European Communities Bill 2006 [Seanad]: Second Stage.

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

I am pleased to bring the European Communities Bill 2006 before the Dáil. It is a short and technical Bill in one sense, but it has an important national purpose. It will ensure the arrangements which we use to transpose EC law are effective and fit for the purpose in a changing Europe. I am sure all Members will agree it is vital we meet our EC treaty obligations. That is the only way we can continue to deliver to the Irish people the full benefits that derive from EU membership of the European Union. The Bill passed all Stages in the Seanad before the Christmas recess. I thank Senators for their contributions and co-operation in those important debates and look forward to discussing the Bill with my colleagues in Dáil Éireann.

The Bill arises from the serious implications of two Supreme Court judgments, Brownev. Attorney General and Kennedy v. Attorney General. In both these cases the Supreme Court found that a statutory instrument to give effect to European Community law can only be validly made where the Oireachtas has specifically provided for this in the relevant primary legislation.

The Attorney General has since advised that new legislation is needed to change the manner in which we have been transposing European Community law using secondary legislation. The Supreme Court judgments mean that some of this body of legislation built up since 1973 is susceptible to legal challenge. This means that hundreds of statutory instruments made in the best faith over three decades by dozens of Ministers from the Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour and Progressive Democrats parties under powers given to them by Acts of the Oireachtas may be in doubt. The Attorney General has advised the Government that there is a need to address the circumstances in which we find ourselves arising from the two Supreme Court judgments.

Since 1973, the European Community treaty has obliged Irish Governments to transpose Community regulations, directives and decisions to translate Community law into Irish law. Where major policy changes have been required by Community membership, we have used primary legislation which has been debated and passed by the Oireachtas. However, the bulk of the routine transposition work has been implemented by Ministers and their Departments using powers to make statutory instruments which are set out in domestic legislation. The Supreme Court has ruled that if the domestic legislation did not contain specific powers to make these European Community related statutory instruments, the relevant instruments are open to challenge.

In light of the Attorney General's advice to the Government, we need to remove any doubt surrounding the manner in which the Government gives effect to EC law via secondary legislation. The Government needs to validate, as necessary, those statutory instruments, introduced by all Governments to transpose Community law since 1973, which are affected by the two judgments to which I have referred. We need to act with the support of the Oireachtas to ensure we can transpose EC measures via secondary legislation in a manner that is consistent with the court's judgments. It is only fair to citizens that we get this important process right and have a transparent and effective procedure in place to meet our Community obligations.

Before discussing further the reasons for the Bill, I will set out its six key provisions in order that Deputies can see precisely what we are dealing with. Section 1 sets out the relevant definitions. I will table a minor clarifying amendment to this section on Committee Stage. The amendment is necessary to clarify that the definition of the words "European Act" includes not only entire directives and regulations but also individual provisions of such directives or regulations.

Section 2 will give Ministers of the Government the power to create indictable offences in regulations made pursuant to the 1972 European Communities Act, where the Minister deems such a sanction to be necessary to fully implement the Community instruments being transposed. The Bill provides for a maximum fine of €500,000 and maximum term of imprisonment of three years. I underline that these maximum penalties will be imposed only after due process has taken its course in the prosecution of an offence.

Section 3, the core of the Bill, is in four Parts. Section 3(1) will permit statutory instrument-making powers contained in existing primary legislation to be used to give effect to a European Community law in this jurisdiction. Specifically, the provision will allow the regulation making power in any Act of the Oireachtas to be used for the purpose of implementing Community law provided the domestic Act deals with the policy area covered by the Community obligation in question. I am sure the House will agree that it is entirely sensible that legislation passed for domestic purposes can also be used for the additional purpose of giving effect to Community law in the same policy area governed by the Act.

Section 3(2) takes account of the primacy of European Community law which the people of Ireland endorsed when we decided to join the European Economic Community in 1972. The section repeats the existing provision in the 1972 Act, which allows regulations made for the purpose of giving effect to Community law to amend primary legislation where this is necessary to give full effect to the Community measure. The Attorney General has advised that this provision must be replicated to allow statutory instruments made under the new dual purpose power, which I have outlined, to amend primary legislation, where this is required by the EC instrument being implemented.

Section 3(3) will enhance the transparency of the implementation of Community legislation into Irish law by requiring a statutory instrument which gives effect to a Community law to refer specifically to the Community law in question. In other words, the statutory instrument being used to give effect to a particular Community measure must refer specifically to the measure in question. We hear a great deal about better regulation and transparency. This approach is a sensible way of clarifying the purpose of the legislation and the manner in which the Irish law relates to the European Community legislation.

Section 3(4) confines the regulation-making powers contained in the Bill to Ministers of the Government. This is a further important safeguard to ensure these powers will only be used, where necessary, by members of the Cabinet and not by officials without Government oversight.

Section 4 will confirm the validity of the many regulations giving effect to Community law, which have been already made under a domestic regulations-making power. The section protects the body of Community law introduced through secondary legislation upon which doubt has been cast by the two Supreme Court judgments to which I have referred. I assure the House that this confirmation shall not affect the constitutional rights of any individual.

As Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, I will comment on the benefits of the Bill which will significantly modernise our method of transposing our Community obligations into Irish law. Following the historic decision of the people of Ireland in the referendum of 10 May 1972, the Houses passed the European Communities Act of 1972, the principal legal instrument for implementing Community law. In a fundamental change to our legal system the Act provides that the treaties governing the European Communities and existing and future Acts adopted by the institutions of the Community shall be binding on the State and part of domestic law.

The European Union of 27 member states is radically different from the Common Market of six countries which Ireland, the United Kingdom and Denmark joined on 1 January 1973. At the time of the passage of the 1972 Act the scope of EC law was relatively limited. Let us recall that this was a time before the Internal Market when key sectors of the modern European economy, such as information technology and financial services barely existed. In the intervening years the European Union has evolved into a unique political organisation governed by European law, which brings significant economic and social benefits to people in the newly united Europe.

We are all aware of the positive impact of European Union membership on Ireland. The country has changed for the better during the past 34 years. We can all agree that Europe has been a key factor in our tremendous development as an economy and a modern nation. However, the European Union can only work if member states implement Community law and decisions in a reliable and consistent manner. The rules must be the same for everyone.

Last week, Commissioner Charlie McCreevy made an interesting point on this very issue when he stated the Single Market is a joint venture between the European Union and its member states and it is the job of the latter to translate Single Market rules into national law. The Commissioner pointed out that member states do not legislate in response to some arbitrary deadline or target set by the European Commission but agree Single Market laws among themselves alongside timetables for putting laws into practice domestically. These comments accurately summarise the equal responsibilities on all member states to make Community law work on a daily basis in national jurisdictions.

The European Union is a rules based organisation acting for the common good. Small countries such as Ireland have much to gain from such an environment, which provides protection for our interests over and above what we could ever have achieved acting alone. The treaties require us to uphold the rules at national level and to provide sanctions against breaches of those rules here in Ireland. The Browne and Kennedy judgments, however, create a significant gap in our current procedures for doing so. As it now stands, we do not have adequate provisions for the creation of sufficiently strong penalties for breaches of EC law in secondary legislation. We could use primary legislation in each case but this would tie up the resources of the House on routine EC issues, leading to unimaginable delays and increasing the risk of exposing the State to significant fines.

We need to be able to continue to use statutory instruments to transpose EC law, as we have done since 1973. However, we must do so in line with the Supreme Court judgments and in an effective and transparent manner. Therefore, the Bill before the House provides for the creation of indictable offences through secondary legislation where necessary. There will be people of good faith who will question the need for this move. They may ask the reasons indictable offences were not provided for in the European Communities Act 1972 and whether it is now really necessary to give Ministers powers to create such offences in 2007. The answer is crystal clear. The Supreme Court judgments mean that the current arrangements can no longer continue. Specifically, we can no longer use domestic legislation, which creates indictable offences for breach of regulations to give effect to EC laws, unless that domestic legislation permits us to do so. Therefore, the gap in the 1972 Act needs to be addressed so that Ministers can create appropriate penalties, where necessary, without recourse to primary legislation on every occasion.

Regarding the penalties provided for in this legislation, a Minister will only have a limited power, in regulations made under the 1972 Act, to make provision for indictable offences, where necessary, to meet our treaty obligations. Only where this is necessary, the Minister must operate within the parameters set down in section 2 of the Bill, which provides for a maximum fine of €500,000 and a maximum term of imprisonment of three years. These are by no means the most severe penalties the Houses of the Oireachtas have created by way of statutory instrument. They are reasonable and proportionate.

These penalties are the maximum ones which apply on conviction in the Circuit Court. Anyone indicted on foot of secondary legislation arising out of this Bill will be entitled to due process under the Constitution, with all the normal legal safeguards. Secondary legislation adopted under the Bill will be carefully calibrated, in the same way as all of our legislation. That is to say, the level of penalty in regulations passed to transpose EC measures will have to be proportionate and commensurate with the seriousness of the offence, clearly fulfilling the principle of subsidiarity. Serious penalties would only be provided for where these are necessary. In practice, most breaches of EC law would continue to be covered by summary offences.

The Bill relates to the implementation of routine Community directives and day-to-day regulations into Irish law through secondary legislation. It is worth noting that Ireland has implemented over 2,700 Internal Market directives during our membership of the European Union. There are likely to be thousands of such routine pieces of legislation as the Internal Market develops further. I assure the House, however, that any major and fundamental changes in Irish law arising from our EU obligations will continue to be effected through primary legislation passed by the Dáil and Seanad. This is the way we have always done business since joining the European Union and there is no intention to change that situation now.

In some cases, EC law deals with important areas of policy, such as agriculture, customs and excise, financial services and banking, which have a direct impact on the common good. The treaties require proportionate, effective and dissuasive penalties for serious breaches of European law in such areas. It is only right that we safeguard the common good and provide deterrents against breaking laws from which Irish people benefit so significantly. Were we, however, to use primary legislation in all cases, this House would have to sit 365 days a year and debate nothing else but EC laws to implement the wide range of our EU obligations.

Since the Seanad debate, some public comments seem to suggest that EC law is imposed on us from the outside. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Bureaucratic erosion.

Ireland takes a full and active part in the elaboration of EC laws which go through a rigorous preparation process. Irish Ministers and officials are constantly involved in the EU legislative process on a daily basis, shaping the rules and policies of the European Union. Suggestions that there is a lack of democratic input at EU level are also wide of the mark. They ignore the key role of the European Parliament in decision making and the increasingly important role of the Oireachtas itself in EU affairs. It also overlooks the fact that the governments of member states have a democratic and, in Ireland's case, a constitutional mandate, to contribute to law making at European level.

As a Member of this House for almost 25 years, I would not stand over any sidelining of the Oireachtas or lessening of our democratic role as the elected representatives of the Irish people.

That is what this means though.

Since day one of our EU membership, the Houses of the Oireachtas have been to the forefront of the legislative effort to align our national laws with EC requirements. Almost every Minister of every Government since then has brought forward some measures to give effect to European law. Before it ever comes to that, Irish officials and Ministers are completely involved on a daily basis in the complex negotiations process which gives rise to EC law.

In recent years, we have made great strides in the modernisation of arrangements for scrutiny of EU business here in Leinster House. In 2002, the Government, with the agreement of both Houses, brought forward the Oireachtas Scrutiny Act which established the Sub-committee on European Scrutiny. I applaud the work of that sub-committee which has been in operation for almost five years under the able and dedicated chairmanship of Deputy Allen. The sub-committee scrutinises draft legislative proposals across the full range of EU activities. This scrutiny almost invariably occurs before decisions are taken by the Council of Ministers in Brussels.

Officials in all Government Departments brief the sub-committee in writing on draft legislative proposals within four weeks of their formal circulation. This is a hands-on and practical approach to monitoring European legislation. Ministers and officials are also required to be available to provide additional material and to brief committees of the Houses. Government Departments are required to produce reports every six months on developments in the European Union within their policy areas.

As Deputies are aware, I and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, are available to brief the Joint Committee on European Affairs in advance of almost every General Affairs and External Relations Council meeting. I enjoy the robust and frank exchanges with members of that committee. This practice often serves to help myself and the Minister to reflect the concerns of members in finalising our policy positions at the various Councils.

One of my responsibilities as Minister of State involves chairing the interdepartmental co-ordinating committee on European affairs. At our regular meetings, I and senior officials from all Government Departments review how Ireland is doing in transposing EC law and meeting our membership obligations. Thanks to the efforts of all Departments, we are making satisfactory progress and the latest figures, released last week, reflect this fact. The Bill will help significantly to speed up further the rate of Ireland's transposition of EU directives.

EU affairs are very much a part of the day-to-day work of the Oireachtas and effective procedures are in place for facilitating full Oireachtas involvement. When the draft constitutional treaty is implemented, as we hope it will be, it will provide for a further enhancement of the role of national parliaments in EU business.

We are putting in place revised arrangements to implement EC measures fairly and transparently via secondary legislation. Secondary legislation has been used for this purpose by all Governments since 1973. The Supreme Court has found that we need to change the way we do this, but the Bill does not mean any reduction in Oireachtas scrutiny arrangements.

It does.

This Bill will not change the practice whereby major legislative changes required by EC law are introduced by primary legislation after a full debate in these Houses.

It will.

It ensures that the implications of the Supreme Court judgments are dealt with in a proper and legally sound way. Looking ahead, I believe the Bill modernises the arrangements for transposing EC laws speedily and effectively. This will ensure that the benefits of the Single Market continue to flow to Irish citizens and consumers alike.

As I have already said, following the Supreme Court judgments, the Attorney General's clear advice to the Government was that this Bill is essential. Our officials and I have consulted widely with Government Departments and, in particular, with the Office of the Attorney General in the preparation of the Bill. This is a short, technical but much-needed Bill. There is no intention to increase Executive power at the expense of these Houses. There is no question of Ministers fining or imprisoning anyone. The Bill is simply a response to the serious implications of the Supreme Court judgments, which require us to update the way we use secondary legislation to give effect to our EC obligations in Irish law. It is that straightforward.

I look forward to a positive discussion today and later on Committee Stage. I commend the Bill to the House for its approval.

The Minister sets out what he believes are the positive reasons for the support he expects to come from the House. We in Fine Gael have always supported the concept of European integration and we have supported all European legislative proposals. We have taken a leading role in the promotion of the European project and continue to do so in a manner which is responsible and which has due regard for the need for legislation to be brought into line with European legislation, but more particularly with a view to ensuring that the primacy of the Parliament of the land should at all times have a central role to play.

It is in that regard that on behalf of my colleague, Deputy Allen, and my party I express my serious reservations at the sweeping and retrospective powers the Bill proposes to hand over to Ministers while the elected Houses of the Oireachtas are bypassed. The Bill enhances the growth of the powers of autocrats, technocrats, plutocrats and bureaucrats. It is a haven for them. In many cases these people have not been elected or are unelectable, but they are all provided for. Yet, the Government proposes by way of statutory instrument or regulation to bypass the Dáil and Seanad and to put into operation, in some cases retrospectively, legislation to comply with EU law.

The concept of retrospective legislation is a dangerous one. Moreover, I am surprised the Minister has not learned from the recent fisheries debacle that to proceed without due deference to the Oireachtas is dangerous. When this Bill was before the Seanad, Fine Gael put down a number of amendments, none of which was accepted by the Government, which had a total disregard for the suggestions of the Opposition. That being the case and there being no indication so far that the Government intends in any way to address the fears expressed in the Seanad, we will oppose the Bill because we believe in democracy, as should everyone in this House.

Democracy means that the Government should respect the principle of subsidiarity, which means that in all such cases the elected Parliament of the member state has a direct role to play. It is the Minister who will have a central role to play if this Bill is passed, which is a movement towards something which is far from democratic in principle. I am amazed the Bill has got this far when the Minister must have personal reservations about some parts of it. We must ensure the democratic principle of subsidiarity is observed and that the parliaments in the member states have an ongoing role to play, as envisaged in any democracy.

The purpose of the Bill is to amend the European Communities Act 1972 which allows for the transposition of certain EU law into Irish law by way of statutory instrument. However, the Bill will allow the Minister to transpose into Irish law EU law which carries the penalty of imprisonment for our citizens. A point that comes to mind concerns the environment, for which we must implement rigorous protection proposals, and rightly so. However, will the Minister be imprisoned if it was found that the various sewage treatment plants throughout the country were polluting the waterways? The Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, might be signing an order for himself. That is not what is intended. What is intended is to have other citizens——

Or the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív.

Or both. There are serious implications, which the Minister and the Government have not fully studied. For example, the degree to which public utilities, institutions or services, such as sewage treatment systems, impact negatively on the environment will mean inevitably that someone will have to be imprisoned if the Minister proceeds as he proposes. As the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is most likely to be the Minister responsible, we will have to wait to see whether that Minister will be imprisoned or whether another scapegoat will be found. We will bypass the national Parliament if we proceed down that road.

