem even without the Nice treaty.

We should welcome the wake-up call provided by the result of the first referendum, as should the rest of Europe, because the issue affects us all. If the concerns surrounding the "No" vote are not addressed here and in every other member state it will stymie further progress in the EU. The cause of this disaffection and suspicion among EU citizens encompasses a much wider debate which has to be addressed. Much has been written about the Nice treaty and we have tried to discover the cause of this disaffection. It is not that the European Commission is particularly bureaucratic. The number of public servants in the Commission is one to every 20,000 citizens, whereas here the ratio is 1:14. Therefore, one cannot accuse Brussels of being too bureaucratic. One can accuse it of having a very poor flow of information but we politicians have not taken steps to ensure people are aware of European proposals and decisions and their purpose. I hope the European committee will address this issue and that the Convention on the Future of Europe will ensure those concerns are addressed throughout Europe. Information is the key to empowering people. That lost sense of control is at the root of the disaffection with Europe.

As the lack of information from Europe has always prevailed, it does not explain the fundamental change in attitude. My belief is that the change in attitude to Europe is purely a function of the passage of time and people's consequent loss of connection with why we have a European Union, what it set out to achieve, the extent to which it has succeeded, the extent to which we have benefited and the extent to which it was a unique project. None of us can envisage what Europe would have been like without a European Union.

When one looks around today it is clear there has been a significant generational shift. The age cohort of 20 and 30 somethings, which is the largest in the country, is increasingly shaping our political decisions, defining our aspirations and dictating our direction and many of them were born after we joined the EU. Their parents were born post the Second World War and remember the Union's purpose. We have forgotten that we are the first generation of Europeans that did not send our fathers, brothers or sons to war. We have forgotten that this is not just good luck or the happy accident of the timing of our birth. We have forgotten that the European Union was a planned idealistic and even highly improbable project designed to bring together countries which traditionally were implacable enemies so that by working together in their common economic interests the cause of wars would be removed. In this the Union has succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of its founders. It has become a victim of its own success. To the current generation, war in Europe is unthinkable.

Our current attitude to Europe is not the idealistic attitude of the past. It is not shaped by "why" we have a European Union but "how". Our concerns are with the details of integration, whether it is CAP, economic policy, fisheries policy or environmental policy. How the EU affects us materially is what interests us now. That is understandable in the absence of war and the threat or thought that war could happen in western Europe. It is difficult to sustain that sense of idealism and it is normal to be more concerned with immediate economic decisions which impact directly on ourselves and our families. Nevertheless, the overriding reason for my enthusiasm for enlargement and for staying at the heart of Europe is peace and stability. It is the single biggest gift we can bequeath to our children. With peace and stability everything is possible for the next generation. Without it, nothing is possible.

All the accession countries were members of the Communist Bloc and, for all its flaws, communism provided a kind of stability where the diversity of the cultures and interests were restrained. When communism disappeared, that restraint disappeared with it. Those countries have spent ten years trying to build their democracies, in great poverty in many cases. It is in our interest to maintain a stable eastern Europe.

We have witnessed recently in Ireland and across the world the effect which 11 September had on the economy and living standards. The impact was greatest on that young generation to whom I have referred because it is their aspirations and job prospects that have been most affected. That was a single act of war lasting no more than 40 minutes on the far side of the world. If that little war, in terms of time, can have such ramifications in Ireland and Europe, how much greater can be the ramifications and the impact of instability in the centre of Europe, right on the eastern border? The conditions that gave rise to 11 September – poverty, marginalisation and isolation – are precisely the conditions we want to prevent emerging in eastern Europe. We have the opportunity to allow these countries to join the European club, to strengthen their democracies and grow their economies. In that way we can all prosper together because we will not prosper without them. That is the key message that must be conveyed. We cannot prosper at the expense of eastern Europe if it becomes unstable, which it will if we exclude it.

At the time of the last referendum, the prime argument for enlargement was that we owed it to these countries to give them the same chance we were given. We do owe it to them but we also owe it to ourselves. A stable Europe is overwhelmingly in our interests and it would be grossly irrational for us to vote against our own interest. An enlarged Europe is critical in world terms to provide some type of counterbalance to the only remaining world power, the US. All of this has little to do with what we are voting about in the Nice treaty referendum and, effectively, only addresses how we do business with our European partners. In an enlarged Union, we could do our business efficiently and effectively.

The biggest claim at the last referendum was that people did not know what was in the Nice treaty. That claim has been used as a justification for holding a second referendum to explain to the public what the treaty is about. I regret to say I have not met any ordinary member of the public, other than those directly involved either in politics, journalism or the European Union, who has the slightest idea about the substance of the Nice treaty. I admit institutional reform can be a boring topic but it is crucial. I do not think anybody is against institutional reform. If one were to ask members of the public if they favoured institutional reform or efficiency, they would say "yes". The arguments being used are emotive ones based on a growing sense of alienation rather than against the actual detail of reform. That is unfortunate because the need for reform can be considered separately from enlargement and should have been so considered because the strains in the operation of Europe, in the administration and in the decision making process have been in evidence for many years as the Union grew from six to nine to 12 to 15. Reform is critical if enlargement is to be contemplated.

It is ironic that we should reject the very reforms whose absence have largely been the cause of our alienation from Europe in the past and have led us to criticise Europe. If the Irish population was to increase by 50%, we would expect to have to change the way in which we do our business. We would have to change the number of TDs, Ministers and the way we make decisions. Even as it is, against the background of a growing population there are many calls for a reduction in the number of TDs. That would cause all sorts of battles between constituencies about who was winning and losing. Precisely the same battle took place in Europe over many years before agreement was reached. Agreement was reached through negotiation, compromise and compensating arrangements because countries recognised it was not just in the overall interests of the European Union to work more efficiently and effectively but it was in each individual nation's national interest also.

I wish to touch on another issue which has been referred to on a number of occasions and which will influence voting decisions, namely the immigrant question. The occurrence of an influx of immigrants to this country or the level of such an influx has nothing to with the Nice treaty. Enlargement will happen and there may or may not be immigrants to Ireland. If we vote "No," we may succeed in delaying enlargement or making it less effective, but it will happen. The only outstanding question is whether we will sanction the reforms necessary to allow the European Union to operate effectively.

People are particularly concerned about the issue of immigrantsvis-à-vis enlargement and those concerns must be addressed. I have noticed that concerns in this area are, in the main, being expressed by older people. Their concerns have nothing to do with racism, but they fear that there will be such an influx of immigrants that it would destabilise the country. They are pro-European and want to be persuaded, to have their concerns assuaged, to be reassured and told the truth.

There are three points I want to make in this regard. First, peoples of the applicant states in eastern Europe are educated and cultured. Their countries were at the centre of European civilisation at a time when Ireland was not. They endured extremely difficult times during the past 50 to 60 years under communist regimes from which they are just emerging. For several years Irish interests have been trying to recruit people from these countries to take up jobs here and they are now a valuable part of our workforce. As population and demographic changes occur, they will become an essential part of it.

My second point, which has already been made, is that when Greece and Portugal joined the European Union, the disparity between their GNPper capita and those of the richer countries in Europe was just as great as that which exists between that of the eastern European countries and Ireland's. However, there was no mass emigration from Greece or Portugal.

My third point is that countries from the east joining the European Union are doing it for the same reason Ireland did, not so that people can emigrate, but so that they are not obliged to do so. We would be daft to go down the cul-de-sac of believing the arguments put about in this regard.

There are many other points I would like to make. However, I will conclude by stating the overwhelming balance of advantage to Ireland would be to remain in the centre of Europe. We are well equipped to face the many challenges facing us in Europe in the future. I cannot be sure that I can offer any guarantees if we reject the Nice treaty because I believe we would be making a leap into the dark. The balance of our advantage is to remain in Europe. I unreservedly encourage people to vote "Yes" to Europe for Ireland and Europe.

I wish to share time with Deputy Collins.

As a committed European, I am convinced that our national interest lies at the heart of an enlarged European Union, which finally closes the artificial division of Europe and moves forward to create new opportunities for people here as well as for the new members of the Union. Growth, investment, employment, prosperity, progressive policies at national level, enhanced influence at international level: these have all been part of our experience in Europe. Over almost 30 years the benefits of our membership of the European Union and the support of our European partners helped to drive us towards the economic success we achieved in recent years. It is now time to take a broader and more realistic view. In addition to the political and moral imperatives involved, enlargement will not just underpin all the positive features of our own EU membership, most importantly, it will enable the candidate countries to realise their potential for growth and prosperity within the European family, extending to them – our partners and allies in the Union of the future – the benefits we now enjoy.

Ratification of the Nice treaty is essential to enlargement and also to Ireland's engagement at the heart of Europe. The Referendum Commission, which I established last July, will, I understand, be commencing its information campaign as soon as the Bill is passed by both Houses. Taking these measures into consideration, the Oireachtas is entitled to take steps to ask the electorate to reconsider the issue. This is real democracy at work and is in line with the constitutional provisions for holding a referendum.

Other speakers have documented the effects of our EU membership on our economic development and I will not repeat what they said. However, the European Union has also made a major contribution to strengthened environmental protection through standard setting, provision of financial support for necessary environmental infrastructure and policies that promote environmental protection and ensure a common framework for sustainable development. This is an important facet of our EU membership. Environmental pressures do not respect national boundaries.

Collaboration at a wider regional level provides the rationale for practical co-operation to protect the natural heritage which Europeans share and reinforces the international leadership which the European Union has exerted in areas such as climate change and protection of the ozone layer. In the past two weeks the European Union played a crucial role at the world summit in Johannesburg, where Ireland, with other member states, was centrally involved in presenting an ambitious global sustainable development agenda. Going forward to implement the summit outcomes, we would be poorly served by a "No" vote in the Nice referendum which would isolate us from our fellow EU members as well as the candidate countries and put in question the sincerity and maturity of our world view.

Despite the pressures brought by economic activity and growing prosperity here, Ireland retains a good quality environment which has benefited from the highly developed framework of Community environmental legislation and substantial funding transfers. We have transposed 96% of EU legislation into national law and I will be acting to improve its implementation and enforcement. We have begun to modernise waste management in line with established Community policies. Approximately €1.1 billion in EU aid has been committed to water services since 1994, of which almost €990 million is from the Cohesion Fund, set up in 1993 to provide additional assistance for the four least developed member states. Key investment from the fund is helping to bring environmentally essential wastewater treatment plants to Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Waterford. Our water catchment strategy was developed in the light of EU requirements and will be further developed in the coming years under the EU water framework directive.

Membership of the European Union has been very positive for Ireland's environment. Earlier this year, in adopting its sixth environment action programme, the European Union also made a commitment that the enlargement process would sustain and protect the environmental assets of the candidate countries, including their wealth of biodiversity, and foster sustainable production, consumption and land use patterns as well as strengthening environmentally sound transport systems.

Ireland places a strong emphasis on ensuring the highest standards on nuclear safety are in place in the European Union and in an expanded Union. The safety standards of nuclear reactors in candidate countries are particularly important in the context of enlargement and we have actively participated in EU deliberations on the issue. Last year the European Union adopted a report on nuclear safety in the context of enlargement. This sets out various commitments required of the candidate countries and to be taken into account in the accession negotiations. They are aimed at securing a high level of nuclear safety in the countries concerned and mechanisms have been established for monitoring the candidates' implementation of their commitments. I am sure this is a development every Member would support. The obligations of the nuclear safety report will have most particular impact in countries that do not have a well developed regulatory framework for radiological protection and will also have an effect on existing member states. Ireland's advocacy on nuclear safety is widely recognised and we want to remain an influential and authoritative voice on nuclear issues in the context of enlargement.

Deputy Gormley and the Green Party are calling for the Nice treaty to be opposed again. They are adopting this position despite the acknowledgement by the European Green movement that speeding up the enlargement process is "particularly important". There appears to be a major contradiction between the position of the Greens here and that of their colleagues throughout Europe. I wish to quote from a December 2001 position paper on enlargement of the European Union of the European Federation of Green Parties which stated that "At risk is the goodwill and patience of the people towards the Union, under threat from right-wing nationalist and chauvinist forces whose cause is only helped by the drawn-out negotiations and uncertainty." How does the Green Party in Ireland square that with its view of the enlargement process and the arrogance evident in its assertion that it wishes to save the whole of eastern Europe? I reject the Green Party's stance.

I agree with the European Greens that there are coherent environmental, political and practical advantages in implementing the EU enlargement process quickly, as stated by the European Federation. I disagree with Deputy Gormley that this objective would be well served by a "No" vote in the forthcoming referendum. That position is naive, reckless in relation to the well-being of the applicant countries, impractical in the extreme and detrimental to Ireland's national interests.

In the difficult scenario of the arrangements for ratifying Nice, which have been carefully put in place by the democratically elected Governments of EU member states and applicant countries, being frustrated by Ireland, is the Irish Green Party telling the applicant countries to trust it because it has the ability to put things right? Is it telling the people of central and eastern Europe that this course will guarantee the speeding up of the enlargement process which the European Greens say they favour?

The Irish Government would be failing in its political responsibility not to point out the extreme hazards involved in this Green Party prescription. If the present path to Nice is blocked by Ireland, no one should arrogantly presume to predict a certain way forward. We will act fairly and supportively in the interests of all European peoples by accepting the opportunities now clearly presented to us, not by recklessly gambling on scenarios which cannot be guaranteed. It is an insult to the people of Europe to argue that a small Irish political party has been vouchsafed a wisdom and a certainty of foresight on these complex issues beyond the democratically concluded provisions of the Nice treaty.

A "Yes" vote will allow Ireland, and Europe, to go forward to new strength, opportunity and influence. I am convinced, too, that the addition of a large number of small member states will only be to our advantage within the EU. We will build new alliances with them within a framework which protects the interests of all member states, including the smallest. Ireland has nothing to fear from the extension to new areas of qualified majority voting, already an extensive feature of environmental decision making. This will facilitate smooth operation in the interests of all and prevent any single state from blocking developments all others want to see. In practice, QMV has helped to build consensus, not division, in the environment area and it is important that we have retained provision for decisions on certain sensitive matters, including taxation, to require unanimity.

It has been my experience in the past few weeks, during negotiations at the summit and particularly those within the EU, that it is not, as some on the "No" side would purport, always a case of the dominant large countries against the small countries. After nearly six years of European Council meetings it has never been my experience that the Council has broken down in that way. Strong alliances emerged on different issues which involved both large and small countries and it is wrong to suggest that Europe operates on the basis of the large against the small. The enlargement process affords us the opportunity of bringing smaller countries into the Union, which is to be welcomed.

We must not allow ourselves to be marginalised by rejecting the Nice treaty. How can we continue to build alliances and extend our influence if we are seen by other member states as self-serving and compromised in our commitment to enlargement? What can our message be to those people who are looking forward to the benefits we have reaped and continue to enjoy?

Ratification of the Nice treaty is essential if Ireland is to keep its place at the heart of Europe. The changes being proposed by the treaty are the minimum necessary to secure a responsive and efficient framework for action, nationally and across the EU, in the best interests of our continuing growth and sustainable development.

The enlargement of the European Union is singularly the greatest challenge facing the Union at this time. The process of enlarging the EU is a complex one, and we are all aware that up to ten countries in Europe may conclude their accession negotiations with the European Union later this year.

Two years ago in Nice, EU leaders met to put in place a process which would simplify the way decisions were taken by the different EU institutions. These changes are necessary because the EU had to reform its own internal structures. We cannot have a situation whereby structures that are based on a Community model for the six founding member states remain in place for a Community of up to 27 member states. Recently, the Belgian Government ratified the provisions of the Nice treaty, bringing the total number of European countries to have ratified the treaty to 14. In simple terms this means that Ireland remains the last country in Europe to ratify the provisions of the Nice treaty.

The enlargement of the European Union cannot succeed unless the provisions of the Nice treaty are put into effect. Ireland, and the smaller countries of Europe, did extremely well from the reform of the institutions of Europe. In fact, when it comes to the reform of the European Union, Ireland's future rights of representation will be exactly the same as the larger member states within the EU. It is the five larger member states, namely, Italy, Germany, Spain, Britain and France, which will lose the right to appoint a second member to the European Commission. This means that all member states will have the right to appoint one member to the European Commission until the European Union grows in size to 27 member states. At that stage the representation on the European Commission will be given out on the basis of strict equality between larger and smaller member states and on the basis of strict rotation.

It is important that Ireland retains rights of representation on the European Commission. This is the institution that is the guardian of all EU treaties and the one which controls the operational administration of the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy.

One of the concerns of the Irish people the last time a referendum was held on the Nice treaty related to the need for assurances that Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality would not be infringed by the treaty's provisions. The declarations signed in Seville give the necessary assurances to the Irish people that the Nice treaty, and all prior EU treaties, do not impinge on Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality. In fact, the declaration signed by the other 14 European governments spell out their respect and support for Ireland's policy of military neutrality.

For our part, the declaration signed by the Government states clearly that Irish troops cannot serve in peacekeeping missions unless a mandate exists for such an exercise by virtue of a specific mandate of the United Nations. There must also be approval of Dáil Éireann and of the Government. These declarations give real and tangible assurances to the Irish people on this specific issue. Irish people demanded action on this issue and the Government has responded in kind with the necessary political reassurances.

For more than 40 years our economy, for the most part, has been outward looking. We have left aside the isolationist policies of the past and sought to find new markets for our goods and services. This culminated in Ireland joining the European Economic Community in 1973, and our membership of the EU has been a successful experience.

There is no doubt that we have been in a position to secure substantial levels of foreign direct investment into Ireland simply because we were members of the European Union. Companies like to set up in Ireland because we can access the EU markets. In 1998, US-owned multinational corporations accounted for €32 billion of Irish industrial exports, or 20% of the total, and they employed over 73,000 people. In 1999, manufacturing companies from other EU countries employed over 34,000 workers and contributed over €4.7 billion in total Irish exports. These are not small figures and it is clear that we are winning this investment because we are central and active members of the European Union.

There are not any economic disadvantages for Irish people to vote "No" to the provisions of the Nice treaty, but there are many advantages to voting "Yes". We will be in a position to penetrate the new markets in eastern and central Europe. Recent figures show that only 4% of all our exports are sold in these countries. That indicates that we are in a strong position to increase our market share. Many Irish companies are already based in these countries; CRH, AIB and Waterford Wedgwood have all put down significant roots in the region through investment, acquisition and joint ventures. Irish companies are active in a diverse range of economic activities ranging from financial services and construction to commercial radio and public relations consultancies. A total of 400 Irish companies are working in these markets and 60 of them have established local operations.

New markets of over one million people must mean good news for Irish exports. We should embrace the new markets that are opening up for Irish businesses. We must also recall that membership of the Union is the primary reason we have been in a position to secure high levels of inward investment. The bottom line is that American companies in particular are locating in Ireland because they can penetrate the European Union marketplace.

If we decide to reject the Nice treaty how can we guarantee that we can still secure inward investment into Ireland? American companies want access to the marketplace of 370 million people. They will also want access to the marketplace of over 500 million people when the applicant countries accede to the European Union. We in Ireland have a simple choice, either we remain as an active participant in the European Union or we simply drift apart from the EU and take a more isolated approach. The latter route would be a dangerous one and would not be in our economic interest.

We have an open economy and we are an exporting country. We export 90% of all goods and services that we produce. We are in a strong position to take advantage of the new markets that are available to us in eastern and central Europe. In essence we have access to an internal market where there is a free movement of services, goods and capital. We have benefited from our membership of the single European currency regime which is helping Irish business in a variety of ways; by eliminating transaction costs and exchange rate risk for trade, tourism and investment among participating member states; by putting in place uniform interest rates among participating member states; by consolidating the fuller development of the Single Market; by the promotion of price stability, sound public finances and sustained low inflation in participating member states, and by sustaining Ireland's attractiveness for foreign direct investment.

We should want to embrace the new market opportunities that are open and available to Ireland in eastern and central Europe. We should not underestimate the level of goodwill that exists in eastern and central Europe towards Ireland. We are viewed as a model member within the European Union and we will be in a position to forge strong alliances with the countries from eastern and central Europe into the future. Some believe that competition from countries in eastern and central Europe will not benefit the future development of the Irish economy. I put forward the following case to counter that argument. When it comes to securing foreign direct investment into our country, we currently have to compete against countries such as Germany, France, the Netherlands, Britain and Sweden to name just a few. These countries have high educational standards and have very structured and modern systems in place to secure foreign direct investment. We are competing against four of the wealthiest countries in the world for foreign direct investment and we will be in a strong position to compete against any new countries acceding to the European Union in the coming years.

