Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2008: Second Stage.

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

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

It is illustrative to note that only four Members did not want us to discuss this Bill, which I am delighted to introduce on behalf of the Government, despite the efforts of Sinn Féin to prevent us from doing so. It is designed to pave the way for the ratification by Ireland of the EU reform treaty. The discussion of the Bill by the Oireachtas represents an important phase in our national debate on the treaty, which will be put to a referendum in June. The reform treaty is important for Ireland and Europe and it is a logical step for the European Union in a world of increasing globalisation. Ratification of this treaty is a logical step for Irish men and women who want to express their faith in a political project that has, in the past 35 years, changed our nation for the better.

Through the Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, the Government is seeking the people's approval of the reform treaty. In the period between now and the day of the referendum, the Government will highlight the many positive reasons we ought to vote "Yes". We will not browbeat anyone or engage in scare tactics, nor will we make outlandish claims about the treaty.

I sincerely believe it would be a profound mistake for us to vote "No". Such an outcome would cause great uncertainty within the Union. It would damage the Union and cast doubt on our collective ability to face up to the new challenges confronting our Continent. It would be seen as a victory for those across Europe who have never liked the EU way of doing business through the painstaking pursuit of agreement that can serve our shared interests as Europeans. Failure to ratify the treaty would be especially damaging to smaller countries like Ireland, which derive particular benefit from the level playing field provided by agreed EU arrangements. Most crucially, a "No" vote would be damaging to Ireland. It would damage our standing as a committed participant in the evolution of the Union.

Contrary to what is being suggested by opponents, the treaty does not contain any threat to our vital national interests. The outcome of the negotiations saw us safeguard those interests. In areas such as corporate taxation, security and defence, and equality of member states, we fully secured our national priorities.

All sectors of society are directly affected by our membership of the European Union and will be affected by the result of the upcoming referendum. This is not a trivial decision to be taken lightly, but a defining moment in our European involvement. It is therefore vital that this debate extend far and wide. It should not be confined to the Oireachtas, nor should it be restricted to newspaper columns and television studios. It should traverse the country and engage pensioners, students and all those in between. In this regard, I welcome the public meetings being organised by the National Forum on Europe, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs and other organisations. I also welcome the establishment of the Referendum Commission, which has its own independent role to play.

The Government is also playing its part. We have published balanced, factual information and a comprehensive White Paper was published today. An objective information guide is to be sent to every household in the country in the coming weeks. All this information, as well as the text of the treaty, in both Irish and English, is already available on a dedicated website. Copies of the reform treaty and a consolidated version of the EU treaties as amended by the reform treaty are available in every library in the country.

The reform treaty is not a radical document. It does not herald major change but, when implemented, it will represent solid progress. It represents a carefully constructed set of amendments to the existing EU treaties, which have served Ireland and Europe so well for so many years. Previous treaties have heralded much greater change. Our accession treaty in 1972 paved the way for us to join the Union after decades of isolation and underdevelopment. The Single European Act gave us the Single Market, enabling Irish business to grow and create employment. The Maastricht treaty provided for common foreign and security policy and economic and monetary union. The latter resulted in the launch of the euro, which has brought real benefit to Irish people. The Amsterdam treaty increased EU co-operation in the area of freedom, justice and security, which is crucial to the fight against the growing threat of cross-border crime. The Nice treaty afforded us the historic chance to end the division of Europe and the chance for our European neighbours to put behind them the totalitarian nightmare they had endured since 1945.

All these developments were good for Ireland and Europe. Ratification of the reform treaty will allow for continued engagement by Ireland at the centre of European affairs as part of a Union in which the rule of law and the rights of individuals are central values.

I could set out today to take on one by one the numerous misconceptions and misrepresentations that opponents of the treaty have been circulating but I will not do so. The Government and those who support the treaty have been challenging these misrepresentations and will continue to do so as the referendum campaign develops. I could also set out today to explain why the judgment of those who opposed every treaty to date should again not be trusted. I could also take time to tackle the confused, imported arguments of the eurosceptical right wing, which views our referendum as a battleground upon which to advance its negative assessment of European integration, but instead I will explain to the House why the reform treaty is worthy of support and why the Government remains completely committed to the European Union. I will also explain why the Government is advocating that the people of Ireland, of all parties and none, maintain their trust in a project that has delivered peace and prosperity to Europe, including Ireland.

Ireland has been a success in the Union. It can be argued that we have benefited more dramatically than any other country from EU membership. Our membership has been a force for progress, jobs and national development. It has given us a forum within which to make our voice heard on issues of international peace and security. Vitally, it has allowed us to build a home for today's and future generations, which is surely a most basic measure of our national sovereignty.

There are policy areas and sectors where painful change has been required but this change would almost inevitably have been required even if we had never joined the Union. The overwhelming balance of evidence tells us that Union membership has been the central dynamic for growth and development in many spheres. Economically our national income per head has grown from less than 60% of the European average to a point today where it is well above the average. Such growth has been underpinned by membership of the Union, which has allowed us to act as a gateway to the European market for multinational companies.