It is a significant provision. We should not take that route. We should at all times recognise that to get authority within the State for a measure of this nature, we should first discuss the issue in the Parliament. We should put it before the House for 21 days and allow Members of the House to raise questions and debate it if that is deemed necessary.

This is a form of legislation by stealth. For many years, at least as long as the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, has been in the House, I have repeatedly seen the erosion of the rights of Parliament to the benefit of Ministers. It is a European trend. However, this country has a direct election system — we elect directly to Parliament — which does not necessarily apply to all European countries. There are those who will extoll the benefits and merits of list systems and other systems — they may even extoll the merits of electronic voting, about which we know, and other expensive systems — but the fact remains that we have an entitlement to follow our procedures and to make sure that the supremacy of the Houses of the Oireachtas is not handed over to the bailiwick of a Minister, who can make statutory instruments, directives or regulations, which in turn have sweeping effect and have a major impact on the people.

The Bill, as well as granting Ministers too much unscrutinised authority, will validate legislation retrospectively. It will validate all statutory instruments made since 1973 to transpose EU legislation into Irish law, including those that comprise a criminal sanction. The problem with this is the retrospection. The Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, has no way of knowing what impact this will have. He may have some indication as to the likely impact in the event of A, B or C in a particular sequence. We in the Opposition do not have at our disposal the resources to ascertain the full extent to which the Minister of State has received any such communication but I can think of numerous cases where the Minister of State, or a colleague from the House in a future Government, would be faced with a serious problem that arises directly as a result of the way this Bill is proposed.

We need European law and the EU to be closer to the people. This has already been demonstrated in the referenda held to approve the European constitution. I do not know who advised on the timing of the Bill or on its necessity, but it is an insensitive time to bring it before Parliament in any EU member state. After all, the necessary procedures to approve the European constitution have failed so far in any country that required a referendum, although a number of countries require only parliamentary sanction. Unless something has happened of which I am not aware, we have not yet arranged a referendum, although I do not know why that is the case. We were so enthused about the constitution's integrity, I am surprised we did not have the referendum before the Bill. In a democracy, the referendum should have come first.

I do not think France has approved it yet, but perhaps the Minister of State has some insight in that regard. The Netherlands has not approved it either and as far as I know neither it nor France have recanted yet. I resent receiving lectures from any other country as to what we should do, how we should comply and the procedures we should follow in order to comply. Our system of democracy is as good, as true and as tested as any other and, for that reason, this proposal is ill-judged.

If we want to bring Ireland closer to the European Union and the European institutions closer to the people, the more we enhance the democratic role of the Oireachtas, the greater the chance of our approval of any future legislation relating to the European constitution. It is all very well to say we will deal with the issue another time and get it through then or that everyone knows our membership of the European Union has been hugely beneficial. It has, but let the Minister of State not forget that a number of people throughout the country are not so enthusiastic about the result of some of the recent negotiations, for example, on CAP reform and various other matters over the past 12 months. The cessation of the sugar industry here is not remembered with fondness as far as the people are concerned. When bureaucrats and Ministers sit down and congratulate each other on their successes, the loss of the sugar industry is not likely to be considered one.

In that regard, an extraordinary situation has developed with regard to the plethora of proposals that came from the WTO agreements. It is now deemed to be eco-friendly to import food from Latin America, Australia and New Zealand at a time when the environment and global warming is a major issue. I have never heard such extraordinary nonsense.

Members on the Government side should be aware that we still have a vivid memory of the people directly affected by the closure of the sugar beet industry. That action was taken without any parliamentary consultation. The deed was done behind closed doors and we were told this was how it had to be. Nothing has to be done in that manner. We have a Parliament and there should always be input from Parliament before a decision is made. The Minister of State seems to be at sea in that regard.

I am an inland man.

I would move inland at high speed if I was the Minister of State because he will know all about it when they catch up with him.

The proposed legislation will remove the political input from law-making, thereby usurping the legislative function of the Oireachtas. Under these proposals, legislation will be able to pass from Brussels to national implementation without the input of the Oireachtas. Subsidiarity, therefore, is gone down the tubes and no longer exists; we have no function. I challenge the view of the Minister of State that this improves democratic scrutiny. How does it do so?

We know from recent experience that Ministers do not always sign what goes before them. What will happen if a heavily burdened Minister has a pile of correspondence in front of him, one of which signs into law a statutory instrument? He will obviously delegate that authority to somebody else. These important Ministers must travel around the world, run it and keep it going, be accountable to everybody and anybody and be all things to all people. How in God's name, therefore, will they address the issue of simple democracy that would permit the people to know what was happening and allow the Ministers themselves take responsibility for their actions?

With regard to legislation passing through this House, I have repeatedly said that every time we see legislation, we see a further indication of the Oireachtas being bypassed and Ministers taking unto themselves more responsibility. That may be grand when one goes to Brussels or elsewhere to negotiate. Ministers like to have full authority, but the only authority they will have now is authority that derives from themselves, from looking into their own hearts, like a former founder of Fianna Fáil.

The heart of the people.

The founder of the party claimed he used to look into his own heart for inspiration as to what the people wanted. The Minister of State will spend much time looking into his heart and those of his colleagues before he finds inspiration that will lead him to believe the people want him to proceed in this fashion.

Fine Gael will oppose the Bill because the Minister of State and his colleagues have clearly indicated that they have no intention of taking on board any amendments or of having any regard for the Opposition's expressions of concern. That is unlikely to change.

I have spent much time as a member of both the Joint Committee on European Affairs and the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and have had occasion to observe scrutiny procedure at first hand. I support the Minister of State in complimenting the Sub-Committee on European Scrutiny, chaired by my colleague, Deputy Allen. However, unless the committee sits all day every day, it will soon be impossible for it to handle the full extent of the proposals coming before it. There are thousands of bureaucrats in Brussels working and burrowing away every day, impervious to the needs of individual countries or their citizens. The Minister of State suggests that we and Members of Parliament throughout Europe should hand over to Ministers full responsibility to protect our rights. That is not on.

In the event this legislation is passed, we require that a Minister's proposal should be laid before the House for a period of 21 sitting days to enable Members to challenge the provisions or table amendments. At least then the public would be aware of what is happening. Otherwise, we have no way of knowing unless we have a ministerial statement, outburst or announcement. If it is something positive, Ministers will want to announce it, but if it is negative they will not want to hear about it.

We will also seek to remove the retrospective effect of the legislation by amendment. In the event of the proposals as set out being laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas for a specific period and there being no objection from Members, that will be fine. We will have had our chance. Laying the proposals before the House is a stipulation that should be included. I am amazed the Government and the Minister of State have, so far, poured scorn on the notion that this should be done.

The day will come, perhaps sooner than he expects, when the Minister of State may be sitting on the Opposition benches. He may then see the need for a greater degree of parliamentary scrutiny, a greater degree of parliamentary involvement and a greater necessity to ensure, whether related to European legislation or not, Members are informed of and know what is going on and that they can make a reasonable input.

Let us take as an example the Sub-Committee on European Scrutiny. It met 16 times during 2006 and examined 552 documents. I remember trying to do the same and although we met every week, we knew there were limitations on what we could achieve. Incidentally, we discovered that legislation obviously discussed at ministerial level had been going through on the nod until a question was raised by the committee. Only then, much to the annoyance of the negotiators, the Ministers and those with delegated responsibility, did they return to explain the full implications of the proposals to it.

We had better get this clear. It may well be that people on the Government side of the House will see things differently when they find themselves over here. The degree to which the Government has sought or assisted in the elimination of Opposition scrutiny of its proposals is appalling. We see examples such as in this legislation daily. It is now an element of almost every Bill that the Minister is responsible to no one else.

The bulk of the committee's work in 2006 related to regulations, decisions and directives. Some 371 documents, or 69% of the total, fell into that category. Some 56 common foreign and security policy measures were considered, including information on restrictive measures against Burma, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire and certain categories of people, including persons suspected of involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and certain officials in Belarus. Great detail and personal attention are required on the part of Ministers and Parliament in an exceedingly demanding area to which we will have to pay greater attention in future.

Other steps considered included measures to combat terrorism and the proliferation of nuclear and chemical weapons, support for actions demanded by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, and measures including support for IAEA activities regarding nuclear security and verification. That very wide area of responsibility will continue to grow. To hand over absolute authority, retrospective or otherwise, to a Minister is a negative development.

Of the 552 documents considered in 2006, some 98, or 18%, were deemed to have significant implications for Ireland warranting further scrutiny, therefore being referred to the relevant sectoral committees. That is the system whereby documents are examined at various levels and deemed to have an impact. In the past there have been instances where documents not thought to have an impact slipped through the net, with a subsequent review needed. The existence of the scrutiny system in the Oireachtas is necessary, although I do not know how that will apply regarding these proposals, since there is no provision for it. It appears the Minister will take that role himself and that causes a problem.

Half of the proposals considered by the sub-committee were deemed not to warrant additional scrutiny on the part of the sectoral committees of the Oireachtas and were not referred to them. However, half were thought to need such scrutiny, being sent to the various committees for their approval. The Minister has not said what will happen under the new proposals. He will make regulations, but will the sectoral committees have the opportunity to assess them in advance? Will the Committee on European Affairs have a chance to assess the Minister's proposals? Will it be possible for anyone to determine the full range and impact of the proposals now before the House?

Even if, with the best will in the world, the Minister wishes to apprise the House of their implications, that may not be possible. Someone, perhaps another Minister, will jump up and bite him for introducing this system. He will not see it coming, although it could be as soon as a year from now, but we will hear about it then. It would be an extremely strange thing if the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, were imprisoned as a result of a failure on the part of his Department to protect the environment adequately and I suggest that it might happen. I know that he is a pleasant and affable person with the answer to everything and I am sure that he will have the staunch support of everyone in the country to get out of jail as quickly as possible. However, unless both he and the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Treacy, wake up very quickly and address the issue of the sewage treatment plants that currently pollute the country's atmosphere, rivers and lakes, it might come back on them.

While we are on the subject, I might mention that the Committee on European Scrutiny and the various others operate on a shoestring budget. Resources in this House are very limited and one must recognise how much time and energy must be put into this, simply because the research and back-up, although good, are not adequate, given the volume of correspondence. There should be democratic accountability in the European Communities Bill 2006, a subject on which the Minister has not yet spoken. He has said that the Minister will have more power, but to whom is he or she accountable? The answer is no one, since they will be able to tell us that their actions are in line with European legislation. To whom is the Minister of State accountable?

To this House and to the Irish people.

They have now set it aside, proposing to bypass it. The only occasion when we will be able to catch up with the Government is at election time. Fortunately, there is not yet any proposal to abolish elections, but that will come. I have no doubt that the electronic voting system was a fair attempt at moving in that direction.

There will be a statutory instrument to abolish elections.

Absolutely. The next initiative will be aimed at abolishing democracy, a goal towards which we are working.

The Deputy should not be working towards it.

Fine Gael has always supported the timely transposition of EU directives into Irish law, but that is not simply a matter of good legislative housekeeping. EU directives are the method through which European legislation is enacted in each EU member state, the way in which the Union has a positive impact on the lives of European citizens. That is why the manner in which directives are introduced and imposed on the people should reflect democratic principles of accountability. If one does not have accountability, one does not have democracy. There is an increased disregard for any need to account for oneself. According to everything that we hear from the Government side of the House, it is completely unnecessary.

I have several other points that I lack the time to raise. Fine Gael has always supported the European project and we continue to do so. However, we call on the Government and the relevant Ministers to acknowledge the need for accountability and recognise that, to proceed, we need support for the European project in this country and others. The best way to secure it is to ensure accountability and that the various parliaments throughout Europe have an input into how European law affects them. It is not good enough to say that we will now accord a Minister sweeping power and authority so that he need no longer appear before the Oireachtas, introducing law through regulations and statutory instruments with primary legislative impact. This gives EU law a primary role without any regard for the Oireachtas or its institutions. We believe this is not good for democracy or the European Union. It is not in the interests of getting approval for the European constitution, for example, which the Minister appears to think will come about magically. It will not and this legislation, when amended by Government in recognition of the Opposition's input, will immensely improve that and the whole European project's transparency and accountability.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:

"Dáil Éireann declines to give the Bill a second reading on the following grounds:

(a) 50 years after foundation of European Economic Community, the process of closer European co-operation is becalmed by reason of citizens’ perception across Europe of a lack of democracy in the operation of the EU;

(b) Such concerns as to the lack of democratic scrutiny were critical in the defeat of the first Nice Treaty referendum and in the response to that result, including in the establishment of the National Forum on Europe;

(c) The present law, under the European Communities Act 1972, requires approval by the Oireachtas in the form of primary legislation of all proposals to create indictable offences to implement European law;

(d) The Bill would bring about a major transfer of power from the Oireachtas to Ministers by allowing Ministers to create indictable offences by regulations, rather than through the introduction of legislation;

(e) As directives are binding only as to the result to be achieved, and leave to the national authorities the choice of form and methods (under Article 249 of the EC Treaty), the implementation of a directive is not an automatic or rubber-stamp exercise and involves important policy choices as to form and methods, and it is in the interests of democracy that such important choices should, in serious matters, be made directly by the Oireachtas and not by Ministers through the medium of regulations;

(f) The Bill would, if implemented, allow such policy choices as to form and methods to be exercised by Ministers, instead of by the Oireachtas as at present, in cases where it is proposed to create indictable offences;

(g) Oireachtas scrutiny after the event is not an adequate substitute for the power to make the decision in the first instance, which is the power currently held by the Oireachtas in cases where it is proposed to create indictable offences;

(h) The Bill is therefore a significant dilution of democracy at a time when concerns as to lack of democracy have shaken citizens’ confidence in the EU;

(i) The Bill is primarily motivated by a short-term view of administrative convenience; the State is not obliged to introduce the Bill by EU law and is free to withdraw the Bill without infringing EU law.’’.

Not only is the Labour Party opposed to the Bill, we are opposed to it being debated at all in what it seeks to do. There are other ways to deal with the matter, which I will speak of later.

We are not the only group with this view. The Labour leader, Deputy Rabbitte, received a letter from the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers' Association on the matter, although I am sure very few organisations in the marketplace know what is going on today in the House. The ICMSA President, Jackie Cahill, wrote the letter, which states:

The European Communities Bill currently before the Dáil proposing to amend the European Communities Act 1972 is a very important piece of draft legislation. The ICMSA is concerned that the Bill would, if adopted, give Ministers power to introduce legislation by statutory instrument, impose fines of up to €500,000 and create indictable offences. Furthermore, as you know, arising from case law, the current Act empowers a Minister to change existing law, including Acts of the Oireachtas.

In view of the growing importance of EU law in virtually every aspect of business, economic and social affairs, we are very concerned about this definite erosion of the authority of the Oireachtas and as a result, democratic accountability for law-making.

The 1972 Act never intended this to be the case and Dáil Éireann at that time specifically and rightly, in our view, put a ceiling on the penalties. Based on the above, we believe that the Bill, as passed by Seanad Éireann, should not be enacted and that the Oireachtas alone should retain the exclusive role of creating indictable offences.

In addition, legislation imposing severe penalties on individuals should only be enacted after full scrutiny by elected representatives. Otherwise individuals in their business and personal life could be exposed to unnecessary restriction and unwarranted bureaucracy.

That is at the heart of the problem. The ICMSA, a farming organisation, by chance became aware of the provisions of the Bill proposed today and it put forward such robust opposition to it.

Many other organisations, including those involved in environmental, marine and farming matters, across the length and breadth of the country will be affected by directives coming from the European Union. They will also be affected by regulations and statutory instruments put forward by Ministers, at their own discretion, without debate in this House. Penalties will be imposed of up to three years imprisonment, depriving the liberty of a citizen without having to go through to the House. A statutory instrument can be concocted in some committee room, by some civil servant or by a Minister before being presented to the Oireachtas Library, bypassing the Oireachtas. It would be a done deal, afait accompli.

That is right, the Minister would present it to himself.

That is the height of it, it is legislation by diktat and ministerial directive.

It is imperialism.

It certainly goes back to the one-party State.

Absolutely.

Democracy has very little say in this. If the people realised that we are debating an issue of such magnitude today, with their rights and liberties at the heart of the matter——

There would be a civil uprising.

There would be an uprising.

The Minister stated in the first page of his speech that hundreds of regulations, directives and legislation have been transposed into Irish law that we are going to deal with retrospectively. May we have a copy of all these pieces affected by this legislation, specifically those which will be underpinned by statute and which were previously secondary legislation found by the Supreme Court to have no standing? A list could be placed in the Oireachtas Library so we could see what we are talking about. The provision of such a list of documentation referred to in section 4 would be a simple matter. The section states that every statutory instrument made before the passing of this Act shall operate retrospectively. The least we would expect is to have that here as part of the corpus of information made available to us.

This is a very serious matter and it is important to address it in the House. This debate should not go to a vote at the end of the process today and time should be allowed for a proper hearing. The Bill was passed through at very short notice by the Seanad with a minimum of debate. Members apparently did not recognise the implications and it has been tabled for discussion in the Dáil on an afternoon when many Deputies must travel home early. It is very difficult to give it the debate and time it requires. There should be scope in the Dáil for a proper debate.