I want to address the forthcoming review of the Common Agricultural Policy, which will take place later this year. I do not support the proposals to review the Common Agricultural Policy as published by the European Commission earlier this year. In spring 1999, European leaders agreed to a framework for the Common Agricultural Policy for the period from 2000 to 2006. While I have no objection to a review of the CAP taking place later this year, I am fundamentally opposed to reform of the workings of the Common Agricultural Policy. This is a view shared by the Government and it is also the view of nine other Governments in Europe, including France, Italy and Spain. We are in a very strong position to join forces with these Governments so as to guarantee that we can block the review proposals of the European Commission. Irish farmers and the Irish food industry had legitimately expressed expectations as to how the Common Agricultural Policy would operate between 2000 and 2006. EU leaders signed up to a specific CAP deal for this seven-year period and it must be honoured in its entirety.

EU membership has been an engine for growth for Irish agriculture. Without the EU Irish farmers would be significantly worse off. Ireland's membership of the EU has had a major positive impact on our agricultural sector both in financial terms and in providing an opportunity for the sector to modernise and become more streamlined.

This referendum on the Nice treaty is an opportunity for each of us who can vote to consider what we stand for in a global and a national context, and even where we stand at a personal level. I will be voting "Yes" in the forthcoming referendum as I did in the last one, not because I believe that the European Union is not flawed, unaccountable or in need of reform – I know it is – but because I believe that the European Union is the repository of values which are fundamental to our social, political and cultural progress. These are long-standing values of solidarity, equality and diversity.

It is not the first time we have been asked to affirm these values by way of a referendum. In 1998 the 19th amendment to the Constitution set out the mechanism whereby a framework was constructed to allow conflict to end on this island and to build a new co-operation based on equality and accommodation. For many on this island the Good Friday Agreement demanded a great deal of them. It required that people with different, opposing perspectives work together in a new form of governance. Like the formation of the European Union, the Good Friday Agreement demanded a great deal more of traditional opponents than we are now being asked to give to those who will be our friends and allies in an enlarged Europe.

The ending of conflict and the building of a secure, safer and fairer environment was the wellspring of the Good Friday Agreement. It was also the basis for the modern European project. Nobody would claim that either is perfect. These are human constructs after all. We must judge if they advance human progress or retard it. Everyone understands that both require compromise and revision. However, in both cases, the prize is immense. In 1998 people understood the importance of the decision to be made. We knew the score. We chose to go with an imperfect agreement in order to create a new dispensation within which people who historically felt marginalised were given a place at Government and those who historically felt they had a right to privilege were required to share power.

It is sad that knowledge and understanding of the European project is not nurtured and developed either inside or outside this House in the way it should be. The recent opinion poll shows how poorly the issues have been bedded down in our collective consciousness. Much of the fault for that state of affairs lies with the Government parties which did not take account of the fears and concerns of the public the last time around and did not deal with them as a consequence. Only under pressure from the Labour Party and others did the Government finally come around to addressing the issues of Irish military neutrality and democratic accountability in order that this issue could be revisited in a new context.

This time we are the ones who are required to share power. If we choose to vote "No" it will be read very directly as a rejection of the enlargement process. No matter how vehemently the anti-Nice campaigners protest, that is the reality. In particular it is ironic that Sinn Féin, which benefited so much from the generous spirit shown to it by Irish people North and South, should now line up alongside the xenophobes in Ireland and the high Tories in Britain in their opposition to Nice. Opponents of Nice claim the applicant countries deserve a better deal. However, they do not respect the right of the applicant countries to speak for themselves. Let us hear the applicant countries and their views on this rather than interpret them for our own purposes and opportunities.

Some time ago, when I heard the ambassador from the Czech Republic to Ireland say publicly that maybe these countries should stop knocking on the door if we do not want them in, I felt a great sense of shame. It is unworthy of us to kick away the ladder behind us now that other countries are seeking what we once sought for ourselves.

Strengthening of the European Union provides for a greater equilibrium globally, in a world where currently only one superpower exists, and so enjoys unprecedented influence and significance as a result of its unique position. The case for developing a wider, more integrated Europe is a pressing one. The United States represents democratic values upon which universal rights depend but it also promotes a form of conflict resolution which depends on militarism and a unilateralism that has inherent dangers in it. With a pending threat of a new war on Iraq, we are all particularly conscious of how this has been expressed in global terms and of how the approach that we would adopt in ensuring UN agreement on any such war does not come easily or naturally to the US Administration.

It is not as if there is another pole, fully developed and equally powerful to the US, which can ensure alternative avenues are found to conflict resolution. The EU is under developed and weakened by its own immaturity but at the same time it holds out an alternative model. Consensus, multi-lateralism and universal laws are promoted, albeit imperfectly, through the EU and they will be strengthened as the Union is strengthened. The Nice treaty is essentially a facilitating mechanism to prepare for enlargement and to allow for closer co-operation between member states, and amends foreign policy without impacting on Irish neutrality. It is a modest treaty in itself but it is also a step forward in the making of a new kind of Europe and a new kind of world order.

At a national level, Nice demands of us that we choose between an outward looking and progressive Ireland, and one which is narrow, insular and inward focused. Many of us remember a time when Ireland was inward looking and unable to connect internationally in the way we do now with such ease. I do not want to go back there and ultimately the Irish people do not want to go backwards in terms of making this decision.

I will not restate the arguments which people have made repeatedly about the economic advantages because we all know that EU membership has brought economic advantages. There has been pain too and we must recognise that many of the changes that occurred in our economy created pain, for instance when workers lost their jobs and had to retrain, reskill, etc.

The Union has been good for our economy, however, and it is about much more than simply an economic entity. It has been a powerful force for progressive ideas here. The rights of workers in general, and women in particular, have been greatly advanced through our membership of the EU. Does anyone doubt for a minute that we would have anything like the level of progressive social legislation which we now have, limited though it is, without EU membership? There is a much greater agenda still left to pursue. The value system underpinning the European approach to health care and public services, for example, is one of equality and of rights. The right to free health care, along with the right to education and to fair treatment at work, are part of the social contract and these are elements of citizenship across Europe. We subscribe to these values but often we have not developed a system to sustain them.

I do not normally quote former Fianna Fáil politicians in support of my case but former Deputy Pádraig Flynn, addressing a European conference on health in 1998 when he was EU Commissioner, stated:

Western European health systems are an important asset of our societies. They form part of the distinctive European social model, which sees solidarity not in opposition to economic success but rather as a condition for it. A key illustration of this is the emphasis we place on access to healthcare and health services. Our health systems are open to all citizens. We have introduced a range of health insurance schemes, which make sure that access to healthcare is virtually universal. This distinguishes the Western European model from approaches elsewhere and it is something of which we should be proud.

When one looks generally at Europe, this statement is true and it is something in which pride can be taken. When it is applied to Ireland in particular, however, it is patently untrue. Our public-private mix in health care makes sure that access is often selective and is not universal. The distinctive European social model does not prevail when it comes to Irish health care, nor indeed has it made much headway in establishing solidarity as a condition for Irish economic success generally. The inequality accompanying our prosperity is evidence of that.

However, we are within that sphere. We as a people do not choose the US model. Regardless of what the Tánaiste says about being closer to Boston than Berlin, which was an unfortunate phrase anyway because Boston is not a typical American city and Berlin is not necessarily a typical European one, the argument is clearly that Irish people do not see solidarity as something which is not a necessary part of the political life and the cultural and social life. In fact, we have strong bonds which need to be strengthened and nurtured, instead of sundered.

What I am saying is that there are global issues at which we must look when we consider this issue of voting for the Nice treaty and there are national issues. Do we belong within the European context? Do we subscribe to the values that have been developed in the social model, in which Europe can take pride and which, unfortunately, we have not fully applied and developed within Ireland?

At national level, this has direct relevance. I hope the way in which our health service develops in the future will be in accordance with a European context. If it is done outside of a European context, we will have grave difficulties. With the strengthening of the European Union, I hope the influence of the principles that underpin European health services and public services will create its own dynamic in Ireland and, even now, raise issues and dilemmas for people on the Government side, who argue repeatedly that we should promote the European ideas, that we should be strong and at the centre of Europe, etc., and yet will not apply the same fundamental principles for which Europe stands, that is, solidarity and equality, when it comes to the provision of public services in Ireland. The record of this Government has been to promote inequality and to leave people wanting when it comes to hospital care or health care, unable to pay for it and unable to pay for insurance.

I am very worried that we have a situation where there are cutbacks in the health service. It is worth noting that there are job losses and that services are being cut back, and yet the Taoiseach can state on radio that this is not the case and it is all about corrective measures. That kind of gobbledegook simply reinforces cynicism in the public. It would be better to be honest.

In the same way it would be better to be honest and say to the xenophobes out there that we cannot do without immigrants. We need the doctors. We depend on those doctors who leave their homes and come here to work. We need the nurses. We go out hunting for nurses in the Philippines. They leave their families and, in many cases, their children, their friends and where they belong in order to come here to look after us. The idea that somehow we could survive without these workers is laughable and yet there is this atmosphere being created. It is always weasel words. It is never clear cut in terms of racism, but at the same time the message has gone out from the anti-Nice campaign that somehow it is all right to be racist. I have heard, and I am sure other TDs hear people saying things they feel comfortable saying. They are able to say them because the issue is in the open. We have to be clear about where we stand in terms of the EU and in terms of how we view our relationship with people who come to our shores seeking work and providing us with valuable and indispensable skills and talents. We are very lucky that these people are coming as a result of globalisation.

It is important to recognise, when talking about jobs, that in recent times, after quite a lengthy time during which this was not the case, job losses have been occurring throughout the country and job security is becoming a real issue in people's minds. I ask that the EU not be used as some kind of shield against Government decisions on protecting employment because sometimes the Government has chosen to hide behind EU regulations. I have a particular reason for raising this. In Arklow, a town in my own constituency of Wicklow, an IFI plant employs 200 people. There are serious concerns about the future of this fertiliser plant. We know what is happening in Cork. Today a meeting is being held about the future of IFI operations. There are two shareholders – 51% of the shares are owned by the Government. It is vital that the Government does everything possible to ensure the future of those jobs, on which the economy in Arklow is highly dependent. There is a future, nationally, in fertiliser production.

Yesterday the British Government was able to provide a loan to British Energy of up to £410 million. It did so with no difficulty about State aid grant systems or restrictions from the EU. I am asking that the same positive approach be taken to ensure the future of jobs in Arklow and indeed jobs elsewhere, such as Belfast and Cork. However, I will leave that to the Cork Deputy. There is a future for those jobs in Arklow and I ask the Government not to use any nefarious excuse for not taking action on this important issue.

At a personal level, I believe we all have a choice to make. Do we submit to the scaremongering from those promoting a "No" vote or do we have confidence in ourselves and in a Europe based on principles from which we have benefited? This is our chance to show that we have grown up and that we are willing to extend a hand and accept, as we did with the Good Friday Agreement, the real limitations inevitably forced on us by decisions such as these. Everybody understands that the Nice treaty is flawed – it would probably have been better handled by a different Government. However, that is a minor issue when compared to the actual project on which we have embarked and to which I believe we should wholeheartedly subscribe. I hope that it will not be a minority of Irish people who make this decision because we have too often been governed by minorities when it comes to important issues such as this.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Grealish.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I agree with Deputy McManus in her comments about the nature of this debate and particularly about the need to avoid scaremongering, no matter which side one takes. A recent opinion poll shows that on both sides of the argument there is still an awful lot of work to be done. I warmly welcome this debate. It is heading in the right direction and if we pursue it in a calm and intelligent way we will be doing a great service to the electorate.

I would like to draw from my experience as Minister of State at EU level, and particularly my current position as Minister of State with responsibility for development and human rights, because no other area of the EU's activities better demonstrates its commitment to peace and justice in the world than its massive contribution to the needs of developing countries. The Union currently provides 55% of total international development assistance, making it by far the world's largest aid donor. The primary aim of this unique effort is the reduction of global poverty. Ireland can be proud of the constructive part it plays in this great enterprise that is targeted to the poor of the world.

Let me give some recent examples of how the Union has been able to make a difference in relation to development issues. I come to the House today having returned from the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development where Ireland, as a member of the EU, made a significant and decisive contribution to many of the more positive elements of the summit's outcome. None of us would try to claim that we achieved everything we wanted in Johannesburg, but strong EU negotiation contributed to the making of considerable progress in many areas, including the agreements on plans to increase access to clean drinking water and safe sanitation for the world's poor and in other areas such as preservation of fish stocks. Similarly, it is a united European Union front which can largely be credited with securing the strong commitments in the final text on corporate responsibility and accountability. I pressed for the inclusion of full reference to the issue in the summit's political declaration, a point of importance for Irish NGO representatives.

At Johannesburg, Ireland was also able to rely on support from our EU partners on the issue of negotiations on agricultural subsidies, in which we were able to secure agreement that these negotiations would remain within the appropriate international rules-based processes of the Doha Development Round of the WTO, which are best equipped to deliver a fair world order in trade. It is also noteworthy that even in the area where we saw one of the major disappointments at Johannesburg, that of targets for the increased use of renewable energies, the EU has agreed and announced collectively that its member states will proceed with implementation of the ambitious targets we have set for ourselves and will continue to pursue others to take similar action. These are real achievements which will bring benefits across the globe, particularly to the developing world. They illustrate the importance of European solidarity in international forums. As the Taoiseach said in Johannesburg, it is inconceivable that Ireland, as a small country negotiating alone, could have been able to make such a difference.

Let me give another example of the EU's involvement in development. Prior to going to Johannesburg, I saw at first hand the difference that EU development assistance can make on the ground in Zambia and Malawi. Up to 13 million people are facing the prospect of starvation in six countries across the region. The suffering of the people of southern Africa is being aggravated by the impact of the HIV-AIDS pandemic. In some countries in the region, one in three adults is infected by the disease. The EU is taking the lead in the international response to both of these humanitarian disasters. It has given almost €150 million so far in assistance to provide immediate food aid and humanitarian relief across southern Africa. To tackle the devastating impact of HIV and AIDS, the European Commission is providing €120 million to the global trust fund for fighting the disease. When the contributions of member states, including Ireland, are taken into account, the EU is providing over half of the total of $2 billion pledged to the fund so far.

They cut it by €32 million.

In addition to aid grants and humanitarian assistance, the Union's development effort is strongly focused on integrating developing countries into the international trading system. The EU is the world's largest Single Market and the main trading partner for many developing countries. As a former Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, I am aware of the positive potential of international trade for developing countries. In the era of globalisation, trade is one of the most powerful engines of economic growth and development. Helping developing countries to participate in the global economy can lead to a reduction in poverty. Our experience in Ireland has shown how trade can transform a country's economic growth. We need to help our partners in the developing world to participate in the global economy so they can also benefit from the opportunities offered by globalisation.

As trade Minister leading the Irish delegation to the WTO ministerial meeting in Doha last November, I actively contributed to the European Union's efforts to ensure the concerns of developing countries would be at the core of the new World Trade Organisation round of negotiations. That this goal was achieved is evidenced by the fact that this round is called the Doha Development Agenda. The European Union is providing leadership in the international effort to make globalisation work for the poor, both through its constructive role in the new trade round and, in particular, through its "Everything but Arms" initiative. This initiative extends duty and quota-free access to the European market for some of the poorest countries in the world for all their goods, except arms.

I would now like to turn to the progress that has been made in the development of the common approach of the European Union to human rights. Europe is so much more than a free trade area or an alliance of convenience. It is a Union of values. Human rights are at the core of European integration. Ireland, with our partners in Europe, is committed to the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for universal and indivisible human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law. These values are a compass that helps guide our external relations.

A major strength of Europe is the legal framework underlying all our action. We have treaties which legally enshrine democratic values and human rights, the promotion of social justice and sustainable economic development within and without the European Union. Europe's political weight makes it a potent voice for promoting respect for human rights and addressing the human rights situation in specific countries. In so doing we can marshal the combined political force of 15 member states and more than double that number when the associated countries align themselves with EU policies and declarations. This means we can speak with one voice to countries and bilaterally in many human rights fora such as the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva and the Third Committee at the UN General Assembly, and also at international conferences such as the World Summit on Sustainable Development. An enlarged Union will mean a stronger voice promoting these values and principles and making a real difference throughout the world. I hope what I have said about the role of the Union in the developing world and the area of human rights demonstrates the extent to which we and our partners share a similar outlook on some of the greatest challenges of our time, namely, the bridging of the divide between north and south, the reduction of poverty and the building of a world based on the principles of justice and equality.

Many speakers in this debate have pointed to the enormous benefit Ireland has gained through its membership of the European Union. Our membership has changed Ireland beyond recognition and significantly for the better. It is for that reason that the decision now facing the people is one of the utmost importance. In voting on the Treaty of Nice voters will shape Ireland's future relationship with the Union, our current partners and those countries waiting to join. As someone who has been involved in promoting Ireland's interests in international negotiations for much of my ministerial career, I cannot overemphasise the seriousness of this decision. We are faced with two options: to remain part of one of the most successful ever international groupings and in which we have been able to play a constructive role, or to retreat into isolation.

I absolutely reject the contention made by some that a decision to vote "No" would be risk free; that it would have no negative consequences; that things could proceed afterwards just as they had before. Nothing could be further from the truth. If we vote "No," we block the best ever opportunity to unite the countries of central and eastern Europe with those of the west and in so doing consign ourselves to the margins where our voice will be weaker and our influence diminished. This is a prospect so appalling that I am confident that no voter, when aware of what is at stake, would wish to consider it.

There is no plan B. In making a decision of this importance voters need to understand the full range of outcomes and consequences. It does them a disservice to pretend that a decision to reject the Nice treaty would not damage our wider relations and take us out of the European mainstream. To pretend that it would not give foreign investors cause for thought is to ignore the advice of experts in the field who have worked hard to bring business to Ireland. What perplexes me about arguments for a "No" vote is that there is absolutely no objective reason the people should reject the Treaty of Nice. The treaty, as the Minister for Foreign Affairs has rightly observed, is a modest one. It does what is necessary to prepare the European Union for enlargement while protecting all that is important and that has worked well. It adjusts arrangements within the institutions to the extent necessary to allow them to operate effectively with 27 rather than 15 member states while protecting the interests of members, especially the smaller ones.

The Government played a key and active role in the negotiations that led to the treaty and the deal it secured is a good one. Ireland has nothing to fear from the Treaty of Nice. Neither has it anything to fear about our ability to protect our interests in an expanded European Union; quite the contrary. Ireland has made an overwhelming success of our membership of the Union. We have used the opportunities with which it presented us to the full. Our economy has grown, creating more jobs for Irish people at home. Our society has broadened its horizons. As a former Minister of State with responsibility for labour, I am aware that women in particular have felt the benefit of the Union's focus on the principle of equality. Workers have benefited from higher standards, students from education and training opportunities. Our farmers used money from the CAP to modernise and diversify and as a result are now better placed to meet the challenges ahead. There is only one realistic choice for us in this situation. The European Union has proven to be a unique force of enlightenment for government and public administration in Ireland. This is not just the case for Ministers participating in the Council, but also for our public service as a whole. From my experience, our public servants have always demonstrated great skills in negotiations on behalf of both their country and the European Union. We should never underestimate this fact. I have witnessed their skills on many occasions such as in our negotiations to enlarge the Union from 12 to 15 members some years ago and more recently through participation in the WTO negotiations and the Johannesburg Summit.

The future of the European Union is an exciting one. The expansion to the east brings in new members, many of which have a great deal in common with Ireland. It creates a market for our products. Enlargement will raise economic standards in the new member countries. It creates new opportunities for Irish businesses in trade and investment terms. There will be a great many opportunities to be seized. It is vital that Ireland positions itself to avail of them in full.

In voting for the Nice treaty we are not being asked to make a choice between Irish interests and those of others. We are being given a chance to say we are committed Europeans, that we want to play a full and central part in the important times ahead, that as a country that has gained so much through our partnership in Europe we now want to offer the same chance to others.

I thank the Minister of State for sharing his time with me. I am delighted that my first term in Dáil Éireann as an elected representative coincides with the forthcoming referendum on the Nice treaty. I look forward to conducting a vigorous and lively campaign in favour of the treaty in my constituency of Galway West. I believe that in hindsight many who either abstained or voted "No" in the last referendum were not aware of the far-reaching implications of their vote. Scaremongering and negative campaigning techniques and postering ran amok during that campaign. The "No" campaign sadly ran unchallenged and uncontested throughout large parts of the country. Since then much has been written and many post-mortems have been conducted in an effort to analyse the reasons the "No" campaign carried the day.

It has been a learning experience for all of us in favour of the treaty and the enlargement of the Union. We learned that we need to communicate the spirit and letter of the treaty more clearly and simply and perhaps with more humility. I am convinced that the majority of the people are instinctively in favour of the proposals. Those of us who believe in Europe have a responsibility to inform, lead, listen and keep the primary issues of the treaty at the forefront of the debate.

