European Union Reform Treaty: Statements.

I welcome this opportunity to report to the Dáil on the progress made by the Intergovernmental Conference in finalising the European reform treaty. I am pleased to report that work on the new treaty is now nearing completion. It is hoped the reform treaty can be agreed at the European Council in Lisbon at the end of this week. It would then be formally signed in December and the ratification process would take place during 2008.

Before I report on the detail of what is likely to be agreed, I would like to recall why the European Union undertook these negotiations to begin with. The process of European integration, which was set in train by the Treaty of Rome in 1957, has now been with us for a half century. It is natural, from time to time, that there should be a need to revisit the EU treaties that have guided this unique process so successfully during the past 50 years. This is one of those moments.

The present treaty text is the culmination of a lengthy process of negotiation and reflection. Its content is closely modelled on the constitutional treaty that was negotiated during Ireland's 2004 EU Presidency. That negotiation was, in turn, strongly influenced by the European Convention which met between February 2002 and July 2003, bringing together representatives of EU Governments, national parliaments, the European Parliament and the European Commission. The Convention was an impressively open and transparent process which produced important results that will be reflected in the reform treaty.

The 2005 referendum results in France and the Netherlands meant that the constitutional treaty could not be ratified in its original format. Yet there was no desire to go back to the drawing board and start a fresh negotiation that would quite likely have eventually produced broadly similar results. The solution adopted by the European Council in June was to preserve as much as possible of the substance of the 2004 agreement while moving away from the ambitious notion of creating a constitution for Europe. This is what has been done in the reform treaty. We no longer have a single constitutional text, but a series of amendments to the existing EU treaties. This is why it is called a reform treaty, for it seeks to build upon and improve the existing treaty provisions.

It is clear that the European Union must adapt to the needs of the 21st century. To discharge its ongoing task of promoting peace and prosperity within Europe, it is generally accepted the EU needs to function more efficiently and effectively with its greatly increased membership. Outside of Europe, we need to ensure that the EU can contribute to such global issues as the fight against poverty, injustice and underdevelopment. The reform treaty will provide the EU with the means to meet these challenges. It will allow Europe to do more for our people in the years ahead. Ireland has been a huge beneficiary of EU integration and it continues to be crucial to our future well being. That is why a more effective EU is in Ireland's best interests. It is why the ratification of the reform treaty needs to be a priority for Ireland.

The reform treaty will introduce a range of innovations in the European Union's institutions, most of which will be carried forward, largely unchanged from the draft constitutional treaty. Among these are several provisions designed to bolster the coherence and efficiency of the EU and to give it a stronger voice on the world stage. For example, there is to be a new full-time President of the European Council, elected for a renewable term of two-and-a-half years, who will co-ordinate the work of the European Council.

The Presidency of the Council of Ministers will henceforth be provided by a team of three member states working together, thus increasing the coherence and efficiency of each EU Presidency.

A new post of high representative for foreign affairs and security policy will be created. The high representative will draw together the current functions of the Council's High Representative for Common and Foreign Security Policy and the Commissioner for External Relations, and will chair the Foreign Affairs Council and be Vice President of the Commission. The high representative will be supported by a European external action service. This is not meant to replace national Ministers and foreign services, but to enhance the EU's relations with third countries and its capacity to speak with a concerted voice on international issues. The high representative will act to increase the visibility and influence of the EU in international affairs. This is particularly important for smaller member states such as Ireland, which appreciate that greater progress can be made by the EU when it speaks with a single united voice.

While the Treaty strengthens the ability of the EU to act, it also safeguards the delicate balance between the interests of the larger and the smaller member states. The new system of double-majority voting, for example, will give proportionate weight to overall population while retaining important influence for the small and medium-sized member states. This will be achieved by specifying that a qualified majority would require 55% of the member states and 65% of the European Union's population. This means that only those measures that genuinely command majority support can be adopted at EU level.

We have also succeeded in ensuring that the interests of smaller member states are protected with regard to the composition of the Commission. There will be one Commissioner per member state until 2014. Thereafter, each member state will be represented in two Commissions out of three on the basis of strictly equal rotation. This is a considerable departure from previous arrangements under which the larger member states once had the right to nominate two members of the Commission.

The reform treaty seeks to further develop the democratic governance of the European Union. In particular, the enhanced role for the European Parliament and for national parliaments will strengthen the democratic character of EU legislation. Membership of the European Parliament has been capped at 750. Its role will also be enhanced in areas such as the European Union's budget and through the extension of areas to which co-decision between the Council and European Parliament will apply.

The treaty provides for a strengthened "yellow card" for national parliaments with regard to draft legislation. It extends the period during which national parliaments can respond to a Commission proposal to eight weeks and puts a greater onus on the Commission to take on board the views of national parliaments. This is designed to strengthen the role of national parliaments in the EU, but without distorting its institutional balance which has served us so well over the years. Special provision has also been made for the role of national parliaments and the European Parliament in the sensitive area of freedom, justice and security. For example, they are to be involved in the evaluation of the activities of Eurojust and Europol.

The reform treaty will also pay attention to the wider purposes of the European Union. It will highlight the values and objectives of the EU, such as equality, democracy and respect for human rights. It strikes a balance between the social and the economic goals of the European Union. It aims at full employment, social progress and combating social exclusion and discrimination. It also stresses the need to ensure balanced growth and competitiveness. A new horizontal social article will require the European Union in its work to promote a high level of employment, adequate social protection, and a high level of education, training and protection of human health. The reform treaty will also give special recognition to services of general economic interest, which include services with a public good.

The reform treaty will confer legal status on the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which deals with citizens' rights and freedoms, and will set out the scope of its application. Following the European Council meeting in June, we had to decide if Ireland would in some way associate with a British protocol on the Charter of Fundamental Rights. We will not do this. I made our position clear when I addressed my ministerial colleagues at a Council meeting in Luxembourg yesterday. We see the charter as an important statement of the European Union's values and a key feature of this new treaty.

In the area of justice and home affairs, majority voting will become the norm, although there are important safeguards designed to ensure respect for the different legal systems. There are certain significant differences between the constitutional treaty and the reform treaty in the JHA area. At the June 2007 European Council meeting, the British Government secured an opt-in/opt-out arrangement on judicial co-operation in criminal matters and police co-operation. Provision was made for Ireland to seek a similar arrangement during the course of the IGC.

We have no inhibitions about greater EU co-operation in the justice area. On the contrary, I see the development of the European Union's area of freedom, justice and security as an important advance for Europe. However, the British decision to press for such an opt-out changed the situation for Ireland. Our legal system is similar to that of Britain and quite different from those of our European partners. Under the proposed European constitution, the combined weight of Ireland and Britain would have been quite effective in shaping EU measures to take account of the specific character of our legal system. The British opt-out under the reform treaty, however, meant that future EU measures in the criminal law could create problems for us. As a small common law country involved in EU negotiations, we could have found ourselves at a disadvantage and unable to shape proposals in a direction palatable to us.

Faced with this situation and after carefully weighing up all of the arguments, the Government decided, albeit reluctantly, to avail of this JHA opt-out. At the same time, we resolved to make a strong declaration outlining our firm intention to join our European partners whenever possible. We intend to opt into future police co-operation measures. This declaration will serve to underline our determination to work with our European partners in this vital area, which is of growing importance in today's Europe. It is our intention to be part of EU co-operation in this general area except where this could cause legal complications for us.

Furthermore, as the field of justice and home affairs constitutes a relatively new area of EU activity, the Government has decided to review these arrangements after three years. This will give it a chance to see how EU policy in this area evolves and to make a fuller assessment of the potential risks to Ireland's common law system. At that time, the Government can decide to abandon, modify or retain this opt-out arrangement. I am satisfied it has made the right decision in this regard. However, the Government intends to keep this matter under active review to ensure it continues to best serve Ireland's overall interests.

The reform treaty makes little overall change in the European Union's competences in policy areas. The balance of responsibility between the European Union and the member states remains more or less unchanged in most areas. However, the treaty clarifies the scope of the European Union's powers. For example, it lays out basic principles such as conferral, which means the European Union only possesses those powers that have been explicitly conferred on it.

It also gives renewed emphasis to the principle of subsidiarity, which specifies that the European Union shall only act in pursuit of aims that cannot be achieved by action at local, regional or national level. The reform treaty distinguishes between exclusive EU competence, for example, competition rules; shared competence, for example, agriculture; and areas in which the European Union simply supports the actions of member states, such as education. Such provisions will help to bring greater transparency and clarity to the work of the European Union.

The reform treaty introduces a small number of new areas of EU competence. These include tourism, energy, civil protection, humanitarian assistance, intellectual property rights, space policy, administrative co-operation and sport. These constitute welcome, albeit fairly modest, additions to the EU treaties. I also welcome the inclusion of a new provision that will provide a basis for dealing with the threat posed by climate change. This is the first time this issue will be covered in an EU treaty and it was included at Ireland's behest.

While the use of majority voting and co-decision has been extended in some areas, the Government is satisfied that no attempt was made to press for changes in areas of special sensitivity to Ireland such as defence and taxation. Unanimity is preserved for all decisions in such areas.

The reform treaty's arrangements in the area of security and defence do not involve significant innovations. Moreover, as in previous treaties, it continues to be made explicit that they will fully respect the different traditions of member states in this regard, including Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality. In addition, all decisions regarding security and defence will continue to be made by unanimity, which was an important Government objective in the negotiations. Moreover, there can be no action in the name of the European Union without the consent of all.

The European Security and Defence Policy, ESDP, has evolved gradually and in full accordance with the provisions of successive treaties, all of which have been endorsed by the Irish people. Under the reform treaty, the ESDP's objectives and operations will continue to be fully in line with Ireland's commitment to UN-mandated peace support. The positive direction of the ESDP is demonstrated by the forthcoming mission to Chad and the Central African Republic.

I should add that the prohibition on Irish participation in a common defence, as inserted in the Constitution by the 2002 Nice treaty amendment, will be carried forward in a further amendment allowing for ratification of the reform treaty.

I wish to mention a few other provisions. During the negotiations, some member states sought to include a stronger reference to Europe's Christian heritage. While Ireland could have supported such a reference, it did not prove possible to arrive at an agreed wording. However, a new treaty article recognises the specific contribution of the churches and for the first time provides for an open, transparent and regular dialogue with them. This has been widely welcomed by the churches and faith organisations.

The reform treaty introduces new provisions with regard to enlargement to ensure that accession takes place only when a candidate country is fully ready to meet the demands of membership. The European Parliament and national parliaments are to be notified of applications for membership. The Commission is to be consulted and, as the treaty puts it, "[T]he conditions of eligibility agreed upon by the European Council shall be taken into account."

I also wish to mention the related question of the future composition of the European Parliament. While not strictly part of the Intergovernmental Conference negotiations, the European Council meeting held in June asked the European Parliament to come up with a proposal on the share-out of parliamentary seats. The Parliament recently came up with its suggestions, in which Ireland's allocation for the period 2009 to 2014 would be 12 seats. This is the same number as provided for under the Nice treaty. The Government's main concern on this occasion was to ensure the retention of Ireland's 12 seats and it appears this will be achieved.

A case has been made for a 13th Irish seat based on projections of future population growth. At present, however, Ireland's population is at least 1 million less than those countries to which 13 seats have been allocated. However, Ireland's lobbying effort has established that its demographic situation is changing and that the case for an additional seat is becoming stronger as the gap continues to narrow between our population and, for example, that of Finland. A further reallocation of seats will be required on the occasion of any future enlargement of the EU. At that time, seat allocations to member states must be reduced to remain under the overall ceiling of 750 European Parliament seats specified by the reform treaty. Therefore, it is important to lay down firm markers that will prevent any future threat to Ireland's 12 seats, which has been done.

The European project has been one of the outstanding political achievements of our time. It has played a vital role in rescuing Europe from its past failings, which brought our continent to the precipice during the first half of the 20th century. In the past 50 years, thanks in part to the existence of the European Union, Europe has enjoyed the gift of peace in a manner unprecedented in its history.

In addition, membership of the European Union has acted as an important catalyst for change in Ireland. Access to the Single Market, coupled with support from European Structural and Cohesion Funds and the impact of the Common Agricultural Policy, played a significant role in Ireland's economic success story. Ireland has been able to contribute to Europe's evolution while drawing inspiration from its own values, traditions and historical experience.

Neither Ireland nor Europe can afford to rest on their laurels. Many challenges lie ahead and they must be able to deal with them in a concerted fashion. I believe the new reform treaty will enable Europe to rise to these challenges and remain on a progressive economic and political path. I hope the Government's view of the European Union as the orbit of continued opportunity for Ireland will be shared by all parties and that a wide political consensus may be achieved in favour of this treaty and its ratification by Ireland.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Timmins. I had hoped the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs with responsibility for European affairs would be present in the House.