There is no question of anybody on this side of the House not supporting the European project. We are strong supporters of it. As the Minister of State will be aware because he is present on many occasions, every time I speak in the National Forum on Europe on the project my contributions are positive towards it, the benefits that have accrued from it, its future and how I wish to see it being expanded, democratised and enlarged so that the benefits of the European Union can be extended to other countries which do not avail of them. We are speaking of an expansion and deepening of the values, principles and structures of the European Union. That is where we must address this issue.

Whatever way one looks at it, this legislation is undesirable. It is almost pointedly undesirable at this juncture because the entire European Union project is in jeopardy. It is in jeopardy because the citizens the length and breadth of Europe perceive that the European Union has become removed from their daily lives and that decisions are being made in an ivory tower far away from the reality of the life they are experiencing. As a result, they are suspicious of the bureaucracy and they will certainly be more suspicious of increasing bureaucracy where the element of democracy is being further eroded.

We are here trying to bolster up the European Union, to get structures in place and to reassure people that the European Union is relevant and is not operating in a high-handed or undemocratic fashion, and the Minister of State is here presenting a Bill which will pass all power on European directives and on all legislation needing transposition into domestic law to the Minister concerned, who will then decide at his discretion how to transpose it. The Minister concerned will be able to alter, amend and transpose such legislation as he or she thinks fit. That role, the examination, scrutiny and passage of legislation, is one for the electorate's representatives in the proper forum.

As I stated, the European project is in considerable jeopardy because of the lack of perceived accountability and transparency in the European Union's structures and law, and the failure to consult when key decisions that affect citizens' lives are being made. There is a waning of confidence and we saw that clearly in Ireland's case, to which the Minister of State referred. In his speech he did not give the reason we put together in 2002 legislation to provide for Oireachtas scrutiny of EU legislative proposals, directives etc. That happened, not out of the blue but because Ireland rejected the Nice treaty in that year and because the Labour Party proposed such legislation and the establishment of the National Forum on Europe as a means of informing the public at large and providing a forum for discussing what is happening in Europe. It was an attempt to deepen the knowledge and awareness of the citizenry of what was happening and to introduce a level of accountability. That was the reason. We did it because we were quickly losing the confidence of the Irish people and the electorate, who had perceived the European Union as having become too distant and too uncaring.

Ireland is not alone in that regard, as the Minister of State will be aware. Last year France and the Netherlands rejected the constitutional treaty because they had similar concerns about the decision-making process in the European Union and about accountability and transparency.

In the debate in the House yesterday the view of a considerable number here was that the project had become stagnant and becalmed because in the past 18 months the European Union has been going nowhere. It is unlikely that it will go far over the forthcoming 18 months as European leaders endeavour to find a way forward from the position of lack of citizenry confidence in the European Union as expressed in the "No" vote by France and the Netherlands. Will we add to that through this legislation?

The European Council summit in December was a damp squib for that reason and we discussed that yesterday. The Council could only tread water on the important matters. The Finnish Presidency passed on to the incoming German Presidency the task of finding a way out of the present morass, which is really underpinned by lack of confidence. As a result, all the decisions needed on enlargement were put on the long finger, as were decisions on a common European policy on cross-border activity to deal with justice and security issues, and important issues relating to the trafficking of children and women. A common immigration policy was also kicked to touch.

This legislation will significantly further alienate the public and increase the democratic deficit because it will enshrine in domestic legislation an absence of Oireachtas scrutiny of primary legislation and will hand over to the relevant Minister the authority to make discretionary decisions on critical issues affecting citizens lives. It is, as I stated, legislation by statutory instrument. There will be no debate. There will be no amendment through this House. There will be no consultation. There will be no democracy.

A Bill that provides for a maximum fine of €500,000 and for depriving a citizen of his or her liberty for up to three years for indictable offences is not one which should be legislated for by statutory instrument. It is not sufficient to simply place such a statutory instrument in the Library and not lay it before this House. Indeed, it is highly ironic that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, who jealously guards Irish jurisprudence against all comers in a European context and who will not tolerate any intrusion in the Council of Ministers' meetings by the European Union in matters of security and justice, is now prepared to tolerate an entire corpus of criminal offences and penalties which would be created and transposed into Irish legislation at the drop of a hat.

It makes a mockery of the principle of national subsidiarity if EU directives are simply rubber-stamped by Ministers and national parliaments are bypassed. The Minister of State let the cat out of the bag by stating:

We could use primary legislation in each case but this would tie up the resources of the House on routine EC issues, leading to unimaginable delays and increasing the risk of exposing the State to significant fines. We need to be able to continue to use statutory instruments . . . Were we, however, to use primary legislation in all cases, this House would have to sit 365 days a year and debate nothing else but EC laws to implement the wide range of our EU obligations.

We speak of primary legislation, not in all cases but in important cases.

The Minister of State has a problem. This problem was created by the two Supreme Court decisions that found we were operatingultra vires which meant we had to address the matter. Should we address the matter by digging a deeper hole or dealing with the problem we face? Should we address it in the context of the principle of subsidiarity which allows us to deal with our issues in our own way?

I think the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Treacy, will have to find another way to deal with the huge corpus of directives coming from the European Union because they are so important. We put through legislation here and at the same time more important legislation is transposed into Irish law by statutory instrument, and now we are doing the same.

How should we solve this conundrum? I do not think anyone here has an adequate answer. We should have proper accountability and transparency and there should be a structure in place that involves the Oireachtas. We should deal with legislative matters from Europe in the same manner we deal with domestic legislative matters that come before this House.

I believe that the Minister of State should first have provided as much information as was available to give us the full corpus of statutory instruments that have been transposed to date. We should establish an all-party committee to examine the problem we face. How do we reconcile the origination of regulations, directives and laws from Europe with our requirement to democratically scrutinise every piece of legislation passed into law? We are the legislators and were elected as Members of this House to do that. We are not entitled to pass that duty to the Minister of State, or any other Minister, under any circumstances. The Minister of State is a member of the Government, not the Legislature, but the Government is now taking over the role of the Legislature. The line Minister will legislate not only for some of the legislation which the citizens of this country will have to obey but, probably, for a majority of it.

The bottom line is that the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Treacy, has not delivered.

I do not think the Minister of State recognises the magnitude of what he is proposing and the extent to which it undermines normal parliamentary democracy. The Minister of State is doing this on the basis of expediency, suggesting too much time and too many resources would be taken up if we were to deal with the legislative matters coming through from the European Union in the way we deal with domestic matters. Do not forget that these matters apply equally to the citizen and the penalties can be very severe. The Minister of State, and the other Ministers, will be entitled to impose these penalties.

I would love the Minister of State to find a way out of the dilemma he faces but the manner in which he proposes to do so is not the correct way and the matter must be examined in a clearer fashion. Section 2 aims to grant ministerial powers to prosecute on indictment, which is incredible. This applies to indictable offences, not summary offences, and the penalty that can be imposed is up to three years in prison and a fine of €500,000. These are extraordinary powers to hand a Minister without scrutiny from the Oireachtas.

Section 3 is the core of the Bill, as the Minister of State said, and it states: "A power to make a statutory instrument conferred on a Minister by a provision of a statute may be exercised for the purpose of giving effect to a Europeanact. . ." That confers power on the Minister, to without caveat, introduce a statutory instrument to give effect to a European act. The power in question is not merely the power to transpose it as it comes from Europe. Under section 3(2) some heavy-duty powers are given to the Minister of State and the other line Ministers. It states: "A statutory instrument made for a purpose referred to insubsection (1) may contain such incidental, supplementary and consequential provisions as appear to the Minister of the Government making the statutory instrument to be necessary for the purposes of the statutory instrument”. That includes “provisions repealing, amending or applying, with or without modification, other law”, so this is a wider power.

The Minister of State will not merely have the power to transpose a directive from the European Union, he will have the power to amend it, change it, add to it or subtract from it. This is the power held solely by the Oireachtas, and not only is the Government seeking to take this power for itself but this Bill could have the effect of allowing a Minister to repeal, amend or modify other legislation. That is an extraordinary power for a Minister to have and I feel we should give this topic more time for debate.

This proposal should be extended and presented on a broader platform and I believe an all-party committee should be established in this regard. This matter should be debated in a public session of the National Forum on Europe and the Minister of State should make a full presentation there explaining the implications of the legislation with all the relevant information. That would allow the National Forum on Europe to return with its recommendations on the subject. If we do not go down that road we will be behaving in a manner totally opposed to our duty as legislators. The Minister of State may be able to rubber-stamp this into law through this Bill but it is totally at variance with our duties and responsibilities and the core values of what we stand for.

The people of this country will not thank us, and no one will thank the Minister of State, if in future there is a problem relating to a directive regarding a rubbish dump, sewage disposal, a marine issue or any agricultural statutory instrument that was transposed without coming before the House. As the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association, ICMSA, pointed out among its concerns, penalties of up to three years in prison and a fine of up to €500,000 apply on indictment. Imagine if the Irish Farmers Association knew about this — I am sure the Minister of State did not send it a copy of the Bill.

Nor did I send it to the ICMSA.

Fair play to the ICMSA because it has its finger on the pulse.

What about the fishermen's organisations?

They are very well served and very pleased with the Government and the manner in which we have supported them.

The fishermen might have a word to say about this Bill if they had a chance to read it. Nobody, apart from the small number of people here today, knows what the Minister of State is doing on this matter. There has been no publicity flourish and no press conference was held to tell the country.

I spoke in the Seanad and it was debated there.

The Minister of State spoke in the Seanad at the end of the last session and got the Bill through very easily because it was introduced in the Seanad in the first instance. That does not salve us of our responsibilities in this House and we must take a stand on the legislation and advise the Minister of State to rethink the matter.

It is not too late to postpone this legislation and put in place a mechanism or mechanisms to allow its provisions and implications, particularly the implications for future citizens' credibility, to be debated in a proper forum that will allow proper input. In doing so, the Minister of State should send a copy to the IFA, the fishermen and all the relevant organisations. Perhaps a copy could also be sent to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government because, on foot of the current focus on climate control, greenhouse gas emissions and the purchasing of carbon credits, it is he who might find himself drawing up and signing many of the relevant directives. He may find himself with many questions to answer on the manner in which this is done. I ask the Minister of State to acknowledge the expressions of concern and reservations and hold off on the legislation until it can be debated properly, not just in this forum but also in a wider forum.

Ba mhaith liom mo chuid ama a roinnt leis na Teachtaí Finian McGrath agus Boyle.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Is trua go bhfuil an deis agam labhairt ar an Bhille seo, mar níor chóir go mbeadh sé os ár gcomhair in aon chor. Ritheann sé trasna an daonlathais pharlaimintigh a leithéid de Bhille a bheith ann, leis na cumhachtaí atá ann. Tá sé ar tí cumhachtaí agus dualgais ar chóir dóibh a bheith ag an bParlaimint seo a bhronnadh ar Aire amháin. Is é an gnáthrud, agus muid ag caint ar choireanna nó pionós, ach go háirithe má tá príosúnacht i gceist, ná go mbíonn an reachtaíocht déanta ag an bParlaimint iomlán agus do-athraithe. Tá an Bhille seo ar cheann de na Billí is frithdhaonlathaí agus contúirtí ó thaobh fhreagracht na Parlaiminte seo don phobal de, dóibh siúd a thogh muid agus dóibh siúd dá dtugaimid treoir agus muid ag déanamh reachtaíochta ar a son.

Allowing Ministers to determine criminal offences and sanctions, including imprisonment by regulation, may be acceptable to the elite that is trying to create an EU state, and it may even by acceptable to a Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform who is clearly jealous of the powers available to dictators, but it is not acceptable to Sinn Féin.

When I first saw this Bill, I believed it was innocuous and the explanatory memorandum and briefing note suggested it was such. However, just after I was elected I was advised that when a Bill looks innocuous, it definitely is not.

Hear, hear.

I sought advice from EU-critical legal experts and others and a number of them responded that the Bill is far from innocuous, setting a dangerous precedent and not the way forward for Irish parliamentary democracy. One of the experts who gave me considerable advice was Anthony Coughlan from Trinity College, Dublin. He has been critical of the European Union, the European Community and the European Economic Community in the past and some of the problems he has predicted have arisen. If we were to continue along the lines intended in this Bill, it would further justify Mr. Coughlan's warnings about the EU project and the attitude of this State thereto. He stated the Bill amounts to "an attempted coup by the Executive arm of the State, i.e. the Government, against the legislative arm, i.e. the Oireachtas".

Section 2 of the Bill would allow the Minister to create offences entailing maximum penalties of €500,000, or up to three years' imprisonment, without any reference to the Oireachtas. Criminal sanctions should only ever be determined by primary legislation preceded by a full debate and scrutiny in the Dáil and Seanad. The determination of what we believe are appropriate and suitable sanctions should be based on the deliberations of the elected representatives of the Irish people as a whole. To hand this power exclusively to a Minister and his or her officials is undemocratic and anti-democratic, to say the least, if not characteristic of a dictatorship in the making.

Sections 3 and 4 of the Bill give Ministers sweeping powers to alter existing Acts of the Oireachtas by ministerial order without any reference to the Houses of the Oireachtas or its committees and without notifying or obtaining the permission of Deputies and Senators, as long as the Ministers in question claim their orders are necessary to implement EU law. This is scary and it undermines the democratic basis of this House. It is exactly what those who opposed the EEC and its various treaties since its establishment said is part of the architecture of a European super-state. Any Minister of any Government could be forced to change his or her state's laws on foot of European law. At the drop of a hat, all the laws, sanctions and penalties could be altered. If we go down this road, it will be a sad day for democracy and the sovereignty of this State.

This Bill will be opposed by all who believe in democracy, and they should do so for a number of very basic reasons, which were highlighted by the individuals who wrote to me when I sought advice. According to Mr. Coughlan, the Bill should be opposed for the following reasons:

(a) it seeks to give the EU, the Government and individual Ministers the power to decide what are offences, what fines Irish people should pay or how long they should be imprisoned for, without any reference to the Oireachtas — this is a fundamental assault on the civil liberties of citizens;

(b) it opens the door for the EU to lay down a supranational, EU-wide system of criminal sanctions for breaches of EU law and seeks to remove from the Parliaments of Member States the power to decide such matters — this is a fundamental assault on basic democratic principles;

(c) Even if one agrees to permit the EC/EU to lay down supranational criminal sanctions for a particular breach of European law, this Bill would give carte blanche to Ministers and the EU to do this in relation to all and any area of EC law for the indefinite future, without further reference to the Oireachtas. Instead this should be done in each specific case. The civil liberties of citizens are too important to give away so radically and arbitrarily as this.

This Bill, which seeks to have sweeping retrospective effect, must be seen as a component of the now snowballing democratic deficit at the heart of the EU project and this Government's relations therewith. Dr. Roman Hertzog, the former President of Germany, recently questioned whether that country could truly be called a parliamentary democracy, given that the EU is generating 80% of its laws. He was not too happy.

In 2005 the Oireachtas Sub-Committee on European Scrutiny processed some 329 EU legislative proposals in its usual meaningless fashion. Whatever effect it has the legislation which comes before it is already beyond recall. The 329 proposals amounted to nearly 90% of the legislation dealt with by the Oireachtas that year. Where will all of this end when every legally binding decision impacting on the lives of citizens is taken by Government Ministers acting alone in Brussels? What will this Bill sneak through, because we will not get to see everything — the backlog of ultra-regressive and ultra-repressive justice and home affairs measures, for instance?

Sinn Féin is committed to a policy of critical engagement with the EU. That means we will consider whether to support each initiative on the basis of merit and criteria such as effectiveness and human rights compliance. This requires basic opportunities for democratic scrutiny and input. I do not believe this Bill allows for that in the future and on that basis alone this House should not be giving away its opportunities for democratic scrutiny and sanction of legislation in general and Bills such as this in particular. I welcome the speeches of Deputies Durkan and Costello, which like my own, stress the highly anti-democratic nature of this Bill. We totally oppose this Bill on Second Stage.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this very important legislation, the European Communities Bill 2006. From the introductory statement by the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Treacy, it is clear, as he said, this Bill has a national purpose. In this regard it is important to have an informed debate and to hear all sides of the House. There is an element in this Dáil and in the European Parliament which holds that those with a critical voice towards the European Union and the constitution, in particular, are anti-EU. This myth should be buried once and for all. I should like to present a different voice as regards Europe and the way forward. I also want to remind all the so-called democrats in the House that when talking about democracy in this country and the EU we must ensure that all voices are heard, in an inclusive manner. I make no apologies for taking the Tone stand which maintains that the voice of Catholic, Protestant and dissenter should always be represented, whether in Ireland or the EU. I present a dissenting voice today in this debate on the European Union.