The primary issue is the fact that ten countries are waiting and willing to join the European Union. If we vote "No," they cannot join as planned. Their hopes of building sound economies and better democratic institutions sooner rather than later will be dashed by what they will rightly perceive as our total selfishness and indifference to their well-being and welfare. The fact that they seek to join the European Union is in itself a cause for celebration and should be marked as one of the high points in the evolution of European history. The majority have endured the yoke of communism and state dictatorship for decades. They have lived under oppressive conditions where the human spirit and individual enterprise were stifled and crushed. They are now anxious and eager to build their own economies and strengthen the democratic model within their own borders.

The people are enterprising by nature, outgoing and sociable and show enormous compassion for those less fortunate than themselves. Our missionaries have travelled to war-torn countries where they have built schools and hospitals and brought light to the darkest of places. This tradition and culture are embedded in us as a result of our colonial past, famine and hardship. More than most mainstream European countries we have an instinctive sympathy for those who suffer hardship. The countries concerned are now at a crossroads. I am reminded of the Ireland of the late 1950s when some of our political leaders, recognising that Ireland's protectionist economy had failed miserably to provide jobs at home, took the courageous step of establishing the IDA and invited foreign investment and expertise to our shores. That is now seen as the beginning of our march towards prosperity and economic freedom.

Our experience as a post-colonial state, the scars of a civil war and decades of stagnation and massive emigration up to the level of development we enjoy today consititute, within a historical context, a success story and a transition which has already attracted the attention and admiration of those within the emerging former Iron Curtain countries which are seeking to build prosperity and democracy on their native shores. The people would never have it on their conscience to have any part in denying the people concerned their worthy aspirations, yet this is what we are doing if we reject the treaty once more. That is a point I intend to spell out loud and clear at every opportunity in the forthcoming campaign. As a people, we have a greater sense of affinity and partnership with the countries concerned. Our experience and the road we travelled should be a source of inspiration and hope to them as they are similarly placing their trust and hope in a new European partnership.

I sometimes shudder to think what would have happened in Ireland had we listened to those who campaigned against EU membership during the accession treaty debate almost 30 years ago. Their arguments then were as scaremongering and emotive as they are today. On the defence front they said that for us to join the European Union would mean fighting alongside British paratroopers in European wars. On the economic front they said that money always goes where money is and that labour and people would have to follow. They said the wealth and jobs of Europe would concentrate in centres such as the Ruhr valley, income disparities between the centre and us on the edge would be in a ratio as high as four to one and peripheral regions such as Ireland would experience a massive exodus of people from outlying regions to the centre. We have seen the opposite. The Cohesion and Structural Funds have led to massive investment in the regions. They have been proved wrong on every front. Their scaremongering and propaganda have been shown up for what they were.

Today some of the same people are to the forefront of the anti-Nice treaty campaign. They have the audacity to peddle further untruths and distortions about the entire European project and their indifference and disregard for the destiny of the ten countries that their campaign seeks to sabotage is nothing short of sheer callousness. It is interesting to reflect that during the outcome of the last Nice treaty campaign the British National Front party and other extremists such as those led by Jean-Marie Le Pen lauded their "success". These are the soulmates of the "No to Nice" campaign.

Similarly, I note that Justin Barrett's campaign leads with the scare headline of "Second chance to become second class". We would not even be second class citizens if we were to live in the Europe of Mr. Barrett's vision. Justin Barrett claims to be morally superior to all us mere mortals on most social and economic issues. It is interesting to note that Pope John Paul ll – a man who has visited 97 countries and five continents and who has commanded the respect and confidence of so many world leaders and people – when he recently returned to his native Poland and spoke to 2 million of his fellow countrymen expressed a strong desire that they would be successful as a nation in joining a greater Europe and experience the progress and prosperity it would yield to them. Obviously, Mr. Barrett considers himself to be intellectually and morally superior to the great Pontiff.

We have witnessed in our own country such household names and dynamic corporations as Intel, Dell, Microsoft and Boston Scientific giving our workforce thousands of well paid jobs. These corporations located here primarily because they would be securing a foothold in the greater Single Market. There is no doubt that if we reject the Nice treaty, we are sending out a negative signal to the overseas boardrooms of these corporations that we are not serious about living and working in an expanding market and it is possible that they will turn their attentions to those countries which are.

I am confident that the people will vote for the Nice treaty when the issues are explained to them properly and simply and if we counter successfully the scaremongering and bankrupt arguments of those who seek to defeat the proposals. They will be relying, probably with confidence, on a very low turnout and lots of confusion during the campaign. It is the minimum duty of all in this House who seek to strengthen our role in Europe to lead and direct vibrant lively campaigns within our constituencies in favour of the treaty and ensure a positive result. This is the very least we must do. I look forward to doing so in my native Galway West.

I would like to share time with Deputy Bernard Allen.

Ba mhaith liom ráiteas a léamh amach. Freagra mothaitheach atá ann a tugadh tar éis an reifrinn deiridh ar chonradh Nice. Tá a lán atá istigh sa ráiteas gair do mo mheoin féin maidir leis an reifreann. Tá macnamh déanta ag údar na bhfocal maidir leis an reifreann agus maidir leis an gceist ar chóir reifreann a chur os comhair an phobail arís.

So far as the Nice treaty is concerned, the Irish people have spoken and, like it or lump it, the Commission and its President have to accept it. They should do so with more good grace than they have shown in the recent past.

The Nice treaty, no matter what its good intentions, is a document that has been democratically tested in only one member state, and that is Ireland. It has failed to meet the democratic test in this nation. It is arrogance for any politician here or any Commissioner in Europe to ignore the fundamental fact that the Irish people have spoken with some clarity in the matter. Yet last night the President of the Commission suggested that somehow or other the Irish people's will can be undone. If the Commission, its leaders or the government of any European state decide to sweep democracy aside, we must ask on what basis is the future of Europe to be built.

There is something distinctly odd about democratic states attempting to take decisions that are out of line with the sentiments of their citizens. The gulf that exists between the citizens of Europe and the institutions, the Commissioners and the bureaucrats who are now driving the Union, is nowhere more visible than in the area of peace, security and defence. In the run up to the Nice treaty, the European Council decided, quite incredibly, that somehow the European Union could now take charge of peace, security and defence issues across the continent of Europe, both within and outside the Union. The issues raised by the rejection of the Nice treaty in the referendum are of a fundamental nature. It is foolhardy to talk about another referendum at this stage unless something is fundamentally changed. To attempt to re-run a referendum as a means of reversing the democratic decision taken by the people would be rightly regarded as an affront. Something fundamental will have to be changed in the Nice treaty before we can even contemplate putting it to the people again.

The Nice treaty is a complex document which intends to achieve complex things. It was sold to the Irish people as a means of providing for the enlargement of the European Union. Mr. Prodi made it very clear that was not what the treaty was about. He did not, however, make clear precisely what it is about. He was saying, therefore, that the enlargement process could be achieved without the Nice treaty.

In the immediate aftermath of the last referendum the author of these words was expressing views that many held. They were welcomed as a true and honest reflection of the debate and how the people viewed the treaty.

Bhí an ceart ag údar na bhfocal san go raibh tástáil dhaonlathach déanta ar an gconradh agus gur theip air sa tástáil sin. Bhí an ceart aige arís nuair a dúirt sé gur sotalach an rud an reifreann a chur arís. The author of the words was right to say it is an affront that we are here engaging in a so-called debate on a treaty that has been rejected by the people. It is arrogant of the Government to ignore the fact that the people have spoken. Nothing has changed, fundamentally or otherwise, in the treaty to warrant its being put again to the people.

When the Minister of State with responsibility for Europe, Deputy Roche, spoke those words in this House on 21 June 2001, he was a mere Government backbencher expressing his views honestly and openly. Now, with his ministerial position, he has dumped that honesty and openness in favour of the arrogance and effrontery for which he so berated the Government then. It is no wonder so many people have turned off politics.

The Taoiseach's view on neutrality is so narrowly focused in terms of not actively participating in the activities of a military alliance as to render it completely meaningless. Rather than using it as a positive element of an independent foreign policy, we have a Government that almost apologises for the fact that we are supposed to be neutral. While the Government may be embarrassed and ashamed of our neutrality, the people are not. It is a core part of our country's sovereignty that it is able to define its own international relations and react with honesty and integrity to specific or individual situations as they arise.

Republicans and progressive people throughout Ireland view neutrality as something positive, something to be proud of, something that can and should be used for the good of the world. Now more than ever, with the warmongers in the US Administration itching to attack Iraq, with the active support of the British Government, the need to show leadership on this issue is crucial. It is obvious that most of the nations of the world are completely opposed to any such actions. That begs the following questions. Why are we allowing US armed forces to train in our territory? Why do we have low-flying US military aircraft on training manoeuvres over the south west coast? Why are we allowing two military support vessels to dock at Cobh?

If the Taoiseach and the Department of Foreign Affairs are so sure of what the Irish people want, then put it to a vote. Let us have a referendum on the issue of neutrality so as to avoid further ambiguity. Let the people decide whether or not they wish neutrality to be enshrined in the Constitution. The declarations of the Seville Summit in June have no legal basis. Unlike protocols annexed to treaties by common accord of the member states, which form an integral part of a treaty, there is no such provision in European law relating to declarations. This distinction is crucial when it is borne in mind that it is not the European Council that will interpret the legal significance of the declarations, but the European Court of Justice. The court would be duty bound to consider the Nice treaty as adopted by the member states and would likely ignore any declaration adopted unilaterally by one state.

Even on the grounds of neutrality, which the Government has identified as the primary reason for the rejection of the treaty, what the people of Ireland are being offered as an inducement to vote "Yes" is really a confidence trick. It is essential that this debate also covers other issues such as the democratic deficit in the EU, the unaccountability of the Commission and the European Council or the failure of the EU to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights. These issues must not be overlooked or glossed over.

For us and for the vast majority of those who opposed the Nice treaty, enlargement is not an issue and we are not opposed to enlargement. It has already been acknowledged at the highest levels within the EU that enlargement can proceed without the Nice treaty. Last week the French Minister for European Affairs said that a "No" vote in Ireland will not stop enlargement. As if to highlight this, Deputy Brian Cowen, on 4 September in this House, rejected arguments advanced by members of his own party that Nice was necessary for enlargement. He rightly acknowledged that saying "No" to Nice would only disrupt the preferred timetable, not halt enlargement, as has been suggested.

Deputy Cowen was right to point out that the "No" side in this House has not made or used anti-immigration arguments. For Deputy Dick Roche or others to insinuate that Sinn Féin was ambivalent on the issue of immigration or racism is a bit rich considering our record against racism and bigotry, which stands second to none in this House. If Deputy Roche wants to start lecturing people or wagging his fingers at anyone in this House he need look no further than the Government front bench. On one of the days Deputy Roche was attacking Sinn Féin over immigration, his colleague Deputy Michael McDowell initiated a round-up of non-white people and Eastern Europeans in the name of clamping down on illegal immigration. I have asked the Minister how many of these people were found to be in breach of our immigration laws, how many were charged or how many were actually Irish citizens. The answers to these questions stand as a shocking indictment of the Government's policies towards asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants. The use of the immigration argument by Deputy Roche is undoubtedly as cynical as that of Justin Barrett.

It is a bit much to be listening to a lecture accusing some of the parties supporting this referendum of being arrogant because as far as I can see, some of the arguments put forward by the last speaker put his party in the same anti-European stable as the British Tory Party, the British National Front and Le Pen's party in France.

The concern I have and the message I want to convey is that this referendum, though necessary, is coming at the worst possible time because the Government, which is the main sponsor of the referendum, has sunk so low in the credibility stakes that people simply will not believe what it puts forward. The Government's credibility with the electorate is at an all-time low, and this will certainly handicap the referendum campaign to win a "Yes" vote. This Government deceived and misled the electorate to gain power. Before the election, there were to be no cuts in public services according to the Ministers for Finance and Health and Children. In fact, we had an avalanche of announcements by Deputy Martin day in and day out about new services throughout the country. Immediately after the election, everything changed suddenly and utterly.

We were told that all Departments would have to get involved in a €300 million spending cut, and the running of the Department of Finance was effectively taken out of the hands of the Minister through the appointment by the Government of an expert group headed by former Central Bank governor, Maurice O'Connell. That group is now going through the budget of each Department line by line in order to bring about more cuts. This Government decision was a major act of "no confidence" in the Minister for Finance. This powerful group will shortly present a report to Government—

Deputy we are discussing the Twenty-sixth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 2002—

My point is to offer numerous examples of where the Government—

The Deputy is supposed to discuss what is in the Bill or what he would like to see in the Bill, and I cannot see the relevance of the other issues to this debate.

What is being outlined is the Government's lack of credibility in putting forward the proposals for this referendum.

The Deputy can make a passing reference but the detail—

I am not going into detail but I will give a number of examples, such as the cut backs in services, coupled with the new charges imposed on people for a variety of health services—

I would like to get back to the Bill under discussion. The Deputy should confine his comments to the Bill.

This is a Second Stage debate and I am entitled to—

The Deputy is entitled to discuss what is in the Bill or what he would like to see in it but he is not entitled to make a long Second Stage speech on issues that are not directly related to the Bill.

I have been here for the past hour and a half and have listened to people refer to all sorts of issues. If the Ceann Comhairle does not like the references I am making here to the Government's disgraceful performance, which will impact negatively upon the campaign—

This is the third day I have been in the House and the debate has adhered to what is in the Bill, with passing references to other issues. I have not heard a Second Stage speech on issues that are not relevant to the Bill.

Without going into detail I can give examples of the Government's deception and its betrayal of the electorate since the election. I am putting them forward as the reason the electorate will be cynical about what the Government parties will say during this campaign. There is a major onus on the Opposition parties supporting the "Yes" campaign to win over the support of the people.

I listened for ten minutes to what the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Kitt, had to say about what was being done regarding overseas aid. The Taoiseach, at the Johannesburg Summit, chastised many countries for cutting their aid to Third World countries while the Department of Foreign Affairs cut its overseas aid budget by €30 million. That is another example of this Government's double-dealing.

How can I, along with Ministers, try to convince people in my constituency of the credibility of the Government's case when long-term unemployed people availing of community employment schemes were thrown out of their jobs without notice despite assurances by the Taoiseach in this House that they would keep their jobs and the service would prevail until such time as a review took place? I refer now to the Minister for Defence, Deputy Smith, who went back on his proposals to equip the Army, Navy and Air Corps with new equipment.

The Minister for the Environment and Local Government has slowed down the house construction programme. Up to 4,000 families in my constituency are awaiting housing. I attended a meeting in Cork last Friday night regarding the future of IFI. Many speakers referred to the European Union regulations which prevent the Government from supporting the IFI. In the interests of workers and of getting this referendum through, the Government should postpone any decisions regarding IFI until the House resumes in October.

In recent weeks, many issues have been raised in the context of the Treaty of Nice. One issue that has been raised in a disgraceful if not racist way is the allegation that there will be a mass exodus of people from central and eastern Europe to Ireland if the treaty is passed. Ireland will not be swamped by unwanted immigrants if the Treaty of Nice is passed. The reality is that most of the immigrants in Ireland today are here because the economy needs their skills and energies. On the other hand, asylum seekers are victims of a muddled, inefficient processing system.

People realise that large numbers of people did not decide to leave for European countries when Ireland initially joined the European Union. They continued to emigrate to Europe, the UK and the United States as they had been doing. Often, they were illegal immigrants in the countries to which they went, something many of us seem to forget. With the passing of the Treaty of Nice the current scenario will prevail. With the upsurge of economic activity in applicant countries which have acceded, emigration to other European countries will cease.

We need an extension of the European Union to ensure peace and stability which will lead to ongoing economic prosperity. The enlargement of the European Union means economic success will come to new members bringing about a stable and peaceful Europe. With enlargement the European Union will become a market of approximately 500 million people with an even greater free trade area and greater opportunities for our country, our economy and our business sector. Ireland, being a small nation, depends on a strong, confident and growing Europe. A "Yes" vote on the Treaty of Nice will be seen by investors and potential investors as an indication of our participation in the EU. We will have to decide, therefore, whether we will be involved at the heart of decision-making within Europe or whether we will be marginalised. If Ireland votes "No" again our country will be seen as the pebble in the shoe, as an irritant to be tolerated for a short period but which will eventually become infectious.

A sum of €5 billion has been invested in Ireland by leading international companies. They are looking for a positive signal from us that we are not turning our backs on the future development of Europe and that we are committed and determined to be there when it matters.

I call on the people to ignore the deception of this Government and to remember they are not voting for or against this disgraceful Government but are voting for a strong and united Europe that will be able to compete on an equal basis with other world economic giants such as the United States and the Pacific rim nations. The Treaty of Nice is too important to this country. I urge the people to vote "Yes".

I wish to share time with Deputies Moloney and Blaney.

Before dealing specifically with what I intend to convey to this House, I remind Deputy Allen that this Government does not lack credibility.

After today?

Our expenditure line for this year is €3.4 billion ahead of what it was this time last year and public expenditure is 18% ahead of what it was this time last year. That cannot be termed a cut by economic criteria. Expenditure has risen by a considerable amount above what was provided for in the budget and tax receipts have come down.

The referendum on the Treaty of Nice is one of the most important choices ever faced by the people. As a mature and developed republic within the EU, we are viewed as a role model by many of the applicant countries. We have earned this pride of place not only by our economic and social progress over the past 30 years, but by our reputation as a nation which has consistently answered the call of people in need.

I do not have to remind anyone of the enormous contribution which the Defence Forces made to peacekeeping over several decades. Eighty-four of our personnel have paid the ultimate price for peace on duty with the United Nations. Since 1958, they have earned an unrivalled reputation as peacekeepers throughout the world and the Government is determined to play its part in seeing that reputation maintained and developed.

The Government, contrary to misguided speculation, remains determined to continue to contribute actively to UN peacekeeping. Our future contribution will take into account the changing and more complex nature of peacekeeping which involves additional tasks such as humanitarian assistance, the protection of human rights and civilian police work.

The Irish Defence Forces, in all their peacekeeping missions over the years, have combined the difficult job of maintaining peace with the provision of humanitarian support to assist and build up the local communities within which they serve. Increasingly humanitarian tasks go hand in hand with military tasks. During my visits to Irish troops serving overseas, I have seen at first hand not alone their professional commitment in fulfilling the United Nations mandate but the support and encouragement which they have given to the local people. In recent years in Lebanon we reached out in numerous practical ways such as in supporting the orphanage at Tibnin which the Irish Battalion Medical Clinics run for the local people, aiding the elderly, annual help with the harvests and the numerous other humanitarian tasks.

Since the Defence Forces were deployed for service with the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea – UNMEE – in December 2001, they have supported the local population in Asmara, Eritrea, in a number of projects similar to those which the Defence Forces supported in Lebanon.

A number of projects have also been undertaken by the Defence Forces personnel serving with the Stabilisation Force, SFOR, in Bosnia Herzegovina and KFOR in Kosovo. The Irish troops at Camp Clarke in Pristina, Kosovo have, for example, rebuilt the homes of several families in both the Albanian and Serb communities. Most of this work is done by our Defence Forces on a voluntary basis in their spare time. It is the way they do peacekeeping, an approach that is respected and acknowledged wherever we serve.

Ireland and its Defence Forces have a significant contribution to make to the continuing development of security policy and it is vital that Ireland remains at the centre of that process and continues to influence the development of these policies both within the UN and the European Union. The Treaty of Amsterdam, as approved by the Irish electorate in May 1998, defined the operational focus of the EU on peacekeeping and crisis management, the so-called Petersberg Tasks. Based on the provisions of the treaties of Maastricht and Amsterdam, the Union has gradually set up decision making structures so that it can undertake humanitarian and crisis management tasks. Ireland, in common with its EU partners, is participating in these structures and we can bring much expertise to bear, through our participation in UN missions, in promoting peace and stability in Europe.

As part of the response to potential future crisis management challenges, the European Council at Helsinki in December 1999 set the voluntary EU headline goal of being able by 2003 to deploy within 60 days and to sustain, for at least one year, 50,000 to 60,000 persons capable of the full range of humanitarian, peacekeeping and crisis management tasks. Ireland's commitment to this consists of an offer of up to 850 Defence Forces personnel from within our existing commitment of 850 members to the United Nations standby arrangement system. The Government will decide on a case by case basis whether, when and how to commit either troops or other resources to any peace support operation. In accordance with the relevant legislation, participation requires UN authorisation, a specific Government decision and Dáil approval, the so-called triple lock. None of this impacts adversely on our policy of neutrality. Our involvement in European security and defence policy is fully consistent with our policy in this area. The Government has consistently made it clear that the consent of the people in a referendum would be required if the issue of joining a mutual defence guarantee were ever to arise in future.