He will respond to the debate.

He should be present as he spoke the truth on this matter at least. I consider the Government's handling of this issue to be an abuse of the bipartisan approach to important European matters always adopted by my party. Fine Gael will support strongly the passage of the European Union reform treaty and has always put the national interest first in respect of referenda on Europe. I recall opportunistic opposition by Fianna Fáil to the Single European Act, which speaks for itself.

This is an important issue for this country, its people and its future. I overheard the Minister for Foreign Affairs making a statement on radio recently to the effect that a debate could have been held had the Opposition asked for it sooner. The Minister is responsible for driving this issue and the Government has determined on and made its arrangement for an opt-out. This evening, Members are making statements in respect of a matter on which the Government has signed off already and the debate is taking place only because the Opposition parties requested it. I regret greatly that the Minister did not see fit to take the initiative to approach the relevant spokespersons from all parties to outline the Government's position and thinking and to keep them informed fully of measures as they arose.

The Government has now created a situation that has serious implications for the fight against crime and terrorism and for Ireland's standing in a European context. This decision was made by the Government behind closed doors without either advance warning or consultation with the Opposition parties, until the latter raised the matter in the House last week. The Government will be seeking strong support to pass the EU reform treaty, which this party will give because we have always supported European proposals. We were centrally involved in the drafting of the original convention proposal. What I would have liked to hear the Minister speak about was not the number of seats in the European Parliament or the matter of Christian heritage, which is important to some people, but the real reasons behind the U-turn on the opt-out in respect of the draft European constitution. Nobody has explained the nature of the unforeseen circumstances which have been mentioned. Why has the Minister not explained the reasons for opting out? Many people think that the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has put pressure on members of the Cabinet. The view in the Department seems to be that common law is somewhat superior to civil law, and for this reason we should, in the words of the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, slavishly follow Britain in an opt-out. As a result of this, everyone who comes to this country to campaign on a "No" platform will try to divide those who support the passing of the reform treaty.

The Government has caused utter confusion by saying it wants to opt in and then it wants to opt out. The Minister cannot tell us the circumstances which would justify our opting out, but he stated he would review the issue and retain the right to opt in after three years. The Government has made the wrong decision. It was fundamentally wrong not to stand by its belief that Ireland, a small country with an important part to play in Europe, would have been able to stand on its own in this regard. It is clear the emergency brake system, which was drafted during negotiations that took place under our Presidency under the leadership of the Taoiseach, is sufficient to deal with this issue. Under this system, if a measure is introduced that the Irish Parliament feels is detrimental to our legal system or that we cannot live with, the measure is put into suspension and the matter is passed up to the European Council, which operates on a consensus basis. This is effectively a veto.

The Government should have affirmed its belief that the emergency brake system, which we drafted ourselves, is right for this country, and should not have allowed itself to be tagged onto the tail of a eurosceptic Government by retaining the option of opting in or out on the basis of unforeseen circumstances. It should have had faith in the terms negotiated by Ireland and stated its belief that the emergency brake system would stand to us when the time came. The Minister of State, Deputy Roche, did say we should not follow Britain slavishly in this regard and I, for once, agree with him. It would have been in our national interest to have a strong view of where Ireland stands in a European context, to say that we believe in the safeguard of the emergency brake system, and not to mess around with opting in, opting out or reviewing in three years.

Why is it that none of the members of the Government can explain what these unforeseen circumstances are? The fact is that they have been cowed by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, told the British Government that it could have an opt-out if it wished and said, by-the-by, that Ireland might wish to opt out also, and the Government has gone along with this. Because Ireland has effectively declared its euroscepticism, when we get down to negotiating on real issues of national importance such as corporate tax rates, we will not have the same back-up and support from our European colleagues as we received previously.

Why did the Minister not state the real reasons for the opt-out? It may be that he feels he should support the absent members of the Green Party, which has opposed every European treaty introduced since Ireland joined the European Union. It may be because the Government wants some cover in next week's anti-war debate. Perhaps it is related to the recent statement of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform that more and more powers are being transferred to Brussels, as one might hear at a Tory Party conference. In this country, the vast majority of people have supported European integration for the very reason that the pooling, as opposed to the transfer, of decision making is generally beneficial to smaller countries. This has been proven to be the case in a range of areas.

Tomorrow I will go to Lisbon for the European People's Party summit. This grouping includes representatives from all 27 countries. I will reiterate that Fine Gael will strongly support the passing of the reform treaty in a referendum, but that I do not agree with the Government's decision to opt out in the area of justice and home affairs for spurious reasons that nobody has been able to explain. The Government has been doing this for long enough that it knows greater clarity should have been provided. It should have stated: "These are the reasons we are opting out". It has not been able to do this except by referring to a nebulous possibility of unforeseen circumstances. This is because it does not have faith in the terms we negotiated during our own Presidency. The emergency brake system, under which measures will be referred to the European Council if necessary, will stand up to testing in Ireland.

These are fundamental issues. If the Government had consulted with all parties about where it stands, we would not be here giving statements on an issue which has already been decided and which will go before the Heads of Government on Thursday. The Government has made a regrettable mistake which will cause difficulty for the parties who support the treaty, as people will be confused by its opt-in, opt-out stance.

Deputies

Hear, hear.

Fine Gael will support the European reform treaty referendum when it is put to a vote. However, we regret the Government decision to exercise an opt-out in the areas of criminal law and police co-operation. The Taoiseach signalled before the summer recess that his Government would make its decision taking into account the general reluctance to use opt-outs while considering issues that may arise if we participate in justice and home affairs co-operation while the UK does not. However, he did not see fit to come back to the House to debate the issue and explain the reasons for opting out. The Taoiseach also stated that with regard to police and criminal judicial co-operation, it had been decided to speed up the operation of the emergency brake procedure, whereby a member state can refer a criminal law proposal to the European Council if it is concerned that the fundamental principles of its legal system will be adversely affected.

Since the recent general election, the Government has displayed a dismissive arrogance in several areas as it practises the political equivalent of telling the public to get stuffed. Its failure to keep the Dáil adequately informed of the decision to avail of the opt-out has broken the trust of the other main political parties, which will create unnecessary difficulties when the campaign to achieve a "Yes" vote in the referendum begins. The lessons of the first Nice referendum are quickly forgotten. Recent decades have seen a rise in Irish national self-confidence which has been equalled by our increase in prosperity. It was possible to associate this change with our membership of the EU in a tangible way, and embracing the European project was mainstream and acceptable. A general reminder to the electorate that "Europe has been good for us" and the conjuring up of an image of the flying Deutschmark was enough to get any new treaty over the line. Those days are over for this country, as a more comfortable and wealthier electorate breaks into two diverse strands, one more discerning than in previous times and the other more blasé. The Government decision to sign up to the opt-out in justice and home affairs, aligned to its tendency to take others for granted, is a bad start.

Many citizens in the European Union were looking forward to a referendum in their home country on the draft EU constitution but the Dutch and French experience put paid to that. This reform treaty contains 90% of the substance of the draft EU constitution, to paraphrase the Taoiseach. The campaign in this country will attract many eurosceptics from other member states and these aligned to small but vociferous home groups will seek to dilute and distort the message with a 40 year old rhetoric forecasting the end of neutrality and participation in some distant war at the behest of the USA.

In 2004 an almost identical Government to this was happy to sign up to the justice provisions within the then constitutional treaty and I suspect that for many members of the Government the same still holds true for these same provisions in the reform treaty. The overt reason for the policy change appears to be the change in the British approach as it fears possible implications for its common law system. The common law has several different meanings but it is usually used to refer to the law as developed by judges since the Norman conquest. It was a combination of the best of all the local systems of law made "common" to the entire country by King William I and succeeding Kings of England. The shortcomings in common law gave rise to the origins of equity and, today, with the enormous increase in the use of statute law the place of case law has lessened in importance. I do not accept the logic that we should have a fear for our common law system. There is also a common law system in Cyprus and Malta and both of those states are participating in these schemes.

Former British Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, in the House of Commons when debating the issue, stated:

This means that we have the sovereign right to opt in on individual measures, where we would consider it would be in the British interest to do so but also to stay out, if we want to. It is precisely the pick and choose policy often advocated.

This is the approach we have now adopted and irrespective of how we dress it up, it is the policy of the eurosceptic. For the European Union ideal to succeed the concept of the common good must prevail.

The changes in EU membership have given rise to various questions and none more so than where the eventual boundaries of the Union lie. It is reasonable to assume that in time the western Balkan countries might join. If Turkey gets in, can one refuse the Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus or Georgia, the latter of which has announced that joining Europe is a long-term goal? All these countries meet the geographic definition of a Europe that extends from the Atlantic to the Urals. With each new enlargement national interest will have less of a role to play in a developing multinational Europe, giving rise to questions whether old members have the capacity to take new ones on board. The treaty is important as we try to rationalise administration and put procedures in place that will assist member states to co-operate in areas of common interest.

The European Union has created a Single Market and as a result, partly dismantled border controls. However, there are numerous different legal systems, some based on Anglo-Saxon common law and others on the Napoleonic Civil Code, and as a result catching and trying criminals who move freely around Europe is difficult. Currently all countries acknowledge each other's legal process in serious cases, but problems of interpretation and implementation arise. Currently these are resolved by unanimous agreement. Criminals do not pontificate on borders. The EU set up Eurojust in 2002 to help prosecutors co-operate in dealing with serious cross-border crimes, and that body's workload had trebled. It took four years to negotiate the arrest warrant, and some countries have exemptions to it. However following the events of 11 September 2001, the European evidence warrant was agreed in a rush and it has cut the average extradition time from one EU country to another from nine months to 43 days. The public wants more action. Two thirds of those polled say they want the Union to do more to fight crime. The reform treaty wants these issues to be decided by a qualified majority vote, titled "double majority voting" of 55% of the countries and 65% of the population.

Our security forces are relatively small, and our intelligence service is particularly so. We do not have an MI5, a Mossad or a CIA, yet we want to opt out of a procedure that will assist us in dealing with drugs and people-trafficking, and deny ourselves the opportunity to participate in framing policy in these areas. Police co-operation would involve the collection and storage of information, the exchange of research and equipment and may at a future date involve operational co-operation. There is no fear here of the French coming in at Killala and the British at Bantry, as envisaged by the then Leader of the Opposition and current Taoiseach when debating our proposed involvement in Partnership for Peace in 1996. How shallow those sentiments now appear over ten years later.

Justice and Home Affairs deals with four areas, external borders, judicial co-operation, criminal procedure and police co-operation. The Amsterdam treaty gave us an opt out on the first two and the Government has now decided it wants an opt out on the latter two. One of the main concerns appears to be the proposed establishment of the European public prosecutor and the conflict this may have with our own legal system. Unanimous support will be required to create such a position. We should be in there framing how the concept will work as opposed to watching from the sidelines. In addition there is an emergency brake procedure, whereby if a member state considers a measure proposed for adoption by majority voting would "affect fundamental aspects of its criminal justice system", it may request the measure to be referred to the European Council.

The Government championed the proposed EU constitution which proposed this measure which was then limited to fraud against the community. It is now proposed to extend the role to cross-border crime. Surely in the international fight against crime that recognises no borders this would be a good development. We are not a party to the Prüm treaty which dealt with the issue of hot pursuit and which may be a sensitive issue in this country.

The decision not to sign up to police co-operation is baffling. Surely an exchange of research and equipment and the storage of information is a welcome development in the fight against international crime. Police co-operation does not mean operational co-operation, an issue which may be looked at in the future.

There is much good in the reform treaty. It should make decision making more efficient. The concept of team presidencies over an 18-month period will give rise to more strategic planning. The QMV mechanism of 55% of states and 65% of the population will be much more transparent and understandable and the cap on Parliament and Commission members will be necessary. The creation of the position of a president of the European Council and a high-representative of the Union for foreign affairs and security policy will give rise to a greater coherence. However, much of the good is clouded by the Government decision to take the opt out on the JHA area and its failure to address the issue in the national Parliament further boosts the claim that there is a serious democratic deficit when our policy in Europe is being formulated.