The vast majority of elected representatives in the House fully support economic and European co-operation and the strategy of working together as neighbours and friends. Some of us have major reservations, however, about the constitution. That is not being anti-EU, but rather pro-cooperation and Irish independence. In 1985, the then President of the European Commission Jacques Delors, father of the euro currency, made a speech in which he said that by 2000, some 70% of all laws made in the EU would come from Brussels, and only 30% from national parliaments. The German figures quoted show that his prophecy was right. The Irish Republic, which the men and women of 1916 set out to establish, was to be a State that would embody "the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies", to quote the Easter Proclamation. This is what people stood for at the GPO last Easter, as the Irish Army marched down O'Connell Street. The essential prerequisite of a Republic that would cherish all the children of the nation equally was that it should be one in which the Irish people possessed the ownership of Ireland and were able to exercise unfettered control of Irish destinies. Deputies in this House say they stand for such a State, namely, an independent, sovereign democracy in which the people make the laws through the representatives they elect to an independent Parliament. Such a Republic is incompatible with having two thirds or more of its laws being made in Brussels, and this is something that both the Government and Opposition parties should face.

Having to obey laws made by others means being ruled by others. It is the opposite of a country being independent, sovereign and democratic. What role does the Irish State and its people have in making new laws? We have one member out of 25 on the EU Commission, the body of unelected officials that has the monopoly on proposing all EU law. That is effectively a 4% influence on the Brussels-based Commission. We have one member out of 25 on the EU Council of Ministers, which makes EU law on the basis of the Commission's proposals. This is another 4% influence. In practice most EU law is adopted by qualified majority of the Council of Ministers. That is the situation, so let us have a debate about democracy and the European Union.

Two thirds of Ireland's laws now come from Brussels. On 25 April 2005, the German Federal Ministry of Justice stated that between 1998 and 2004, a six-year period, 23,167 legal Acts were adopted in Germany, of which 18,917, 80%, were of EU origin. This was stated in a written answer in the Bundestag to a question from the CDU-CSU's Johanna Singhammer, MP. The same laws, originating in Brussels, will have to be applied in all member states of the EU, but the number of domestic origin will vary from state to state. As Ireland is a unitary rather than a federal State like Germany, there should be a higher proportion here of domestically generated laws, so that the Irish figure for legal Acts of EU origin should be equivalent to two thirds or thereabouts of our laws.

Laws are divided between statutory legislation and statutory instruments implementing primary legislation. The proposed EU constitution would expand the EU's law-making powers in over 60 policy areas. If it has to be ratified this means the EU would generate an even higher percentage of our legislation. Yet we have Government and Opposition Leaders in this House supporting the ratifying of the EU constitution. I repeat that it is important when discussing European Community Bills that we raise these issues. Let us look at the words "European" and "Community". We have to build a sense of community, and currently the movement is in another direction.

Take the issue of the so-called battle groups. Another hole in the tattered garment of Ireland's neutrality is the Government's decision to volunteer Irish troops for proposed EU battle groups to go into action from 2008. I believe the Minister of Defence would prefer to call them peace groups. So would we all, but let us examine the detail. The Government is changing the Defence Act to permit Irish troops to train outside the country. Up to now the Act allowed troops to be sent on peacekeeping missions established by the United Nations. Now the Act is being changed to allow Irish troops to take part in military missions with a regional group such as the EU, as long as there is some EU approval for it. This signals a shift from the United Nations to the EU military missions, with endless room for fudge and misrepresentation over whether the initiative has a UN mandate. This is very important because all these little subtle measures are being slipped in through the back door.

The purpose of this Bill is to amend the European Communities Act 1972 for the purpose of allowing offences under regulations pursuant to that Act to be prosecuted on indictment and to provide the power to make statutory instruments available to Ministers under any other Act of the Oireachtas. It may, in certain circumstances, be used to implement EC law, that is provisions of the treaties governing and Acts of institutions of the European Communities. It is important we understand that this is the purpose of the legislation. Again, when talking about this legislation, we have to raise very strong, challenging questions. Take the debate on the European constitution. The European leaders have met at summits to discuss and revive the European constitution, which the people of France and Holland voted down last year. Let us be democratic and listen to people.

It is clear that the pause for reflection will be formally extended after the French presidential elections. Two strategies are in play here. One is based on maintaining the constitution without any changes, continuing with national ratifications, and then pressurising the French and the Dutch to accept the whole thing. This can be done by calling the treaty something other than a constitution, and wrapping it in whatever paper the different electorates might need. The other strategy is based on the notion that the first strategy will fail. In this case, the goal is to adopt the constitution in bits and pieces, each part without national referendums.

The European elite expect the French voters to change their mind after the presidential elections. However, the last French opinion indicates that 10% of the "yes" voters have regretted their votes, whereas only 2% of "no" voters have done the same. The Dutch polls are even worse from the point of view of the constitution's supporters. The Dutch Foreign Minister said the people will never ratify the same text again. We must face up to this fact.

The existing European treaties require unanimity. The proposed European constitution should therefore be regarded as legally dead until it may be formally amended. It is a serious matter that a co-operation based on law is in clear breach of the basic EU treaties. To continue with the ratification process is outrageously undemocratic when the French and Dutch Governments have not indicated how they will ratify the treaty. How can European presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers expect other people to follow European law when they do not respect the treaties themselves? This just typifies the arrogance and contempt for democracy in sections of the EU elite. That is a view that is held on the ground that is not heard very often in this House. When I express this view, it is often presented by most of the political parties as a minority view, but it is held by 30%-40% of the electorate.

I thank the Chair for allowing me to speak on this Bill and I am glad of the opportunity to present a different view.

We could start by acknowledging the logistical problem that exists. There are several thousand legal instruments emanating from the European Union every year. The Bill is one approach, but as has been mentioned by other speakers, it is most certainly the wrong approach. We exist in what is meant to be a democracy and the principles that underline this Bill greatly undermine the central democratic principles of informing people and of involving them in the changing of legislation. If a Bill can be created by individuals or groups of individuals acting without democratic accountability, a frightening vista arises.

I would not give the powers in this Bill to any Cabinet, not to mind this particular Cabinet. The current Tánaiste would be allowed to exercise his "l’état, c’est moi” fantasies to the ultimate extreme. Given the way he uses the powers given to him under our own Constitution, a Bill like this would allow him to run riot. He could create regulations and criminal offences in which Irish citizens would have no involvement through the proper perusal of any proposal in this legislature. On those grounds, this is an extremely ill-thought out Bill. The way in which it is being introduced in this House indicates there is a lack of awareness of this on the Government’s part, but it is also contemptuous to suggest we should give away democratic powers of this type.

Unfortunately, this is at the heart of our criticisms of the direction the European Union is taking, rather than the existence of the EU itself. It is taking this direction because whenever it exercises democratic functions through referenda and consultation with member states, those in the higher echelons of the EU decide the people are wrong. One cannot have it both ways. One cannot say the EU is a democratic organisation and then not accept how democracy works, however unpleasant those decisions can be at the best of times. The power to inspect legislation and to vet it to the best possible degree for the people we represent is not a power this House should ever give away. For the Government to suggest it in concert with other EU governments says something about the very nature of the European Union itself. It shows why the constitutional treaty has been in difficulty. It shows why the negative votes occurred in France and in Holland. To a certain extent, it shows that this Government has learned nothing from the rejection of the first Nice referendum. A legislative framework in which the people are cut out from a particular loop is not really a democracy.

We are entering the last 12 weeks of the 29th Dáil and will engage in an exercise where all of us and others will be looking for the right to represent the people in the 30th Dáil. Yet we are debating a Bill that undermines what we are supposed to be about as parliamentarians and puts in place a future for this Parliament that has even less power than at present, where 80% of current legislation emanates from Brussels. I would have preferred the Government to talk about Dáil reform, but I do not expect that, given its own inclinations. How can anyone suggest that we have logistical problems in processing EU legislation when this House does not meet more than 100 days every year? The capacity for this House to meet more regularly exists. The capacity for this House to scrutinise legislation to a greater degree exists. The Government chooses not to do so.

Real Dáil reform would not allow the Government to decide when the House is allowed to sit. Standing Orders should indicate that our breaks at Christmas, Easter or summer must be determined by a two thirds majority of the House, whereby the Government could not determine whether legislation was processed. If the House had to meet for a special session, a minority of the House should be allowed to call it to account. However, it is in the Government's interest not to allow the House to sit regularly and to sit less often than any other parliament in Europe. Nonetheless, the Government has the audacity to ask us to pass a Bill that questions our right to be a Parliament and the right of the Dáil to have any role in legislation coming from the EU.

The Bill refers to newly created legislation in the justice area, which are just edicts issued by individual Ministers. It does not take a big leap of faith to see other Bills of this type being created in defence, foreign affairs or other areas that will undermine our rights as an independent nation. Given the willingness of the Government to roll over in previous debates on national sovereignty, I do not have any faith that such changes will be resisted in the future. Perhaps the Minister of State can assure the House that this legislation will be revisited in other ways, possibly following a wider public debate on the matter like that suggested by Deputy Costello. The suggestion that the National Forum on Europe should discuss the legislation is quite good. Such a discussion will not affect this debate, however, because the Government has decided the Bill should be passed as soon as possible in its current form.

I would like those who have expressed reservations about this legislation to suggest how it might be revisited. I think it will cause difficulties if there is a change of Government, for example. The members of such a new Government would be hamstrung by the passing of this Bill. It is dangerous of the Government, in the final days of this Dáil, to propose legislation which will compromise the ability of next Dáil and the next Government to operate in a representative way. I do not have any confidence that the Government will withdraw this legislation in favour of a more considered Bill because it rarely listens to the Opposition. The Government is well capable of making its own mistakes, but I do not want to be part of any new Government that has to deal with their effects. The Green Party will oppose this legislation on the grounds I have outlined. I do not think it would be of benefit to amend the Bill in its current form. The central principle that underpins the Bill is dangerous and flawed. If we are genuinely concerned about the quality of our democracy and the importance of this House in protecting that democracy, we should not support this Bill.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the European Communities Bill 2006. I compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, for bringing this legislation before the House because, as a representative of a rural constituency, he is extremely brave to come to the House with a draconian Bill of this nature. I hope for his sake that the agriculture community in his constituency does not realise what he is proposing until after the forthcoming general election. If the penny drops with such people that the Minister of State is involved in this legislation, it will be difficult for him to get re-elected.

The agriculture community, which I have served for many years outside and inside the House, is more than pleased with my decision.

The introduction of this Bill is the most reprehensible action ever undertaken——

As Deputy Naughten has a major contribution to make, it would be very useful for the Minister of State to have a few backbenchers behind him to listen to it.

Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members being present,

The introduction of this Bill is the most reprehensible action taken by a Government since the foundation of the State because it is the first time a Government has tried to legislate retrospectively for a criminal matter. I expect the President will ask the courts to test the Bill's constitutionality because it is likely it is unconstitutional. This legislation, which will validate legislation retrospectively, will give the Minister too much unscrutinised authority. It will serve to distance the European Union even further from the day-to-day lives of Irish citizens. The Bill will bring an end to political input into law-making in this area, thereby usurping the legislative function of the Oireachtas. It will ensure that EU legislation will be implemented at national level directly from Brussels, without being the subject of any input from Members of the Oireachtas.

The Government has rushed the introduction of this dangerous legislation to paper over the cracks of the last 33 years. It is concerned that there may not have been any legal basis to countless EU directives which were introduced by means of statutory instrument and have the potential to prosecute or impose fines. It seems that thousands of orders which carry a fine or criminal sanction are being called into question. This Bill will enable the Minister to transpose legislation from EU law into Irish law without it ever appearing on the Order Paper of either House or being the subject of a review process. In that way, he will be able to put in place a regulation under which a person can be sent to prison, for example. We are providing in this Bill for such proposals, which I understand to be unconstitutional because the State is not allowed to impose a criminal sanction by means of statutory instrument unless it is empowered by primary legislation to do so.

If this legislation is approved by the House, it could have drastic implications for people involved in many sectors of Irish society, including the agriculture and fishing industries. It will put people at the mercy of draconian legislation such as the nitrates directive and the forthcoming soil directive. The Bill permits the Minister to impose fines of up to €500,000, and-or three years' imprisonment, for breaches of EU laws. That would be a dangerous development for a parliamentary democracy like Ireland. Section 4 of the Bill will retrospectively validate all statutory instruments, including those which carry a criminal sanction, which have transposed EU legislation into Irish law since 1973. The Government wants to fill a gaping loophole which has meant that some actions taken by the State since 1972 have not had the full authority of law.

This problem was brought to light recently when a group of veterinary pharmacists brought a Supreme Court challenge.

The group stated in its legal challenge that the legislative provision under which it was being prosecuted was illegal. The case concerned some technical aspects of the animal remedies regulations, including the alleged prescription of penicillin by pharmacists and the alleged mixing of worm and fluke treatments, which was done in advance and was therefore deemed to be manufacturing. As a result of that loophole, these people are being prosecuted. The potential ramifications of the case include jeopardising the careers of many of those involved with professional qualifications. We must tread carefully with this matter. I accept that the Government has to deal with this loophole but it should not require rushed legislation, particularly given the dangerous precedent in section 3 of this Bill.

The Bill also brings to light the role and function of the special investigations unit, SIU, in the Department of Agriculture and Food. There have been reported instances of the SIU using a heavy hand in dealing with farmers, veterinarians and pharmacists. One case was recently brought to my attention, and to the attention of the Minister for Agriculture and Food. It happened in Ardara in County Donegal. The SIU officials, inspecting the potential sale of prescription drugs for animals in a pharmacy, searched the handbags of customers in that pharmacy. That is a blatant infringement of the right to privacy of individuals who were innocent bystanders in that situation. There is a need for checks and balances to be put in place with regard to the function and role of the special investigations unit.

If the unit is to be effective into the future, it is critical that the same checks and balances that apply to the Garda Síochána also apply to the special investigations unit. The Minister, Deputy Treacy, is a former Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food and he is aware that the powers of the SIU in some cases far exceed those of the Garda Síochána so it is important that checks and balances are put in place. The Dáil previously debated the need for legislation to provide for scrutiny of the Garda, and the Garda Síochána Complaints Tribunal and the Garda Ombudsman Commission have been established on a legislative basis. However, there is no scrutiny of the SIU.

Fine Gael suggested in the past that an office of agriculture ombudsman be established to deal, independently of the Department, with complaints about the Department or any of its agencies. It should encompass the role of the agriculture appeals office, which is not independent of the Department of Agriculture and Food but should be. This would ensure a balance in the legislation that does not currently exist.

The powers being conferred by this Bill are extremely dangerous as there is no provision for checks and balances in terms of Dáil scrutiny. The Government can bring forward regulations without consultation. Rules made up on the whim of the Minister, as a substitute for law, can be passed through the Oireachtas. Legislation will effectively criminalise individuals or threaten persons or put them out of business. Surely this should be based on laws passed following discussion in the Dáil and the Upper House.

The Minister said: "Since 1973, the European Community treaty has obliged Irish Governments to transpose Community regulations, directives and decisions to translate Community law into Irish law". I accept that. My difficulty is not with EU law but with the word "translate". The Minister knows as well as I do that it is the interpretation of EU directives, rules and regulations that is causing the problems for people, be they farmers, pharmacists, veterinarians or fishermen. The Minister described the Bill as short and technical, but it is far from that.

This is a Government of blank cheques. That applies not only to the Taoiseach but also to the Minister for Transport with regard to e-voting, the HSE with regard to PPARS and the infamous Bertie bowl. However, this Bill is the mother and father of all blank cheques. It is a blank cheque for red tape and bureaucracy, which can be introduced on foot of any idle thought or whim of a Minister. It is extremely dangerous legislation and it will persecute ordinary, law abiding individuals throughout the State. I implore the Minister to withdraw it.

It is the interpretation by the Irish Government and its officials of EU law that causes the difficulty. We have seen the difficulties it has caused with the nitrates directive and the cross-compliance inspections that are taking place. In that regard, the Minister for Agriculture and Food has said that no notice inspections have been forced on us by the European Commission, yet Commissioner Fischer Boel has been quoted as saying there is no need for no notice inspections. A delegation from the IFA visited Germany recently and found that there are no such inspections in Germany. Every farmer there is given adequate notice of inspections.

There is also the case of the prescription-only medicine rules. A completely different interpretation of those rules was taken by Ireland than was taken by Northern Ireland. Across the Border, veterinarians, licensed merchants and pharmacists can write prescriptions for animal medicines; on this side of the Border, only veterinarians can do it. The Minister says EU regulations are forcing this regime but there is a different interpretation on the other side of the Border. The difficulty is that this jurisdiction adopts the strictest possible interpretation of EU law and now, under this Bill, it will not be scrutinised or reviewed by the Oireachtas. That is a dangerous precedent.

There is huge frustration, especially in the agricultural community, with the layers of red tape and bureaucracy that is choking farmers. The amount of paperwork, box ticking, form filling, inspections, re-inspections, limits, regulations and directives has ballooned in recent years. When departmental officials and agricultural advisers openly admit that they are bewildered by the array of bureaucracy that confronts the farming community, what hope is there for the farmers? We are consistently told in the House that it is not the Government's fault but that it is being forced on us by Brussels, yet when the same law is transposed into national legislation in the other member states it is always the case that the interpretation adopted by Ireland is far more strict and rigid.