It is often asked if Partnership for Peace has any role in preparation for the EU headline goal, but there is no institutional link between PfP and the EU although the PfP is relevant to the Petersberg Tasks. Essentially, our participation in PfP is designed to enhance inter-operability with PfP partner nations in such areas as tactics, operational cohesion, logistics and language training, thereby facilitating our capacity to undertake Petersberg Tasks. Ireland wishes to contribute its UN peacekeeping experience by playing an active part in the Petersberg humanitarian, rescue, peacekeeping and crisis management tasks in support of the European security and defence policy. This policy is not only about developing military capabilities but involves developing a range of tools which the EU can have at its disposal with the objective of making the common foreign and security policy more effective and more visible. I spoke already of Ireland's proud record in UN peacekeeping, and, with the development of European security and defence policy, people might ask how the UN and the EU link together. Are there contradictions between the two approaches? One complements the other, or, to put it another way, they are mutually reinforcing.

Some suggest that our legislation should be changed to allow our Defence Forces to participate in missions abroad authorised by such bodies as the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe where, for some reason, UN authorisation is not forthcoming. I emphatically reject that idea. We must continue to support fully the UN as the primary guarantor of international peace and security. The answer to any difficulties which may arise in this context is to strengthen the position of the UN, not diminish it.

Regarding the relevance of the Treaty of Nice to security and defence, Ireland has a strong interest in maintaining a stable, inclusive security environment and it is essential for us to be centrally involved in shaping future changes in the direction as we would wish to see them. This treaty makes only limited changes in the existing provisions for the common foreign and security policy which are intended to make it more coherent, effective and visible. These limited changes concern the deletion of references to the Western European Union and provide a treaty basis for the political and security committee in Brussels. At the time of the Treaty of Amsterdam, it was envisaged that the Western European Union would play a key role acting on the EU's behalf in crisis management and conflict prevention. However, given the development of the Union's own capabilities in this area, the role of the Western European Union has diminished. Now that the EU will itself implement decisions in this area, the Treaty of Nice also provides for the replacement of the existing political committee, which comprised representatives from capitals, by a political and security committee which would be based in Brussels and operate under instructions from the respective governments. The new committee will assume functions relating to the conduct of the common foreign and security policy. The Treaty of Nice contains no other security and defence provisions.

In voting "No" last year, the people expressed a number of concerns, many of which were not related to the treaty but which the Government made considerable efforts to address. As well as allowing for the legal and institutional framework for the enlargement of the EU, the proposed amendment will also allow the State to take part, if the Government so decides and subject in each case to the prior approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas, in enhanced co-operation with groups of other member states as provided for by the treaty. The proposed amendment, if approved by the people, will also have the effect of preventing the State from adopting a decision taken by the European Council on the establishment of a common defence in accordance with Article 17. 1 of the Treaty of the European Union, as set out in Article 1. 2 of the Treaty of Nice, where that common defence would include the State. I cannot emphasise enough that the insertion of this provision into the Constitution, which involves a significant change from the previous referendum, guarantees that Ireland could not participate in such a common defence without further amendment to the Constitution.

I thank the Minister for agreeing to share his time with me and I wish to share my time with Deputy Blaney with the agreement of the House.

I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate. In recent days the Government was accused of being arrogant in pursuing this referendum again, but after the last referendum many explained that they either voted "No" or abstained because they felt that they did not have adequate information. Since 1980, we have had a number of referenda which were re-runs of previous ones in which the basic issue had not changed. This one follows our attempt to make the electorate aware of the issues.

I support the treaty, particularly on the selfish grounds that since we joined the EEC in 1973, we have benefited extremely well. Our participation in the EU has brought prosperity and opportunities that we did not envisage in 1973 and so we should carefully contemplate what we are doing. More important and less selfishly, I want to ensure that those countries which wish to join the EU can do so as quickly as possible. I do not intend to spend the next few weeks suggesting what would happen if we were to vote "No" as it is more important to focus on the benefits of enlargement for ourselves and others. I support the Nice treaty because I want to afford the same chance to the applicant countries, which have worked hard over recent years to qualify for accession to the EU, that Ireland was offered in 1973.

I have no wish to be negative in my contribution or to use the argument of what might happen if we vote against the treaty again. However, it is important to point out that a "No" vote will slow down the application process for the ten applicant countries in their bid to match our economic progress. It has been alleged this evening that this debate is about us promoting our nation for selfish reasons. It is about enlargement and ensuring that other countries can participate in the Union's prosperity by affording them the opportunity to join. Those countries are aware that when Ireland joined the EEC in 1973, it was the poorest country in the community. Our economy and standard of living have improved greatly, probably beyond the expectations of those who signed our accession documents in 1973.

I hope people will take this issue into account when deciding how to vote. It is the most unselfish reason for voting "Yes". I also ask people to vote "Yes" for the selfish reason that we wish to continue to attract foreign direct investment. We have succeeded in securing huge funding from Europe over the years. Many figures have been bandied about in recent weeks but the most important one to remember is that Ireland has secured €34 billion more than it has contributed since accession.

We have secured benefits under many headings, such as environmental schemes, educational training, which I wholeheartedly support, social development and farming. I doubt that we will continue to attract the same level of foreign investment if there is a "No" vote. That is not just my conclusion but it is clear from recent statements by the Dublin and Cork Chambers of Commerce and the important contribution of Seán Dorgan, chief executive officer of IDA Ireland.

I thank the Minister and Deputy Moloney for sharing their time with me. When Ireland voted to join the EEC in 1973, Donegal had the highest percentage vote in favour of accession. When Ireland voted on the Nice treaty in 2001, Donegal had the highest percentage of "No" votes. Perhaps that is an omen.

In 2001 the EU Commission President, Romano Prodi, in an interview published inThe Irish Times on 21 June, said that ratification of the Nice treaty was not legally necessary for enlargement. He said that up to 20 members could join the EU without any problem – any more than that required the insertion into the accession agreement of some clauses and notes of change. Statements such as this contradict statements made in this House on the Nice treaty and enlargement. If the Nice treaty is not about enlargement, why is a referendum necessary?

I do not oppose enlargement but I cannot understand why the candidate countries cannot be brought into the Union on a phased basis. Ireland has developed considerably since joining the EU but let us not get hung up on the past and throw away our future. A balanced interpretation of the Nice treaty and the Seville declarations, as set out in the White Paper, shows that the treaty undermines Ireland's voting powers in the European Commission. Ireland will be without a voice at the Commission table for certain periods of time.

Ireland's voting powers on the European Council are also weakened. The larger member states, such as Germany and the UK, will secure an increase from ten to 29 votes after enlargement while Ireland will only receive an increase to seven votes from three. There will also be a shift away from unanimity in European Council decisions towards qualified majority voting. Given that Ireland has such a small percentage of votes, its voice will not be heard. Ireland's representation in the European Parliament will also decrease from 15 members to 12 in the enlarged Union.

Ireland's neutrality has already been undermined by the decision to join NATO's Partnership for Peace. With a common foreign and security policy being decided by qualified majority voting Ireland's neutral position could be further diminished. Our democracy has already been undermined by the fact that we must vote again on the Nice treaty. Looking at these facts, it is hard to see any positive aspects to the Treaty of Nice.

Nine of the candidate states are more dependent on agriculture than Ireland while three are equally dependent on agriculture. It is difficult to envisage a market that can cater for the needs of all these countries and Ireland. I believe small farming in Ireland will become extinct. I come from a county where unemployment is four times the national average. Foreign based companies are already leaving Ireland for cheaper workforces in other countries. One such example is Fruit of the Loom. I envisage this trend continuing with the adoption of the Nice treaty.

I am an Independent Deputy but I have a strong organisation in County Donegal which will decide on what course to take with regard to the Nice treaty. It will make that decision shortly. I believe the organisation would like the treaty to be renegotiated. As it stands, we should take the "No" route.

Díospóireacht an-mhaith agus an-mhór í seo don tír agus don Eoraip, ach go háirithe. Níl aon dul as againn sa tír seo ach vótáil i bhfábhar chonradh Nice. Tá sé an-thábhachtach do na tíortha nua a bhéas ag teacht isteach san Aontas Eorpach. Tá deich thír sásta teacht isteach san Aontas i mbliana agus tiocfaidh siad isteach má bhuann an reifreann. Tá sé an-thábhachtach go mbeadh díospóireacht sa Teach seo agus i ngach teach sa tír. Tá sé de dhualgas orainn agus ar gach duine sa tír éisteacht leis na ceisteanna agus leis na hargóintí a thagann ó gach taobh den díospóireacht. Níl aon áit sa díospóireacht seo do shean-pholaitíocht Fhianna Fáil, Fhine Gael, Sinn Féin, an Chomhaontas Glas agus eile. Caithfimid dearcadh nua ar fad a bheith againn.

It is time for a new approach to the Nice treaty referendum and the principle of a united and expanding Europe. Wolfe Tone was the founder of modern Irish republicanism and nationalism. His great legacy was based on the revolutionary principles of liberty, equality and fraternity which he adopted from the French and which, during the Enlightenment, spread throughout Europe. This country is now faced with accepting or rejecting those basic principles.

I do not wish to make political points but my remarks are addressed to people who argue for a "No" vote. If ten countries are ready to join the EU now, a "No" vote by Ireland will destroy their right to liberty and equality and their freedom to associate fully with the rest of Europe.

A "No" vote would be like what happened in Cromwell's time when we saw the díbirt go Chonnacht, when he drove what was left of the population to Connacht, fine as it is. We would put the thoughts and aspirations of millions in eastern Europe on the same route. We would say we reject and do not want them and that there is no place for them in our country. We need to think seriously about such issues.

It is time to introduce a note of idealism such as that I came across when I travelled to some of the applicant countries last year. I visited Hungary, an accession country, and Romania, which hopes to accede in the near future. I was particularly impressed by the views of the young people I met there who are showing leadership in communities which for many years last century were monopolised and destroyed by "the dictatorship of the proletariat," what is commonly called communism. The countries concerned were repressed and deprived of liberty, equality and freedom in their societies. I am particularly impressed by the people in them who want them to become strong and to again be a part of greater Europe, as they were before communism and the world wars.

We should never forget that in the last century close to 60 million died on the battlefields of Europe. If there is a united Europe, into which the applicant countries are brought, we will have a stronger and more peaceful Europe. Young people in the countries concerned will have a future. The average wage when I was in Romania last was $100 per month. What standard can people on that wage expect? If we stand in their way with a "No" vote – that is what we will be doing – we condemn them to not having the future that we want for our children. It has been said by no less a person than the head of the IDA that if we vote "No," we will not get investment and there will be no interest in Ireland. We will not be seen to be part of, or fully engaged with, the future of Europe. That is the reason it is essential to vote "Yes".

There are many who argue that we should vote "No". The Sinn Féin website reads:

Sinn Féin is an Irish republican party. Our objective is to end British rule in Ireland. We seek national self-determination and the unity and independence of Ireland as a sovereign state.

Would greater sovereignty not be found in a broader and more united Europe? Would we not depend less on Britain? It is time for Sinn Féin to take its head out of the sand and accept that Ireland has prospered in the European Union, that it will continue to prosper if we vote "Yes," and that our past dependence on Britain in economic and employment terms has changed radically since we joined the European Union and will continue to change. We will be much less dependent on Britain if we vote "Yes". The Sinn Féin speakers cannot continue to ignore that reality.

Sinn Féin and the Greens cannot ignore the fact that things have changed since the last referendum. A commitment was given in the Seville declaration. There is a commitment from the Government that there must be a referendum in Ireland if we are to participate in any military alliance. Every citizen will have a vote in that decision. Voters must wake up to this issue. Those talking about militarism are wrong; it is no longer a reality. The reason for holding this referendum again is because it is recognised that the people were deeply concerned about that issue.

Beidh an Ghaeilge agus ceol agus cultúr na hÉireann níos láidre nuair atáimid páirteach leis na tíortha nua san Aontas. Beidh bua níos fearr ar an nGaeilge mar beidh níos mó tíortha san Aontas a bhfuil teanga neamh-fhorleathana, cosúil leis an nGaeilge, á labhairt iontu agus beidh níos mó meas ar an nGaeilge san Aontas Eorpach ná mar atá anois. Beidh i bhfad níos mó feirmeoirí beaga ins na tíortha nua atá ag teacht isteach agus beidh éisteacht níos mó ag feirmeoirí iarthar na hÉireann dá bharr san.

What is the reality regarding green issues in an expanded Europe? Will we have less or more industrial pollution? The Green Party – the views and aspirations of which I support in many ways – should realise that there will be more and better regulation of industry, pollution and environmental issues in an expanded Europe. The applicant countries have not had the environmental standards of the European Union. Soon, European directives will apply in the countries concerned and it will advance the green cause more to be in an expanded Europe with them inside than outside.

One of the current issues in counties Louth and Meath is incineration, as the Green Party knows. What of the incinerators in eastern Europe? When this referendum is passed, as I hope it will be, the question of the environment will come to the fore because there will be greater regulation. That will apply, not just in the applicant countries, but in this country also.

A majority of the people who voted in the last referendum voted not to accept the Nice treaty in its present form. Every Member of this House is here by virtue of that same democratic process. We, above all others, have a special responsibility to respect and reflect the majority outcome of that referendum, as we do of all elections and referenda. Despite this, the response of the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government to the will of the people was an almost immediate refusal to accept the outcome. It was as if there was contempt in Government for the majority of those who voted in the last referendum.

Is it not reasonable to expect that the Government should have gone back to its European counterparts and made an effort to renegotiate even some of the more contentious elements of the Nice treaty? Such a stance would at the very least have indicated an acceptance of the democratic process. Had that happened, it might have been what was needed to give added strength to the argument, for example, that all states, including Ireland, should retain the automatic right to nominate a Commissioner. It may well have been possible to win other concessions given that all of the EU leadership apparently regarded the Irish referendum vote as a serious blow and one that would have to be reversed at all costs.

Given that that was the case, common sense suggests that concessions would have to be made if only to demonstrate that the "No" side was wrong after all and that the European Union was a democratic institution that respected and reflected the people's mandate. There was an excellent opportunity to show the European Union in a democratic light. Instead, the Taoiseach and the Government adopted an undemocratic, macho approach and treated the referendum as if it was the first half of a football match. Almost immediately, the Taoiseach reassured his EU masters that he would sort it all out and there would be another referendum. This time the Government along with its allies in the main opposition parties will use their overwhelming resources to browbeat and scare people into doing what they are told, without the slightest concession or change to the treaty. That is an affront to our intelligence and our democratic procedures. It is one important reason to vote "No" again.

The second main reason I have for voting "No" to Nice is the clear fact that the treaty will make the EU a less accountable and less democratic structure for Ireland and other small states, including many of the new applicants. I would welcome these applicant countries into an enlarged EU on the basis of equality but not on the basis of a two-tier Europe, as the Nice treaty would have it, where Ireland and other small states would have demonstrably second-class status to the big powers who would dominate.

There can only be equality and accountability if the power of veto is retained by all, if all states have an automatic right to nominate a Commissioner, and where the Council of Ministers requires the mandate of individual parliaments to take major policy and legislative decisions. The Nice treaty ensures that none of this will happen.

The scare tactic of the "Yes" side, that enlargement would not proceed, has already failed. We know from the president of the European Commission, Mr. Romano Prodi, that enlargement is yet another red herring and that enlargement can and will take place regardless of the outcome of the referendum here. The new scare tactic about the alleged threat to foreign investment will fail also.

The Deputy knows what is best for the applicant states.

The Deputy obviously does not understand democracy.

I do, very clearly.

That has already been pointed out by groups advocating a "No" vote.

Deputy Gregory, without any further interruption.

Thank you, Sir. You understand democracy.

Articles 1.11 and 2.1 of the Treaty of Nice remove the veto we have at present on harmonising company taxes in the euro zone, thereby abolishing the principal incentive we have for keeping foreign capital in Ireland and attracting new foreign investment. At present Ireland can veto any such EU development but under the Nice treaty's provisions for so-called enhanced co-operation, eight or more EU states can harmonise taxes among themselves, even if the others disagree. British politicians have called Ireland a tax haven. Germany with its high tax rates wants a level playing field for company taxes in the euro zone and wants Ireland to raise its low 12.5% tax rate to remove the incentive for German and other companies to move here.

Ireland can still opt out if the other euro zone states go ahead with harmonising company taxes under enhanced co-operation, but it will then be faced with becoming a second class EU member outside the core euro zone group. Ratifying the Nice treaty thus faces us with the invidious choice of either undermining a fundamental basis of Ireland's economic success – the attractiveness to foreign investors of our low company tax rates – or being relegated to second class EU membership status.

Nothing this Government says has credibility any more. First we had the Government reneging on the commitment to a referendum on NATO's Partnership for Peace, then it contemptuously reneged on the decision in the last Nice treaty referendum and, more recently, it deliberately misled the people in pre-general election manifestos and statements on the economy. All this showed an insulting contempt for the electorate.

Many people do not believe the Government's position on neutrality, either. People see a slow, calculated drift towards our involvement in military alliances. They also see Shannon Airport being virtually handed over as a refuelling base for the military aircraft of the warmonger Bush. So much for our commitment to neutrality. People know that the European Rapid Reaction Force has close links with the nuclear-armed military alliance, NATO. In March 2000, the general secretary of NATO stated that "by 2005 the indivisibility of the US-EU link will have been carved in stone". The military officers attending the EU military committee are the same as those attending NATO committees. A "No" to Nice is now, as it was a year ago, a "No" to NATO. The Nice treaty is a further step towards the creation of a European superstate dominated by the corporate sector with a powerful military-industrial complex – in other words, a militarised and elitist Europe.

The lack of credibility in any utterance by the Government will be a factor in the way the electorate reaches its decision in the forthcoming referendum, but it will not be the decisive factor. That will concern the elements of the Nice treaty itself which, when closely examined, show that the EU after Nice will be a far less accountable and less democratic structure for small states like Ireland. If the people again vote "No" they will be doing so in a positive spirit of voicing their concerns about taking a stand in the interests of equality, democracy and accountability among all member states of the EU.

Acting Chairman

I understand that the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Walsh, is sharing time with the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Tim O'Malley, is that correct?

Yes. The Nice treaty is the fifth European treaty which the people have been asked to approve by way of referendum. Four of those treaties have been approved by resounding majorities. As a result of these treaties, Ireland has taken its place at the heart of the European decision-making process and is a prosperous member of the most powerful trading bloc in the world, with a single market of 375 million people and a single currency.

While there have been many factors that have led to our prosperity, such as our educational and taxation policies, and our approach to social partnership, none of these would have generated the prosperity we have experienced if we had not been members of the EU. As a small country of less than four million situated on the periphery of the continent, we could achieve little without being part of a larger economic entity. The EU provided a huge, barrier-free, wealthy market with enormous potential for a small country that got its domestic policies and competitive position right. The result has been economic growth on a scale unprecedented in our history.

Apart from providing a market of 375 million people which is vital to an export-oriented country such as ours, the EU also provides direct aid. The level of direct assistance has been enormous. For example, from 1973 to 2001, Ireland received €32 billion in price supports and direct payments to agriculture alone. A further €2.6 billion was made available in grant aid to agriculture and the food industry, and €13 billion in other Structural Funds assistance. That amounts to a staggering €47.5 billion which has improved farmers' incomes and transformed their living standards. It has increased farm productivity, raised food safety standards and enhanced the environment. It has supported investment in research, training, marketing and promotion as well as in plant and equipment. It has also developed our infrastructure far faster than we could have done on our own.

Above and beyond a market of 375 million people and direct net investment into our economy, Ireland has enjoyed these benefits from our membership of the EU because it is at the heart of the EU decision making procedures. Those procedures have functioned well and allow Ireland, as a relatively small member state, to contribute to decisions which are efficient. Unlike many supra-national organisations that became ineffective under the weight of their own procedures, EU procedures have worked spectacularly well. The prime objective of the Nice treaty is to ensure the continued effectiveness of the EU decision-making processes after enlargement. It is, therefore, in Ireland's interest to ratify the changes in the decision-making process provided for in the Nice treaty.

It is also in the interest of our agriculture, and the economy in general, that, as a result of enlargement, the European Single Market will increase by a further 106 million consumers – 375 million consumers, increased by 100 million odd, reaching a consumer market of 475 million. For a country with a population of less than 4.5 million people it is extremely important when we have to export more than 80% of our agriculture and food produce. For example, we are 1,000% self sufficient in beef. On our own Ireland would be in desperate trouble without that market at our doorstep. There will be additional competition and many will ask what will happen when Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and others join the Union. We have succeeded in rapidly expanding our economy and our exports year by year since joining the EU against very stiff competition from developed economies and economic giants such as Germany, France and Italy. We have competed against them and have done extremely well against that type of competition. On the basis of our record, enlargement will be strongly positive for the entire economy and we should not shy away from it or be afraid of it.