It is by default that we are debating this issue today. The Taoiseach signalled before the summer that the Government may go for the opt out and he should have come back here to debate the issue. It is a weakness in the area of foreign affairs. The Minister should give a commitment that once a term he would come here for statements on EU reform or, more importantly, on our international dealings with other countries. For example, the people are concerned about the happenings in Burma and I would like to see the Minister come in here for statements on that matter before the autumn recess. I thank the Minister for making his officials available to brief the Opposition spokespersons and I hope in the future that is done long before a decision is taken at the Council of Ministers.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to make a contribution to the debate on the EU reform treaty. I also was grateful to receive a good briefing from the officials of the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

The reform treaty is an important statement of policies and principles for the future of the European Union and for the operation of its institutions. The treaty, if ratified, will be the seventh major treaty negotiated between member states since the Treaty of Rome in 1957. The vision of Monnet and Schuman to mould a peaceful and prosperous Europe through pooling sovereignty while retaining national identity has created one of the great projects of our time. The eagerness with which ten new countries joined the Union in 2004, and two more in 2007, demonstrates the project retains its momentum 50 years on. The fact that a host of other countries are anxious to join or are externally associated with the project demonstrates its obvious success and attraction to non-member states in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

A group of 27 countries in 2007 cannot operate in the same way as a group of six countries could in 1957. The core values remain the same but administrative, institutional and policy-making structures must be adapted and streamlined. The Treaty of the Single European Act 1986, the Treaty on the European Union 1992, the Maastricht treaty 1995, the Amsterdam treaty 1997, and the Nice treaty 2002 all dealt with the issues of the day facing an expanding Union in terms of member states and their functions.

The reform treaty seeks to consolidate achievements of the past by, for example, giving legal status to the Charter of Fundamental Rights. It seeks to overhaul the Union's institutions so as to provide effective operating mechanisms for the recent expansion by an additional 12 member states from 15 to 27. It also seeks to enhance the Union's capacity to counter cross-border crime, especially in the areas of drugs, money laundering, trafficking in people and terrorism. It further seeks to strengthen the Union's capacity to promote employment, innovation and social cohesion and it looks specifically to future challenges and opportunities.

The treaty establishes ambitious global objectives. It provides for joint policies to seek to end global warming and tackle climate change. I understand this was a specific initiative from Ireland, which is most welcome. The treaty establishes broadly based policies to end global poverty and it seeks to strengthen the Union's contribution to international peace, stability and crisis management.

At the same time the reform treaty restates the core values and objectives of the European Union, including the commitment to peace and universal human rights, to the Charter of the United Nations, to full employment, to a social market economy and to public services. The role of national parliaments in the application of subsidiarity is specifically reinforced and a new citizen's initiative on participation is proposed to enhance transparency and citizen participation.

For a people to truly claim to own a developing institutional political process, they must first understand it. The popular failure to grasp the European architecture is not due to any intellectual deficiency on the part of the people of Europe, nor is it simply due to lack of interest; the fact is, the process has to date been managed by a political class concerned only to ensure that its members understand each other, rather than that their message reaches European citizens as a whole.

Why should any citizen be expected to offer his or her adherence and loyalty to a set of normative rules, institutions and values that are not clearly and legibly set out, and that are incapable of being tracked except by professional experts? That is why one of the most important treaty-making tasks, one that should have been considered at Nice but was yet again postponed to a future intergovernmental conference, was the most basic but least exciting aspect, the drawing up of a genuinely readable version of the constitution of Europe.

That was the task that was most recently abandoned by the German Presidency. Instead of a constitutional treaty, we now have a reform treaty, drafted so as to make the whole series of treaties even more unintelligible than they were before. Instead of constituting a coherent document, the text consists of a series of references, amendments, insertions, protocols, declarations and opt-outs. The document is totally incoherent and inaccessible to all but bureaucrats, draftsmen and lawyers. It makes a mockery of the treaty's commitment to openness, transparency and the new citizens' initiative when the very document which asserts these commitments is opaque and the antithesis of what it asserts.

When this happens it is difficult to be persuaded that the winds of change are blowing through the corridors of the Berlaymont. The treaty to establish a constitution for Europe, which was the forerunner of the reform treaty text, was a coherent document. Incidentally, that was the only one of the treaties which was compiled by a convention. The Convention on the Future of Europe consisted of 105 members and represented the national parliaments of the member states, the European Parliament, the member states' Governments, the Committee of the Regions, the social partners, NGOs and the European Ombudsman. All other treaties, including the present reform treaty, were compiled and drafted by Government representatives through the standard bureaucratic mechanism of intergovernmental conferences. Clearly the convention method is the way forward for the future. The Irish people and citizens of Europe are crying out for intelligible and transparent documents, especially treaties.

The Government has compounded the bureaucratic approach I have outlined by proceeding to sign off on the reform treaty at the European Council of Heads of State on 18 to 19 October in Lisbon without the slightest prior consultation with the Irish people or their representatives. As the Government has failed to re-establish the Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Affairs more than five months after the election there is no parliamentary mechanism to scrutinise the proposals and question the Minister for Foreign Affairs or the Minister of State with responsibility for European Affairs.

There is. In this House and by way of parliamentary questions.

The Government did not intend to even provide this limited three hour debate in the Dáil. We are only discussing the matter because I pursued the Taoiseach about it in the House last week.

After the European Council there was a discussion on the result of the European Council meeting.

Many parliamentary questions have been asked since.

Obviously the Minister was not in the Dáil last week.

Then the Minister is presenting a totally different scenario.

We were more than willing to have a debate.

If I could explain without the Minister's interruptions.

Deputy Costello should be allowed to speak without interruption.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I am delighted to have that protection. What I asked for in the Dáil last week was a debate; I did not ask for statements. We are getting only statements. First, the Taoiseach went all around the house to avoid answering the question and after the shuffling I put the question to him again. He then replied by saying nobody had asked him for a debate. Who has to ask the Taoiseach for a debate on a matter of this nature that will be put to the people in a referendum for ratification? Surely, it should have been automatic that it would have been presented.

It was well flagged.

After the meeting——

Deputy Costello should be allowed to speak without interruption.

The only information we received was that available through the media. We had no information, good, bad or indifferent, from the Government. The intention of the Government was to do everything behind closed doors; have the negotiations and get the bureaucrats to draw up the document, which is the most outlandish, unintelligible document imaginable, and then it would proceed to Lisbon on Thursday and Friday of this week and sign off on the treaty without giving the slightest opportunity to the people of Ireland or their elected public representatives to have any say on the matter. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs could not scrutinise the matter because five months after the general election the Government has not formed the committees. That is an exercise in the democratic deficit.

Three hours has been provided for statements. We are not having a debate and no question and answer session is available. Time was only provided for statements because the Taoiseach was pursued on the matter. It appears the lessons of the Nice treaty debacle in 2002 have been quickly forgotten by an arrogant Government which is no less arrogant despite its latest political appendage, namely, the Green Party, which opposed every European Union treaty in the past 50 years. Previously the Green Party saw the bureaucratic Brussels gnomes everywhere, hatching dark conspiracies behind closed doors. They railed against the lack of transparency and accountability in Europe. Now the party is in power for the first time in its history, its members are content to inhabit "Planet Bertie" and meekly acquiesce in the Taoiseach signing off on his, theirs and our behalf without any consultation in this House or elsewhere. That is the way it was planned.

Why is the Green Party doing this? It is not just Fianna Fáil. The Green Party is supposed to act as a safeguard or a policeman. It is doing it because it has taken the Fianna Fáil shilling. The party is now sitting inside the Fianna Fáil tent. Its members are totally emasculated and are indulging in their new comfort zone.

It was a farthing rather than a shilling.

In any case, they have taken the currency.

A second reason is that a wide-ranging debate inside and outside the House would cause an upheaval among Green Party members. Those Greens who had faithfully followed Deputies Sargent and Gormley and the former MEP, Ms Patricia McKenna, in their idealistic tilt at the European windmill on six previous occasions might not be happy to find that two of their Don Quixotes were done with tilting at windmills, although Donna Quixote still has her tilting lance ready for the fray. The Greens U-turn is complete and the fewer questions, the better at this stage, especially with a potentially divisive referendum ratification campaign on the horizon for a party hierarchy which has jettisoned all its EU policies and mutated from Eurosceptic to Europhile.

For the Labour Party, the major treaty provision is that concerning the Charter of Fundamental Rights which is given legally binding force in the treaty. The charter was drawn up in 2000 by a convention which had much greater democratic representation than the standard Intergovernmental Conference process. Consequently, the content of the charter is far more broadly based than the valuable 1950 European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, ECHR, which was incorporated into Irish law in 2003.

The charter draws on the previous European social charters produced by the European Union and the Council of Europe. While the ECHR is restricted to civil and political rights, the Charter of Fundamental Rights extends to other areas such as the right to proper administration, social and economic rights, bioethics and the protection of personal data. The comprehensive list of rights falls under the headings of dignity, freedoms, equality, solidarity, citizens rights and justice. All of these areas of human existence and human endeavour are incorporated into the charter, making it one of the most extensive and succinct statements of human rights and citizens' entitlements ever to be given legal force.

While, unfortunately, the British Government decided to opt out of the charter's provisions, the Irish Government, despite an initial opt-out to examine the implications of the British decision, is now fully supportive——

No, that is not correct.

That is what the Taoiseach——

The Deputy should be factually correct.

The Minister should listen to what the Taoiseach says in the House.

It is not an opt-out.

We questioned him and he acknowledged it was an opt-out——

No. We reserved our position, which is different.

——to examine the implications of the British opt-out. In other words, the Government reserved its position to opt out.

We reserved our position. This was clearly explained.

This is the position of the Government with regard to home affairs matters. It is a position to opt out or opt in.

Because the issue——

There is provision in Standing Orders for the Minister to make an intervention if the Deputy wishes to cede to him. However, it is disorderly to have banter in the middle of the debate.

I am delighted the Government is now fully supportive of the charter as a legally binding document and will fully opt in to its provisions. This is welcome and a decisive and distinctive difference between the positions of the Irish and British Governments.

The most controversial area is the Title IV provisions on justice and home affairs matters, the area subject to opt-outs by the Irish and British Governments. Title IV contains a strong statement of the European Union's commitment to deal with cross-border crime. It lists such crimes as terrorism, trafficking in human beings, sexual exploitation of women and children, illicit drug trafficking, illicit arms trafficking, money laundering, corruption, counterfeiting of means of payment, computer crime and organised crime.

Cross-border criminal activity has been a major threat to law and order in the Republic. Much of the burgeoning drugs and guns industry in Ireland is imported from Britain and the European mainland. Trafficking in women and children has a strong cross-border dimension. Only strong cross-border co-ordination and co-operation by the institutions and personnel of the criminal justice system can combat international organised crime. The measures proposed in the reform treaty seek to maximise police investigative and judicial co-operation. However, the measures proposed in the treaty must also be judged in the context of the different criminal legal systems operating in Europe and the different constitutional traditions of the member states.

Every member state has a national constitution, even the United Kingdom, although its constitution is largely unwritten. All of us place great importance on our national constitutions which have enormous and fundamental importance in our everyday lives and define sovereignty. This is equally true of the Irish Constitution which is a comprehensive document and the one law of the land that cannot be changed by legislators in the Oireachtas — only the people may amend it.

The legal and constitutional principles upon which the constitutions of member states are based vary significantly but, from the point of view of the detailed legal systems they enshrine or adopt, they fall into one or another of two camps — the common law tradition and the civil or Roman law tradition which prevails in continental Europe. There are other variations — Ireland has a written constitution while the United Kingdom does not; some EU states are highly federalised, while others are centralised, and so on. However, the Roman law-common law distinction is crucial and, in respect of the criminal code, very marked.

Among the key differences between the two traditions is the general availability in common law jurisdictions of jury trial and the absence of such general availability in civil law jurisdictions. Furthermore, evidence can be given in written form in most continental systems, something that in general is not possible in Ireland. Continental systems often allow for lengthy detention of persons for investigation and questioning and habeas corpus is not recognised. Many of the procedures that characterise continental systems would not be possible here without a major change to the Constitution. While this does not mean there is no room for co-operation, harmonisation and even operational initiatives under EU aegis, it means we have a right to be cautious.

The most innovative measure under this heading in the reform treaty is the proposal for a European public prosecutor with wide powers to investigate, prosecute and "bring to judgment". The draft Article 69 states the European prosecutor shall "exercise the functions of prosecutor in the competent courts of the member states" in regard to certain serious crimes. Clearly, the proposed office of public prosecutor would be difficult to square with the existing common law system in Britain, and even more difficult to square with the common law system in Ireland which has an extra constitutional dimension. Given that the jurisdiction of the European Union and its institutions in the area of criminal law is both ambitious and potentially expandable, it seems prudent to retain a discretion, as we have at present, to opt in or out of proposals in this area following decisions taken at national level.