In 1972, as we were joining the Union, foreign direct investment was just €16 million. Today it is measured in billions of euro. Overall, the number of people employed in Ireland has doubled from 1 million in 1973 to 2 million today. No longer is it inevitable that Irish parents see their children depart for foreign shores in search of employment. This represents another basic measure of our increased national sovereignty.

Those who claim that EU membership has curtailed our sovereignty should bear in mind that it has enhanced in a real and meaningful manner our national well-being and our capacity to further the interests of our people.

The direct financial support we have received, and continue to receive, from the Structural and Cohesion Funds has laid the foundations for many of the major infrastructural developments throughout the State. The Common Agricultural Policy has allowed the farming sector and our rural communities to develop and sustain themselves in a manner that previous generations could only have dreamt of. We have also witnessed improved policies and standards in a range of areas such as consumer rights, environmental protection and the promotion of gender equality and workers' rights.

The reform treaty will not change the basic realities of today's Union, which has allowed Ireland to make these giant leaps forward. However, the global context in which the Union operates is changing all the time. The reform treaty will allow Ireland and the Union to adapt more effectively to these changing circumstances.

For the next decade Europe will not have the luxury of focusing mainly on ourselves. We will have to concentrate more on our relations with the world beyond the Union. Climate change, the global economic downturn, immigration, demographic changes and the problems facing the developing world present significant worldwide challenges. We cannot exempt ourselves from these challenges. How these are dealt with will shape our future. It is only right that we should want to be part of the solution. Indeed, it is in our national interest to do so. We can do this best through Europe. We cannot do it alone. No single country can. This is why the continued development of the EU is so vital. In today's world, there is strength in numbers. As part of a grouping with a population of 500 million, the EU can make a difference in world affairs. Through the EU, Ireland can make its own distinctive impact.

Europe is already demonstrating that we can make a difference beyond our borders. On climate change Europe is leading a difficult and challenging global debate. On development assistance we are the world's largest donors to the world's poorest people. On human rights we are working to end the culture of impunity that has existed for far too long. Without Europe's dogged and sometimes unpopular insistence, the International Criminal Court, for example, would not have come about.

Naturally, we have a selfish interest in making commitments beyond our borders. We know that even an entity as big as the EU cannot live apart from those forces shaping the wider world.

We also have a profound interest in creating a fairer and better world. Countries like ours which have been fortunate enough to live in peace for a long time can make an important contribution to peace in the wider world.

We are told that the success of the Union leads to difficulty in creating a compelling narrative for the Union's future evolution. However, more than half of the EU's member states were dictatorships well within living memory. For instance, the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, grew up under a military regime in Portugal, a place we now associate with holidays and skilful footballers. Such regimes are unthinkable in today's Europe. The EU deserves credit for this impressive triumph of democratic values across our Continent. The conflicts in the Balkans in the 1990s provide proof that Europe's fraught political past is not so distant after all.

The Bill before the House, which proposes that Article 29.4 of the Constitution be amended, deals with the essence of the reform treaty. It is relatively short legislation. However, for Ireland and Europe, it is vital legislation. It contains a number of important points which merit explaining, particularly in light of some of the misunderstanding and misrepresentation that is being promulgated.

The substance of the proposed amendment is set out in the Schedule, containing what will be subsections 10° to 15° of Article 29.4 of the Constitution. The proposed subsection 10° provides that the State may ratify the reform treaty and be a member of the European Union provided for in the treaty.

The proposed new subsection 11° of the Article has essentially been in place since our accession to the EU 35 years ago. It will ensure legal compatibility between the reform treaty and Bunreacht na hÉireann. It carries forward the concept of constitutional cover for laws, Acts and measures "necessitated" by the obligations of our EU membership.

Some opponents of the treaty have been speaking in alarmist terms about this. It is suggested that, suddenly, EU law will be superior to Irish law. In language similar to that of parties and newspapers across the water that want to put the EU out of business, these opponents are suggesting that this treaty will put the Irish Constitution out of business. They are wrong. This constitutional provision is not new. It is as old as our membership of the Union. The wording reflects the principle of the primacy of European law, well established by the Court of Justice in Luxembourg prior to Ireland's accession to the European Communities.

The EU principle of primacy reflects the general principle of international law, recognised since 1937 by Article 29.3 of Bunreacht na hÉireann, that States must comply with international legal obligations freely undertaken by them in the exercise of their sovereignty. The practical effect of the principle of primacy is that it offers certainty and clarity regarding the relationship between the Union's laws and those of member states. It applies only in those areas where the member states have conferred powers on the Union.

This principle of conferral is an important element which is helpfully highlighted and clarified in the reform treaty. It makes it clear that the Union does not have powers of its own. Its powers derive from sovereign decisions by the member states to give the Union certain powers. These powers are carefully set out in the EU treaties.