It is incomprehensible that some farm leaders, while advocating a "Yes" vote, are at the same time threatening that farmers may vote "No" unless they receive a sweetener or other assistance. In so doing, they run the danger of giving a confused message to their members and, therefore, of endangering their members' interests. Certainly, farmers are experiencing difficulties and there were weather difficulties during June and July. The past three weeks have been good and the vast majority of farmers have been able to get their grain harvested and silage cut. There is no connection between these difficulties and the Nice treaty and to make such a connection, however tenuous, carries enormous risks. I now appeal to those farm leaders to advocate a "Yes" vote in a straightforward way. Anything else is simply playing with fire and could jeopardise what is in farmers' best interests – a positive outcome to the referendum. The issues at the centre of this referendum are too important to be decided on the basis of the most recent difficulty.

I acknowledge that there are difficulties and problems in agriculture. Let us look at one of these difficulties – the depressed state of the milk market which has resulted from a deterioration in world markets. The key question is whether Ireland would be better able to cope with these difficulties on its own or as part of the EU? Would the taxpayer be able and willing, on his own, to finance export refunds to dispose of the surplus milk products? Would the taxpayer be able and willing to fund the other supports for the dairy market which the EU provides and has provided, for example, subsidised sales of butter to the ice-cream and confectionery trades, the purchase of large quantities of butter and milk, the subsidised incorporation of milk powder into calf milk-replacer? On our own, our taxpayers would be crippled but as part of the European Union trading bloc Ireland can avail of those supports in times of difficulty. Given that Ireland has 7 million cows and a population of more than 3.5 million people we could not drink all the milk produced here. This is far too much product to dispose of on our own.

It would be a serious blunder if farmers were to use the Nice treaty as a protest vote. For various reasons, all of which are positive, Ireland's negotiating position would be greatly enhanced as a result of the Nice treaty. By voting "Yes" Ireland would enlist a great deal of goodwill from not only the applicant member states but from the current members of the European Union. It would be ironic if Ireland which has improved its standard of living and has done well in regard to job creation and exports was to vote "No" to the detriment of ten or 12 applicant member states, many less well off than Ireland, for instance, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Slovenia, Poland and Hungary which also want to do better for their people. They look on Ireland as a member state which has done well out of Europe. They are at the gate and wish to become members. They see Ireland blocking them in a selfish way. Ireland has moved up the ladder and, as they see it, we are kicking those applicant member states off the lower rungs. For a country with Ireland's history this would be very sad.

So far as future negotiations are concerned, an enlarged EU would be of immense benefit to Ireland. Of the 12 new member states, nine are more dependent on agriculture than is Ireland and a further two are equally dependent. These new member states will be useful allies in defending the interests of agriculture within the EU because they have more farmers contributing to their economies than virtually all the other member states, apart from Ireland.

During the many years that I have had the honour of serving as Minister for Agriculture and Food, I have participated in various negotiations from the CAP reform of 1992, the GATT Agreement of 1994 and the Agenda 2000 agreement of 1999. At the regular meetings of the Council of Ministers, I have negotiated, month after month, a host of other issues of importance to Irish agriculture. I say this solely to underline the depth and range of experience on which I base my claim that a "No" vote in the forthcoming referendum would be disastrous for Irish agriculture and farming. I am also aware that the candidate countries are closely observing our approach to this treaty. I make a solemn appeal directly to the farmers to come out and protect their own interests by voting "Yes" for the Nice treaty.

We are debating today a matter of the highest national importance, our place and our role in Europe, what type of Ireland we want and what type of Europe we want. None of us here disputes that. Our decision on the Nice treaty is extremely important. It will have real consequences for all of us, for fellow member states in Europe and for ten countries at the door waiting to get in.

Irish jobs and prosperity are at issue. Control over our Defence Forces, a matter that goes to the heart of national sovereignty, is at issue in this referendum. Irish influence and standing in Europe and in the world is at issue. The stakes are high. We will make a final decision on these matters and our decision must be fully informed.

I recognise and accept that at the referendum on the Nice treaty last year, people did not feel they had been given enough reason by Government or politicians to vote "Yes" to the treaty. A majority of a minority voted "No". Nonetheless, a clear message was delivered by them and by those who abstained that this was an unsatisfactory way to ask people to make important national decisions.

The Government's decision to put this question a second time to the people does not ignore the outcome of the last referendum. We are conscious of the fact that the public had a range of concerns and uncertainties on the last occasion which contributed to the referendum outcome. They also contributed to the low turnout. We have sought to address these concerns and the context in which we are bringing the issue back to the people has changed. We have secured the important Seville declarations which are a strong political acknowledgement that the Nice treaty does not in any way impact on our traditional position on neutrality. We have put in place the National Forum for Europe which is enhancing public understanding of the European Union and its structures. It is also promoting debate on how we, as a nation, see the Union developing. We have put new reporting and accountability structures in place in the Dáil to strengthen the involvement of elected representatives in the policy issues and developments that take place at European Union level. Perhaps most importantly of all we are convinced that it is in our vital national interest that the Nice treaty should be ratified. We said so at the last general election. We received a mandate in our manifestos to put the question again in circumstances where issues of concern to the public had been clarified.

This view of the importance of the Nice treaty is shared by the major political parties in the House, as well as by major representative groups in civil society. I do not wish to speak for other parties, but if one was to add up the political mandates to the largest four parties in the last general election, one would find an overwhelming assent by the people to the idea that our relationship with, and in, Europe is so important that the issue should be put to the people again this year.

Our bringing the issue back to the people in this new context is a validation of electoral democracy. We in this House and in political life share in the responsibility to conduct referenda to high standards. We cannot ask people to vote one way or another for no good reason. We cannot offer misleading or irrelevant reasons. People want to be offered positive reasons to vote "Yes". They are well-disposed towards Europe. They care about Ireland and its future. They want to make the right decision and will make up their minds when they are offered real reasons to vote "Yes". I and colleagues in my party and in government are fully prepared to accept our responsibility to bring forward positive reasons to vote "Yes". All important decisions have consequences. We will put forward the real consequences of a "Yes" vote as we honestly see them.

If I was to summarise the reasons to vote "Yes," they would be as follows: Europe has been and remains essential for Ireland's jobs and prosperity; voting "Yes" to the Treaty of Nice will secure Ireland's jobs and prosperity for the future; and a "Yes" vote would be in the best of Irish traditions in helping others because it will mean we are prepared to allow an opportunity of EU membership to those who suffered oppression and underdevelopment in the past – giving them a chance will not undermine our position.

We have nothing to fear and a lot to gain from voting "Yes". We have nothing to fear from the changes to the way the European Union will work under the Nice treaty. We have preserved equality and fairness for smaller countries. We have got the best deal available to protect our interests while we open up Europe for more countries. There is absolutely no hidden agenda on the part of larger countries to dominate us.

Our military neutrality is not threatened by the Nice treaty. In fact, voting "Yes" will mean that the people will have to give their explicit approval in a referendum if Ireland is to join any common European defence at any point in the future. If people wish to ensure Ireland remains outside of military alliances, they should vote "Yes". If they want to be absolutely certain that Ireland will control its defence forces, they should vote "Yes". If they want to continue our peacekeeping tradition in line with United Nations' mandates, they should vote "Yes".

In the coming days and weeks we will all have the opportunity to consider these issues in depth, to consider the details of the Nice treaty and to think seriously about the consequences. Let us keep matters straight, positive and fair. We should consider the philosophy of the European Union since its inception, which has been to promote peace, democracy, social stability and prosperity and nurture economic growth and employment in the Community. Voting "Yes" will continue that tradition. To quote John Hume, "The European Union has been the most successful peace process."

The process of holding a referendum on the Nice treaty will challenge our attitudes to Europe. Attitudes do matter. The right choices and policy decisions come from a basic outlook on how our society and economy work. A positive attitude is a prerequisite for deciding the correct action to take. A negative attitude will not work.

It is important to consider whether, as a people, we are fearful or confident. Do we see threats and problems, dangers and losses in every development, item of economic news or European treaty or do we approach the future by considering how we can make the most of it in terms of finding opportunities and relishing challenges? That is the way it has been in the past and Ireland has benefited enormously. Let us be clear, there will always be problems, threats and dangers. There are always people who spend their energy informing us about them but who offer few solutions. Voting "Yes" is the way forward for a new Ireland confident in change, open to the world and, above all, caring for others.

Ba mhaith liom mo chuid ama a roinnt leis an Teachta John Perry. Gabhaim buíochas le Fine Gael as ucht a gcuid ama a roinnt liom.

The Green Party agrees with the Taoiseach on one critical point, namely, that this referendum is important. It is our last chance to vote on the future of the European Union as equal citizens of that entity. If the Nice treaty goes through, eight countries will be in a position to steamroll ahead with enhanced co-operation. In order to maintain our equality, we urge a "No" vote. It is our last chance to vote to retain Ireland's entitlement to a Commissioner. If the Nice treaty goes through, our holding of a Commissioner post will be intermittent. In order to maintain our representation on the Commission, we urge a "No" vote. It is our last chance to maintain a veto in over 30 areas. If the Nice treaty goes ahead, Ireland will have seven votes out of 345 in a European Union of 27 states at the Council of Ministers. To maintain that veto, we urge a "No" vote. It is our last chance to maintain a veto on decisions appointing EU representatives to bodies dealing with the Common Foreign and Security Policy. If the Nice treaty proceeds, such appointments will in future be made on the basis of qualified majority voting. To maintain our neutrality veto, we urge a "No" vote. It is our last chance to keep the Western European Union, a military body, separate from the European Union. If the Nice treaty goes ahead, clauses on the Western European Union will be deleted in order that, in future, the European Union will carry out the same role currently carried out by the Western European Union. To keep the European Union from becoming a military bloc, we urge a "No" vote.

Not only is the Nice treaty referendum once again important, a rejection of the treaty is the surest way to strengthen the hand of citizens otherwise denied an opportunity to vote on it and strengthen Ireland's hand in particular. If the European Union is democratic, all states should approve treaties which remove sovereignty. However, the European Union is becoming less democratic, another reason to vote "No". Far from a "No" vote isolating Ireland, we would instead become pivotal in future discussions such as, for example, at the next Intergovernmental Conference in 2004.

The current Nice treaty is a brazen attempt by the largest companies and their political servants to blackmail the farming peoples of eastern Europe into entering a two-tier European Union on a take it or leave it basis. They are being told to lose their currencies, to accept over 20,000 new rules without the derogations we enjoyed and to withstand liberalisation under the General Agreement on Trade and Services – GATS – in 140 sectors such as postal services, water supply, education, health and pension systems. If the Nice referendum is passed, international trade provisions will be decided by the Council of Ministers using qualified majority voting. The bargaining power of the veto will be gone under Article 133. Liberalisation of trade, as the Nice treaty advocates, is about maximising profits for a few unaccountable corporations on the backs of cheap labour and an overburdened environment which is subjected to greater transportation of goods, more intensive monoculture, the destruction of biodiversity and a growing and unsustainable demand for fresh drinking water.

One wonders if the Taoiseach took time to understand any of these crises caused by globalisation of trade when he was in Johannesburg recently or if he was resigned to describe everyone there, including himself, as shameful for cutting overseas development aid. The Taoiseach's behaviour can be described as shameful for a number of reasons in relation to this rerun of the Nice referendum, whatever about the Earth Summit. First, all the talk of Ireland being outside the European Union if we vote "No" is patent nonsense. A "No" vote will help us remain at the centre of decision making as we will be equal partners with a veto on enhanced co-operation arrangements. Second, enlargement can take place if Nice is not ratified, as has been made clear by EU President, Romano Prodi, the chairman of the EU Constitutional Convention, Monsieur Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, and the former Dutch Foreign Minister, Mr. Tjerk Westerterp. In fact, only eight pages in the 80 pages of the treaty, not including the annexes, are devoted to EU enlargement. This repeat referendum is being held not to decide on enlargement but because Nice would remove more control of Irish sovereignty from the Irish Government.

Regardless of whether Nice is rejected again, the details of admission of the applicant states to the EU will be negotiated in their individual accession treaties. That was the case when Ireland joined. It was also the case when the Mediterranean countries joined in the 1980s and the Scandinavians and the Austrians in 1995. Therefore, there is a plan B. That is generally the case but Mr. Gunter Verholgen, the EU Commissioner for Enlargement, refuses to tell us what it is. He said in the European Parliament recently that he does not want to outline a plan B because it would assist the "No" side. The only way to find out the details of plan B, therefore, is to vote "No".

I take the point that Ireland is the only member state which has already voted on the Nice treaty. It is a fact of life that the views of others denied any vote on this matter must be learned and understood. Let us be clear: the countries of central and eastern Europe are already having to swallow much more bitter pills of economic restructuring than was ever required of Ireland. It is important that people in applicant countries hear what the Taoiseach said in this House in 1996. He stated:

Something we must not forget is that employment and much of our indigenous industry was wiped out during the first ten years of European Union membership. We opened up our markets and had to allow other countries more generous access to our fish stocks than we have ourselves.

Indeed, the fishery organisations make the point that €2 billion worth of fish taken from Irish waters by EU boats every year effectively means that Ireland is giving €2 billion in structural aid to the EU every year, as long as the fish last.

Many in the applicant countries have already begun to feel the effects of the free market emphasis of enlargement where traffic growth is now rapid and large fare increases have caused a sharp decline in public transport use. As a result of this shift towards private car travel, rapid growth of greenhouse gas emissions and declining urban air quality will be clear hallmarks of the free market economics which the Nice treaty is pushing, especially under Article 133. Rather than strengthen local economies already developed in central and eastern European countries, the Nice treaty seeks to turn communities into individual consumers and low wage workers to bolster the profits of the transnational corporations at the expense of social, environmental and linguistic sustainability.

It was intriguing to see the Taoiseach keep a straight face during his "Vote Yes or else" speech earlier when he stated, "In agriculture, Ireland has received over €29 billion in market supports and direct payments promoting our farming, keeping people on the land and sustaining our rural communities". Yet as recently as June last, I asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Walsh, about the numbers of farmers in Ireland and I was told that in 1977 there were 147,800, in 1988 that figure had gone down to 146,300 and in 1999 it had reduced even further to 143,900. On average, therefore, we are losing approximately 2,000 farmers every year. Meanwhile, Teagasc issued a report which predicts that about one quarter of full-time farmers will survive in the near future. Those remaining will be under huge pressure to farm intensively in a monoculture way which is damaging to the health of both humans and animals and the health of the land on which all of us depend.

Farmers in the central and eastern European countries will find their futures even more bleak, as they are already discovering, when they apply for grant aid under EU trade agreements from the EU agriculture agency, SAPARD. The requirement among those I have spoken to is that applications must be submitted not in Polish or Slovenian or even German, but in English. This is Euro colonisation at its worst. Farmers trying to keep their heads above water are now expected to ditch their language, their way of life and their way of farming. Is it any wonder that young citizens in the central and eastern European countries get a strong message that they face a second class citizenship in the EU and that their only hope is to move away from home, if possible to an English speaking economy, and that their own language is being dismissed?

Mar a dúirt Uachtarán an Chomisúin, An tUasal Romano Prodi i bParlaimint na hEorpa ar 13 Feabhra 2001, "An léir dúinn uile go bhfuil fúinn rud éigin a chruthú a bheidh ina chumhacht dhomanda". Pé rud atá á chruthú is léir gur beag meas atá air fé láthair ar phobail nach bhfuil Béarla acu, ar phobail a dhéanann freastail ar a riachtanais féin, ná ar an daonlathas sa tír seo ach go háirithe a dhiúltaigh glacadh le conradh Nice.

The democratic deficit was already a serious concern before the referendum of June 2001. After that rejection of the treaty, democracy was dealt another blow. This Government not only ignored the result but told other EU member states to ignore the result as well and since the general election, the Convention on Europe has again shown how unimportant democracy in this Dáil has become. Last June, a representative of this Dáil, Proinsias De Rossa, MEP, decided not to go forward for re-election as a Deputy yet he continues to be a member of the convention, with Deputy John Gormley as an alternate member. If this House was serious about democracy and accountability in the whole European project, it would make sure that the members of that convention are Members of this Assembly. Perhaps Deputy Quinn, in resigning as leader of the Labour Party, would like to step into Deputy Gormley's shoes as alternate and allow him to become a full member to pursue his interest in European affairs.

The Government's refusal to accept the decision of the Irish people to demand an improved, more democratic and non-military structure in the future EU was wrong but to add insult to injury the Taoiseach promised before the general election that there would not be any cuts in health, education or in the public sector. If we are to use some level of consistency in this House, the arguments that the Government uses for having a re-run of the Nice treaty are even stronger and more pressing for having a re-run of the general election. If we are serious about giving the people the whole story and not insulting democracy, surely the last general election was won under false pretences and it is the Nice treaty that is rejected and this Government, which lacks credibility.

I thank Deputy Sargent for sharing time. I welcome the opportunity to take part in the discussion on such a significant and important matter, the Nice treaty. It is significant not only for Ireland's economic future, but for the future of a number of countries, which deserve support in helping them to gain the full benefits of European economic integration. Ireland has benefited enormously from membership of the European Union and it would be unfair and selfish of us to deny others the opportunities we were given. We must at the same time recognise and address the concerns and fears that are genuinely held by thousands of people in the State about ratification of the Nice treaty. The public must feel that they are entering into the debate with their eyes open on this issue.

When Ireland joined the EEC in 1973 our GDP per head of population was 60% of the average of community member states: today it is 112%. Our membership of the EU has played a significant role in our economic prosperity. Thanks to our membership, Ireland has been able to attract, a high level of foreign direct investment, it has benefited economically from the free movement of goods and people, and as the only English speaking country in the Euro zone, Ireland is still seen as a springboard into the European market by many companies outside of the EU.

However, by rejecting the Nice treaty, we could place much of our economic prosperity in jeopardy. Rejection of the Nice treaty would have serious consequences for business in Ireland. Too much depends on its ratification. Ireland's reputation as a place to do business will be severely tarnished if foreign investors sense any type of instability such as a rejection of the treaty.

Enlargement of the EU will create an internal market of 500 million consumers. Irish companies will have easier access to larger markets and investment opportunities, thus, increasing our trade and employment levels. Already, a number of Irish businesses have benefited from their investment in some of the accession countries. No doubt these investment opportunities were grasped by Irish companies with future EU enlargement in mind.

Thanks to the free trade provisions in the European agreements, many Irish companies have been trading with the candidate countries from as far back as 1993, and have created a level of trade, valued at more than €2 billion. Enlargement of the EU will enable even better trade and market conditions for Irish companies, resulting in increased wealth and employment opportunities. If we reject this treaty we will not only let down a number of Irish companies and their employees, but we will disappoint all of the ten accession countries who are relying so heavily on our supporting this treaty.

A rejection of the treaty will create tensions and a hostile trade environment for us in Europe. If Ireland rejects the Nice treaty, it, and our reputation as a willing and supportive member of European integration will be severely damaged. Our relationship with the candidate countries will be ruined, which could have enormous consequences for Irish businesses seeking to invest in and trade with them. With that in mind, the Government is still failing to explain the importance of this treaty to the electorate. I do not think the electorate's underlying fears surrounding the treaty such as mass immigration, taxation and neutrality are being eased by Government. I call on the Minister to address this.

I am also concerned as to how the Government will tackle the huge problem of electoral apathy. The last referendum saw an electoral turnout of just 35%. How will the Government encourage people to vote in favour of a treaty which many still cannot understand? Only last month, there were reports that only 8% of ISME members were satisfied with the level of information circulated by Government ahead of the autumn referendum. A survey in theIrish Farmers' Journal, published in the same month, indicated that more than 30% of farmers surveyed are undecided on the referendum.

I am hearing worrying reports that certain sectors of the electorate may vote "No" to the treaty in protest at Government cutbacks and increased health and education costs. The weight of this feeling is not known but it must be dealt with immediately. There is a major challenge for the parties in this Government to convince the electorate that its assurances on Nice are credible. How can the electorate be expected to believe assurances given by parties that hoodwinked the electors just four months ago? This is an instance where the Opposition parties may need to bale out the Government to bestow credibility on a partnership Government made up of the biggest crowd of "unbelievables" since the foundation of the State. So many promises were made that the electorate see the Government parties as total "unbelievables".