The Labour Party has had several initiatives with regard to the exercise of certain options and discretion, including its initiative on the scrutiny Bill which was presented following the Nice treaty. I particularly emphasise the need to bolster and resource the power of scrutiny that resided in the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs. Unless we can demonstrate to the people that we will properly scrutinise the extra legislative developments taking place under these treaties, we will be severely criticised for not doing our duty properly. I ask the Minister to ensure the committee is re-established and that it will have the necessary resources, personnel and powers to carry out its job properly.

Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis an Aire as ucht tairiscint a thabhairt dom freastal ar briefing a bhí ar siúl ar maidin. Ní raibh mé in ann freastal ar mar bhí mo mhac tinn. Is trua é nach raibh mé in ann dul go dtí an cruinniú sin mar go raibh ceisteanna agam. Ba chóir go mbeadh díospóireacht ceart sa Teach ar an gceist mór seo, ceann de na ceisteanna is mó lena bheidh an tír seo ag plé amach anseo.

Measaim nach dtuigeann an chuid is mó den phobal cad go díreach atá i gceist agus cad a bheidh romhainn. Tá súil agam go dtosnóidh an díospóireacht i gceart tar éis an seachtain seo, ní amháin istigh anseo ach lasmuigh chomh maith. Tá sé tábhachtach go dtuigeann an pobal cad go díreach ar a bhfuil siad ag caitheamh a vótaí nuair a dtagann an reafrainn. An bhfuil a fhios acu mar gheall ar na impleachtaí móra a leanfaidh an athrú suntasach atá in ann don tír seo agus don Aontas Eorpach má ghlacaimid leis an conradh seo? Tá mé ag caint mar gheall ar an mbunreacht, mar a bhí sé luaite ar dtús nuair a rinne an Aontas Eorpach iarracht an cáipéis seo a chuir le chéile agus a chuir faoin ár bhráid. Bhí an t-ádh linn, i bealach amháin, nár cuireadh an conradh os ár gcomhair sa chruth ina raibh sé roimhe seo — measaim go mbeadh scoilt mór sa tír dá réir. Tá sé soiléir, ó meon na páirtithe eile sa Teach seo, go bhfuil an scoilt sin fós le teacht. Tá an cumadh ar go bhfuil an cuid is mó de na páirtithe — is oth liom go bhfuil an Comhaontas Glas ina measc — chun glacadh leis an gconradh nua. Shíl mé go raibh cnámh droma níos láidre ag muintir an Comhaontas Glas agus go mbeidís sásta seasamh ar na prionsabail a luaigh siad go dtí seo, nuair a bhíodar i gcoinne conarthaí Eorpach a bhí ag cuir bac ar ár gcearta, ár flaitheas agus, go háirithe, ar neodrachas an tír seo.

Later this week, leaders from across the European Union will meet to discuss an issue of major importance to this country. The vast majority of people are probably not aware of the impending meeting or the subject under discussion. While cynics will argue that people could not care less about the European Union reform treaty, I urge members of the public to listen to the debate, find out what precisely is being discussed in their names and participate in debates on the treaty in the months ahead.

It is unacceptable that the House has been given such a brief opportunity to discuss the reform treaty and that this discussion has been arranged in the form of statements, rather than a debate. The Oireachtas should have debated this issue before representatives of the State travelled to Lisbon to agree a document which would have major implications for this country. Last week on "Prime Time", the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan, stated that people would not tolerate any further diminution of the State's sovereignty. This is exactly what his Government is rushing to sign up to at the Intergovernmental Conference later this week. Much wider public debate of these issues and much greater scrutiny of the European Union is required. The Government needs to be held to account, not dragged along on the coat tails of European federalists. It must stand up for the interests of this island because the issues being debated will set the parameters for its future.

Sinn Féin is neither a Europhile nor Eurosceptic party. We favour close co-operation among European states and modern, accountable and democratic institutions. We approach each issue and treaty on the basis of whether it is in Ireland's interest. Our decisions to support or reject, to say "Yes" or "No", are based on what we believe to be in the national interest.

Ireland has a constructive role to play on the international and European stages. Our experience of colonisation, emigration, immigration, poverty and war, combined with our rich cultural experiences and achievements and the recent contradictory and currently declining economic success, place us in a unique position to understand many of the issues affecting the world.

Ba chóir go mbeadh Éire ina náisiún nua-aoiseach agus forásach ionas gur féidir linn áit a ghlacadh san Aontas Eorpach atá oscailte agus daonlathach. Ba cheart dúinn ról gníomhach a ghlacadh i gcomhphairtíocht leis na náisiún eile atá ag forbairt domhain níos suaimhneach, níos cothrom agus níos inbhuanaithe ina bhfuil an síocháin lárnach. I 2004, tar éis do Comhairle na hEorpa glacadh leis an dréacht-chonradh a bhí chun bunreacht na hEorpa a bhunú, rinne Sinn Féin iarracht ár dearcadh do todhchaí na hEorpa a leagain amach, mar aon lenár buarthaí faoin dréacht sin.

We stated we wanted to play a positive part in building an independent Ireland of equals in a European Union of equals, one which respects and promotes national, collective and individual rights and is economically and socially just, as opposed to another economic superpower. We sought a demilitarised, nuclear free, globally responsible and fair trading European Union which leads the way on reaching the millennium development goals for halving global poverty by 2015. We argued that the draft constitution would move the EU in the opposite direction to these demands; lay the legal foundations for a federal Europe; deepen the democratic deficit; increase the powers of the European Council and European Commission; undermine national sovereignty, national parliaments and the rights of citizens; end neutrality for Ireland and other member states; promote militarisation; create a single foreign policy and defence policy and an EU Foreign Minister; promote the centralisation of economic control in the hands of the Council and Commission and an economic model that would deepen existing levels of poverty and social exclusion within the EU; undermine the ability of member states to provide public services; and promote policies on the developing world that would deepen global insecurity, inequality, poverty and instability. Sinn Féin also argued that the Charter of Fundamental Rights provided no new rights protection for citizens of member states or mechanisms for ensuring compliance and would do nothing to promote human rights or equality throughout the EU.

In 2004, the electorates of France and the Netherlands decisively rejected the draft constitution in two separate referenda. That these founding members of the European Economic Community, the forerunner of the European Union, both of which are often cited as the most European of member states, rejected the treaty was a clear indication that there was something fundamentally wrong, not only with the manner in which the treaty was presented but also with its contents. Many opponents of the treaty in France and the Netherlands argued that it was not in their national interests or in the interests of the EU.

Rather than respect the democratic outcome of these referenda, the European Council and Commission have proceeded to produce a new treaty, almost identical to the constitution, in the hope that this time it will be ratified throughout the member states, mar a tharla anseo tar éis an chéad reifreann ar chonradh Nice. Dhiúltaigh an pobal an reifreann i 2001, ach níor ghlac an Rialtas freagra daonlathach an phobal agus bhí reafrainn eile againn i 2002. Tá Comhairle na hEorpa agus an Coimisiún ag brú an conradh céanna tríd. An uair seo, ní bheidh guth muintir na Fraince nó na hIsiltíre le chloisint — ní bheidh aon reafrainn sna tíortha sin. Is droch-rud é go mbeidh an focal scoir ag na bparlaimintí ann. Cloisfear glór na nOllanaigh agus na bhFrancaigh amach anseo i vótaí na reafrainn eile, nó fiú i vótaí parlaimintí na tíortha sin.

This week the European Council will consider and, possibly, agree the final text of the reform treaty, but despite some slight textual changes, its substance remains the same as its predecessor. Following the summit, I will carefully examine the text in case there are changes that may alter my opinion of the treaty, but the current indicators are that it will have much the same impact as the constitutional treaty that was to be put to us in 2004 or 2005.

Sinn Féin has a number of serious concerns with the draft treaty. In its current form, it is impossible for Sinn Féin and those who believe in the national interest, protecting Irish jobs and our sovereignty and neutrality to support it. It is incumbent on the Government delegation to address these issues in Lisbon if the treaty is to have any benefit for the people of Ireland or the European Union as a whole.

Like its predecessor, the draft reform treaty will serve to deepen the democratic deficit between citizens of member states and the decision-making centres of the European Union. More powers will be transferred from national to federal level, as admitted by the Minister for Foreign Affairs when he listed the European Union's new competences, to which I will revert. More decisions will be taken by qualified majority voting — the formula for QMV will be significantly altered, reducing the power of smaller nations — while no significant improvements in terms of transparency or accountability are contained within the text.

The Minister stated:

The reform treaty introduces a small number of new areas of EU competence. These include tourism, energy, civil protection, humanitarian assistance, intellectual property rights, space policy, administrative co-operation and sport.

Space policy is not a significant matter for the State, but it may be in the future.

There are some spacers in the House.

Yes, but I will not list them in case any is present.

The Government must secure changes to the treaty to create greater levels of openness, transparency and accountability in the Council and the Commission if it is to be acceptable to those who believe in such values in government and the way in which we carry out our business. While we strive to achieve those changes, we are closing the door in the European Union through this treaty.

The Government must resist further powers being transferred to the European Union, as there is no logical reason for many of the competences listed to be transferred. The decision-making process has not hindered decisions being made and we should be able to continue reaching agreements by consensus, but such will not be the case if the Government continues along the path on which it embarked in recent treaties. It must also resist the further extension and dilution of QMV.

Tá buairt orainn faoin creimeadh leanúnach atá a dhéanamh ar neodracht na Stáit seo, chomh maith leis an claonadh míleata atá á chuir ar pholasaithe eachtrannach agus cosanta na tíre agus na hEorpa i gcoitinne. Labhraíomar faoi seo go leanúnach sa Dáil deiridh agus roimhe sin, nuair a bhíomar ag déileáil leis na reafrainn éagsúla.

Sinn Féin has shown its deep concern for the ongoing erosion of Irish neutrality and the militarisation of our foreign and defence policies via previous treaties. We have opposed an EU army, the rapid reaction force, Partnership for Peace and the battle groups because each has marked a further erosion of our neutrality. Rather than promoting and ensuring the full support and resourcing of the United Nations in carrying out such actions, the European Union has gone the other way towards creating its own mechanisms and militarised force, namely, battle groups.

Unfortunately, the draft treaty accelerates the creation of a common foreign and security policy. This has consequences for our neutrality, contribution to EU military budgets and co-operation or opposition to military interventions taken by the European Union or groups of member states. The Government has an opportunity to argue for a stronger defence of Irish neutrality to be enshrined in the treaty. It must opt out of making financial contributions to the European Defence Agency or any other area of military expenditure.

In recent years the direction of EU economic policy has been increasingly right wing, promoting privatisation, liberalisation and low public spending. All of this promotes a race to the bottom, an Irish Ferries approach to economic policy. Despite a commitment to promoting environmental sustainability and social cohesion in the Lisbon strategy, the European Union has failed to support or promote these important goals adequately. As a consequence, many of the social protections built up by the Union during the 1980s are being dismantled. Governments have less power to intervene to save industries in crisis and less room to pursue policies aimed at significant wealth redistribution. The economic implications of the treaty are an acceleration of this trend, further imbedding an economic policy that is detrimental to public services and that will actively promote greater levels of inequality and poverty across the European Union. There is a clear move towards greater harmonisation of taxation across the Union with significant decisions already taken regarding VAT and corporation tax. The Government must promote public services and oppose the privatisation proposed in the treaty.

The European Union is one of the world's major political and economic blocks and its decisions have profound consequences for the developing world. It has a significant responsibility to promote global equality, trade justice and conflict resolution. Unfortunately, its priorities in recent years have been directed towards policies that are detrimental to all of these aims.

Sinn Féin is on record as stating it will support any EU initiative that strengthens human rights protections for the citizens of member states. Where such proposals are tabled, our MEPs are vocal in their support. We were disappointed by the text of the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the draft constitution, as it added no new rights protections for citizens and provided no mechanisms for monitoring and promoting compliance or investigating or punishing breaches. While the text has been removed from the draft reform treaty, its inclusion in Article 6 does not change the status, thus making it clear that no new powers are added as a result of its inclusion.

Tá súil agam go mbeidh deis againn teacht ar ais chuig seo an seachtain seo chugainn, nuair a táimid ag déileáil le seo. Tá súil agam go mbeidh díospóireacht ceart againn, mar gheall ar gach uile gné den chonradh.

The new EU reform treaty is an important project for the European Union and Ireland. As Deputies will appreciate, Ireland has benefited substantially from its membership of the Union which has helped us to achieve significant economic success and prosperity.