Now a Minister can simply sign a regulation to bring into force his or her interpretation of the legislation and it is not open to scrutiny by either the Houses of the Oireachtas or a committee of the Houses. That is extremely dangerous. I have been a Member of the House for ten years and I have never seen such legislation brought before it in that time. The problem is not even the levels of bureaucracy coming from Europe but the translation that is adopted by Ministers in its transposition in this jurisdiction.

The Minister of State has had to deal with complaints from farmers about the nitrates directive. He will have told them that Brussels is forcing it on us, that there have been court cases about it and so forth. He will also have dealt with farmers on the issue of cross-compliance. Again, he will have told them that it is being forced on us by Brussels and that we have no choice. The interpretation used in Ireland is causing the problem in 95% of cases but the Minister of State now informs us that this House will no longer be able to debate or approve it. This is the reason for the strength of our opposition to the Bill. Things are bad enough with the nitrates directive but the soil directive is on its way down the line. I have already expressed my concerns that the Department of Agriculture and Food is not directly involved in the negotiations on the soil directive. This is not in the interests of Irish agriculture or farmers. We have witnessed the conflict between the Department of Agriculture and Food and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and between Teagasc and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on the implementation of the nitrates directive. At least on that occasion the legislation had to be laid before the House for debate and discussion. If this Bill had been in place when the nitrates directive was being introduced, there would have been no debate and no discussion. As soon as the ink was dry on the Minister's signature, it would have become law and not open to any further discussion.

The soil directive as currently proposed would impose serious restrictions on how farmers are allowed to farm and use their land in the future. Despite the major consequences of this directive for farmers, the Minister for Agriculture and Food has failed to take a lead role in ensuring it does not end up placing unworkable restrictions on them. This will be a repetition of the nitrates fiasco but on this occasion the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will hold all the aces and there will be no discussion or debate on it.

Farmers are sickened by the amount of bureaucracy which has been introduced in the past five years by the Government. Speaking in this House on the introduction of the single farm payment, the former Minister for Agriculture, Deputy Walsh, said that this would give farmers the freedom to farm. Since then we have had the nitrates directive and the soil directive is coming. The animal transport regulations were introduced on 1 January 2007 and the prescription-only medicines regulations will kick in from July of this year. New rules and regulations have been introduced for butchers while new rules and regulations introduced over recent years have closed down more than half of our abattoirs. Butchers and abattoirs are the only two elements of the beef and lamb industry to provide some form of competition to the stranglehold which the processing industry exerts on those two trades. Restrictions have been introduced on the live exports trade; we are told they have been forced upon us by Brussels. Other regulations include those relating to cross-compliance and no-notice inspections.

Under the current system, there is at least some vehicle by which the House can debate these rules and regulations. However, the Minister of State now informs us that the opportunity will no longer exist. Section 3(2) of the Bill states that the Minister can repeal or amend provisions and apply them with or without modification, either by law or by an existing statutory instrument, without the need to lay them before the House. It is extremely dangerous to allow such a provision to be put in place.

Section 4 of the Bill gives a blank cheque to the validation of statutory instruments introduced up to now. This has been used over the years by certain officials in various Departments to threaten people. It is reprehensible to see a question mark over the legal basis for these actions.

I suggest the Minister of State give serious consideration to this legislation. Bad and all as the rules and regulations are that have been introduced and forced upon us — it is alleged — by Brussels, the interpretation of them in this Bill has caused the greatest difficulty regarding the statutory instruments which have been introduced. There will be no vehicle for us to debate these regulations or to question departmental officials on their implementation. The Minister will work solely on the advice he or she receives from his or her officials. This is a dangerous development.

The Minister of State has spoken at length about the need to bring the European Union closer to us and that we should be opening it up and making it more transparent so that everyone in society becomes part of the whole democratic process. However, the Minister of State is putting this further away than ever from the citizens of this country. He is taking it out of this Chamber. It is unacceptable to remove the political input from such power which is being given to Ministers who can at will introduce layers of bureaucracy and red tape that is putting farmers out of business and even before the effect of the soil directive. Fishermen are being prosecuted and persecuted and there are problems in many other sectors caused by anomalies.

I ask the Minister of State to think seriously about his proposal and the impact it will have in his own constituency and in my constituency which adjoins it. Regulations will be introduced and their true potential will be obvious when they impact on the ground. It will be all well and good until his constituent or my constituent is hauled into the Circuit Court in Ballinasloe or Roscommon and is jailed for three years or has a fine of €500,000 imposed and loses his single farm payments because of some technical breach of some obscure piece of EU legislation that has had no scrutiny and which has been interpreted in a particular way by officials. This will be a millstone around the necks of ordinary people.

It is important that this House has proper supervision of and proper debate on proposals, yet this scrutiny is being taken away from Members and Ministers are being givencarte blanche to use red tape and bureaucracy. It should not be allowed and it is morally wrong. I ask the Minister of State to withdraw that element of the Bill at least.

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I listened to the Minister of State when he introduced the Bill. If one were to take it at face value, one could say that this is just another step on the road in the legal workings of the European Union and that the Attorney General has examined the Bill. It could be argued that this Bill would be good for ordinary people.

It is well known in the House that my party is pro-European. I am a very pro-European person and this sentiment is shared by many hundreds of thousands of Irish people. There are many good reasons for this attitude. Many years ago both the Minister of State and I were members of the Macra na Feirme organisation. We canvassed day and night to ensure that this country joined the European Union. I am sure the Minister of State remembers that time well.

We were there together.

We did so for many reasons. The objectives at that time were no different from what they are today. We did it because Ireland is an island nation and an exporting nation. There is obviously a limit to what we could do if we were not in cahoots, in co-operation and joined in so many ways — industrially, socially and educationally — with Europe. This was the great dream. I sincerely hope the next generation of Irish people will consider that dream important for everybody.

As has been noted on many occasions in this and other EU parliaments, a wide gulf has emerged between citizens of the European Union and its institutions. A "them and us" attitude prevails, with a large majority of Irish people no longer laying claim to what is happening in Strasbourg or Brussels because people do not have any connection with EU decision makers. The Minister of State takes his job seriously and will have heard this issue being raised during many discussions with various organisations and individuals. This gulf would have emerged irrespective of which Government was in power.

France is a large country which has subscribed to the concept of European union from the outset. It was not a Johnny-come-lately, having signed the treaty in 1956. Despite this, it rejected a referendum on the proposed European constitution. While the populations of France and the Netherlands continue to support the general concept, they do not like certain aspects of the European Union and said so when given an opportunity to express themselves in the secrecy of the ballot box.

We have secured many stunning successes in referendums on European affairs and I hope we will achieve many more. I believe, however, that if more legislation such as the Bill before us were to be introduced, we would have serious problems trying to convince people to continue supporting Irish involvement in an outfit such as the European Union. I do not want to overstate the case as one must always take a balanced view. However, if Ireland was to hold a referendum and put this Bill to the people, it would be rejected by a margin of 80% to 20%.

I oppose the legislation because it calls to mind the process of delivering a registered letter. In future, the registered letter — legislation from Brussels — will arrive on the Cabinet table and the Government's only involvement will be to sign an acknowledgement of receipt. The Houses, vocational groups and members of the business community will have no input into decisions. This approach cannot be good for the relationship between citizens and the European Union.

I have no doubt the Minister of State has good legal reasons for introducing the Bill and while I do not agree with his opening remarks, I am not a constitutional lawyer. I know when something is wrong and this legislation is flawed. The Minister of State indicated the Bill was small. In his view, it should be rammed through the House in an hour or two. The sentiments expressed in this debate reflect those expressed by Senators. Leaving aside opposition for the sake of it, many people have genuine misgivings about the principle involved in the Bill. I do not believe my interpretation of the way ordinary people think is too far wrong. This Bill will cause great trouble in future.

The central tenets of the European Union's primary goal may have been refined but have remained fundamentally the same over the years. Apart from the noble ambition to avoid further war in Europe, the Community was established to ensure the living standards of its people would increase to a level that would not otherwise be achieved in the absence of co-operation. This principle has been proved correct. Ireland, for example, has done very well out of the European Union and I hope we will continue to play our part in it.

Irish people and most other nationalities are not prepared to cross a certain line. Although the sky will not fall tomorrow if the Bill becomes law, the principle it enshrines will come back to haunt future Governments. As the Minister of State is aware, thousands of decisions are taken in Brussels every week. The human brain could not keep up with them, particularly given the population of the European Union, its many problems and the range of issues addressed by EU legislation.

When a Bill of this nature appears, we are informed that a decision has been taken in the various EU organs in the interests of Europe. In 1972, an undertaking was given that national parliaments would be given an opportunity to discuss decisions. Countries such as Denmark even tied government ministers to a commitment that proposals would only be agreed once they had been approved by parliament. Our approach is less strict and involves the Committee on European Affairs and other bodies. If all 27 member states decided not to agree to any proposals in Brussels without first securing the approval of their respective national parliaments, it would be virtually impossible to reach decisions. However, there is a middle way. Until now, the Oireachtas had an opportunity, either in the Chamber or at committee, to discuss all legislation emanating from Brussels. I understood it was proposed in the Seanad to place a copy of all legislation in the Oireachtas Library for 21 working days. This would be a simple matter.

Several of my colleagues have adverted to the fact that if Senators and the democratically elected Members of Parliament are not entitled to make this input, Parliament will clearly not be able to change legislation. In cases where anything is involved that might be contrary to a vital national interest, which can often happen, there should be a way for this democracy to say "No, our interpretation of that is different". It will form the basis of the European Union's decision to introduce that law, but the way in which we transpose it into Irish law will be more suitable for us.

As Deputy Naughten said, rural Ireland in particular has many reasons to be unhappy with the way in which this measure was transposed, given that at that stage we thought we had the opportunity to do so. Can one imagine what would happen if we had no say in the matter? Bureaucratic messing and madness of the highest order went on with our farm inspections. The Minister of State knows all about it. Most farmers are now part time and are afraid that when they come home from work they will find somebody in a field checking whether they meet the requirements of various schemes they have entered. I can speak with a certain amount of authority on this subject.

Everyone accepts that there must be checks and balances in every system. A validation system, run by the Government or the EU, is required to ensure that subsidy schemes are being run correctly. No government, including our own, can back away from that task. Matters can go overboard, however. In 2006, we were foolish enough to believe that the diktat of on-farm inspections without prior notification had been signed in red ink in Brussels and that we had to put up with it. Only two months ago, however, it transpired that the German Government was not using this system. Berlin accepted the necessity of on-farm inspections but that Government said it would give German farmers 24 or 48 hours' notice that inspectors were coming. I cannot speak on behalf of all Irish farmers, but there is a major difference between the system as it operates in Germany and officials coming on to a farm unannounced.

It was the same with the nitrates directive when we went into convulsions about it. The EU wanted that directive to be prescribed in a certain manner yet when it came down to our Minister, it appeared we were talking about a different matter. Although the Government has the numbers to implement this measure, I urge the Minister to think hard about it first. I assume that like most factors of this type, it will be forgotten about in a week's time. I guarantee, however, that it is establishing an unwelcome precedent.

I presume the Cabinet examined this matter in great detail but what would be wrong with accepting the Opposition amendments tabled in the Seanad? If that were done, all such proposals would be placed in the Oireachtas Library for 21 days prior to ministerial signature. It may be a small step but at least it would mean there was some control by elected representatives who would have the chance to inspect such measures. In addition, expert views could be sought before the measures were signed by the Minister.

I spoke earlier about a widening gulf between the EU establishment and ordinary working people. We may get to a situation whereby the European constitution will have to be changed again. In an ever-changing society it is not unreasonable to expect that in ten or 15 years' time something like this will recur. If that happens, we will find that it will be done by parliaments alone, with no discussion concerning referenda. Some countries may not have the confidence to get such a measure through so all of a sudden it will become our problem.

Serious matters affecting business, education, farming or other sectors should be decided by referendum to allow the people to say what they think. We should never sway from that basic principle. If there is much more legislation like this, where our only input is to sign a registered letter, we may be considered good Europeans but will it be good for Ireland? Will it be good for the men and women we represent? That is the question. Some of the things that happened in this country as a result of decisions made by bureaucrats in Brussels certainly did not suit us. We would not be up to speed if we did not state categorically how that happened and why it should be stopped. This Bill will not help in that regard.

Fine Gael will be tabling amendments to the Bill, one of which was discussed in the Seanad. I think that, deep down, the Minister of State does not disagree with many of the points I have made. I hope he sees the error of his ways before this Bill is enacted.

I welcome the opportunity to comment on this legislation. In his speech, the Minister of State said: "The Bill relates to the implementation of routine Community directives and day to day regulations into Irish law through secondary legislation". That is what worries me most about this Bill. As one who was deeply involved in the referendum campaign on EU membership, I want to state clearly that I was, still am and always will be truly committed to the European idea. However, I cannot and will not accept some of the things I have seen happening in recent years, including the way individuals have been treated through over-regulation by Irish laws which are often blamed on Brussels. Members will be aware that as chairman of a European committee on beef and veal for a number of years, I dealt with Commission officials at the highest level. In that context, I know what I am talking about. It is extremely difficult to understand how and why we have implemented some of those regulations.

I remember sitting here with Alan Dukes during the debates on regulations to deal with the foot and mouth crisis. We, the then Labour spokesman and others got a commitment from the then Minister, Deputy Walsh, that while the regulations he had to introduce were essential, and he wanted our support for them, he would bring them to the House 12 months later to have them discussed again. That 12 months has long passed. Although we asked for them to be discussed several times, it has never happened. Once legislation such as this Bill is passed, it is ultimate and is the means used to deal with these issues.

I find it hard to understand how the Bill can be retrospective. While the Government has obviously taken legal advice, when we sought retrospective legislation in other areas, such as health, we were advised it was not possible and could not be considered. Will the Minister of State explain the legal basis for this aspect of the Bill?

The Bill is necessary in some form due to the background outlined by the Minister of State with regard to legal actions taken by a number of different groups. While we fully understand the need for it, its provisions are frightening, in particular the total ministerial power for which it provides. It is suggested it would clog up the work of the House if we had to reconsider regulations in the House on a regular basis but in fact the House is totally under-utilised. While the committee rooms might be effective — in some ways they are the most effective area of the Houses — they do not get any recognition or media coverage. In that context, this Chamber should sit on a much more regular basis, which would provide the opportunity to discuss regulations and not simply have them approved by ministerial order, which is dangerous.

Some issues raised by Deputies Connaughton and Naughten cannot be over-emphasised. No group has benefited more from our entry to the European Union than farmers. This is beyond question and there are major benefits yet to come from Europe. However, farmers are also subject to a litany of red tape and bureaucracy. When I visit other European countries with fellow Oireachtas Members to see the type of farming that happens there and how these countries compete with us, I am extremely anxious for the future. That is why the implications of the Bill are so important.

I was concerned by an on-farm inspection at the farm of one of my closest friends. His wife's brother had died suddenly on the morning of the inspection but that was no excuse. He did not have much education so his wife had to deal with the book-keeping on the farm. She had to abandon her brother's relatives and remain on the farm during the inspection. That is a long way from the Christian Ireland in which I and the Minister of State were brought up. There should be some degree of common sense and an understanding of how problems like that should be handled.

In another example, the mother of four children, who was expecting twins, had her farm inspected. Although the man in charge of the farm had died a few weeks earlier and she had not appointed a replacement, the inspection took place regardless. As all the sheep could not be found on the hills of west Cavan that day, she has never been paid. It was literally an army that was brought in to carry out that inspection. Such an approach cannot continue if we are to retain any level of progressive farming.

With regard to the food industry, in the past an abattoir was attached to most butchers' shops in towns and villages but that is no longer the case because regulations were imposed far beyond the letter of the law. Despite this, the product today is no better, cleaner or more acceptable to the housewife than it was 25 or 30 years ago, when high quality butchers were using their own animals, slaughtered in their own yards, for the use of the people. However, the laws are not being imposed to the same degree in other European countries. The then Minister, Deputy Walsh, promised five years ago that this matter would be dealt with, but nothing has happened. All we have is a further decline in these activities.

Can we not have a common sense approach to the issue of red tape? We have forced most of our farmers into part-time farming because of the income crisis. As another Deputy noted, when a farmer comes home from work to find an inspector has been on the farm all day and will be there the following morning, it is not easy for him to organise time off work to ensure he can look after his rights and entitlements.

I met the father of a farmer in Cavan late last year. When I visited that farm soon afterwards, I found the farmer had been the subject of eight inspections last year despite the farm being a single unit. The farmer had to take time off to go through all sorts of bureaucracy and red tape. During one inspection, the inspectors had to telephone headquarters a number of times to get explanations of what they were looking for because the forms were so detailed. This sort of bureaucracy must be addressed.