It would be a shame if our international and national investment and trade opportunities were shattered as a result of this Government's mismanagement of national matters. I commend this Bill and hope that the ensuing debate and campaign on the Nice treaty will be informed, balanced and supportive of Ireland's full participation as a member of a new enlarged Europe.

I compliment Deputy Bruton for the work he has done as director of elections on behalf of Fine Gael. He has put in a huge effort on behalf of the party. As I speak here this evening, he is at a public meeting in Dublin. There is huge apathy among the electorate. This is a very serious matter and the Government has undermined its position considerably because of commitments made four months ago. The electorate could vote "No" for the wrong reasons. The Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Walsh, mentioned that the largest farmers' lobby group might call for a "No" vote due to its dissatisfaction with Government. This is very worrying and I hope Ministers, Ministers of State and backbenchers will be knocking on the doorsteps promoting this treaty. It is very fine to speak in the House, but most of the public will not be listening to this debate.

The main responsibility for selling this rests with the Government. Fine Gael as a pro-European party will do its utmost to help, but if Ministers, backbenchers and county councillors are not promoting this throughout the country, I fear there will be a "No" vote. I sincerely hope the Taoiseach and Tánaiste will call on their party members around the country to get out on the doorsteps. They can talk the talk but will they walk the line on this issue? If this is lost the Taoiseach will have nobody to blame but himself and his Government for hoodwinking the electorate on so many issues to date. It is the Government's responsibility to deliver.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Keaveney. The ratification of the Treaty of Nice is a matter of fundamental importance to Ireland, to the EU member states and to the applicant countries from central and eastern Europe. In this referendum, Ireland is being given a unique opportunity to decide on the future of Europe and this presents us with a very special challenge. It is an issue that should be above party politics and domestic political considerations, as I am sure Deputy Perry would agree. This debate needs to be seen in that context and the electorate must be convinced to lift the debate on the referendum on to this higher plain.

Opponents of the Nice treaty have questioned the Government's right to put this issue to the people again by way of referendum I reject this criticism. Ratification of the treaty is in our national interest. It is also in the interest of the member states and the candidate countries. In addition, much has changed since the first referendum. The National Forum on Europe has been established and has engaged the people in an imaginative way. New arrangements have been put in place to allow the Oireachtas deal effectively with EU measures. The Seville declarations with regard to our neutrality have been stated and ratification by the other member states is now well advanced. In my view, the Government would be failing the people and would be accused of a dereliction of duty if it did not bring forward these proposals for a second referendum.

As a member of the Select Committee on European Affairs, I am aware of the new measures put in place for the scrutiny of EU legislation. However, I stress that this committee must be adequately resourced if it is to take on this enormous new workload. I hope that this problem will be resolved as soon as possible.

The issue of immigration in the context of enlargement must be addressed and should not be avoided. A claim has been made that, following accession, thousands of people from the applicant countries will come here to work. The response to this claim has been to condemn those making the claim rather than to deal with the issue itself. It would be a mistake to underestimate the concerns of people in this regard. We underestimated the concerns of the electorate the last time and we should not make the same mistake on this occasion.

EU member states have the right to restrict access from the new members states for up to seven years. We need to spell out very clearly in advance what we propose to do after two years and after five years, as allowed for in the agreement reached last year between the member states on restrictions. Otherwise the electorate could come to the conclusion that we are hiding from the issue.

As a supporter of Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality, I welcome the Seville declarations and congratulate the Taoiseach on negotiating them. In this referendum a commitment not to become involved in EU common defence arrangements without a further referendum will be put into the Constitution. Nevertheless, the serious situation now developing in Iraq, and the possibility of unilateral US action, could become embroiled in the debate on the Treaty of Nice. This would be a mistake and should not be allowed to happen. In my view, Ireland should fully support the UN in its attempts to resolve this international crisis through multilateral co-operation, by the application of sanctions and the facilitation of arms inspectors. A diplomatic solution should be fully pursued first and sight should not be lost of the humanitarian situation in Iraq. Such a strategy would be fully compatible with our traditional policy of military neutrality and is proactive.

The national declaration made in Seville states that Ireland's policy of military neutrality is not affected by the Treaty of Nice and the EU Council declaration of Seville confirmed that the EU treaties do not involve a mutual defence commitment. This must be stated loud and clear during the referendum campaign as talk of war in the Middle East intensifies.

One reason the Nice treaty was rejected by the people on the first occasion was concern about the future direction of the EU. In particular, the so-called democratic deficit of EU institutions was becoming more apparent. This has now been recognised by all involved in the European Union project and should be fully addressed in the Convention on the Future of Europe. This is a great challenge for the members of the convention and I wish them well in their endeavours.

The EU has been good for Ireland and for Europe. Lasting peace and stability have been brought to Europe. Ireland has experienced employment, growth and prosperity since we joined the EEC. Our infrastructure and education and training systems have been transformed. Progressive environmental, social and consumer protection legislation would never have been introduced in this country were it not for the EU. This is beyond dispute.

If we vote "No" again we will lose goodwill. The effect of such a loss should not be underestimated. We will also lose power, influence and money. During the previous referendum campaign the poster for the "No" campaign stated, "Vote "No" if you don't wish to lose power, influence and money." The contrary is the case and it is clear also that a vote for the Nice treaty is a vote for jobs, growth and Ireland's future.

However, the moral dimension is perhaps the most important. We now must decide if we will give central and eastern European states the same chance to advance their democratic freedom and economic prosperity, things which we enjoy and take for granted. We are morally bound to facilitate their accession at this time and I am confident that on this occasion we will make the right decision.

I want to reiterate the comments I made regarding the future of Europe and the Convention on the Future of Europe. That convention has very important work to do. As I said, one of the reasons there was a "No" vote on the last occasion was that the case for further integration and further enlargement, which became the major issue in the debate, was not well presented. A view has been put forward that there are two models for the future of Europe. One model is the partnership of member states and the other is the European state model favoured by federalists. No doubt the people of this country, by and large, favour the partnership of member states model. We can play an active role in the European Union by using that particular model. I am confident that the European Union can develop using that model.

These are very serious questions which need to be addressed. Irish people will use this debate on the Nice referendum to gain an overview of EU developments generally. The Convention on the Future of Europe has important work to do and I know that the members of the convention representing the various institutions in this State will put forward the views of the people and that we will have a democratic input into the future developments of the European Union.

I am confident that the people will make the right decision on this occasion on moral grounds, that we will facilitate the entry into the European Union of the central and eastern European states and that we will allow them enjoy the economic prosperity and the democratic peace and stability that we have enjoyed, which will be in the interests of all the people of Europe.

"You will lose money, power, influence. . . " is what many of the posters of those advocating a "No" vote stated during the campaign on the previous Nice referendum. This message was presented as a very snappy soundbite. It was accompanied by many other insidious messages which almost had a constituency focus on people's greatest fears. If one voted "Yes" to Nice, not only would abortion be rife but every mother's son would be dragged from their houses and conscripted straight into a war zone and definitely never seen again.

Many of the questions I was asked prior to the referendum on the last occasion made me ponder on how powerful misinformation could be. When one had a snappy soundbite about how "You will lose. . . ", it made me realise how difficult it was to convince the electorate that the issue at the centre of the referendum was enlargement, not everything but the kitchen sink as presented by the "No" faction on that occasion. As a representative at the forum I had occasion to listen to representatives of a number of applicant countries present their cases in Dublin Castle. I have been impressed by their presentations and yet aware of the underlying surprise at the fact the Ireland does not wish them well in trying to better themselves. The impression is clear in applicant countries and beyond that Ireland has done well from its membership of the EU. The details of just how well have been outlined by many Ministers in their contributions to this Second Stage debate. Yet Ireland has said "No" to offering other countries the same chance that was given to us 30 years ago. Ireland 30 years ago was a country of economic migration in which most people went away to try and gain a living and sustain their families because the country could not sustain them. Now people from eastern Europe whose countries cannot sustain them are coming here, but we are trying to stop these countries getting the same chance to join the EU and better themselves so that their people do not have to leave the country to gain a living.

The Forum on Europe has been an important asset in attempting to debate the issue of enlargement and the various approaches to Nice and I commend all involved in the initiative. It is, however, important that as many people as possible engage in the decentralised meetings that have begun again throughout the country under the auspices of the forum, given that Nice will have an impact on each of us. The reality is that these meetings will only touch directly a small percentage of the communities in each county, but the ripple effect should mean that the topic of Nice is brought not only into local media but, through this, into the consciousness of people in their work and social places. The Government White Paper and information guide are also welcome. The objective and factual nature of the short information guide means that it should be read and will help clarify the fact, which I emphasise again, that this referendum is about a bigger and better European Union which will yield a better Ireland. This was the result attained from previous enlargements of the EU.

Speaking of the role of the media, I listened last week to Pat Kenny open his programme with the comment that Nice would be a topic on the show. He rushed to tell listeners not to turn off their radios as it would be controversial and that they should stay listening for what I suppose was a good fight. If this is the only way that the national broadcasting station, or any other medium, can keep listeners engaged, it is a sad reflection on all of us. Many people disengaged during the last referendum and turn off from the debate even now because they feel it is a confusing issue or that it has no relevance to their daily lives. How wrong can they be? For the past 30 years our membership of the Union has had a direct impact on employers, employees, farmers, trade unionists, parents, consumers – all of us – and it has mostly been positive. We have seen investment in infrastructure, investment in training for our workers, support for our farmers, sustained rural development, improvements in environmental standards, health and safety, equality and workers rights and support for the peace process through the Programme for Peace and Reconciliation. In my own constituency £1.5 million was put towards a car ferry and, in a bad year for tourism, we had 125,000 passengers in less than three months.

Ireland has developed through previous expansions of the Union into a major exporting country with a large community market, the best record in foreign and direct investment and so forth. Our decision in this instance, therefore, will have an impact on all of us, on what we do and on how our potential will be realised in the future. Although the issues were deliberately confused by some factions, Nice remains simply about enlargement. The case is stark: if we reject Nice we are saying to our European colleagues that we are happy with what we have and we intend, in a dog-in-the-manger manner, to try and hold that position. The reality is that nothing stays the same. We have been the beneficiaries of this type of change in the past and we can be in the future. Europe will expand and, instead of being a fully engaged and positive member of the Union, driving policy in the manner we want and simultaneously protecting our own interests, we will be bound to lose influence. In trying to tread water we can only find ourselves in reverse, marginalising our potential for progress, jobs and development.

If people vote "No" to Nice because they do not want other countries to join the Union we must weigh up the implications for Ireland as a nation which has been held in high esteem within the Union. Let us be clear: there will be implications. Similarly, if people voted "No" for any other reason, such as abortion or conscription or possible loss of subsidies for farmers, or as a protest against some unrelated issue, then I suggest that those people consider the validity of their objections in the face of the extra information being presented to the public. They must consider the implications of their decisions on those very issues which they feel remain valid and realise that, in teaching terms, punishing the entire class for the misdemeanour of an individual is not a proper course of action. Punishing the applicant states for an issue that perhaps has nothing to do with Nice and enlargement is equally wrong.

I refer to the contribution of the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Walsh, regarding the benefits to Irish agriculture of a "Yes" vote. In my work I meet many farmers who have serious reservations about the bureaucracy they meet almost daily under which the EU operates. I empathise with many of their concerns. If they make a genuine mistake in a form they are heavily penalised, whereas if a grant payment is delayed by a number of weeks or months it is their loss. These are genuine problems but they have nothing to do with Nice. They will not be solved by voting Nice down. The ratification of the treaty will ensure that there is a greater number of small countries such as Ireland in the EU. In working with these we will form a larger group of like-minded countries and will be in a stronger position for detailing and resolving the problems which affect us as a small country heavily reliant on agriculture, be it larger budgets, decreasing bureaucracy or any other concern.

I welcome the fact that some of the farming organisations are recognising the need for a "Yes" vote and the hierarchy is also advocating a "Yes" vote. I trust that their memberships will listen to them and realise that the aim is a win-win situation and not any reduction in the power, influence, position or interests of Ireland. To vote "No" to Nice will leave us in a weaker position than that which we currently occupy as we will be seen to be begrudgers and mé féiners and not true, committed members of the Union. When we go to negotiate more for ourselves in the CAP review, who would blame our current allies for questioning our motives and the respect for us which we spent many years trying to build? Who would blame the applicant countries for having quite a negative and suspicious opinion should we need to work with them in the future?

Much of the argument from the major parties united in the House currently sounds a bit like blackmail: vote "Yes" to Nice or else. However, I would urge those who are as yet undecided – and it would seem there are many – to take time to consider the "or else" part of the equation. We cannot afford to be apathetic on this matter. At this time, Ireland has a lot to lose: it can lose money, power and influence. Let the electorate focus on that soundbite again but this time realise that a "Yes" vote will help us retain money, power and influence and will also reach out beyond ourselves to give those three things to other deserving nations.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Ferris. I welcome the opportunity of speaking on this debate and supporting a "Yes" vote, albeit with reservations. It is disappointing that there is a need to put this question before the people again within such a short space of time and it is understandable that the electorate is somewhat cynical and disillusioned about this issue. Nevertheless, the opportunity to clarify and expand on the discussion and, above all, to bring an open and honest debate to the people must not be lost.

The Nice treaty is not perfect, and I will outline some of my concerns about it later. Taken in the round, Ireland stands to lose more than it might gain by rejecting the treaty. The setting up of the national forum was suggested by the Labour Party so that substantial and widespread consultation could be engaged in. Under the chairmanship of Senator Maurice Hayes, the forum has been an effective vehicle for informing the people about the implications of the treaty.

The Nice treaty is about enlargement of the EU. It is about putting in place the institutional arrangements to allow enlargement to proceed. It is about opening a door to countries and to people who have until now been excluded from many of the benefits this country has enjoyed because of its membership of the EU. Who can deny that the economic boom of recent years has been influenced by our participation in Europe? However, we have benefited not only in economic terms but also through access to the cultural and social values of Europe. We have seen improved rights for women, better rights for workers and a greater awareness of environmental factors that have ultimately improved the health and safety of our people as well as their quality of life.

Fears have been expressed about the dilution of power, the loss of accountability, the diminution of democracy and the bogeyman of militarisation. Most of these issues have already been debated in detail in the House. The issue of enlargement has been particularly clouded by the debate on immigration.

Ireland along with a few other EU countries has agreed that applicant countries should have free movement of their workers into Ireland as soon as they have signed up for membership. Other states have reserved the right to refuse access for up to seven years. Some of those that oppose enlargement have peddled the fear that there will be floods of immigrants. These fears were not realised when Spain, Greece and Portugal joined. The enlargement of the EU and the inclusion of the applicant countries will improve employment opportunities in those countries. Their technological base will be enhanced, new opportunities will emerge at local level and accordingly, their need to travel to other EU countries will be reduced.

The "No" side has repeatedly asserted that enlargement will favour the larger states. In reality the treaty sets out a series of administrative changes needed to ensure that the admission of new states will work effectively. There will be modifications of the existing membership of the Commission. This arrangement will not affect Ireland in the short term. Until such time as the EU expands to 27 members, each state will have one Commissioner. The impact on Ireland will not be such that our voice will be significantly diluted by comparison with any other member country. It also means that the bigger countries will have the opportunity to nominate only one Commissioner, unlike the present system where the bigger countries have two.

At the time of the first Nice vote, many people were concerned that Ireland could become involved in a common defence policy without any further consultation. Because of the proposal by the Labour Party, the Irish people must be consulted by way of referendum if there is any question of becoming involved in a European common defence policy. Arising from that decision, the question now being put to the people is fundamentally different from that put forward in June 2001.

If there is another "No" result, the treaty cannot be implemented. We as a nation would then be responsible for excluding or at best delaying the entry of those very countries that have worked hard and in many cases suffered greatly in their endeavours to be part of a community which has been of benefit to Ireland for many years.

The National Forum on Europe has provided a platform for open and inclusive debate on the issues that surround the treaty. It has provided an opportunity for each side of the debate to put forward its legitimate concerns. It has given the debate back to the people so that they can air their views. It has provided access to information on those concerns that were seen as being glossed over in the first referendum. Some of those issues will continue to cause concern for some of the population. No treaty can be perfect for everybody but it is worthy to reflect on the benefits that Ireland has accessed by its membership of the EU and to balance those benefits against any concerns we might have.

The area of scientific research, development and training has not been given much consideration in the debate up to now. It is important to acknowledge the very significant contribution made by European funding to Irish education, training and research. The technological sector has been significantly enhanced through ESF funding. Our universities, institutes of technology and research base could not have developed without that funding. We would have been heavily dependent on technology transfer from other countries, other research institutes and other programmes entirely outside our control. Our research priorities would have been determined by others and not by ourselves. It is widely acknowledged that much of our economic growth is attributable to the investment of research and training in third-level colleges which has been heavily subsidised by ESF. Co-operation and exchange of students and programmes have contributed to innovative developments in research and training. Programmes such as ERASMUS and SOCRATES have enabled Irish students and colleges to become involved in Europe-wide programmes. These programmes also transcend the outcomes that are measurable in simple economic terms. Our young graduates engage in exchange programmes with their European counterparts almost as a matter of course. The social, cultural and economic benefits from those exchanges should not be overlooked.

Ireland has benefited through co-operation in major scientific projects and in the exchange of ideas and personnel. The outcome of the non-commissioned research is available to all of us; it is European property and is the property of the people, not of big business. It is validated through independent researchers. Grant applications are evaluated independently and money is provided to allow research continue in all the sciences. If that door were to be closed to us, scientific research would be the poorer.

We must also address the downside. The concept of subsidiarity means that decisions should be taken as close to home as possible. Decisions at EU level should ideally not cut across decisions made at national, regional or local level. This is important in areas of ethical concern such as embryonic research. A decision in Europe to fund such research programmes could be carried and Irish taxpayers' money could be used to part-fund a programme to which we would not normally subscribe. At present such research cannot be funded at national level. It is important, therefore, that such research proposals are carefully vetted. Direct funding for embryo research would set a precedent and should not be dismissed lightly.

If we decide to vote "No", applicant counties will be excluded from the club that has given so much to Ireland. We can be reasonably confident that Ireland will not be considered very favourably by the rest of Europe and that when it comes to future negotiations we need not expect any favours. By voting "No" to Nice we are condemning the applicant countries to either a very slow development or none, and we will be seen as greedy and selfish.

I encourage everybody to vote. In the last referendum much of the electorate showed little or no interest in the voting process. This trend is of considerable concern generally, not just with reference to the referendum. Lack of information was blamed as a reason for apathy. I am not convinced that this was really the case. It is a concern we should all be aware of in future elections.

Because of the atmosphere created by the Government since the election last May it will not be easy to persuade the electorate to vote for the proposal. People will ask if it is a cutback or an adjustment. Poorer services, less income, poorer conditions of employment, reduced public services and longer waiting times for hospital appointments will not be improved by a subtle use of words. The people have been let down and now they are critical and disillusioned. The actions of the Government since the election will make it much more difficult to obtain a "Yes" result. As Deputy Quinn said during the debate last week, the Nice treaty is not the time for payback; that should come later at the local elections where it will make a real difference about who determines local government for the following five years.

Nice is not perfect; it is, however, about a show of solidarity with our fellow Europeans who have not been offered the same opportunity as we have enjoyed for many years. A "Yes" vote will say to the applicant countries and to the rest of Europe that we are prepared to be generous and we are happy to share some of the benefits which we have enjoyed. It will say that we are anxious to build on the prosperity which we currently enjoy. If we say "No" it will be a statement of selfishness, greed and possibly of cowardice.

The decision of Ireland to vote "Yes" or "No" should not be driven either by threats of doom and gloom or promises of economic advantage. Our decision should be informed by the simple requirements of the Nice treaty which are to allow enlargement and to give the applicant countries the chance to avail of the benefits that we have enjoyed for a long time.

There has been remarkably little debate on the implications which the Treaty of Nice will have for Irish agriculture. All we have heard from the main parties are threats that all EU support for the sector will be lost if the proposal is defeated. Very little is said in regard to what will happen if this State has a reduced voice on the Commission and no relationship is made between the aims of the treaty and the current proposals to reform the Common Agricultural Policy.

If Ireland signs up to the Treaty of Nice it will become more difficult to have the concerns of the Irish people heard and there will be less opportunity to defend vital economic interests. I urge farmers to realise that all the changes which have occurred up to now were neither wholly positive nor are the benefits guaranteed to survive the changes proposed under Nice and the changes to the Common Agricultural Policy. Some of these changes may be positive, others will undoubtedly be negative. If the treaty is passed then the ability to influence such decisions will be even further diminished. Even in the midst of the current economic upturn, Irish farmers have experienced falling incomes with many forced out of farming altogether. The IFA forecasts that farm income will fall by up to 20% in real terms in 2002, while Teagasc estimates that 30,000 farm households were living in poverty in 2000. That amounts to more than one fifth of all farm households. That is a consequence of many factors, including falls in the prices being paid for milk and other farm produce but it must also be seen as a long-term consequence of deliberate EU policy.