The economic arguments deployed by Deputy Ó Snodaigh echo the claims made by similar political interests in 1972, when dire predictions were made about the future of the State in the European Economic Community but they were proved entirely groundless in 1972 and in the debates on the Single European Act in 1987 and the Maastricht treaty in 1992. Those who advance economic arguments against the European Union should look at the practical evidence of what has happened in this country since 1973. Our participation in the European Community has had a positive effect in terms of the way Irish people view themselves and contributed in a major way to our national self-confidence. It is, therefore, no surprise that we have consistently been enthusiastic supporters of the European Union.

The reform treaty is not in itself a new text. It is closely derived from the European Union constitution published in 2004. The main purpose of the constitution was to enable the Union to function better and face challenges more effectively. This was linked to the fact that the membership of the Union had increased to 27 members. It is due to increase further as other European countries seek to participate in this beneficial community.

The European Union originated from the Coal and Steel Community followed by economic union after 1957. At no stage has the extensive legal order created in this union been subject to requirements of fundamental rights. As a result of this treaty, a charter of rights will regulate the rights of citizens in the Community legal order. I consider this a significant improvement and something which Irish people should feel comfortable voting to support. While our own constitutional arrangements since 1937 have set out a basic code of fundamental rights, the Community legal order has been exempted. It is welcome in itself that the Community legal order will now have a charter of fundamental rights, although one which in no sense imposes fundamental rights within our domestic legal order. It is a parallel development.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh referred to the question of neutrality. When Eamon De Valera formulated the policy of neutrality for the State in the 1930s, he did so because the international machinery for co-operation had broken down. The League of Nations was unable to safeguard the rights of smaller states or ensure non-interference in peoples' rights of self-determination. The Defence Forces can now participate in European humanitarian efforts such as the protection of displaced persons and refugees in Chad and other parts of Africa. The argument that such involvement infringes neutrality in some sense would be incomprehensible to the people. It is untrue to allege the existence of some kind of sinister battle group. Our soldiers' performance of humanitarian tasks in a remote part of Chad is in the best traditions of the Defence Forces. I fail to see why the neutrality card should be played in every referendum in an attempt to trump this activity.

In a union of 27 or more members it is essential that improvements are made to the workings of the institutions. I have attended several Council meetings in recent years and the participation of a large number of member states represents a fundamental change to the character of the Community which has been overlooked in much of the domestic debate. The changes introduced in the reform treaty to facilitate speedier decision-making should be welcomed.

Justice and home affairs which falls within my area of responsibility is one of a number of topics addressed by the reform treaty. The way in which this topic is dealt with in the treaty has been the subject of some comment in the House, especially with regard to the proposed arrangements for Ireland. I am not certain these arrangements have been properly understood on all sides of the House and I would like to address them specifically in this discussion.

The reform treaty provides generally that decision-making in the field of justice and home affairs will be on the basis of qualified majority voting, QMV. This represents a major change from the current position on police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters where proposals must be adopted by unanimity. It is also important to note that QMV applies under existing EU treaties when it comes to initiatives pertaining to immigration, asylum and judicial co-operation in civil matters. However, under a separate protocol to the treaties, neither Ireland nor the United Kingdom is automatically bound by such measures and has the right to opt into them, either within three months of their introduction as proposals or at any time after they have been formally adopted. There are a number of significant reasons special arrangements currently operate for Ireland and the United Kingdom in respect of QMV instruments. These include the fact that both countries have a common law legal system which is substantially different from the legal systems in place in most EU member states. Additionally, the relevant arrangements are necessary to preserve the common travel area between Ireland and the United Kingdom.

I am sure Deputies will be interested in how the protocol for Ireland and the United Kingdom has operated in practice. I can confirm that Ireland has decided to participate in the vast majority of the measures where the protocol has applied. It has supported and been actively involved in the negotiation of instruments which improve the level of practical police and criminal co-operation throughout the European Union.

Under the provisions of the European constitution, decision-making by QMV was intended to become the norm for practically all justice and home affairs purposes. This would also have been the position for Ireland and the United Kingdom, although our current special arrangements for immigration, asylum and civil judicial co-operation would have been preserved. In the course of the negotiations on the reform treaty the United Kingdom indicated that, in order to safeguard the integrity of its common law system, it wished to have the opt-in arrangements provided for in the protocol extended to all justice and home affairs matters. This was accepted by the European Council at its meeting in June. Given that Ireland's legal system is similar to the United Kingdom's, the European Council afforded Ireland the same facility.

The Government has carefully considered the approach to be adopted by Ireland and considered the various options in detail. We have been concerned that Ireland should not be marginalised when it comes to EU developments. This is clearly an important issue for Ireland and one to which we have attached considerable weight. At the same time, however, we have had to take account of the fact that, when it comes to criminal law and procedure, important aspects of our legal system are different from those of the overwhelming majority of EU member states. This is not simply an academic point because it raises real and practical concerns for this country. For example, judicial involvement in the investigation of offences is extremely limited in Ireland, in accordance with the independent role of the Judiciary under the Constitution. This is not the case in most EU countries where judges participate actively in investigations and frequently decide whether criminal proceedings should be initiated, a function reserved for the Director of Public Prosecutions in Ireland.

A particular issue the Government has had to address is the fact that the United Kingdom has secured an extension of the opt-in arrangements for all justice and home affairs matters. This has had the result of significantly altering the landscape for Ireland when compared to the position that would have applied under the European constitution. The reality of QMV is that Ireland is a small country with a limited number of votes. Without the support of the United Kingdom, we could easily become isolated on proposals which could impact seriously on our legal system, with detrimental effects.

Our most important EU partner in regard to police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters is the United Kingdom. This is hardly surprising, given the unrestricted movement between our two countries by virtue of the common travel area. It is in Ireland's interests to ensure co-operation with the United Kingdom functions to the maximum extent possible, both from a practical point of view generally and to facilitate the operation of the common travel area.

An additional element to which the Government has given consideration is the provision in the reform treaty of an emergency brake to allow a member state to refer a matter to the European Council. The Government has obtained specific legal advice from the Attorney General regarding the emergency brake. His advice is to the effect that it is likely to be available in restricted circumstances only and that important areas of our legal system will not fall within its ambit. A further factor the Government recognized was that, given that the European Council would have to be involved, the number of occasions on which the emergency brake could be operated would almost certainly be very limited.

Having weighed the relevant factors, the Government has decided that it would be appropriate for Ireland to avail of the option provided by the European Council. However, it has also decided that, in keeping with our strong commitment to the European Union, Ireland should make a strong political declaration stating its firm intention to participate to the maximum extent possible in proposals concerning police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters. This declaration which will be published with the new treaty will also state the commitment on the part of Ireland will apply, in particular, to police co-operation. There is no indication that the United Kingdom intends to make a similar declaration.

The Government has also decided not to follow the United Kingdom in seeking special arrangements which could exempt us indefinitely from the application of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the field of justice and home affairs. Likewise, it has decided to join the protocol to the reform treaty on the application of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. It has also given a commitment that it will review the operation of Ireland's justice and home affairs arrangements after a period of three years. This review would provide an opportunity to assess the impact the measures have had and whether changes might be required.

I welcome the opportunity to speak to the important matter of the forthcoming EU reform treaty. As with previous treaties, the reform treaty is a vitally important one for Ireland and must be comprehensively analysed and discussed both in this House and the public arena. It is regrettable that the matter is the subject of a Dáil debate only because the Opposition sought such an exchange of views, as Deputy Costello pointed out. Only last Thursday we spent a day discussing Dáil committees, Dáil reform and the role of procedures of the House but the approach of the Government to this matter flies in the face of its comments on Dáil reform made last week.

Thus far, most people in this country are familiar with the new treaty only in terms of the Government's recent decision to opt out of certain provisions relating to justice and home affairs. When seeking clarification on why the Government is choosing to opt out and its key concerns, one is met with vague statements about what might happen in certain circumstances that are far from clear or definite.

The only substantial rationale provided by the Government to date has been a concern about a perceived enhancement of the European Public Prosecutor's Office. Objecting on this basis implies a certain distrust of the European Public Prosecutor's Office which is unwarranted and without foundation. The office was provided for in the initial constitutional treaty three years ago and we appeared happy enough at the time with its role and function. The Government did not offer any indication that it was dissatisfied or would seek an opt-out at that point. Closer to the truth is that it simply wishes to follow Britain's lead in seeking an opt-out. Since the United Kingdom has opted out, we do not feel sufficiently confident to fight our corner and instead take the easy option. The mixed feelings of the British public towards the European Union are well known, as are the mixed feelings of the House of Commons and British Government. There is a substantial body of Euroscepticism in Britain and, from the British Government's point of view, securing an opt-out of certain EU treaty provisions is likely to be politically expedient.

In Ireland the situation is vastly different. Since joining the European Community, as it was then known, in 1973, Ireland has benefited greatly. With EU help and support, the economy has been transformed. All decent infrastructural programmes in Ireland are thanks to the Union. We have embraced and benefited from European monetary union and, most importantly, progressed from being an inconsequential island on the periphery of Europe, overly dependent on the United Kingdom, to being a key player in Brussels at the heart of EU affairs. The Fine Gael Party remains proud of its membership of the European Peoples' Party, a group at the heart of European affairs for over 40 years which contains influential public representatives and politicians in each of the 27 member states.

Why are we now altering our approach to European integration and sending a message of Euroscepticism to our European neighbours and colleagues? After all, we did not seek an opt-out of the European constitution which contained essentially the same measures as the reform treaty when published three years ago. Does the Government believe we have received all we can from the European Union and that now it is time to limit co-operation? Has the Progressive Democrats' philosophy that it is better to be aligned with Boston than Berlin become the dominant ideology at the Cabinet table? Members of the House remain to be convinced. So far the Government has been most defensive and less than convincing in its outlook, especially in its opposition to the justice and home affairs regime.

We are not opposed to the regime. I ask the Deputy to stop misstating the position. A referendum is approaching in which the Deputy and I both seek a yes vote.

We both seek a yes vote but perhaps it is due to political expediency that the wrong message is being sent to our European colleagues on behalf of the citizens of the State.

Moving from being at the heart of the European Union to being on the periphery, cherry-picking aspects of new treaties and undermining the future of the Union by commenting darkly on qualified majority voting will not, ultimately, serve Ireland's best interests. We will lose the respect and goodwill of fellow EU states if our actions put the best interests of Europe in jeopardy.

The Government's lukewarm response to the proposed reform treaty sends mixed messages to the business community and international investors who have historically perceived Ireland as a key player at the highest levels in Brussels. To date, Ireland's involvement in the European Union has been a hugely positive experience for the country. Rights enhancing legislation has flowed from Brussels and improved the standard of living of every Irish citizen. The vast majority of Irish people support the European Union, recognising that without it and without enhanced co-operation on a range of issues, this would be a much poorer nation economically, socially, politically and culturally.

The introduction of wide-ranging measures to fight crime in the reform treaty is entirely consistent with the European Union's approach to governance, where it identifies a problem, it proposes a solution, yet the Cabinet seems to be rejecting the solution based on a less than convincing premise. Our vulnerability to organised crime and, in particular, drug smuggling and people trafficking is well known. Almost on a weekly basis Members in this Chamber point out that the towns and villages in their constituencies are flooded with drugs which are coming into Ireland mostly from the continent. Large numbers are being smuggled into Ireland on a weekly basis; some have paid criminal gangs to secure entry, while others are kidnapped, brought here against their will and then forced into prostitution. They are treated in a degrading and inhuman manner within the shores of this State.

It is essential and urgent that we embrace EU measures to combat crime because we are seen as the soft touch of the European Union. The policing of our coastline is woefully inadequate. The Garda Síochána lacks both the technical resources and the manpower to seriously combat organised crime. Closer co-operation and the sharing of expertise and intelligence with our fellow member states are essential if we are to seriously reduce crime. Criminality is an international problem that requires an international solution. To coin a hackneyed cliché, crime knows no boundaries.

In addition to a diminished reputation among our EU partners and a reduced capacity to tackle criminality, there are other consequences to the Government's decision to opt out of the provisions of the reform treaty. We may find ourselves excluded from justice measures we have signed up to such as the Schengen Information System II update, a key European border management database which is crucial in fighting terrorism and crime. It has also been suggested we may face financial penalties. I am not sure whether the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dick Roche, or the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, will be addressing this matter.

They will hardly let the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, Deputy Roche, out, as he does not agree with the tune being sung.

Agreed. I ask the Minister to deal specifically with these issues before the end of this debate. Our citizens may not have recourse to the European Court of Justice in respect of certain justice and home affairs matters that may arise from time to time. It is essential that new EU measures are debated and scrutinised and that the best interests of the people are protected. In effect, the Government is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

Following Britain's lead in choosing to opt-out is excessive and unnecessary. I listened with interest to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan, invoke the advice of the Attorney General when saying use of the emergency brake may be less than certain at some stage in the future. I would like the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Roche, to comment on this.