I visited Scotland recently with colleagues from the Minister of State's party. We were told in no uncertain terms that the Scots did not have to deal with the nitrates directive or red tape in the way we must. The previous speaker dealt with the situation in Germany. If the situation which applies in other countries applied here, we would not have a problem supporting the Bill.

A farmer may have given his life to build up a farm but because somebody arrives on the farm one day and has a problem with how the unit is run, he can lose all his income for that year — as the Minister of State knows, the single payment in many cases is 80% to 100% of his profit. It is different for somebody who robs or does damage to property. If such a person goes to court, as happened recently in my area, he or she can get off on a technicality if the Book of Evidence has not been fully processed, for example, and walk free. If there is one technicality at farm level, whether a lost tag or a box not filled in properly by an uneducated farmer, he or she is likely to lose the entire payment. These are issues the Government, or whatever Government replaces it this summer, must deal with immediately.

The frustration at farm and food industry level is unbelievable. The fear and dread are unbelievable. Farmers are getting out of the business. People of the calibre of John Boylan and many others are getting out of the business as a result of frustration. It is not the smallest farmers nor the least educated, but the best who are getting fed up with all the red tape.

It is legal for a farmer to spread slurry today, but slurry spreading is done by the calendar, not by following common sense. We have allowed ourselves to be forced down on such issues, supposedly by Brussels. As far as the nitrates directive is concerned, it was not Brussels which forced us, but the enactment of the legislation. We have got the worst deal imaginable as a result. Farmers must take their slurry miles in January to get it into somebody else's tank. Farmers have had no choice about when to spread their slurry, yet yesterday gardaí were out on the roads warning farmers to be careful about bringing slurry onto the roads on their tractor wheels and causing problems for road users. This is the sort of farming to which we are reduced. These types of regulations worry us. We look at the nitrates directive as something that just concerns nitrates, but its introduction means farmers cannot use phosphates either. Until recently, many farmers were not aware of this.

Farm organisations are extremely worried about the Bill as it stands. I understand it is necessary to deal with legal issues, but Fine Gael will bring forward amendments to try and make it acceptable and to ensure the House has some role to play in what the European Union hands down to us. It is vital that industry, whether farming or any other sector, is not tied by ministerial order in red tape without the issues having been thought through. I, more than most, am committed to Europe and have seen how it works here and elsewhere. We in Ireland are good Europeans to the extreme in our observation of the regulations.

Some years ago as a member of the Joint Committee on Agriculture and Food I visited Chicago where we saw the large market where agricultural produce is sold. We also saw a beef, dairy and poultry farm run by three brothers some distance outside the city. The beef was produced with the use of hormones, the milk with steroids and they used anything they could to improve the growth of the chickens so as to get their produce to market as early and as cheaply as possible. When I asked the Taoiseach if these practices were allowable under WHO rules, he said they were. They are different rules than we have here and the quality of the product is different, yet we must compete with such practices.

When we see industries like Motorola and many others are going to the wall, we realise the importance of indigenous industry and farming for the nation. We cannot ignore the fact that people have a right to this industry. We can produce at farm and factory level as well if not better than anywhere else provided we are not impeded by rules and fines that come through a Bill such as this which is completely unacceptable.

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on this Bill, particularly as it relates directly to the work I have been doing over the past two and a half to three years in the European Parliament.

This is a short Bill and has been described by the Minister as a short, technical Bill. It has been introduced on a Thursday afternoon for debate and if one was not careful, it would be deemed insignificant legislation that was just being passed out of necessity. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is an extremely significant proposition we are debating. In summary, what the Government seems to be trying to achieve is to avoid the inconvenience of having to debate the transposition of European Union directives into Irish law in the House, though obviously we can still seek clarity on a range of issues. The Government wants to be able to introduce sanctions for breaches of EU directives, with fines of up to €500,000 and three years' imprisonment, by ministerial order, without discussion or debate.

What is of most concern is that the Government wants to be able to amend primary legislation by statutory instrument, when necessary, to give effect to EU law. Again, this would be without discussion or debate if it suited the Government at the time. In other words, it would be on the whim of the Minister or Government to decide whether it was appropriate for the Oireachtas or the Opposition to discuss or debate what the Minister decided was appropriate to introduce.

Let me be clear on one issue. Fine Gael has consistently been the strongest supporter of the EU project and the principles behind it. We continue to maintain that position. Unlike some colleagues from other parties, I have no intention of using this debate to try and throw cheap shots at the European Union and the way it does business or the way it is trying to improve doing business.

The Bill is not being driven by Brussels or Strasbourg. The Government hand is not being forced on the issue. The Bill is about how our Government decides to deal with decisions and legislation agreed collectively at EU level and about how we transpose those decisions into Irish law and how we enforce them. The Bill is a Government decision. Before the heat comes on the Government and we get the usual response of "This is Brussels forcing our hand on the issue" or "We must introduce the legislation because it is being forced upon us", let me say that is not the situation. The debate is welcome because there is a genuine problem with which the Government must deal, but I will deal with that later.

I welcome the opportunity to debate the issue because we need to look at how EU directives are debated and introduced in Ireland and at how they are enforced. I have been a member of the European Parliament for the past three years. The directives that will be transposed into Irish law next year and result from issues discussed and debated in the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission during this year and last. Ironically, when we consider what is happening with this legislation, it is interesting that what has been happening in Brussels is that the European Parliament is getting more rather than less power. Ten or 15 years ago we could have said the European Parliament existed, but it was not nearly as powerful as the other two institutions, the Commission and the Council, which were the big decision makers. Much has changed in recent years and the European Parliament, which speaks on behalf of the people, if one may put it in such terms, is now an equal partner involved in a co-decision process with the Council on most matters. The Minister will be well aware of that, having had to deal with many parliamentary resolutions that have landed on his desk. The change in Brussels and Strasbourg has been inconvenient for the Commission and the Council, but it has been good for democratic principles of transparency and accountability in European law-making.

Today in Ireland, we are doing the opposite, saying that it is too inconvenient and time-consuming, with too many directives and sanctions that must be introduced to ensure that Ireland fulfils its responsibility to implement them. It is felt that we do not have time in the Chamber to debate everything fully in the same way as we would debate primary legislation. That was the attitude in Brussels ten years ago on the part of the Council and Commission when they wanted to avoid the inconvenient process of involving the Parliament.

That sometimes prolongs the process but is more democratic and transparent, while also ensuring that fewer mistakes are made and the EU becomes more open. In that way, facing the challenges of the next ten to 15 years, we could bring people with us, unlike what happened in the past, when the EU unfortunately failed in that respect, the constitutional referenda in France and the Netherlands providing the most recent examples.

That is why I am so concerned about this legislation, which is contrary to our goals in Europe. One of those is more efficiency and I understand the Government's concerns regarding this Bill, which endeavours to make it easier to introduce sanctions expeditiously. Unfortunately, however, democracy is not always that convenient and in this instance concerns about openness and transparency must override the Minister's arguments regarding convenience and efficiency.

I recognise that the Government must deal with a problem. This issue is far too important for us to embarrass or oppose the Government reflexively. The way to deal with it is surely to sit down with the Opposition and acknowledge the problem. A raft of legislation must be introduced in Ireland, with a further raft of amendments to existing legislation, to ensure that we adhere to European commitments. We must also introduce sanctions to ensure that people comply with regulations to which we have signed up. I do not believe that, if something is unpopular, we should ease off on the sanctions. There must be sanctions for breaches of the rules, whether by farmers or fishermen.

They must be fair, however, and if we are to make such decisions, we must have proper accountability rather than introducing something quietly without discussing the matter with other parties. The Minister would find Fine Gael very receptive to attempts to find a sensible way to pass legislation more efficiently and quickly — "fast-track" is the wrong word — when dealing with specific urgent European issues. We are obliged to do that, and we will co-operate with it, but we will not agree to the Government deciding that it is no longer the role of the Oireachtas but that of Ministers, since it has made commitments at a European level, wishing to make the required changes by ministerial order.

That is not how the EU works. As the Minister knows, we reach collective decisions in a range of areas through debate and discussion, with consensus achieved between the three institutions. Then the legislation, directive, strategy or plan from Brussels goes to the individual member states, who transpose it into national legislation tailor-made for the country concerned within that framework. While there are exceptions, that is generally what happens.

However, we are now proposing that such tailoring be decided by a Minister, allowing no say to people such as Deputy Rabbitte, Deputy Kenny, or me. That is not how a democracy functions. If a Government decides how laws should be introduced and what level of sanctions, including imprisonment, should be imposed if rules are breached, that is a dictatorship. As a staunch pro-European who seeks efficiency in line with the Lisbon Agenda, with fewer laws and better, fairer implementation, I cannot support what the Minister proposes. Nor can the other parties on the Opposition benches.

When visiting universities and schools to convince people that our work in Brussels is relevant to their lives, I state the accurate fact that up to 70% of legislation that passes through the Dáil and Seanad is a case of the Government legislating to fulfil EU commitments. That is true whether the area is the environment, agriculture, fisheries, or hygiene standards in shops, restaurants and public houses. The laws introduced and debated here regularly originate in the Government's transposition of EU directives into our law.

We are not talking here of a small number of inconvenient measures that must be introduced but about most legislation and its attendant sanctions. We are proposing to change fundamentally the way in which this House does its business, yet this debate is happening on a Thursday afternoon when most people do not even know what we are discussing. That is why there has been such a strong reaction from my party, with speaker after speaker lining up.

I will give examples of directives being introduced that may require sanctions. The nitrates directive has been raised by many speakers and although Government representatives will always sell it as the EU nitrates directive, it is really just the Government's nitrates action plan to comply with that directive. They have got it wrong, and it is too restrictive, but it is coming. Do we seriously propose that, if the Minister deems it necessary, we should introduce or increase sanctions relating to the nitrates directive that will impinge on farmers and their families? Do we propose that, in the context of the Common Fisheries Policy, if a fisherman breaches the law and a Minister decides to introduce the sanction of imprisonment, he or she should be able to do so without consulting the rest of this House?

I have no problem with examining more efficient ways of piloting legislation and, if necessary, tough sanctions, through the House, but I do not like being excluded from that process when I have been elected to make such decisions. If I were on the Government side of the House, I hope I would take the same view, even if it were less convenient for me, since I would have to address Opposition concerns and sometimes the playing of politics with situations that are difficult for the Government and subject to time constraints regarding implementation.

Laws are laws, even if they are introduced primarily by a Minister and have nothing to do with European law. The origins of legislation do not matter, but the impact of such legislation on people's lives matters. That is the reason this House exists and we have a system whereby a Government is held to account if it makes poor decisions. It should be no different whether those decisions are based on EU directives or on law and order, an area in which the European Union does not generally intervene.

If a family's life is affected by the laws we pass, we should all have a say because we represent such people. We are elected to do that job. Up to 70% of the legislation going through this House is introduced by the Government in line with its commitments at European level. Most of the legislation coming through here has improved the quality of people's lives dramatically over the past 20 years in terms of the air we breathe, water we drink and hygiene standards that we benefit from etc.

If we now say we can amend legislation retrospectively or introduce new sanctions without the matters coming through this House, we will be saying that 70% of the legislation we are now passing can be changed by a Minister with no consultation, debate or scrutiny at Oireachtas level. Is that what the Government is standing over? If it is, the process will be fundamentally anti-democratic and anti-European.

The irony is that the supposed reason behind the need for this legislation is that so many directives come from Brussels and there is insufficient time to debate all of them. As Governments are elected to make decisions, the Government will make decisions on behalf of the Irish people on a range of issues. That argument is rubbish and the Minister of State knows it.

The Oireachtas exists for a reason and if laws are being changed we must be involved in the process. This Bill excludes us, which is why it needs to be changed. I appeal to the Minister to withdraw it and come back with amended legislation. I hope I speak for my party when I say he will get a positive response from Fine Gael in trying to find a more efficient but democratic manner of introducing or amending legislation, or introducing criminal sanction relating to EU law obligations.

In his opening statement outlining why he could not support the Bill, Deputy Costello summed up the position well in bullet-point form. He stated that introducing offences and changing laws requires democratic scrutiny, and I agree with that. I also agree with his point that these issues should continue to have the same scrutiny process as any other primary legislation; in amending any legislation, we would debate it.

He indicated that there is a significant shift in powers from the Oireachtas to Ministers. I agree with this and believe it is fundamentally anti-democratic. Deputy Costello is correct in arguing that this is a rubber-stamping process taking in a significant amount of legislation. This allows Ministers to make policy changes in addition to technical alterations to legislation without consultation at Oireachtas level. He stated this Bill is a dilution of democracy, which it is. This makes it, ironically, anti-European and it should be withdrawn.

This Bill is mostly about convenience and making life easier for the Government. It is also about making it easier for Departments to make changes and recommendations without having to go through the headache of consulting difficult people or those with a different viewpoint.

The two main political parties in this House would agree on most European issues and there would not be very much difficulty in getting consensus for most of the recommendations that need to be introduced. The Government will have a big problem now if it decides to go it alone in introducing sanctions and amending primary legislation where necessary.

This has implications for the credibility of the European Union, or the European project as people now term it. Many serious issues must be tackled as a European Union and we must sell to our people in Ireland the strategy we propose to adopt as a Union. This type of legislation will make people more cynical and will result in more people blaming Europe for difficulties we have instead of seeing it for what it is. It should be a very positive force to improve the quality of people's lives and provide stability and opportunity for business, travel, study, work and other quality of life factors.

We are instead witnessing cloak and dagger action where the Government is taking it upon itself, through Ministers, to do the job. Ministers will make decisions fundamental to Irish law and people's lives without consultation and scrutiny. They will make mistakes as a result and people will suffer because the opinions are not being sought of people with opposing views. That is wrong and is a reason this Bill should be withdrawn.

There has been significant debate on this issue all morning and there is much objection to the introduction of the Bill. There was also much debate over a sea fisheries Bill, with the Supreme Court finding it in breach of a directive. That debate focused attention on other Departments and was at the time very controversial because the Minister stated there was difficulty in imposing EU laws in light of the Supreme Court case.

The Bill would include a provision for retrospectively dealing with issues from 1972 onwards. It is regrettable that there would be no debate in the Dáil on this nor a forum for debating the issues. Parliamentary scrutiny, which is very important, will be lost. There is also the matter of constitutionality, as treating all statutory instruments as Acts of the Oireachtas is a sweeping change.

The Deputy is right about that.

The statutory instrument is not an Act, it is a catch-all measure. This comes back to Kennedy and the Attorney General. It is regrettable that we did not include all the orders in this Bill. We are talking about 1972 and a statutory instrument is not an Act of the Oireachtas. There is no debate on the impact of this and for every action there will be a reaction.

Deputy Durkan spoke on the matter and clearly established the possible risks involved.

One must consider the retrospective nature of Government action on many issues in the past. In the case of illegal charges on the elderly the Government raised the Statute of Limitations. Originally, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, came here with a regulation that the measure would apply retrospectively only for a month. That was proven unconstitutional and the President would not sign it into law. It was then overturned and made apply retrospectively for a six year period. How is the Statute of Limitations qualified in this legislation? Perhaps the Minister of State might explain how the Government indicated, on the basis of the Statute of Limitations, that the repayments to those charged illegally could apply retrospectively only for a six year period, even though the case went back 25 years.

The Statute of Limitations is clear. It only lasts for a specific period.

Does statute law apply to directives involving the imposition of a fine?

It applies if the necessary action would not have been taken to proceed within a particular period.

We were speaking of the six-year statute bar. How would this impact on the constitutionality of a case that went back 12 years?

This will give a wrong signal, even if this involved attaching all the orders to it. This involves thousands of statutory instruments and directives. Ireland has benefited considerably from Europe and in every sense the Irish experience has been a success story, but was it bad management that allowed this through? Was it not identified prior to the Kennedy case that we were failing in our duty to regularise this matter in the Dáil? This involves going back to 1972, more than 34 years. The long time involved is critically important in introducing such a sweeping change. Why did the Minister of State need to go back as far as 1972? Perhaps he might explain the impact of going back to 1972, rather than to 1982 or 1992. What would be the consequences if this provision applied retrospectively to 1992 rather than for 30 years? He might explain the impact and the likely fall-out from this. No doubt the Minister of State has applied due diligence in assessing the consequences of the Bill and the likely impact in the future of enacting it. It is important he explains that, although I heard him speak this morning. He is doing a good job as Minister of State with responsibility for European Affairs.

It is important to put some of the down sides on the table. For every positive there must be a negative. I am quite certain there must be a certain level of negative impact involved in this, and it would be important to voice some of those concerns. The one case in which I was involved was that of the illegal charges on the elderly where the State fought tirelessly to ensure the Statute of Limitations applied, even though the matter went back 25 years. The Government is certainly cherry-picking when it speaks of acting retrospectively for such a length of time in this legislation.

The purpose of the Bill is to amend the European Communities Act 1972 which allowed the transposition of certain EU law into Irish law by way of statutory instrument. However, it has been argued by veterinary pharmacists in a legal challenge that it was not lawful to make ministerial orders that comprised criminal sanctions, and this Bill will clarify the position and will allow a Minister to transpose into Irish law EU law which carries the penalty of imprisonment or fines.