It has been estimated that 20% of the present figure of 144,000 family farms will not survive into the next decade. Tens of thousands of real people face real hardship in communities where, all too often, there is nothing outside farming to provide an alternative means of making a living.

The fishing industry has also suffered. While this State claims jurisdiction over 16% of EU waters, Irish fishermen have 4% of the EU fishing quota. All of this is a consequence of diminished power to influence decisions. That power will be further curtailed under the new voting arrangements proposed in the treaty. The Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Walsh, made reference to the funds that have been paid to the farming and other sectors but, unlike Deputy Sargent, he made no mention of the amount of money that has been taken out of Irish waters in the past 30 years.

Not all the farming organisations were unanimous in their support for Nice in June 2001. The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association recommended that its members oppose the amendment to approve Nice. Many of that association's reasons echo those voiced by Sinn Féin. They include the level of bureaucracy; the lack of influence on the EU decision making process; and the erosion of national sovereignty, which has proceeded to the extent where "national parliaments are rapidly becoming irrelevant".

These concerns are echoed by other sectors of the rural community and by many in working class communities who are experiencing a similar sense of disempowerment at the hands of a faceless bureaucracy that serves only to exacerbate the neglect already visited upon them by the Irish State.

To address the problems facing rural communities we must fully engage people in the decisions that fundamentally affect their day-to-day lives. Too often decisions are made in some distant place, generally in line with EU guidelines, and communities are expected to participate in them without having had a part in their formation. What is required is radical change in the way in which regional development plans and Leader and other local partnership programmes are designed and operated. Those most affected by them must be part of the initial consultation process and the implementation of the plans.

Such empowerment is even less likely to take place as the EU becomes more centralised and bureaucratic. More and more, directives are issued without consultation with local communities and often with little regard for the democratically elected representatives of those communities. That too is becoming more acceptable in certain quarters. It is a sad day for democracy when a member of a governing party of the State parliament can claim, as Deputy Parlon did in this House last week, that we have no choice but to go along with decisions that have been made at EU level.

Economic co-operation in Europe will not come to a halt if Nice is rejected. In any event, financial aid should never be an inducement to act against fundamental national interests. To argue otherwise is more reminiscent of the level of debate on the Act of Union than of a modern democratic sovereign state.

The rejection of the treaty will not halt the enlargement process. That was admitted by Romano Prodi following the referendum last June and it has been reiterated by other senior European figures. In a recent article in theFinancial Times, Kirsti Hughes of the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussells, pointed out that what the EU ought to do in the case of rejection is to address the issues and changes to the treaty to accommodate the genuine concerns of people in this and other states.

The instinct of the people in rejecting this proposal at the first time of asking was correct. Despite what some commentators might like to believe, it was a decision made, not from ignorance but from real understanding of the implications. It was not a negative vote against European enlargement. It was a positive vote in support of Irish independence and sovereignty. It was a mandate to the leadership of the State to negotiate a deal that took into account those concerns and not to run off and apologise for the embarrassing decision of the electorate.

Sinn Féin will be campaigning, as we did last year, to ensure the arguments against Nice are heard again and that the same answer is given. A former vice-president of the European Parliament said, in a letter toThe Irish Times last Monday, that Irish voters have once again been given an opportunity to take a stand on democracy and accountability in the EU. We are confident that, despite all the deception and threats, the Irish electorate will do so.

Fear over possible involvement in military action led or supported by the EU was one of the reasons the electorate rejected the proposal in June 2001. That has not been lost on the Government and it has sought to allay those fears by securing the declaration on Irish neutrality made at Seville. That declaration has no legal standing. It is not an amendment to the treaty, nor will it affect further moves towards the foreign policy and military aspects of the treaty as it is currently framed. Anyone who doubts that need only cast his or her mind back to the Single European Act of 1987 and the subsequent declaration by the Government that none of its provisions would affect neutrality. That, of course, has been followed by support for NATO's Partnership for Peace and for the rapid reaction force. All of this is despite assurances from the Fianna Fáil party to its own members and supporters that such a move would require a constitutional amendment.

Others are more open about their version of a militarised Europe. Mr. Robert Cooper, one of Mr. Tony Blair's foreign policy advisers, has written several articles and a pamphlet on what he terms the imperial Europe. According to Cooper, the EU of the future will be one in which the strong states dominate the weak and which, in turn, will dominate the Third World. To accomplish this he said the EU will need to employ "the rougher methods of an earlier era". We in this country need no reminding of what these rougher methods consist of. Is that the kind of Europe we want to see? Ought not this State be taking a lead from its citizens and insisting, not only upon a safeguarding of Irish neutrality but also that the EU does not go down the road described by Robert Cooper and others who are trying to recreate the mentality of 19th century imperialism? In doing so, the Irish Government would not only fulfil the wishes of the electorate as expressed in the referendum but also the wishes of the millions of Europeans who have not been asked their opinion about any of this.

Finally, I point to one of the many absurd arguments being put by those on the "Yes" side in trying to coerce and fool the Irish people into voting for this treaty. In this House last week, the former Minister, Deputy Woods, said it was ironic that the people of the Six Counties were "into Nice while Sinn Féin was not". The people of the Six Counties did not have a choice but were forced into accepting the treaty by the British Government without referendum. There is something deeply ironic in the fact that a Deputy in the, so called, Republican Party is willing to accept that the British Government represents the views of over a million Irish people living in the Six Counties in the north east part of our country. Deputy Woods's time would be better spent persuading his Government to secure voting rights in this referendum and other elections for the Irish people living in the Six Counties so that we would truly have a national representation in this House.

I propose to share my time with Deputy Ned O'Keeffe.

This is a very important decision for the Irish people. That part of the Irish people who can be consulted on the matter will have to make this decision in their national interest. It is also a matter in which the eyes of the rest of Europe and the world will be upon us. All 14 of our partner states in the European Union have either ratified this treaty or are very close to ratification.

After our rejection.

There is no dispute in those countries about the merits of the treaty. They see it as a good treaty and the eyes of those states are upon us. The eyes of the ten states who wish to join the community are also upon us. Those ten states should be left to speak for themselves and Members of this House should not interfere with their sovereignty. As a republican, I have always defended the sovereignty of this country and I object to the idea that Deputies should speak for other states. They are entitled to represent their point of view and they have made it clear at the National Forum on Europe that they want in. They have made it clear through their diplomatic representatives who are accredited to a sovereign Irish state that they wish to accede to this particular arrangement.

A great deal of time and effort has been spent on the proposition that this is not an enlargement treaty. It is an enlargement treaty, that is what it is all about. It is the institutional chapter for the enlargement of the European Union which was agreed by our Taoiseach on the advice of his officers in the Department of Foreign Affairs, who have served this country well down the years and served this State well at the treaty negotiations conducted in Nice some time ago.

The people made their decision last year on the treaty, but the Government is perfectly entitled to resubmit that issue to the people for their consideration because there are real changes in the circumstances. We have had to listen to a great deal but nobody has a monopoly of idealism in this House. I was drawn to Irish politics with the idea that we could build a united Ireland and a united Europe and I make no apologies for it. I intend to campaign vigorously for this referendum and I deplore the fact that there are Members of this House who, after all that has been said, including comments made at the forum about the other states that wish to join, persistently try to mislead the people about this referendum.

It is an enlargement treaty and our good name has been damaged in other European countries by the carry on regarding this subject, and there is no point pretending otherwise. I do not know what their motive is but it is very clear that the other 14 states have decided to ratify this treaty, it is very clear that up to 10 states wish to join this community—

(Interruptions.)

Deputy Boyle should consult with his colleagues in his own international organisation of the Green Alliance because many of them support this treaty, as he well knows, particularly those that have had to assume the responsibility of office in Germany. They have decided to support this treaty and I respect their judgment. However, we have this bizarre argument advanced all the time by some Members of this House that they know better than the applicant states themselves – they know what is best for Europe. As a good Nationalist I am prepared to accept the representations made on their behalf by their representatives.

This treaty is the institutional chapter for the enlargement of the European Union and there are three clear changes since the last referendum in the proposal that is being submitted to the people. First, the principle of democratic control, which I accept is crucial to the European Union, has been addressed and the Government has brought forward proposals to ensure greater institutional control in regard to our membership of the European Union. Second, when the last referendum was in progress we were told that, maybe, ten countries did not want to join, that, perhaps, four or five wanted to join and that the Amsterdam treaty would suffice to accommodate them. The Amsterdam treaty no longer suffices to accommodate them. We now have a definite list of applicant states and we must be deaf if we are not listening to them.

Third, apart from all the arguments about the declaration made on our neutrality, there is another issue. The actual text being submitted to the treaty is different. It is not the same proposal as the one that was submitted last time. On this occasion it is being made quite clear that our participation in any military alliance is subject to a referendum and that will be written into our Constitution as a matter of law. One has to read the text. It is clear beyond argument in the text. One can keep denying it to the people for the next few weeks if one wishes, but if one reads the text it is plain and obvious that this State cannot participate in a European military alliance without further consultation with the people. That is written into the text—

Why not a protocol?

As I indicated to the Deputy, I am going to address that issue in the course of my speech. First I wish to address the issue of the text itself. It is clear in the text that this decision is being left to the sovereign Irish people to decide. It is easy for Deputies to question why we should not re-negotiate this treaty, but I pose one question to Deputies who make that argument – what will our negotiating position be if this referendum is defeated? It will be a weak negotiating position indeed. Our negotiating position has already been damaged in the councils of Europe by the antics that have characterised this debate in Ireland, and I make no apology for putting that on the record of this House.

The antics that have gone on regarding this debate have done immense damage to the enormous goodwill that was built up towards Ireland in the European Union over decades and we should not forget that fact. I make no apologies either for reminding the people of the consequences of a "No" vote. They will be damaging for Ireland and any public figure is entitled to draw the attention of the people to the consequences of an action. In all the public debate on this subject, the "No" campaign has constantly suggested that dire consequences will follow from a decision to ratify the Nice treaty. I say that damaging consequences in terms of our international goodwill will flow from a rejection of this treaty. The enlargement of the Union is good for Ireland. We want visitors to this country, we want investment in this country.

I am glad, at least, to hear that a token concession has been made by some of the parties in terms of an acknowledgement that enlargement is a good idea, but the reality is that unless this treaty is passed enlargement will not take place. The applicant countries understand this well because the Nice treaty was concluded by the existing member states as the framework treaty for the enlargement of the Union—

Blackmail.

There is no question of blackmail here, the people will make their own decision on this matter. I am perfectly entitled in this House to suggest why the people should vote "Yes", just as I respect the Deputy's right to argue the contrary case. There will be bad consequences for Ireland if we reject this treaty. One does not close the door on people who wish to join a union. One does not say, "Yes, of course we will have another treaty," when the broad consensus in those countries is that they want to join one and participate in this agreement. It is not in Ireland's interest to delay this enlargement. That is why I strongly urge the people to look again at this question and to think long and hard before they rush into a "No" vote.

A "Yes" or a "No" vote – and I commend the attitude of Fine Gael and the Labour Party in this respect – is not a matter of what the Taoiseach, Fianna Fáil or the Government need, or what is happening in a hospital or regarding student fees. This is a far wider issue affecting the vital national interests of this country. It is in the vital national interest of this country that we ratify this treaty. It does not serve us well in the wider European family that we have turned in recent months and been seen to be a country that is obstructing and holding up the enlargement of the Union. As an Irishman I do not feel happy with the position we have adopted and I am glad the Government has decided to take this opportunity to put this issue to the people again.

I will certainly campaign for the treaty and I do not wish to take from the sincerity of those who oppose it, but my personal convictions have always been that we are part of a European family of nations which should become wider – the founding treaty of an ever closer Union. Our country has close cultural ties, not alone with the existing members of the Union, but with the wider family of members who aspire to join. The Celtic peoples from whom our language stemmed came from these countries. Our missionaries as, I think, Deputy Kenny outlined earlier, preached to these countries and played a noble part in preserving their civilisation in a dark age, and they have looked to us as an exemplar of what a small country can achieve in the wider European Union.

The question has to be asked at the end of the day in this referendum, are we to view the whole European project as a threat or as an opportunity? We all have our individual ambitions, desires and ideas. I respect the fact that the Green Party has a strong wish to protect the environment and to promote a Green perspective on life and that Sinn Féin wishes to always assert the sovereignty of the Irish people, but can we realise our objectives more realistically in the wider European family?

The Members who objected to the Seville Declarations should examine Article 31 of the Vienna Convention on the law of treaties because it makes it clear that any subsequent agreement between state parties regarding the interpretation of the treaty is binding. We have a unanimous view by member states regarding our neutrality. They said: "We are not prepared to accept that; we cannot argue with you."

I am glad to have this opportunity to speak on the Twenty-sixth Amendment of the Constitution Bill. The Treaty of Nice is very important to Ireland and Europe generally. It is also important for the states in waiting.

As a committed Nice supporter during the last referendum, I fought positively for a "Yes" vote and find it difficult to share the same platform with persons who then advocated a "No" vote. They have been converted – a late conversion – like so many who found themselves on the road to Damascus. The Treaty of Nice is about enlargement of the Community from 15 to approximately 25 members, encompassing northern and southern Europeans. An issue that is becoming increasingly important is that of enhanced co-operation. I would like greater explanation and more transparency in the discussions on this issue. We are aware there is a suggestion of an eight member executive which would include the original six members, Germany, France, Italy, Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg, along with Spain and Austria. We will then have a two speed Europe.

What power and influence will this group have over the other 17 countries, including Ireland? Many people are questioning this and clarification is required. If I have exaggerated this aspect this evening, I would be delighted to withdraw it. However, it is an issue of real concern to Irish people and it is the anchor of the debate that will take place over the coming weeks.

There is a threat of a two-tier Europe. The Minister for Foreign Affairs referred to this in his speech on 4 September but the issue needs greater clarification. This is going to be a major part of this debate because the heads of Government of each member state regularly attend summits where there is a major input into European policy as it is presently constituted and all our Ministers are members of the Council of Ministers representing the different sectors. Is all this about to be lost over the new scene – is it all about knowing and having your legs under the table? Ireland has benefited enormously as a result of its membership of the European Union. We have received agricultural and regional funds and benefited from structural reform. Everything in this country has been turned around since we joined Europe in the early 1970s. The Taoiseach referred today to agricultural development.

A great deal has been said about Europe. I am committed to the Treaty of Nice and I am very anxious that we endorse this referendum. Many issues will cloud the debate on the treaty and there are many domestic issues which need to be addressed. I am pro-Europe and always have been. The farming community has always been strongly pro-Europe. The Treaty of Nice has nothing to do with farming but there is a danger that farmers will make a connection out of sheer frustration and despair as their livelihoods come under increasing threat from forces outside their control. We cannot allow that to happen. Farmers are under enormous income pressures this year. Product prices have fallen in all the main sectors, milk, beef, grain and pigs. Milk and beef production account for 80% of Irish agriculture. On top of bad prices, we have had the worst summer weather for many years with relentless rainfall during the peak growing season cutting production and adding to costs.

Virtually all farmers are under severe income pressure and many who thought their livelihoods were secure have been shocked by the cut in their living standards. Dairying was always the solid performer providing a decent income for those who worked up their quota. This year, dairy incomes have collapsed by 35%. There is enormous disillusionment in Irish farming and we would be foolish to think that this will not have an impact on how farmers react to the Nice referendum.

Commissioner Fischler's proposals on the CAP mid-term review have come at a bad time and have only succeeded in making matters worse. What kind of signals is Commissioner Fischler sending to farmers? We signed a seven year deal under the Agenda 2000 agreement which was supposed to give farmers security up to 2006. Commissioner Fischler now wants to tear up that deal after just two and a half years. He wants to introduce modulation which means a cut in direct payments. For many farmers this is a 20% cut in their incomes at a time when every other group is moving ahead. What kind of message is that sending to farmers in the run up to the Nice referendum?

Commissioner Fischler also wants to introduce decoupling and to pay farmers regardless of whether they produce. This puts farmers who are committed to remaining in farming and earning a living at a clear disadvantage. It makes a mockery of them and tells them they would be better off packing in farming, taking the EU payment and getting a job. On top of all this, farmers are being choked by red tape and bureaucracy, much of which is pointless and unjustified. Many of our small cottage industries, such as jam, honey and butter making, have closed down over the last couple of years. It is impossible to continue operating in this area because of EU regulations. Perhaps we have gone over the top in this regard.

We must look at simpler ways of doing business. There is an income crisis in farming and a lack of confidence regarding the future. The Government needs to reassure farmers. It is up to the Minister for Agriculture and Food to get the message across and to take action to meet farmers' concerns. He should have no difficulty going along with most of what the IFA proposed when its representatives met 93 rural based Deputies last week in Buswell's Hotel. We need stronger EU supports to give a boost to farm product prices. We need to re-open our traditional beef markets and get trade moving with higher export refunds. Egypt and Libya are ideal export outlets for our beef. Meat imports are stealing our home market in hotels and restaurants. We need to subject imports to comprehensive testing and controls and insist on the same traceability which is demanded of Irish producers and processors. Imports are not sufficiently regulated. One does not know whether one is receiving Irish or Brazilian beef in hotels and restaurants. I read recently that there is no great difference in price in this regard because of the low price of Irish animals. It is vital that we ensure minimum quality standards in this area. We must work at this; otherwise the good quality of Irish food will be lost.

We need to give direct assistance to farmers in serious difficulties due to the disastrous summer weather and we must bring forward direct payments across the board to help cashflow. The Minister can also take action to improve the REP and farm waste management schemes and to cut red tape, some of which is home made. The sheep register is a case in point where civil servants have gone too far and lost touch with what is practical on the ground or required by Brussels. Many of these issues were discussed last week in Buswell's Hotel.

We have a deal up to 2006 under the Fischler proposals. The Minister for Agriculture and Food must dig in his heels and defend farmers' incomes. Much can be done to send a positive message to farmers that the Government understands farming and supports it. I plead with him to get the message across. If he fails to restore farmers' confidence, I fear they will send us a message of despair on referendum day and we will all be losers.

The matter of a national stadium could become a domestic issue. I have no doubt that private sector funding will be forthcoming and the Taoiseach will be successful in his endeavours to have a national sporting stadium built. I would be very proud to have such a stadium here. I look at the great success of the GAA and Croke Park, a great monument to the memory of those who founded the organisation 100 years ago. I am convinced private sector funding will become available.

Ireland is now involved in many major games across Europe. We must ensure we have a national stadium. I support the Taoiseach and the Government in their efforts to secure such a stadium. We must stop arguing about it and get on with laying the foundations. We should ensure it is up and running as soon as possible.

The Deputy is moving away from the Twenty-sixth Amendment of the Constitution Bill.

Deputy O'Keeffe might invest in the stadium himself.

I do not think he will be available for the final rally.

This is a little domestic issue. I have to stand up for what I believe in. We have an opportunity to do so during this debate, which has been flogged to death. It is important that we support Nice. I am fully committed to supporting Nice and I am delighted some people are now converted to my way of thinking.

I wish to share time with Deputies Enright and Deenihan.

It is 30 years since the people voted overwhelmingly to join what was then loosely termed the Common Market. Since then the membership has evolved from being a group of six states to being a community of 15 countries and the name has changed to reflect its economic and political development from the Common Market to the European Economic Community to the European Community and then the European Union. There is widespread agreement that membership has been beneficial for Ireland as since our entry we have been transformed economically, politically and socially. Our national income per head 30 years ago was about 60% of the European average: today we comfortably exceed that average. The direct financial support we received, and continue to receive, from different European funds, such as the Structural, Peace and Reconciliation and Cohesion Funds and the International Fund for Ireland have financed our infrastructural development such as road building, water and sewerage schemes, training our young people and building our factories and industries. European funding has been a key factor in transforming the economy into one of the most vibrant and fastest growing not just in Europe but in the world. Without our membership of the EU, it is doubtful if there would have been a Celtic tiger.

Undoubtedly some national interests were sacrificed in the process. I refer particularly to our fishing industry. At the time of our entry, our negotiators did not realise the potential of this industry and so valuable national rights were sacrificed. Since then we have been trying to regain lost ground with only limited success. However, this will be rectified in the review of the Common Fisheries Policy within the next few months.