Embracing the reform treaty would help Ireland in its fight against organised crime, particularly in tackling the smuggling of drugs and people into the country. These significant issues facing society are best resolved from an EU-wide perspective. Pooling of sovereignty in the area of justice and home affairs could be a small price to pay for more effective strategies to tackle criminality which would result in safer streets and environment for the people. Moreover, embracing the treaty would reaffirm our position as a key and confident player in a growing EU family — a position that has served us well and can continue to benefit the people. We are at a crossroads. This opt-out marks a clear departure in our relationship with the European Union, one we may well live to regret.

The negotiation of the constitutional treaty was one of the Taoiseach's greatest successes. Therefore, the notion that the Government is lukewarm about the reform treaty, a slightly modified version of the constitutional treaty, is complete rubbish.

I have mixed feelings about the respective merits of the constitutional and reform treaties. The constitutional treaty was legible and understandable. On the other hand, it displaced the organic growth of 50 years and omitted some of the clauses on the Common Agricultural Policy. However, there is some merit in the fact that the treaties, as they have been accreting since 1957, are still in place. Once the reform treaty is finally agreed, it is important a White Paper is produced by the Department of Foreign Affairs and a consolidated text presented. Even Members sometimes find it difficult to obtain a text. If a decision must be made on a reform treaty, that treaty must be available in a legible and understandable form.

I cringed when the former President of the Convention on the Future of Europe, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, talked about Philadelphia in such a grandiose manner. The united states of Europe is not the model for the European Union. Rather, the Union is a sui generis method of international co-operation, not an embryonic, massive sovereign state. The tendency among the critics is to play up issues such as there will be a president of the European Council. I am not aware Chancellor Merkel, President Sarkozy or Prime Minister Brown have applied for that job or are likely to do so.

What about the Taoiseach?

I do not see it as being as powerful a job as the critics make out. It would be akin to the high representative for external affairs trying to bring together and represent views, while not being an independent, powerful governor in his own right.

Much has been made of the reduction in numbers for vetoes. If we want decisions made, we cannot allow unlimited vetoes. When countries have vital interests, they are generally shared with others, which encourages alliances. Vetoes should be reserved for important matters. Whether we have 12 or 13 seats in the European Parliament will not matter very much. No disrespect to the European Parliament, the main protection of our interests is our membership of the Council of Ministers.

An enlarged role is envisaged in the treaty for scrutiny by national parliaments. We must be realistic about what is possible. Many of the measures taken by the European Union are of a technical nature. We must rely on expert civil and public servants, under political supervision, to represent our interests. It is unrealistic to think we will be able to second-guess the detail on everything. I am glad we will not opt out of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the debate on which is somewhat like the debates on the social charter in the early 1990s. We will not go down the British road in that regard.

On justice and home affairs, my instinct would be to take the least possible opt-out. I suppose, however, we must recognise the legal practicalities. I do not share the almost romantic enthusiasm of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform's predecessor who almost worshipped at the shrine of the common law system.

He is enjoying it more now.

If one had to choose between Judge Balthazar Garzon who put some Ministers engaged in the dirty war in Spain behind bars and is taking an equally tough line with ETA and Mr. Justice Lord Denning, give me Judge Balthazar Garzon any day.

I do not accept that the opt-out reflects any Euroscepticism. Is Deputy Flanagan saying the Fine Gael position is that if it were in government, it would end the opt-out immediately? If that is the case, his opposition would be worth hearing and analysing.

As the Minister complained, neutrality is an endlessly elastic piece of string. As Dr. Johnson said, there is a lot of ruin in a nation. Neutrality is almost like a toy in a baby's bath; when one knocks it over, it bounces up again. Somehow, neutrality always rises up again for the next debate on the next treaty. I do not credit any of our European partners with imperialist ambitions or believe any of them, under the auspices of the European Union, would want to get the Union involved in another Iraq. The fact is — this is never recognised by the critics who major on the subject — defence spending and armies have been reduced in recent years.

The European Union has had a tremendous and positive impact on Ireland. Our GNP per head has increased from approximately two thirds of the European average to well over the European average. Reference has been made to the progressive effect in the areas of labour law, the environment, women, agricultural policy, the euro, capital investment through the social funds and so on. We have never been as comfortably placed as a nation. We do not have to choose, as was sometimes the case, between European allies and Britain. We are partners with everybody in Europe and would need an overwhelming reason to oppose the European treaty ratification and effectively sideline ourselves. The European Union has enabled us to participate in the race to the top, not to the bottom. Opting out would deepen levels of poverty and exclusion.

I am not entirely surprised that Deputy Ó Snodaigh seemed to confuse the Council of Europe which is not meeting later this week and the European Council. The European Union is probably one of the most open and transparent international organisations. I was amused to hear him talk about fears of harmonising taxes. Was it not Sinn Féin earlier this year which wanted us to harmonise our corporation tax rate with that in Northern Ireland and raise it to about 18%? I suppose we must be grateful that there are people who will provide us with debate as we come to a decision on the matter but the case against the reform treaty has no credibility. It is an important decision that we must take. Our EU membership has served us extremely well.

I wish to share time with Deputy Creed.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

The EU reform treaty is an important step forward. I recognise it is a valuable treaty, something that has been spelled out by many Members in the debate. I am deeply concerned by the Government's proposal to opt out of the policing and criminal law areas of this treaty because it sends a stark message to our European partners that the Ireland that has played such a strong role in Europe is now signalling it is sceptical of European affairs. That is very worrying to myself and many members of my party who have always been such strong supporters of the European Union.

The Fine Gael Party has always championed the idea of a strong Europe, a single market and an enlarged economic and social bloc. In the recent general election we stated in our manifesto our commitment to promote openness and transparency in the workings of the European Union and in the manner in which European legislation impacts on the citizens of this island.

That statement of intent is in stark contrast to the lacklustre and less than enthusiastic approach of the Government parties. The Green Party opposed all previous referenda on European treaties. That is something I could never understand when Europe has been so good for this country in terms of environmental protection, raising our awareness of the state of our environment, introducing European law as well as equality and social inclusion measures. We are hearing a different story now from the partners in Government. Could it be that this opt-out is an effort to ensure the Green Party can opt in and claim to their supporters that they have influenced changes and succeeded in introducing a wedge in Ireland's commitment to Europe? It is similar to the commitment to reduce the number of incinerators from eight to two — another watered down version.

The Fianna Fáil Party has always shied away from Europe. It has not embraced with enthusiasm the European ideal. At the time of the first Nice treaty, there was little or no effort on the part of the Government parties. There was no sign of them campaigning on the ground or promoting the treaty. The people sensed that "take it or leave it" approach by the Government and, predictably, voted against the treaty. On the next occasion, because the Government parties engaged in terms of campaigning, involving meetings in town halls and public squares the length and breadth of the country, the people engaged with that type of debate and informed themselves. As expected, the people of this island accepted the Nice treaty.

Largely speaking, the citizens of this island recognise the importance of Europe and that it is good for us. They want to play their part in a strong Europe. They want Ireland to continue to have a strong voice and to play a strong role in Europe. There are many areas we can point to in that regard, particularly the treaty negotiated here in 2004, and others in which we have played a strong role and punched above our weight, so to speak. This proposed opt-out, however, is sending out the wrong signal that Ireland is less than enthusiastic, that we are pulling back and tagging along with the United Kingdom Government which is less than enthusiastic about Europe and can be classed as being sceptical about European affairs.

The opt-out of the policing and law reform areas of the treaty, which are important if we are to tackle international crime, is a concern because crime has no boundaries. It is important to participate in this treaty in a full and enthusiastic manner and not opt out of certain areas. That aspect was not explained fully by the Minister. He did not give examples of how the Government has come to this decision to opt out in certain areas. That would be beneficial for all Members.

As I said, crime knows no boundaries. We had a debate in the House recently about drug crime and the way drugs are infiltrating every corner of every community in this State. Drugs are flooding into the European Union through Africa. The price of cocaine has dropped considerably. International crime crosses borders, with international trafficking and fraud being perpetrated over the Internet. There are numerous examples of that and at a time when the world is becoming smaller, co-operation on an international and European level is vital.

I am surprised this debate was not taken previously in the Chamber. The European affairs committee has been abandoned for the past six months and is yet to meet. That shows disdain for this House. This issue should have been brought before this House, the European affairs committee or the foreign affairs committee to allow Members contribute to the debate and understand how we have come to the stage whereby on Thursday, this treaty will be signed in the European Council, yet Members have had no input other than an opportunity to make statements two days before D-day.

I thank Deputy Clune for sharing her time. I welcome the opportunity to make a brief contribution about the proposed treaty.

I want to take up the point on which Deputy Clune concluded. There is almost a sleight of hand involved in approving this treaty at European level with little or no reference to this Chamber. That is a poor start to a debate that, ultimately, will have to be decided by the people. If the people perceive there is a sleight of hand at play, they will not take at face value the words spoken in favour of this treaty.

The treaty is heady stuff and as a non-legal person there is a good deal in it to digest. I await with interest the Minister of State, Deputy Roche's contribution to the conclusion of the debate because we are led to believe from his public utterances that he is at least one step removed from the Government's view on this issue. While the treaty is heavy legal going and refers to hand brakes, QMVs and so on, it is the ordinary man on the street who will decide whether this is something he wants to be ruled by ultimately. That is a useful starting point in understanding this opt-out from judicial and police co-operation. Ordinary people are concerned about crime and its causes, drug-fuelled empires that make countless millions. We read in a newspaper today of the international dimension to crime, with hitmen being flown from the Middle East to Limerick to assist gangs in controlling their territories. People want co-operation across borders between police forces. Individual rights must be safeguarded but, overwhelmingly, the public wants to ensure law abiding citizens are protected by EU treaties. Putting us outside the European mainstream is not the way to deliver that. Deputy Pat Carey might well shake his head but that is the reality.

There is already police co-operation.

When eminent commentators such as former Commissioner Sutherland castigate the Government over its position, it is time to sit up and take notice. I put more faith in what Mr. Sutherland has to say than in many of the commentators defending the Government position.

We have benefited hugely from Europe. If, however, we want to talk about the Government moving away from centre stage in terms of the European debate, we need only look at the recent debacle at European level on the part of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on the GM food issue. One swallow does not make a summer but when that was followed by this proposal and the way it has been handled, ignoring the voice of the people in Dáil Éireann, a trend can be seen emerging. We must be cognisant of what happened with the Nice treaty when people perceived a lack of commitment. Fine Gael has always been in the European mainstream and while we will support this, we do so with reservations.

The Government has done the nation a disservice in terms of how it handled this matter at European level. We do not want to be à la carte Europeans. The pick and choose attitude that Tony Blair thinks serves British interests will not serve Irish interests. This is a backward step.

That is why we are negotiating at European level.

I welcome this opportunity to discuss the EU reform treaty as negotiated under the German Presidency in June. This is an important time for Ireland and its role within Europe. The treaty is being finalised at the intergovernmental conference which convened at the end of July and which will conclude at the end of this week if political agreement is reached. I support the implementation of the reform treaty and continued and open debate on the future of the European Union. I welcome the Forum on Europe's contribution and the European Movement Ireland's publications, which are particularly easy to read and should be recommended as a starting point to anyone with an interest in the treaty.

After the Nice treaty was signed off in June 2001, it was agreed that a further treaty was necessary to reform voting procedures, improve democracy and transparency and accommodate the new member states. With this in mind the EU constitution was agreed in 2004 under the aegis of the Irish Presidency. Negotiations were tough and it was one of the Taoiseach's finest achievements on the international stage. The constitution was subsequently ratified by 15 member states but was rejected by the Netherlands and France. As unanimity was required, the constitution was temporarily shelved and a period of reflection entered into throughout 2006.

In 2007, under the new German Presidency and with a changed political landscape, the debate was reignited and agreement was successfully negotiated into what has been rebranded the reform treaty. The statements in the Dáil give us a chance to kick-start the debate on that treaty and the future of the European Union.

The lack of debate is one of the major problems of the European Union. There is a lack of engagement and a perception by the public that they are not part of the decision-making process. This is evident from the rejection of the EU constitution by two of its founding members in 2005, seen by many as a serious setback for the engine of European integration. How can citizens vote for change and new treaties if the message is not properly portrayed and they feel excluded from the process? I hope the debate today and in days to come represents the beginnings of a well informed, well considered and inclusive debate on the future of the European Union, Ireland's role within it and the institutional framework.