The issue of fines has arisen in cases related to agriculture, the environment and fisheries. Following the Sea Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Bill 2005, it is important that issues of fines and criminal sanctions would be debated here because they will have a significant impact. This Bill, in short, will allow the Minister to put in place a regulation that can send a person to prison without it ever appearing on the Order Paper of this House. One must remember that to date all actions of the State have been debated in the House. The laws of the land are created here in the House. They are debated and voted upon. It is the duty of the Government to bring in legislation and it is up to the establishment to implement it. It is not good that we are considering giving a Minister such wide-ranging powers without involving validation by these Houses.

The Bill also will retrospectively validate all statutory instruments made since 1973 to transpose EU legislation into Irish law, including those that compromise criminal sanction. The main problems of the Bill are as follows. It validates legislation retrospectively. That was the point in the case of the illegal charges, which is only one such issue. There was a vast number of other issues dealt with by the House. For instance, the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006 criminalised fishermen for minor offences whereas on the Continent minor offences are dealt with by administration. I spoke of the Government cherry-picking what suits. We in Fine Gael have stated in the policy document launched last week that when in Government we will amend the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006 to decriminalise fishermen who commit minor offences. This is the norm within Europe and Commissioner Borg, the EU Commissioner for fisheries, has stated clearly that this is the best practice. If the Minister of State is speaking of transposing EU statutory instruments and directives, and validating them with legislation, he is cherry-picking certain aspects of legislation. If we are speaking here of unifying policies retrospectively and giving a Minister such legislative powers, one must consider the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Bill 2005, with which I dealt quite closely and which was brought in here on a certain amount of falsified facts that there were people in breach of the law. The case was unproven and the plaintiffs had not been brought through the courts. It was an allegation made. If we are speaking of decriminalisation when it comes to EU law, the Government should seriously consider decriminalising fishermen convicted of a minor offence. Such people are now deemed as criminals. In certain cases it prevents them from travelling to the US and to the Continent.

This Bill grants Ministers too much unscrutinised authority. It removes the European Union even further from the day-to-day lives of citizens and it removes the political input, the entire legislative function of the Oireachtas, from law making. Legislation can pass from Brussels to national implementation without the input of the Oireachtas — that is the nub of this case.

Far too often we are seeing the role of the Oireachtas being removed. We see it in the health service, where accountability lies not with the Minister but with the HSE. We are educated in not raising a matter with the Minister, who has now delegated this function to the HSE. That level of accountability is not good enough. The National Roads Authority is another such autonomous body, where the Minister for Transport tells us not to raise related matters here in the House but to contact the National Roads Authority.

We are elected by the people to represent them. Issues such as this are fundamental to the national parliament. It is important to have a debate on Europe. People can be quite suspicious about the entire European project when something of this nature can be brought to the Dáil on a Thursday without any real debate. It is essential that an extensive level of debate takes place on this matter.

Section 3 allows a Minister to implement EC law by way of statutory instrument and to amend domestic legislation in this way without any accountability. This leads to a concern that the authority of the Oireachtas may be superseded by individual Ministers. It may also lead to legislation by stealth as the scrutiny of ministerial statutory instruments is neither as rigorous nor democratically accountable as the scrutiny of legislation.

An enlarged Europe, consisting of up to 500 million people, is in question and this includes countries that joined the European Union, recently. Other countries may join the EU in the coming years. While Members of European Parliament are elected by the people, it is equally important to recognise the overlap of European politics, national politics and local politics that should be integrated.

We have all heard about the National Forum on Europe and the openness and transparency expected of an open society. It is clear the Government has been caught without its homework done on this matter. The Kennedy case, which was fundamentally based on the Sea Fisheries Bill, indicated the Government was in breach of legislation in imposing EU fines on coastal communities.

When before the Seanad Fine Gael did not oppose this legislation but put forward amendments to change aspects of the Bill we found of concern. Our amendments were not accepted and our Front Bench seeks to oppose the further progress of the Bill on the basis the Government has not indicated any concern regarding the legislation or any willingness to accept amendments.

We sought to amend the Bill to require that all statutory instruments deriving from European legislation be laid before the Oireachtas for 21 sitting days to allow any Member to challenge its provisions. When no challenge is made the statutory instrument can automatically become law. This is a fair proposal because we are not suggesting retrospectively laying thousands of statutory instruments before the Oireachtas; we are referring to the future. If we are discussing European integration it is important people be aware of statutory instruments. It is important that a Minister in charge of any Department can indicate that a statutory instrument is coming and put a notification to that effect on his or her website explaining that it relates to his or her Department and will be laid before the Oireachtas, with Members invited to raise parliamentary questions to bring it into the public domain if they have concerns.

We would also like to remove the retrospective effect of this Bill by amendment as we do not believe it is constitutional in this regard, when one considers the statute bar of six years. Perhaps the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Treacy, could explain why he is going back to 1973 with this measure.

As the Bill passes through the Dáil we should state clearly that these amendments are important. When one hears the level of debate on this matter it is clear that people feel the European project has been an extraordinarily successful story. People are concerned, however, at the lack of information relating to this Bill. This is titled a short Bill but a sample scope of the types of statutory instrument retrospectively given legislative powers should have been supplied. What Departments do the statutory instruments affect and which have the most? This has not been discussed.

I have huge concerns because I feel this Bill is a further diminution of the role of elected Members of Dáil Éireann. This is legislation the Government wanted to perfect before the conclusion of the 29th Dáil and I think a marker was put down a year and a half ago. The Sea Fisheries Bill was well debated and at that point each Department could have discussed the statutory instruments that applied to it. The Minister of State is discussing regulations that go back over 30 years and affect 15 Departments.

The Government could have done far more to explain the likely impact of this. This is not a clean sweep but rather a very lazy way of perfecting something that should have been done many years ago. It is regrettable the Government has taken such a lazy attitude and engaged in a cherry picking approach. The question of the Government being duty bound to make a payment to the citizens of this State was automatically blocked. If retrospection meant there would be a refund to the citizens of Ireland I can assure the House that such retrospection would not go back one month. Whatever the consequences of this Bill, there will be no impact of financial benefit to any citizen — though infringements of the law may see penalties arise. It is regrettable that we have taken this line.

Many Members have taken their full allotted time to speak on this issue and the Minister of State must realise he cannot remain seated at this late stage without taking account of their concerns. He is duty bound to give a concession and, at least, accept the amendment that in future a statutory instrument deriving from Europe be laid before the Oireachtas for 21 sitting days to allow any Member challenge its provisions and cause a debate or put down a related parliamentary question. We are talking about the integration of local, national and EU politics and it is important that people be informed on these matters. A Member of Dáil Éireann should be aware of statutory instruments that are signed into law and they should be discussed.

The Minister of State has not even formulated a procedure that would put statutory instruments on a computer database. Such a measure would ensure statutory instruments do not arrive unannounced and that a notification period of their arrival could be given. A system should exist in the Minister of State's Department that flags statutory instruments that are due and circulates them to the relevant Opposition spokespeople. A brief explanatory notice of the impact of these statutory instruments could also be included.

I am disappointed the Government has presented this as a procedural Bill that will get nodded through the House without disapproval. The Government has misread the situation but has an opportunity to make amends. A clear message has been sent by speaker after speaker today urging the Minister of State to act on this. We are talking about the European Union, European politics and national politics. We are talking about the accountability of public representatives elected by the people and I assure the Minister of State that if he was on this side of the House and Fine Gael was introducing this Bill he would take a similar point of view to the one we have adopted.

He must consider the matter objectively as he cannot be happy about the agenda that is being driven by someone. Perhaps the Attorney General, or somebody else, is advising that this Bill can be pushed through without debate but that person is misreading the situation entirely. We are talking about a democratic deficit and people are very concerned about European affairs. People listening to this debate will assume we are rushing this Bill through roughshod, with Europe issuing statutory instruments and Ministers who are not accountable to the Dáil left to do as they wish.

The Minister of State has listened attentively all day and he has an opportunity to make a concession that will show some appreciation of the input that has been made by every speaker.

It is with some sadness and reluctance that I rise to speak on this Bill because I have great respect for the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, and the commitment to the European project that the present Administration and its predecessor have displayed. I am on record as having admired the way in which the last Irish Presidency carried out the responsibilities of this Republic on behalf of the then other 24 member states. However, I must draw the attention of the House to another side to this debate. In this regard, I note that the name of the sponsor of this Bill is Senator O'Rourke, Leader of the Government side in the Seanad. I am not sure whether the Bill originated in the Department of the Taoiseach or the Department of Foreign Affairs, but either way, it is ill-considered.

It was the Department of Foreign Affairs.

I ask the officials in Iveagh House, for whom I have much time and respect and who are under-resourced in many respects, not to forget the lesson of the first Nice referendum. Let they not forget that we lost the debate on that referendum because there was a presumption of approval and acquiescence, which presumption can no longer be taken for granted. I will not rehearse the debate that took place at the time or outline the way in which the Labour Party saved the nation's bacon, and particularly that of the Government, because I was at the European Council meeting in Gothenburg in Sweden when the only fig leaf the Government had was the proposition of a forum on Europe. This was promoted by my colleague, former Deputy De Rossa, then a candidate for election to the European Parliament.

The forum has proceeded with the support of the Government and has become an exemplary method of communicating Europe and the European ideal to a new generation of European citizens, including my 12 year old son, for whom Hitler, Napoleon and Attila the Hun are all grouped together in the same historical timeframe. Included in this are the Second World War and all the reasons for wanting to bring 300 years of nationalist conflict towards consensus, conciliation and compromise, which characterise the shared sovereignty of the nation states of Europe in a unique constitutional settlement that has no parallel or equivalent in the internationalised, globalised world.

As I was born in 1946, I realise we are not dealing with the same people who were involved when the Union was founded. When I met Mitterand, Kohl and others, I noted they were children and orphans of the Second World War. They, in their hearts, souls and flesh, said, "Never, never again". My children, however, and most of the people in this room do not relate to their experience and therefore a new narrative must be constructed and a new legitimacy must be established. It is called democracy and accountability. One cannot say, as is purported in section 2, that indictable offences, that is, offences that warrant punishments, charges and court hearings, can be dealt with by statutory instrument rather than primary legislation in the House. Doing so is no way to build the Europe of the future.

The Europe of the future must be built on consent and accountable democracy, which this legislation purports to reverse. I can understand why the diplomatic service and the Administration, of which I was honoured to be part, might be stretched. Ireland probably has the best generalists in the entire European public service, including those of the other 26 member states. Generalists, of necessity, need fast-tracks to deal with certain issues. From my experience as a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs, I know exactly what that means.

We will be stripping the legitimacy of democracy if we move towards enacting this Bill. To my friend and colleague, the Minister of State with responsibility for European Affairs, I say we must provide extra resources within the public service to do the job that needs to be done. This Bill is an attempt by a hard-pressed Executive and stretched public service to contend that we need a fast-track to allow us to proceed and that we do not have the time, resources or ability to proceed by way of primary legislation. They are asking for this instrument so we can become compliant with all the regulations and requirements of the European Union. I can understand the legitimate arguments and have heard them in the past, but I wonder how these arguments can be counter-placed against their alternatives.

There is nothing wrong with or untoward about the sentiments behind this Bill, and Senator O'Rourke, God love her, did not write it. No Minister got up on Monday morning and said he would connect with the electorate of Galway East by introducing a European Communities Bill on the grounds that it would get it excited, thus putting himself on top of the poll. Rather, it is a bureaucratic Bill driven by the constraints and restraints of bureaucracy, with a view to fast-tracking a system whereby the Republic of Ireland, as a member state, could be made comply with the requirements of the Union.

It is a question of indictable offences. They may be fairly minor, such as the pollution of a stream outside Ballinasloe by a farmer in east Galway. Having been indicted and prosecuted for such an offence in court, a farmer may well enter the constituency office of the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, and ask him whether he voted for this Bill. He may ask whether the criminal offence with which he was charged and for which he incurred a fine was discussed in the House and whether the four Members from Galway East consciously stated in the House that the offence was an act of aggression against the Republic of Ireland and its territory. The Members will say they did not vote for the creation of such an offence and that it was designed by some civil servant without reference to anybody, which civil servant decided that €500 or €5,000 should be the fine imposed. The charged farmer will ask where all the Deputies were when the offence was deemed to merit such a fine.

I know the Minister of State too well to believe he is serious about this Bill, which is not characteristic of democracy. The Land League was founded in Woodford in his constituency. One must ask why it was founded there and determine the sense of passion that drove uneducated, poor, destitute tenant farmers to do so. They were driven by a sense of justice in the belief that the laws under which they would live would be laws to which they would give their assent, or laws that their representatives, whom they would freely elect, would construct, debate, amend and place on the Statute Book, and for which, if enacted, they would take responsibility.

This Bill represents a perverse change and reversal of all these ideals and the Minister of State knows it. Who is driving this change? I can understand and do not dispute the bureaucratic necessity to be compliant with a very substantial body of legislation and the heavyacquis communautaire, but this Bill is the wrong solution to a current problem. The real solution involves more staff, facilities, time and research, and more bodies to do the job required.

The Bill is not part of the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats programme for Government, nor is it part of the programme of the alternative rainbow coalition, which will have to take responsibility for its implementation when it takes office in 100 days. This is a bureaucratic response to a problem which has not been dealt with in the first instance by the political people who can produce €350,000 for a bash in Dublin Castle at the drop of a pen to launch the national development plan. It was the most expensive launch of a political manifesto that the taxpayers have ever paid for.

The Minister of State and I share a common interest, and hopefully a common future, as regards the next referendum to face the citizens of the Republic of Ireland, namely the constitutional treaty. We need to change the rules of decision making in the current Community of 27 member states. I not only want to see Croatia become a member of the EU but all the former Yugoslavian states, so we may consolidate that part of Europe. It means we can consolidate the wider territorial community and bring them in so that as residents within the Union they will be much better participants than outside neighbours who may be prone to none of disciplines that EU membership provides. Imagine what the Patricia McKennas of this world will do with a document such as this or the Eurosceptics, who are alive and well in this country, as the money which we used to receive from the European Union has started to decrease and we approach the status of net contributors. I welcome this new status because I regard the day Ireland becomes a net contributor to the European Union as like the time my eldest child went off my payroll, earned his own salary and paid some money back to me. Not only had my investment in him matured, so had he, and he became a full member of adult society. Similarly Ireland will have matured, because the money we got from German taxpayers and others enabled us to do the things that in part helped to create the Celtic tiger. The cash that used to be the one driver which persuaded people to vote "Yes" in European referenda time after time will not be there.

I can still recall Dana, in her wonderful, seductive manner saying how she felt about the first Nice treaty and how she worried about the applicant countries. The Minister of State might recall how Dana said, with her soft Derry accent, that she worried about all the Polish farmers who wanted to get a slice of action out of the Common Agricultural Policy, and how many they were — all 40 million of the Polish population. We know how the first Nice treaty turned out. The Government is now giving an unbelievable additional instrument to the type of person who wants to make that sort of anti-European argument. Forget about the Dáil, 1916, 300 years of oppression and the struggle for independence. As Deputy Perry said a few minutes ago the Government is not even willing to accept the Fine Gael amendment that at least no statutory instrument can go through this House without reference to a public debate or public accountability. For the benefit of those who might have the curiosity to read the public record, I will state clearly what are statutory instruments are. Statutory instruments are tertiary legislation that are derived and written by the Government and the Civil Service that supports it which are not, in effect, open to democratic scrutiny. They give effect to the body of legislation in whatever area and can set fines as well as other requirements, obligations and responsibilities. Even though, theoretically, we can table a motion after the 21 days and say a matter must be debated here in the House, the Minister of State's and my experience indicate this seldom, if every, happens. We are being asked on this side of the House to provide a democratic bypass to Leinster House whereby a set of offences and other requirements and responsibilities placed upon citizens are not open to the normal scrutiny of law and will descend upon the undiscerning citizen as a bolt out of the blue.

I thought that was what the struggle for independence was all about. I thought that is what 1913, 1916 and 1798 were about, so we should have the right to run our own affairs, make accountable rules that would be debated in public, on which we would vote, divide the House, differ from left to right, green to orange or whatever, but come to a conclusion and a consensus. Because of the sense of republican values that I know the Minister of State and I share, it was accepted that whoever lost on the day would accept the view of the majority because the greater good of all was more valuable than the individual's viewpoint. When the Government loses the next general election I know the Fianna Fáil Party, despite taking a long time to accept the Constitution in the first instance, will nevertheless reluctantly but democratically and peacefully cross from that side to this side of the House and the life of the Republic will continue.

Perhaps we will meet the Labour Party half way.