Today the European Union stands at the threshold of major enlargement. Many newly emerged democracies, until recently under communist dictatorship, have applied for membership which will underpin their newly acquired liberty and facilitate the development of their economies. It could be said that they are in a similar situation to what we were in 30 years. To facilitate their entry, the Treaty of Nice has to be ratified by all member states and has been already by the other 14 leaving Ireland as the only one not to do so. The passing of the proposed referendum will trigger the mechanism that will open the entry door for these countries, all of which are as much a part of historic Europe as we are. It is unthinkable and unbelievable that we, who have gained so much by our membership, should fail them in their efforts to obtain entry to the Union.

Nevertheless, there are serious indicators that the people again could reject the treaty, not because they are anti-enlargement or less committed to the European ideal, but for political reasons nearer home. There is a terrible anger and resentment at how the people were misled in the recent general election campaign. No sooner were the votes counted than the cutbacks and price increases commenced and the Government parties must accept the blame for this. The great danger is that the people will avail of the referendum to give the Government a bloody nose. Under normal circumstances this would be pleasing to the Opposition, but this issue is too serious and the referendum should not be used as an opportunity to slam the Government's mismanagement. The electorate will have a more appropriate occasion to voice its dissatisfaction at the local elections less than two years away.

People such as Monet and Schuman, the architects of the Treaty of Rome which was the acorn out of which the Union grew, had tremendous foresight. Their objects were threefold – peace, democracy and prosperity within Europe. Their aim was to make impossible a recurrence of the two world wars that brought Europe to its knees and in which up to 60 million people perished in the first half of the twentieth century. In fact there was not a century in the second millennium without a major conflict in Europe. The architects of that treaty achieved their first aim of a peaceful Europe with no major conflict. The second was the establishment of democracy throughout Europe which, since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, is happening from Berlin to Vladivostock. The third objective of prosperity is well on its way as every country in the Union has had its standard of living substantially increased and the Union is now seen as one of the most prosperous regions in the world.

Ireland has shared in this prosperity and it is imperative that we maintain our position in Europe. another "No" in the referendum would irreparably damage our good standing within the Union. The eyes of Europe are focused on us during the referendum campaign and we cannot set a boundary to Europe's march forward.

Ní chuirfidh conradh Nice isteach ar pholasaí traidisiúnta an neodrachais atá againn sa tír seo. Chun sin a athrú chaithfimís reifreann a bheith againn agus tá súil agam go dtuigeann na daoine a bhí anseo i rith an tráthnóna agus nach bhfuil anseo anois an pointe sin. Ní bheidh aon athrú muna mbíonn tacaíocht ó mhuintir na hÉireann le fáil aige.

I hope the Taoiseach will draw comfort from the fact that Deputy Ned O'Keeffe left without a whip around. Today and in the coming weeks, the people have a duty and responsibility to make a decision with far reaching consequences for this country. We can choose to pass or reject this referendum, but there is only one way forward for Ireland and that is to pass it and to continue to co-operate with and participate fully in Europe. It is one of the most important decisions that we can make as a country and one in which I have a duty to help explain and persuade the electorate to vote "Yes" and make the decision for the right reasons.

Let us complete the task of creating a reunified and democratic Europe for the first time since the Second World War and let Ireland take its place in the global village with a greater impact than we ever had before. The European movement has been phenomenally successful and western Europe, including Ireland, has reaped benefits that have positively impacted on all our lives. What sort of people are to deny these benefits to others? Are we to become an insular nation, living by the selfish mantra of "What we have we hold", showing that we do not want to share the benefits or have others involved? As a nation, can we not stand tall and proud enough to allow the enlargement of Europe? We should not only allow it but actively embrace it. What have we got to fear from enlargement? Giving the countries of eastern Europe the freedom and stability we have long enjoyed can only be of benefit to all of us.

Since we voted "No" all the other EU countries have ratified the treaty. We face two roads and must decide which one we wish to take. Even if, as some against the treaty claimed tonight, enlargement could happen without us, a questionable claim, we still have a duty to play our part. Europe will march forward in some form with or without us, but Ireland cannot march forward without Europe. Every sector of our society is interlinked with the EU and likewise has benefited. The time has come to show how we have advanced as a nation and that we are strong and independent enough to share these benefits.

The myths surrounding the EU and this treaty must be put to bed. They influenced how people voted on the last occasion when the Government failed to dispel them. All member states will still have one commissioner until there are 27 after which the Council of Ministers will decide on the number unanimously and fairness is guaranteed in this. Enhanced co-operation cannot be used for security or defence matters. Despite many protestations to the contrary, our policy of neutrality will not be affected and Ireland will not lose its independence. On the contrary, we will have the opportunity to show how we can assert our independence in a strong and enlarged Europe.

Ireland will not be flooded with immigrants, as some of the scaremongers have claimed. The continent of Europe in its current form is a two tier continent with a fault line between the east and west. The people of eastern Europe are not asking for a gilt edged invitation to Ireland, they are asking for the opportunity to become part of the European Union. They do not want to exist on handouts that are changeable at the whim of governments. They want the opportunity to grow themselves, not just economically but also socially and democratically. Who are we to deny them that chance?

In the next few weeks people will make up their minds. Fine Gael is and always has been proudly and passionately European. We have always spoken fairly, strongly and responsibly on Europe. We are willing to shoulder our responsibility and play our part in convincing the electorate to vote yes and we have already taken the lead on this. The pitfalls for this referendum lie not in the Nice message but in the Government's mixed and contradictory messages before and after 17 May. The Government must realise the growing anger, resentment and indignation felt by the people following the negative announcements about cuts and price rises since the summer. They feel misled and disappointed. The Government must ensure that when the people vote in this referendum, they will vote on the Nice issue alone. This side of the House will provide people with plenty of opportunities later to lodge their protests against the Government.

The people were failed on the Nice issue on the last occasion. The message was not explained and thus could not be sold. Their fears were understandable. For too long Ireland has blamed the EU for hard decisions while the Government attempts to take credit for better news. That has created suspicion and scepticism among the electorate. We must sell the message and the Government has the primary responsibility to do that. People's fears and concerns must be addressed, not ridiculed. Legitimate concerns should be answered.

The farming community has legitimate concerns that must be answered now. I accept that Nice cannot be used as a bargaining chip but people take their opportunities where they can. While the majority of farm organisations and leaders support Nice, their members have questions. Irish agriculture has been over burdened with red tape and bureaucracy and, while unconnected to the Nice referendum, in people's minds both issues relate to Europe and the implementation of European regulations and directives. Despite the direct payments we have received since our accession to Europe and the annual payments we still receive, the experiences of our farmers have coloured their views on this issue. The Minister, Deputy Walsh, and the Government have a serious job to do over the next few weeks to ensure a "Yes" vote among the farming community. I hope the farm organisations will share the mantle of responsibility, will accept the importance of Nice and play their part in convincing their members to vote "Yes". However, the Government must first allay their fears.

A "Yes" vote is vital to ensure our continued growth and prosperity. An enlarged Europe will mean hugely expanded markets for Irish exports. That will benefit all sectors of industry. Our image across the world as a place to do business is envied in many quarters. That image is easily tarnished and turning our backs on Europe will do irreparable damage. We must show our commitment to the stability of Europe if we are to continue to secure foreign investment. Our business leaders, IBEC and the chambers of commerce recognise the importance of voting "Yes".

I am conscious of the opportunities Europe offers the young people of Ireland. Enhanced co-operation among third level institutions, through ERASMUS and SOCRATES, has allowed our students to experience a much broader education which has proved invaluable in the marketplace. Likewise, it offers huge and varied employment opportunities in the labour market. My generation sees Ireland in a broader context and wants to experience the opportunities that Europe can create.

I concur with my party leader's comment that women in this country have benefited from Europe. It has driven the equality agenda and will continue to do so. Europe has also been instrumental in promoting the creation of proper and fair employment laws which have been of enormous benefit to workers in this country.

For all the above reasons and for others which I have insufficient time to outline, I will vote "Yes" to Nice. I am asking the people of my constituency and anybody else I can influence to do likewise. Parnell memorably said that no man has a right to fix boundaries on the march of a nation. I do not believe we have the right to stop other nations in Europe marching as far as we have.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to this important debate. The Minister of State, Deputy Lenihan, said earlier that Europe and the world are watching Ireland now. The future of Europe is in our hands. People are being simplistic when they claim the treaty can be renegotiated and Europe will find a way to do it. It cannot. I have heard it said that the issue can be back on track by 2005 but the feedback I have received indicates that it will be difficult to recreate the same spirit within the Union and get the process back on track.

Members of the House who have had the privilege of attending Council of Ministers meetings or general meetings with European colleagues will be aware of the sense of camaraderie that exists between Ministers and civil servants. That favourable attitude towards Irish officials and Ministers will not be there in future if we reject Nice a second time. That will be the reaction not of the applicant states but of our traditional friends in Germany, France, Spain and other countries. During the summer I travelled to a number of European countries. The people are aware of what is happening in Ireland, lest we think otherwise. They are watching us to see if we reject Europe now.

The benefits we have received from Europe have been comprehensively outlined by other speakers and I will not rehearse them. However, I refer Deputies to the Forfás document on the enlargement of the European Union which was published last January. It contains a summary of Ireland's receipts from the EU budget. Up to 2001, Ireland had received approximately €46 billion under the various categories of aid. I recommend the document to anybody who wishes to know how Europe has helped Ireland and the challenges that will face Ireland following enlargement.

The literature on the referendum and the amount of information available is much better than was available last year. Both the White Paper and the document produced by the Government Information Services last week are most helpful. One reason people voted against the Nice treaty was the issue of neutrality. I acknowledge the work of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Government in ensuring that our neutrality is copperfastened in this referendum. The Seville declarations and the proposed amendment to the Constitution will ensure that the Treaty of Nice is not inconsistent with our traditional and accepted policy of neutrality.

The veto was another issue. That has yet to be clarified. The qualified majority voting system has been outlined in the Government document but certain matters have yet to be decided. Ireland has used its veto sparingly since joining the EU. It was used once by Garret FitzGerald with regard to the milk quota regime and on very few occasions since.

During the summer I met a number of American investors. One of the reasons Americans invest in Ireland is that it is the springboard into Europe. That Ireland is the only English speaking country in the eurozone, which the UK has not joined, is a major advantage. If we are negative on Europe, American investors will be negative on Ireland. Companies such as Hewlett Packard and Intel are the engines of our economy.

If we have a negative approach to Europe, it will impact on current investors in Ireland but also on potential investors.

The inclusion of eastern Europe will help our competitiveness because countries such as Hungary and Poland will have to bring their wages up to European levels. It is not a level playing pitch at the moment but if they come into the EU, they will have to play by the same rules and the playing pitch will level out. That factor is overlooked. If it was not for the EU, interest rates in Ireland would be 2% to 3% higher and we would have major difficulties as we have personal borrowings of about £100 billion. If interest rates went up by 1%, it would make a difference of £1 billion. The fact that we are tied to the European Central Bank is a major advantage. Such things should be pointed out to people.

This is my first opportunity to speak in the House. I am deeply honoured and delighted to be able to make a small contribution to the debate on the enlargement of Europe and the Nice treaty. Being in the European Union has been and is good for Ireland economically, politically and socially. Being at the heart of the EU is vital to our economic well-being. It has been crucial to our recent prosperity and is central to our ability to attract investment. We need to stay there to protect our interests, jobs and future. Enlargement will share the benefits of EU membership – stability, peace and prosperity – with applicant countries. Those old enough to remember a pre-EU Ireland should do everything they can to ensure that the applicant countries share what we have shared and benefit as we have done over the past 30 years.

The Nice treaty is about enlargement. There are ten countries ready and waiting to join. If Ireland votes "No" it will be a serious setback and the countries concerned cannot come in as planned. Enlargement creates new opportunities for Irish business by bringing in 100 million new consumers. However, if this debate is to have any meaning or purpose it must reach out to those fair-minded people who voted "No" on the last occasion, those who did not vote at all and those who still today, for sincere reasons, remain unconvinced to change their vote to "Yes".

These people do not need to have facts and figures put to them to prove that Ireland's participation in the EU has been a success. That is evident and they already know it. We must explore why they still have deep-seated doubts about the Treaty of Nice. These include concerns about the logic and sustainability of the continual enlargement of the EU. Their argument is that an entity that grows and adds to its mass will eventually fragment because it cannot justify its existence – that enlargement is growth for growth's sake. However, an entity such as the EU can make two plus two equal five and that creates a synergy where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. If that is the case, then such growth is logical and justifiable.

Ireland is the living proof that such synergy can happen. Our membership has increased the overall sum of what the EU is today. At home and on the Continent, the EU has given Ireland the opportunity to have influence way beyond its size and resources. New entrants should and will have the same opportunity. We must be positive and not deny them that chance.

The issue of security and defence also plays a part in people's concerns. Our policy on neutrality has developed into one of taking a reasoned, independent and non-dogmatic stand on world issues. We have common cause in this with many of our EU partners. We do not turn our backs on global problems but are prepared to take principled action when required. From our history we know that force was sometimes used to win peace. Our proud record of UN service can continue to develop within the framework of the Treaty of Nice as the treaty poses no threat to that position.

The fear of mass movement to our shores of economically disadvantaged people is one that many may not voice. People are worried that their concerns may be misinterpreted as racist. That is not the motivation, rather it is the memories of past recessions and mass emigration from our country. The belief is that our current economic situation cannot last and that such new migrants cannot be sustained in a future economic downturn. However, because of the EU, we now have a more resilient and stronger economy, better able to hold what we have gained and deal with such problems. Those who freely come to work in our economy and help it grow even stronger can only benefit us. They will come and go – that is the nature of the modern global economy. Many have come in the past and become more Irish than the Irish themselves. There will always be a welcome for such people.

It is said to those who voted "No" in the last referendum that they should not change because the Nice treaty has not changed. I respect their democratic decision and, if they were unsure the last time, they were correct in what they did. However, a better effort is now being made to open up the treaty to close scrutiny, debate and discussion in an effort to understand the implications and opportunities which it offers. Given this thorough scrutiny, the good people who voted "No" the last time should not fault themselves for revisiting the issue and their opinion on it. Being consistent is not a virtue in itself; it is only promoted by those incapable of accepting and embracing change, or seizing the opportunities for our country which the EU continues to offer.

Enlargement is about righting a past wrong, that of the artificial division of Europe which lasted for too long after the Second World War. As a nation, we also know what division has done. We have been so active over the past few years in trying to bring about a peaceful solution to our divisions that we should understand fully the damage that artificial division can do in a country and on a continent.

I will campaign vigorously for a "Yes" vote in the Nice treaty campaign and will do everything I can to bring that about. This country has benefited immensely from its relationship with Europe and we would do a great disservice to our people and the people of the ten applicant countries if we continue to keep them out.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this amendment to the Constitution. Many Members had the opportunity to speak on this previously and, when we did, many people outside the House became more confused than they were before we started. It is important, as we approach this for the second time, that it is fully explained to those outside. On the last occasion, there were numerous red herrings thrown into the debate and that is happening again. People are talking about immigration, loss of sovereignty and about neutrality. However, the neutrality issue should be over and done with as the next referendum will have a clause in it which guarantees the neutrality of Ireland. On the last occasion some people were confused and voted "No" because they were afraid Ireland's neutrality would be harmed by the Nice treaty, although that was never the position.

We should think back to when we joined the then EEC 30 years ago. The changes that have taken place in Ireland due to EU investment and the benefits of a wider market are unbelievable. They include improvements to infrastructure, labour and social schemes. We should consider the amount of money that has been invested in Ireland by the EU. Between 1973 and 2001, Irish agriculture received €30 billion, including market supports and REPS payments. Do people realise where the country would be without that support? We would be little farther on than we were in the early 1970s when we joined the EEC. At that stage I had just left school and I remember that the same old faces opposed our entry to Europe. The same parties still oppose it but they do not have the best interests of the country at heart. They believe that political and commercial turmoil is in their best interests, but it is not in our best interests.

We have witnessed many changes in the 30 years since EU membership, but we must also look to the forthcoming referendum. Many benefits have stemmed from EU membership, including in education, agriculture and infrastructure generally. How many of those who are now campaigning for a "No" vote were the beneficiaries of ESF grants and other educational funding from Europe? Do they realise that such funding helped them reach the status in life that many of them now enjoy?

We want to see European enlargement taking place to give others the opportunities we received. In that way it cannot be said that we are selfish and that, having become one of the wealthiest countries in the world, we would deprive others of the same opportunity. We have no right to do so. In addition, if we are not full players in Europe we will not be able to benefit from an enlarged European market.

Many speakers have said that non-EU investment, particularly American investment, has played a major role in our progress. If we do not remain at the forefront of Europe such investment will slowly but surely disappear and we will lose out. An enlarged market will be important for the future. We want to avail of the opportunity to sell our goods to a wider market including an additional 100 million EU citizens. People may claim that an enlarged Europe will make Ireland a small player, but the number of small players will increase greatly in the expanded EU. Instead of a Union of five large countries and ten smaller ones, we will have seven larger states and 19 smaller ones when full expansion has been completed. We should give the same support to the smaller applicant states that we received in years gone by. Many of the applicant states have evolved from a political system we never thought would collapse. We must demonstrate to them that the people who asked them to become involved in democratic politics are prepared to give them the same opportunities of EU membership.

I will be asking my constituents to support the Nice treaty referendum. We have benefited from EU membership and we need to allow it to expand further to benefit along with those who propose to join.

As a confident and generous nation, the Irish people, armed with concise and unambiguous information, will continue to demonstrate the kindness and generosity for which we are world renowned and will vote "Yes" in the forthcoming referendum. Both sides, however, should address the campaign in a fair, open and honest manner. Already we have heard elements in the "No" campaign issue statements that are not based on fact, which are contrary to knowledgeable opinion and, worst of all, which play on people's fears invoking the most negative and dangerous reactions in society. We can do without such racist and xenophobic statements which should have no place in this referendum campaign. The referendum has at its core Ireland's future along with that of our EU partners and intended partners. People should be clear about what they are voting on and the implications of the result for them and the country as a whole.

Put at its simplest, the Nice campaign is the agreed means to enable enlargement of the EU to occur and to enable its institutions to function effectively and efficiently with a larger membership. We should not allow ourselves to be confused by irrelevant arguments or be side-tracked by issues that have already been agreed in previous referenda. We should not hide behind rhetoric, buzzwords and euro-jargon. Without the Nice treaty an enlarged Europe will not have the capacity to function effectively.

The applicant countries of central and eastern Europe are anxious that the treaty should be ratified so they can participate in the policies and programmes of the EU. The use of applicant countries by the "No" campaign in trying to argue their two-tier Europe scenario is nauseating and disgraceful. So far, all we have heard from the "No" campaign are the old arguments that have been peddled for the last 30 years. They have not worked in the past and are totally irrelevant to this referendum. Since the first referendum the "No" side has shifted from one reason to another to undermine the Nice treaty, but without any in-depth analysis of how the treaty will legally realise the scenarios they are predicting. It is time to stop the scaremongering.

One of the great deceptions, not just of the "No" side, but of all anti-Europeans, has been the so-called democratic deficit within which the EU apparently operates. While in the past I may have had some concerns that decisions were taken on our behalf in Brussels by faceless bureaucrats, I have realised over time that this is not correct. In 1998, as a local councillor I became a member of the EU Committee of the Regions. That body was established under the Maastricht treaty and gave regional authorities in the 15 member states an opportunity to comment on EU policy of direct concern to them. My work on the Committee of the Regions has helped me to gain a better understanding of how decisions are taken in Brussels. It is not done by faceless bureaucrats, as the "No" camp keeps telling us, but by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. We are represented on the Council by our democratically elected Government Ministers and in the European Parliament by directly elected MEPs. Therefore, our decision makers in European affairs are directly elected and represent our interests.

If there has been any democratic deficit up to now it has existed in this country. Since the last referendum measures have been agreed to tighten parliamentary scrutiny, thus further strengthening the democratic link by giving Deputies an increased and improved role. The re-weighting of Council votes and the proposed re-numbering of MEPs has not suddenly created a democratic deficit. We are still represented and involved in all the decision-making processes. We still have influence and will have a higher relative level of representation among our EU partners compared to our population.

We will still retain the right to appoint a commissioner and will have a voting weight of 2% – the same as Finland and Denmark – which is well above our 0.8% proportion of the EU's population. We will have the best seat to member population ratio of any current member state in the European Parliament with the exception of Luxembourg. We will retain a veto on key issues such as taxation and have the right to opt out of any proposed application of the enhanced co-operation procedure. In relation to foreign and security policy, Nice places no new obligations or imposes new burdens on us. The greatest danger to our influence and future in the European Union is not the Nice treaty but a "No" result in the referendum. In short, Nice is right for Europe, right for Ireland and right for our future in Europe and I will campaign on that basis.

Cuireadh an díospóireacht ar athló.

Debate adjourned.
The Dáil adjourned at 10.30 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 11 September 2002.