Since Ireland joined the EEC in 1973, we have benefited and contributed a great deal. We have benefited from the Common Agricultural Policy, Structural Funds and having a common currency. We have also contributed enormously. It is widely recognised that the Irish EU Presidency in 2004 was one of the most successful of recent years. An Irish person, John Bruton, represents the EU as ambassador in Washington and Pat Cox was successful in his role as President of the European Parliament. Recently Major General Pat Nash was appointed to head the ESDP troops in Chad and the Central African Republic and Commissioner McCreevy, a former Member of this House, is paving the way for the expansion of the Single Market.

The history of the European Union is not straightforward. There has not been linear progression in integration, as many would have us believe, but a series of stops and starts, with periods of deepening and widening, reflection and scepticism. This is part of the process and is the reason I urge constructive and public debate on the matter. The reform treaty provides clarity on many institutional issues and will encourage the smooth working of the super-national institutions. It has excluded specific reference to state-like symbols, which were deemed unpopular, such as a flag, an anthem and a motto. The reform treaty has accounted for the concerns of Poland by delaying the new voting procedures until 2014 and it has provided an opt-out clause for the justice provisions of the treaty for Britain and Ireland.

The opt-out clause does not represent Euroscepticism. Fine Gael is saying that for the sake of it. The opt-out clause recognises the need to preserve the common travel area between Britain and Ireland and the fact that the common law system is different from the continental civil law system. The Cabinet that decided to avail of the opt-out clause has also committed to opting in if conditions in future are suitable. Ireland will not opt out from the charter of fundamental human rights. Europe has been a source of prosperity and justice in Ireland. I welcome the reform treaty and feel it will keep the European project on track, hopefully improving the democratic credentials of European institutions.

I have some concerns about the future of European enlargement. One of the largest EU projects under way is the accession of Turkey. The enlargement project has been relatively successful so far, with the accession of ten new states in 2004 being smooth, although the success of the accession of Romania and Bulgaria in January 2007 is still a matter of debate.

I am deeply concerned, however, about events in Washington last week. On Thursday, 11 October, the House of Representatives foreign affairs committee voted 27 to 12 in favour of recognising that the killing of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottomans in 1915 was genocide. So far, 15 other states have officially recognised the Armenian genocide, including France. The Turkish responded by recalling their envoy from Washington. This is a calculated and intimidating move that flies in the face of the liberal image Turkey would like to project.

The infamous article 301 of Turkey's penal code prohibits any insults to Turkishness. The new Turkish President and Prime Minister like to give the impression of being modern and open, but their actions are far removed from their fine words. Turkey's aggressive stance towards Greek Cyprus is another example of the country's actions not matching its words. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, should express his concerns to Turkish Prime Minister, Mr. Erdogan, as well as urging the newly elected President, Abdullah Gul, to reconsider his response to the recent vote by a committee of the US House of Representatives.

Turkey must repeal article 301 to allow freedom of speech and increased protection of human rights. Without these measures being taken, I am concerned, as are many others, that the European Union will drop the bar for admission to the Union, thus diminishing the values and benefits of EU membership. There appears to be a debate between academics and Eurocrats about further expansion of Europe. It appears that they carry on this debate with little reference to the broader European public. These Eurocrats have deemed that further rapid expansion is, like medicine, good for us regardless of whether we like it. The difficulty is that these Eurocrats have left an ever-increasing number of people behind.

Today, many politicians and Eurocrats seem to measure the success of the European project by the number of countries striving not only for association and political partnership within Europe, but also for full EU membership. Admittedly, it is encouraging to see that the EU is perceived by the outside world as a model organisation. However, the EU's interior political landscape and the general mood of European political opinion suggest that it would be courageous to acknowledge that the EU needs to refocus on serving the well-being of its citizens instead of leading an ongoing debate on important issues such as enlargement over the heads of the public. These professional Eurocrats should consider the impact deficiencies in the EU's democratic system has on Europe's credibility at home, as opposed to focusing primarily on the devastating effects that refusal may have for new applicants. The public should decide Europe's future. Without constructive engagement and debate on this matter, the reform treaty will not be worth the paper it is written on. I look forward to engaging in that debate and I hope the reform treaty will be adopted.

Although the original text of the constitutional treaty has been the subject of a cut and paste job, the essentially social democratic values of enhanced European democratic decision-making and an improved social policy dimension are largely still intact in the reform treaty. These are the primary considerations motivating the Labour Party's supportive position. We need more effective operating mechanisms and must preserve progress and past achievements. In addition, we must continue to stimulate innovation and grow employment. We must protect and advance social cohesion. We welcome the new impetus to tackle global warming and are glad to play our part in addressing global poverty. We acknowledge that some of the most serious crime experienced in this jurisdiction, in particular, that which derives from the drugs trade, has an international dimension and will require enhanced co-operation between member states.

However, our positive disposition does not mean that we do not regret the opportunity the treaty presented to draw up a genuinely accessible version of the constitution of Europe. It is to delude oneself to believe that it is somehow the people's fault that they demonstrate little enthusiasm for this latest project. For a people to truly claim to own a developing institutional political process, they must first understand it. As my colleague Deputy Costello remarked earlier, the popular failure to grasp the European architecture is not due to some intellectual deficiency on the part of European citizenry, nor is it simply a lack of interest. To date, the process has been managed by a political class concerned only to ensure that its members understand each other rather than that their message reaches European citizens as a whole.

Is it reasonable to expect any citizen to offer his or her adherence and loyalty to a set of normative rules, institutions and values that are not clearly and legibly set out and which are incapable of being tracked except by lawyers and other professional experts? It is hard to make a plausible case that as a result of the reform treaty the whole series of treaties will now be more intelligible than they were before. This is not a single accessible coherent text. Departing from the Fianna Fáil script factory, Deputy Mansergh acknowledged as much in his contribution a few minutes ago. It may be a lawyer's and bureaucrat's paradise but in reality it is a series of references, amendments, insertions, protocols, declarations and opt-outs. It is not consistent with the stated commitment to openness and transparency.

It is worth noting that a relatively cumbersome convention, comprising 105 members, produced a document that, by comparison, was coherent and legible. As this is the instinctive reaction of most citizens, it does not mean that people generally do not accept the necessity for enhanced co-operation and for a more efficient way of conducting necessary business. Whereas it can be argued that cosmetically the presentation of a "constitution" was always going to be problematic, we have reached the stage after 50 years where we probably do need a constitution of Europe.

The Minister has drawn attention to the fact that there are certain significant differences between the constitutional treaty and the reform treaty in the justice and home affairs area. He referred to the change to qualified majority voting as a sea change. I agree, but the constitutional point to understand about European Community law and the increasing scope of the rule of European law is that in respect of matters of legal interpretation, it is not the interpretation of the Irish courts but of the European Court of Justice that prevails. In its own sphere European Community law is constitution-proofed, by which I mean that it is insulated from constitutional challenge from the standpoint of the Irish Constitution. If the writ of Community law was small, restricted or confined, and in the main touched lightly if at all on the daily lives of ordinary people, it would not matter very much.

Whatever about the present, however, that certainly will not be the case after the entry into force of the reform treaty. This is because the treaty envisages the enhancement and expansion of the role of the Union vis-à-vis national governments in a range of important fields, such as justice and internal affairs, and foreign, security and defence policy. I have no doubt but that it will be vigorously argued that the reform treaty threatens the British and Irish systems of criminal law and procedure, and our respective constitutional provisions in that area, or in short that bunreacht na hEorpa will override Bunreacht na hÉireann.

We have just heard Deputy Mansergh say he would be quite critical of the previous Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform who, he said, worshipped at the shrine of the protection of common law. I always marvel at the ingenuity of Fianna Fáil backbenchers who manage to single out the hapless former Progressive Democrats Minister when the current Minister holds exactly the same view, as does anybody extracted from the Four Courts, even if he expresses it somewhat more delicately than his predecessor. That is not to say that they do not have a point and that it would not be negligent of this House to attempt to measure the impact this argument will have on the electorate.

Deputy Costello sought to trace the key differences between the common and the civil law jurisdictions. We should not underestimate the popular attachment here to trial by jury. Likewise, in the matter of criminal procedure habeas corpus is enshrined in Article 40 of the Constitution. There can be no denying that our Constitution has significant fundamental importance in our everyday lives. It is the one law that legislators cannot change, the people alone may amend it. We have a system of investigation by the Garda Síochána, a separate system of prosecution by the Director of Public Prosecutions and an equally separate and independent Judiciary.

The major innovation in this treaty is the proposal for a European public prosecutor which would combine the powers of investigation and prosecution and the power to bring to judgment. It is difficult to envisage these diverse systems always easily co-existing, although it is puzzling that the Government did not mention this difficulty before the British opt-out. I accept that in respect of police and judicial co-operation in criminal cases the UK is our most important EU partner. Statistics bear this out. That is scarcely surprising given the common travel area between the two countries. That was the import of the contribution of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan.

The 18th amendment to the Constitution includes a provision that was a Labour Party initiative. This stipulates as a minimum requirement that the exercise of certain options and discretions under the treaties requires the prior approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas. I presume the Government intends that the amendment Bill to be published next year will contain similar provisions. In other words, although the Government will have power to opt into any aspect of the justice and home affairs agenda it would have no authority to do so unless there was prior Oireachtas approval.

There is a tendency in Government and official circles to believe that where issues of Irish sovereignty arise it is sufficient to give a discretion to the Government, that is the Minister or, more likely, the official standing in for the Minister at the meeting in Brussels. Irish sovereignty is not preserved by giving a veto to Ministers at EU meetings. The idea that it is preserved by vesting in a Minister in Brussels the power to decide whether to agree to a proposal that has an effect in law and overrides the Constitution could appeal only to Ministers and their advisers. It makes no sense to anyone else. I hope the Minister of State will confirm that where that discretion is at issue he will observe the requirement for the prior approval of this House.

I agree with Deputy Mansergh that we all welcome the clarification to the effect that we are not opting out of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. I do not know why people want to come back from Brussels giving the converse impression. Deputy Mansergh, in his empirical view of these things, says that it may be of little moment that we have diminished to 12 seats. Not everyone in the House would take that view. I understood from earlier remarks by the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, Deputy Roche, and others that we had a reasonable prospect of coming back with 13 seats. It is a material issue for a small country. There ought to be a de minimus provision. This remains important.

I wish to share time with Deputy Calleary.

Together with many members of the Green Party I consider myself to be a proud European and a proud Irish person. I am a friend of Europe and believe that Europe has been a friend to Ireland since we joined the European Economic Community in 1973. We recognise, however, that good friends know when to criticise and when to hold a friend to account. We have had our difficulties and differences with European policy. We are proud of our record of calling the European Union to account. It is always important for a small nation to ensure that its voice is heard.

Europe has been good for democracy and for the environment in Ireland. I disagree with Deputy Kenny's reference to an opt-out on some nebulous futuristic prospect of unforeseen circumstances. The opt-out is strongly felt and is epitomised by the differences between Napoleonic law and common law. Several speakers alluded to jury trial, lengthy detention periods and habeas corpus, important issues on which to draw a line in the sand. Some may describe this as an à la carte approach but if one chooses the prix fixe menu one is in real danger of losing out on issues held dear by states such as ours.

Deputy Costello ranted about the Green Party's role to the point of accusing us of 50 years of opposition to Europe which is a bit rich given that we have existed for only 25 years. Perhaps he lost the run of himself.

It was the U-turn that had me agog. I am bewildered.

There are concerns about this treaty. I have difficulty with the Euratom treaty that gives more money to research in nuclear fission and fusion than to renewable energy. I have grave concerns about the clause in the potential treaty about progressively improving military capabilities and where it might lead us.

It leads us to peacekeeping.

The phrase is "military capabilities".

I am worried that the voice of small nations will sometimes be lost in the power play between the large members of the Union. I would rather that we considered having a bicameral parliament.

The Deputy is against the treaty.

The lower house would be elected on a proportionate basis from the member states, not unlike the American Senate where each country might also have two members in an upper house. This would ensure that the voices of small nations would not be lost and would have a power of veto over future policy. Those are issues to discuss another day.

We welcome debate and discussion within our party and disagreement is allowed. Unlike other parties we do not have a strong tradition of una voce uno duce, and I do not refer exclusively to parties on this side of the House. Nor do we subscribe to the “E pluribus unum — From many, one” view of Europe. There certainly is space to have many different voices, not only within Europe but also in the debate on Europe within my own party. We are happy to debate and to decide our policy. We will be having that important debate before the end of the year.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights is very important to us. Unlike in the UK, we feel that making it legally binding is a very positive aspect of the treaty.

The Deputy's time has concluded.

From my experience of Europe, travelling through countries like Croatia and Montenegro, I see the EU as a very positive force. Through my occasional work with TACIS, the Technical Assistance to the Commonwealth of Independent States, I have seen a positive role for the European Union over the last ten years.