No, we shall be with our colleagues and friends in Fine Gael, and Fianna Fáil will be with its friends in Sinn Féin on this side of the House. That is what this is about. I do not know what the urgency is about this legislation. I can think of a host of pieces of legislation that need to be enacted between now and either 10 or 17 May, but why this and why now? I have great respect for the integrity, motivation and enthusiasm of the Civil Service and the public service. Could this be a crisis management response to an avalanche of work that needs to be addressed, which at present requires to be enacted through primary legislation in this House? Because of time constraints are they looking for a "Fermoy bypass" with or without a toll? Perhaps this is the manner that effective, efficient and well-motivated public servants have decided we may comply with European requirements. If this is the political equivalent of the Fermoy bypass, the democratic toll will be enormous. If in the next two or three years we are asked to amend the treaties of the European Union, either by enacting a new constitutional treaty or some variation of it, that will provide for the admission of Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania and perhaps one or two other countries, which we need a treaty for, the Government is giving, in the parlance of the Provos of west Belfast, an entire golfbag of baseball bats to beat around the heads of democrats in this country. They will see, that in the name of Europe democratic accountability and responsibility has been stripped out of the Dáil for indictable offences that can now be determined by people who are not accountable to anybody. There is nothing wrong with people not being accountable to anybody — they are accountable to their Minister or the Secretary General of the Department or to their employer — but they are purporting to recommend a series of measures, which in turn will be rubber-stamped by way of statutory instruments. These in turn, can affect the lives of individuals.

The history of this State was based upon the tradition and the sense of oppression, of unaccountable government and governance, over which the Irish people had no control. We learned that lesson and our near neighbours, which had to cede independence to us, learned it in spades. Why are we reversing that tradition and that history? Why are we doing it at a time when we need to build confidence and a new sense of narrative about why the European Union is such a good thing? It needs more democratic accountability. It needs more openness and reference back to this Chamber so as to give it a validity which memories of the Second World War can no longer provide. I cannot understand why the Minister of State, of all people, has given credence to this measure. The people who have to implement these statutory instruments do not need to be re-elected, but the Minister of State does and so do the rest of us. Therefore, as one elected representative speaking to another, I ask the Minister of State to reconsider this measure.

I was asked to speak about this by my party and, to be honest, I do not fully understand much of the Bill. As someone who has only been in this House for five years, I admit that I have not developed the intellectual scope to articulate the democratic concerns in the same eloquent way as Deputy Quinn. However, I think that what we are witnessing is a debasement of our democracy. It is a reflection of the way we have treated Dáil Éireann for a number of years. We have treated it as a substandard Parliament and we do not agree on how to invest time and energy into what we actually do in this Parliament. This Bill is an accumulation of what we have allowed happen to Dáil Éireann in the past few years. This is not a criticism of the EU or of the civil servants in Ireland, it is a criticism of the way we allow things to happen.

Fianna Fáil describes itself as the republican party. What do people like the Minister of State mean when they say that? What is Fianna Fáil's definition of republicanism? At least the French people clearly understand democracy and republicanism. The French people talk about fraternity, equality and freedom. We have a weird form of what Fianna Fáil describes as republicanism. It is not the type of——

Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.

Fianna Fáil people do not believe in that. They have a parochial view of holding on to power at any cost, of throwing up flags and pretending that they are marching for democracy.

They believe in perks and privileges.

They have no idea——

We have a global commitment to democracy and a local one as well. We merge the two and the people put their confidence in us.

All the way to Ballinasloe.

Allow the Deputy to speak without interruption.

I apologise, I was provoked.

The Deputy interrupts when I comment that his party has no republican values. They play on the word "republicanism". The French genuinely feel it when they say those words. When one meets French parliamentarians and those involved in politics in France, they genuinely believe in fraternity, equality and liberty. They live it. The Government here considers itself part of a republican Ireland, yet it is trying to pass a Bill that treats the Dáil with contempt, something it has done whenever it has been in power in the past two decades. It is attempting to debase the Dáil even further with its carry-on regarding freedom of information and the way it rams legislation through the House.

Fianna Fáil has reached the epitome of contempt for the Irish people when it is prepared to support a Bill that, if enacted, avoids even the rubber-stamping of legislation by this Parliament. If there is any indication that the party has been in power for too long, this is it. EU legislation should never be transposed by statutory instrument in the manner proposed by this Bill. In some respects, it is an indication of how this House often works and what happens to legislation here. It is only when Bills reach Second Stage or Committee Stage that concerns are expressed about their weaknesses. The Government seldom accepts these concerns and it continues to ram the Bills through the Houses. A great amount of legislation that passes through this Houses originates in Europe, and the Government is now trying to bypass all discussion by passing this Bill. It initially looked very innocent and most people did not realise what was happening.

We need to make it clear that nobody is knocking the European Union. The EU has been a strong and positive force for change in Ireland. It has delivered much financially and socially in this country, as the Minister of State pointed out in his speech. However, if measures coming from Europe have not been successful, much of that is due to the way the Government has failed to implement them — for example, Euroroutes 1 and 2 cross County Wexford, which are supposed to stretch across the EU. Nobody would consider the N11 or the N25 as Euroroutes, given the state of those roads. No action was taken on bypassing major towns in the 30 years since we have been part of the EU. That is due to a failure in the Government to believe in what Europe is all about. The Government has taken what was given for agriculture and fishing——

I did not notice the Deputy promoting those bypasses.

We have always looked for those bypasses. The Minister of State should come down to County Wexford more often.

The Deputy has been around only a short time and I never heard him talk about them.

I have been around long enough to understand what is going wrong. The Minister of State has been around long enough to know that he has not delivered for the people of County Wexford.

The European Union has been very good regarding health services. We do not promote it much, but the EU would be a substitute for many of the weaknesses of the Irish health services if people better understood it. People can receive medical treatment in the EU free of charge under the E112 system if that service is not provided in Ireland in a timely fashion. I am surprised that it has not been taken up to a greater extent by people in Ireland. A case in the UK was brought by a woman who challenged the British Government on the issue and "a timely fashion" was defined as less than a year's wait for an important operation. The year began the moment the GP referred the patient and ended on the date of the operation. In that case, the woman needed a hip replacement operation.

If a GP decides that somebody needs a hip replacement in Ireland, that person could wait up to four years to avail of the operation. The EU has a website to help people access health services in Europe. Therefore, the EU can be positive, progressive and proactive across different areas, not just agriculture and fisheries. If people logged on to that website, they might get off the waiting list a lot faster than they would ever hope to do under this Government.

Fianna Fáil has always tried to dismiss the European Union as it has tried to set up republican values that people do not understand. Part of the operation of setting itself up as a parochial republican party is the desire not to be seen to have anything to do with the greater European project, even though the people of Ireland have been part of it for the past 30 years. We have let the people of Ireland down in that respect because the EU receives a bad press to some extent. That is the case because we do not actively promote it. I would like to know how many Members know where the European Commission's office in Dublin is located. Do Members know where to find the European Parliament's office in Ireland? They might be surprised to learn that the two buildings are just 100 yards from here, on Molesworth Street. I suspect that the vast majority of Members have never been in either of the two buildings, have never attended any meetings there and have never met the EU officials who represent the European Parliament and the European Commission in Ireland. I suspect young people in schools throughout the country do not understand the workings of the EU, although things may have improved in that regard.

Given the importance of the debate, I think there should be a quorum in the House.

I am delighted that Deputy Stagg has joined us.

Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members being present,

I was talking about the role of the European Union in Ireland before we were interrupted. I suggested that a large percentage of the Members and citizens do not know where the EU's representative offices in this country are located. I estimate that many students in our secondary schools do not fully understand the difference between the roles of the European Parliament and the European Commission, and how they affect this country. The European Parliament has over 600 members, who seldom——

(Interruptions).

A Cheann Comhairle, can we have some order?

Does that include me?

The noise is coming from a gaggle of Fianna Fáilers.

They are just getting hyper because they have been kept here so long.

European Union legislation is usually initiated by the European Commission rather than the European Parliament. The Commission seems to have most of the authority in the EU. We need to engage in a strong public relations campaign to highlight how the EU works. Many of the concerns about the EU, some of which have been articulated by other speakers during this debate, are based on ignorance — people do not fully understand what the European project is about. People tend to reject things when they do not understand them. The offices of the European Parliament and the European Commission on Molesworth Street in Dublin are willing to provide huge amounts of information about what happens in this country and in Europe. They are happy to explain how the EU affects the lives of the citizens of this country and the other member states. The Government seriously needs to publicise the role of the EU. The negative impact that this Bill will have on the public perception of the role of the EU will be the fault of the Government rather than the EU itself. The Government is attempting to rationalise democracy in this country in a manner that suits its objectives.

The members of the Government have been in power for so long that they think they own this country.

That is right.

They think they can run this country as if it were a branch of the Fianna Fáil Party. They treat their Government colleagues, the Progressive Democrats, like a disposable asset that can be discarded. It is amazing to see the leader of Fianna Fáil courting the Green Party and other small parties in the Dáil.

The Deputy was not here for too long before he was courted.

He was courted successfully.

He is here now.

The marriage has been consummated.

Fianna Fáil is publicly dismissing its coalition partners.

At least some of us are happy with our genesis — we do not have to change our coats.

Fianna Fáil is openly soliciting, which is illegal.

It is publicly dismissing its coalition partners, with three months to go to the general election.

There could be a divorce.

By pushing through this legislation, the Government is showing its utter contempt for this country and its democracy.

Hear, hear.

I wonder how far Fianna Fáil wants to go with this strategy. Perhaps it is planning some other legislation after this Bill has been passed. The Minister for Defence might have a grand plan to become the chief of staff of the European army.

He will be the man with the rockets.

I would not like to introduce any legislation in this House that might prevent the Minister, Deputy O'Dea, from becoming the commander in chief.

The Minister will not ask Deputy Twomey to help him because the Deputy might defect to the other side.

What if the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government realises he is not producing enough wind to run the country? The Minister, Deputy Roche, might decide to rush through some legislation to allow him to use a statutory instrument to develop a nuclear power plant somewhere in the Arklow area.

I think Deputy Twomey was part of the group that went to look at the site.

The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment has expressed the view that he has no great concerns about stem cell research. Given that the European Union strongly supports such research, perhaps the Minister, Deputy Martin, plans to introduce a statutory instrument to provide for it,

Where does Dr. Twomey stand on that issue?

I am talking about EU legislation. If the Minister of State actually wants to know where I stand on it, which is highly unlikely because of the way this House works——

I think we might be drifting a little from the Bill before the House.

Deputy Twomey is drifting in a small boat somewhere off Carnsore Point.

The Minister of State is encouraging the House to move off the point.

The Minister of State is getting very excited about the possibility of the Minister, Deputy O'Dea, being appointed commander in chief of the European army.

He would be in charge of the bazookas.

The Minister, Deputy Roche, might build a new nuclear power plant, or the Minister, Deputy Martin, might start stem cell research in Cork, as a result of the legislation the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, is doing his best to rush through the House. The Minister of State is usually quite robust and likes to answer questions, but that was not the case when he was in the Seanad recently. Perhaps he has answered the questions he was asked by Senator Bradford on that occasion, but if that is the case I have not seen his reply.

The Deputy is reading from a little note that was given to him by Deputy Kehoe, who is keeping him in line.

There are not as many note-givers on this side of the House as there are on the Government side, both inside and outside the House.

I have professional advisers.

It is actually safe enough — the note in my hand is in my handwriting.

I will be able to read the Deputy's prescription.

The Minister of State will always be able to read the prescriptions I write for him because I would hate to do him any harm.

I will remember that.

Senator Bradford asked the Minister of State three questions when he was in the Seanad. He asked whether a Minister will be able to overwrite the authority of the Dáil on foot of this legislation.

What did he ask?

Will the Minister will be able to overwrite the authority of the Dáil?

The Deputy should not have to ask that question.

That is what the Government is proposing to allow Ministers to do.

I am disappointed the Deputy has to ask that question.

I want the Minister of State to tell me what the position will be after this legislation has been passed. I am repeating the questions that Senator Bradford asked in the other House. The Minister of State should answer them, instead of throwing more questions back at me.

The Deputy should read the report of the debate in the Seanad.

Allow the Deputy to speak without interruption. If the Deputy addressed his remarks through the Chair, he might not provoke interruptions.

I know. It is difficult because the Minister is easily provoked. Senator Bradford asked two further questions. Can the Minister unilaterally undo Dáil legislation? What safeguards are in place? The Minister said, in summing up his contribution, that he fully accepted the Bill is technical and complex and that the issues involved do not, unfortunately, lend themselves to simple explanation. That is a little different from his opening remarks, when he said that if Ireland is to retain its proud place at the heart of the European Union and avail of the full benefits of membership, it is imperative that it fulfils its side of the bargain and implements EU laws to which it has committed itself on foot of decisions taken by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament.

All I ask is that the Minister answer the three questions I posed. The Minister says the Bill is technical and complex but it has transpired that it is not and that certain issues lend themselves to simple explanations. The Minister is, in some respects, watering down the authority of Dáil Éireann with this legislation. That might not have been clear when the Bill was going through the Seanad, but when these matters are discussed for long enough one can see the true intent of the legislation. I am sure the Minister was fully aware of that intent before it went through the House. Otherwise he would be more conciliatory in this discussion and would accept that what is happening in the Bill is not good for democracy and the people of Ireland. There is a serious need for this Bill to be withdrawn.

The Minister's Progressive Democrats colleagues can be quite bullish about these matters. However, the Minister for Health and Children and the Tánaiste are usually so correct that the Supreme Court is required to stop them. Both Ministers have had their legislation rejected by the Supreme Court. The Minister should stop making an ass of himself with the Supreme Court as well and examine this legislation.

The Deputy should be a little more temperate in referring to Ministers or any Member of the House.

It is hard to comply with that.

I am trying to keep the language simple so the Minister will understand. I hope he will accept the points made by a number of speakers. This is not good legislation and there is a serious need for the Government to review it. Whatever the people of Ireland feel about politicians and what we do in the House, and they might not be particularly worried that we do not get heavily involved in legislation, they will have serious concerns if we sign away our democracy at the stroke of a ministerial pen. This issue will become far bigger than the Minister anticipates and he needs to stop it now.

I have followed the debate over the course of the afternoon and having heard the contributions of some Members I am concerned. I had not planned to speak in the debate. I contacted the staff of the Committee on European Affairs and was told that they were first contacted about this Bill yesterday and again this morning. They were asked whether it would be appropriate to refer it to that committee. Obviously it should be, given that it is part and parcel of the committee's business.

I should have been consulted about this Bill before it was brought to the House. Given that it pertains to the functions of parliamentarians this is not the proper way to deal with it. Obviously I must be balanced in my comments because I am chairman of the Committee on European Affairs. It is not a divisive committee; we do things by consensus and it has never had a vote. I do not believe that will be the case if this Bill is referred to the committee. We can anticipate votes and a divisive debate.

I accept that the State is vulnerable following the Supreme Court decisions. However, concern has been expressed by Members with regard to their role as parliamentarians and, ultimately, the circumvention of the Oireachtas as a result of this legislation. That is very serious. Deputy Quinn spoke about eurosceptics, the European constitution, the erosion of trust in the European Union and the removal of decision making power from the member states and from the Oireachtas. He made a fair point and a genuine concern has been registered in that regard.

It is clear that the debate on this Bill will not conclude today. That is probably a good thing. I hope to speak to the Minister with a view to addressing some of the concerns voiced by Members. When the role of Members is potentially affected so significantly, a different procedure from the one being followed today might be more appropriate.

Last week the committee dealt with the scrutiny of EU directives. IBEC came to testify before the committee and was firmly of the opinion that many of the directives from Europe were not being scrutinised properly. There was no insight and investigation into the outcome or the effect they were having on Irish law, and the proper regulatory impact assessments were not being made. The decisions were not being taken appropriately. When one looks at this Bill and considers the concerns expressed in the Dáil today, and taking into consideration that the Committee on European Affairs is not divisive, I do not believe that this is the appropriate place to deal with this legislation.

I am glad the debate on the Bill will not conclude today. The Minister made a mistake in not consulting the staff of the committee and me, as chairman, more rigorously before bringing the Bill before the House. I am trying to temper my comments and to be constructive. However, I take seriously the concern Members have raised regarding the erosion of their role as parliamentarians.

The Green Party is always concerned when it sees power drifting upwards. One of the more important issues in a democracy is that the representatives of that democracy do their utmost to ensure that power is exercised at the lowest effective level. I am nervous when legislation is introduced in a hurry, particularly legislation that will give the Government and Ministers significant powers to decide what will be criminal offences for Irish citizens under EU law. The penalties which can be imposed under this legislation can amount to €500,000 in fines and/or three years imprisonment.

We need a lively debate on what functions should be carried out respectively by the European Union, the national Parliament and its Departments and at local level. Local government, in terms of its powers, is very much an empty vessel compared to its equivalents in most other countries in Europe. We need to invigorate local government by giving it the powers it deserves. We should also be careful of giving powers to Ministers to determine what will or will not be indictable offences. Section 2 of this Bill is very powerful. There has not been a good debate about it, as we are coming to the issue late in the day. There should be an extensive debate about what powers should be given to Government, Brussels and to local government.

Debate adjourned.