The Deputy must have travelled on the road to Damascus as well.

As we face the important challenge of climate change, the European Union is a leader on the world stage. My view is to support the treaty, subject to looking at the final draft that may be approved this weekend.

I come to the debate as a member of the Forum on Europe and I pay tribute to Dr. Maurice Hayes and the secretariat and the forum members for the fantastic, innovative work they have done in the past few years. Deputy Rabbitte and other previous speakers referred to the lack of connectivity among Irish people to Europe and European issues. We should respect the fact the forum has done its level best to try to address that lack of information over many years.

I welcome the reform treaty and particularly the decision to drop the title of constitution. That was a major issue for people and while there is a lack of connectivity with Europe and European law, there is an attachment to our own Constitution. It would have been wrongly argued in any forthcoming referendum debate that this would supersede our Constitution, rather than complement it. For the sake of selling the treaty next year, this is an important development.

The reform treaty is necessary to begin the process of resolving and tidying up the institutions, which over the course of enlargement have become so unwieldy that they are adding to the lack of interest in European issues. I disagree with my colleague Deputy Mansergh. I fully support the work of the Government in trying to pursue the maximum representation in the European Parliament. We have been very well served by our MEPs over the years, especially those who respected their mandate. They do great work in trying to connect people to Europe and European activities and the fewer we have, the harder that job will be. I support the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, in his efforts on behalf of the Government.

I also agree with the creation of a figurehead for the European Council. It is a great national privilege and an honour, although lost on the general public, to host the EU Presidency. However, it does not improve the work of the EU that every six months there is a different figurehead or face. The EU could have a chance to be a world leader in a range of issues such as climate change and in peace talks in different parts of the world, and a Council position backed by a member state that is there over a two and a half year period has a better chance of making an impact on behalf of the Union. That is a position we should support.

The enhanced role for national parliaments is also welcome. However, we need to use this role by uniting with other parliaments on areas in which the Union has gone askew. I refer particularly to state aids. Rural services that are provided by the state should be maintained. If we are to maintain rural populations and rural communities, the state will have to play a role in the operation of post offices, health care or transport. The state aid rules are often used against the ability to maintain state services in rural communities. The time has come for a Europe-wide campaign to ensure state aid rules within the EU are not used to denude rural populations and services. That issue will be particularly big in the coming months.

The referendum next year gives us a chance to put our support for the EU on the table. The Union has made such a difference to this country in ways that have been referred to by previous speakers. We would not be anywhere economically or socially were it not for the impact of the Union and we have a chance next year to show our support for that. It is slightly petty of those on the other side of the House, particularly the Fine Gael speakers, to criticise the Government and my party's role in Europe. After all, this is the party that established the Forum on Europe, boycotted initially by Fine Gael, the so-called champions of Europe. I pay tribute to Deputy Kenny for reversing that decision. When we reflect on the role of the Taoiseach and of the Minister of State in pursuing the original treaty that provided us with the foundation for this, it speaks volumes of this party's commitment to Europe.

I look forward to a constructive debate on this, although I suspect there are some who will use it to have a go at all sorts of European law which has nothing to do with the treaty. However, that is always the way it has been.

I am pleased to have an opportunity to make a statement of support for the EU reform treaty. As the Minister of State mentioned earlier, it is a culmination of a lengthy process of reflection and negotiations since the failure to ratify the constitutional treaty in referenda in France and the Netherlands. When both countries voted against the new EU constitution, there was a great deal of uncertainty among EU leaders on how best to proceed. I can recall clearly on many occasions with the EPP group debating in the European Parliament on how the EU should proceed. I also remember the Taoiseach offering his comments to the European Parliament on the same issue. Regardless of the reasons for voting down the treaty, the EU was forced to change tack.

The new reform treaty is the result of that change of tack and is essentially an achievable compromise. It is not as ambitious a concept as an all-encompassing constitution for Europe, yet it preserves as much as possible from the constitutional treaty that was negotiated over a period of years in the Convention. As the EU grows and expands, the way in which we operate has to change if the EU is to function in a workable, effective and positive manner. Structures need to change to reflect the democratic and managerial challenges of enlargement and the new political challenges that face us, such as terrorism and climate change. Standing still will simply lead to paralysis in the EU.

We now have a reform treaty which is a series of amendments to existing treaties that build upon them and improve them. However, from a personal point of view, I would have been far happier with one single document, such as a constitutional treaty that we could send to our friends across the Atlantic or anywhere else in the world that would explain in clear language what the EU is about and how it functions. Ireland will probably be the only country in the EU to have a referendum on the reform treaty. For this reason, I would have expected the Government parties to work with all parties, but especially Fine Gael, in the build up to improving the content of the treaty. The Government will need our support in a referendum next year. The reform treaty will have Fine Gael's support, as have previous referenda in Ireland. This is in contrast to parties like Sinn Féin and the Green Party when it was on this side of the House. Fine Gael will not attempt to raise unfounded fears or warp the content of the reform treaty and its potential effects on Irish people or Europeans. We will campaign to inform people fully on the effects of the treaty.

For these reasons, the lack of consultation with Fine Gael by the Government parties is completely unacceptable. I refer to what has become the controversial issue for the Government, namely, reserving the right to opt out of treaty provisions. Apart from the intrinsic importance of cross-border crime and co-operation, Ireland is sending out an image of aligning itself with other eurosceptic countries. Henceforth, Ireland and Britain will be bracketed together in this regard. I believe that keeping the option open to opt out on certain issues undermines our ability to shape and negotiate policy in the field of justice and home affairs.

I listened to the Minister for Foreign Affairs speak on this issue last weekend and have not been convinced by his arguments. Moreover, I do not believe that the Minister of State with responsibility for European Affairs is convinced either. Unfortunately, the Government has decided to take a different tack from the main Opposition party on this issue, which I hope will not lessen the impact of either side in respect of the referendum.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to support the new EU reform treaty. Since the 1950s, the European Union has been governed by sets of rules and treaties, which have required amendment from time to time. Members will recall the Irish Presidency of 2004 secured agreement on the new constitutional treaty. Unfortunately, as other Members have noted, it was rejected by France and the Netherlands. This state of affairs continued until the German Presidency when Chancellor Angela Merkel secured agreement on a new EU reform treaty. I recall the many discussions and difficulties that arose in this regard, particularly with her Polish colleagues.

As a Fine Gael member of the Council of Europe, I am proud to be part of its European People's Party group. The Council of Europe works to find solutions to issues such as human trafficking, terrorism, organised crime and corruption. As my colleagues have noted, Fine Gael supports the reform treaty but disagrees strongly with the Government's decision to opt out of its policing and criminal law sections. Recently, Ireland has experienced a major resurgence in gangland crime, whose perpetrators have many links to Europe. The high number of recent gangland shootings demonstrates an out-of-control situation. This morning's edition of the Irish Examiner reported that some criminals have hired hitmen from the Middle East to continue with their murdering expeditions and the only way to combat effectively cross-border crime is by increasing levels of co-operation at EU level.

Recent statistics have shown it takes Ireland six times longer than any other European country to surrender criminals on foot of European arrest warrants, EAWs. Fewer than half of the wanted suspects arrested by the Garda have been sent back to the states in which the crimes were committed. Criminal lawyers have suggested that this delay, combined with the low surrender figures, could result in Ireland being viewed as a safe haven for criminals on the run. The EAW scheme was set up to make the extradition of wanted criminals among member states more speedy and efficient and Ireland has been a member since 2001. Apart from Ireland, no European state takes longer than two months to surrender suspects who appeal their extradition under the EAW. However, it frequently takes longer than one year in Ireland. Moreover, figures from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform show that of the 169 suspects arrested under the EAW, only 81 were surrendered. In addition, European figures show that of the 60 warrants received in 2005, only 18 of the wanted suspects were arrested, of whom only seven were surrendered.

The Government has stated it will review its decision in this regard in three years' time. There is no reason for Ireland to follow Britain automatically in the decision to opt out as Ireland should not separate itself from the European mainstream. The Minister of State with responsibility for European Affairs made the same point approximately one month ago when he supported all aspects of the EU reform treaty. Although he has performed a U-turn in this regard subsequently, that is nothing new for the Government.

It is a pity the previous speaker thought to interpret what is in my mind. I thank all Members for their contributions on this highly important issue. The manner in which the reform treaty is handled will have an extremely important bearing on Ireland's future position within the European Union. Ireland is perceived as a dynamic, progressive and forward-looking nation and the Government intends to preserve this perception. I agree with Deputy Coveney that our capacity within the European Union to win friends and partake in alliances has given us the great benefits we have enjoyed in the past. The great majority of Members rightly see Ireland's future at the heart of Europe and this view has been expressed in many contributions.

Next year, the people will have the opportunity in a referendum to make a judgment on the treaty and the evolution of the European movement itself. As a small member state, Ireland has again the opportunity to take a decision that will have a fundamental and a positive impact on the European Union that has served Ireland and Europe well. There is a responsibility on Members as public representatives to conduct a well informed, productive and truthful debate and to ensure that the people see the issues as they are.

I was somewhat surprised by some comments alleging a lack of debate in this regard. Members had a good exchange of views on these issues on 27 June and significant exchanges also took place in July. I assure all Members that I will work closely with them on this issue because I believe it to be of fundamental importance to Ireland. As one who has been involved with this treaty since the time of the European Convention, I am pleased that many of the ideas teased out at it are on the verge of being endorsed by the 27 member states in the new reform treaty. I agree with Deputies Coveney and Rabbitte it is a great pity that it is not contained within a single coherent document that citizens of Europe could pick up and read. Its loss is a tragedy because that was one of the great efforts made by the convention. However, Members should bear in mind that most of the new treaty's provisions spring directly from the convention's work, as did those of the constitutional treaty. I am disappointed the latter was not endorsed as it came forward.

After 50 years of European integration and a series of historic enlargements, there can be no gainsaying that the present European Union of 27 member states needs a new basis on which to operate. The reform treaty will provide Europe with that basis, bring an end to the debate on institutional reform and help strengthen the democratic character of the Union. It aims to bring the Union closer to its citizens and the new voting arrangements will facilitate good decision making. The proposed posts of President of the European Council and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, which is a mouthful, will give Europe a clearer voice in the world in order that we can work to achieve progress on those issues that are of particular importance to all.

The treaty is also to be welcomed by Ireland as there is no attempt to press changes in areas of special sensitivity, such as defence and taxation. Members will be aware that I have expressed strong views on the importance of securing Ireland's reputation as a positive force within the Union in all areas in which it is growing. In particular, I underlined the need to differentiate ourselves by underlining our commitment to effective EU action in the areas of criminal law and police co-operation. I am satisfied the political declaration under discussion highlights Ireland's intention to participate in Europe's efforts to combat cross-border crime to the maximum possible extent, unless good legal reasons exist for not so doing. I am particularly pleased there is an unequivocal commitment to being involved in police co-operation. These are very important political signals to be sent to our European partners.

In addition, Ireland has committed itself unreservedly to the Charter of Fundamental Rights and has expressed no qualms regarding the judicial jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the field of justice and home affairs. I am somewhat mystified by arguments that were made regarding the role of the European Court of Justice. The Government has committed itself to reviewing the special arrangements that apply to Ireland in respect of justice and home affairs after only three years. This will enable the Government to make a considered judgment on the evolution of policy in this regard.

Another issue was raised and lest hares start running across fields, I wish to make a brief reference to EURATOM. The treaty is not completely ignorant on the issue of EURATOM, which is of course outside the——

The Minister has limited time.

There is a specific Irish and Austrian protocol on this.

As to Europe's future prospects, we clearly need a Union that can keep delivering for Europeans, including Irish people, as it has done so impressively over the past decade. The treaty provides the Union with the necessary tools to set about securing the gifts of peace and prosperity for future generations. The reform treaty is the latest stage in the development of the Union that has provided Ireland with a positive framework. The Irish people have always responded positively to Europe's evolution and shown great commitment to Ireland's European role. The reform treaty represents the next necessary step in Europe's evolution. We will want to be part of this progression, which is completely in line with our own values and traditions. I am confident that our people will, when given the opportunity over the course of the next year, affirm their wholehearted commitment to a dynamic and progressive Union with Ireland at its heart.

I thank Members for their contributions. Any Member who wishes to discuss this issue will find my door open, because I believe that if we work together we can bring a good story to the Irish people. We did this in a unique way in the Convention on the Future of Europe. No other country had as wide a representation, in a political sense, as this one, and we gained immeasurably from that. I believe we can make progress in the area of the reform treaty in exactly the same way.