Bunreacht na hÉireann will continue to be the basic legal document of the State and will continue to determine, in the final instance, the precise relationship between Irish and EU law. The ultimate locus of sovereignty will continue to reside with the member states rather than the Union.

The new subsection 12° reflects similar subsections introduced to facilitate ratification of the Amsterdam and Nice treaties. It allows the State to avail of certain options and discretions provided for in the EU treaties, most notably to allow us to utilise the special arrangements Ireland has negotiated with respect to justice and home affairs issues, which the reform treaty refers to as the "Area of Freedom, Security and Justice". The Government may exercise these options and discretions having obtained the prior approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas.

The new subsection 13° makes specific provision for the possibility of withdrawing, in whole or in part, from the opt-out provided for in the Ireland-UK Protocol on the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice. The subsection states that prior approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas would be a condition for such a withdrawal. One of the most substantive areas of change between the constitutional treaty, agreed in 2004, and the reform treaty was the amendment of the protocol, which has existed since 1997. It extends our existing arrangement with regard to visas, asylum, immigration and judicial co-operation in civil matters to judicial co-operation in criminal matters and to police co-operation. This decision was taken because of the sensitive nature of co-operation in this area and particularly the fact that Ireland, like the UK, has a distinctive common law system of criminal justice which is different from the legal systems in place in the majority of our EU partners. For this reason, Ireland decided to avail of an extension of these flexible arrangements first agreed in 1997.

These arrangements mean that we will be able to choose, on a case-by-case basis, which criminal justice or police co-operation measures we will participate in. We have clearly indicated in a declaration made during the intergovernmental conference that we will study how EU policy evolves in this area and review these arrangements within a period of three years.

We have consistently and strongly supported practical EU anti-terrorism measures and concerted action against organised crime, and we will continue along those lines. In that regard, Ireland has made a declaration, which is annexed to the final act adopting the reform treaty, stating our clear intention to participate to the maximum extent possible in relevant JHA proposals and particularly in police co-operation proposals.

In the new subsection 14°, the proposed legislation supplements the provisions of the treaty. In doing so, it provides for an enhanced role for the Houses of the Oireachtas. It states that prior approval by the Houses would be a condition for action under a small number of treaty provisions, such as the so-called generalpasserelle clause. Under this clause, the European Council can decide on a unanimous basis to extend the scope of qualified majority voting in the Council or co-decision between the Council and the European Parliament.

The requirement to seek the positive endorsement of the Houses of the Oireachtas goes beyond what is required in the relevant treaty provisions themselves, which allow for a negative veto by any national parliament. In other words, the legislation before us provides that in each of the cases specified in subsection 14°, the Houses of the Oireachtas will have to give positive approval before action is taken. Silence or inaction will not be enough.

The new subsection 15° carries forward the prohibition on Irish participation in an EU common defence. The House will know that this was originally inserted in the Constitution by the people at the second referendum on the Treaty of Nice. To avoid any possible doubt about the constitutional prohibition on Irish participation in an EU common defence, this subsection of the Bill refers to the relevant provision from the Nice and the reform treaties.

There is currently no proposal for a common EU defence. In any case, a change in Ireland's position can only come about if the Irish people decide so in a referendum. This is stated in black and white for all to see. Repeated suggestions to the contrary are totally misleading and should be dismissed. There is no reference to taxation in the Bill because the treaty leaves policy in this area entirely unaffected. Taxation remains a member state competence.

One of the changes introduced by the reform treaty is of particular relevance to Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas and, by extension, to the Irish electorate. The treaty strengthens the role of national parliaments by giving them a direct input into EU legislation. The provision whereby a sufficient number of national parliaments can object to a particular proposal is a genuine step forward. It will enable national parliaments to ensure that the Union does not exceed its authority. Under the treaty, national parliaments will also have the right to veto any proposal to change voting rules from unanimity to qualified majority voting in the European Council or Council of Ministers or to extend co-decision between the Council and the European Parliament.

These new powers will promote democratic accountability within the Union. They also have the potential to strengthen co-operation between parliaments, political parties and electorates across the Union. In addition to strengthening the role of national parliaments, the treaty enhances the role of the directly elected European Parliament. The European Parliament will see an increase in the number of areas in which it shares law making powers with the Council of Ministers. When the Parliament was first directly elected in 1979 it had no legislative power. The reform treaty increases co-decision to almost 100%. The President of the Parliament, Mr. Pottering, will be able to attest to this when he addresses the Seanad next Tuesday.

It is easy to criticise the Union's democratic structures, but they stand up well by any international standard. Under the reform treaty they will get even better. Practically all the legislation which is passed by the Council of Ministers, a body comprising representatives of 27 democratically elected governments, must also be passed by a democratically elected parliament. Many people throughout the world would envy such accountability.

In addition to the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, the European Commission also makes a crucial contribution to the effective functioning of the Union. Ireland has always been a supporter of a Commission that is strong and independent. The Commission must maintain a broad perspective over which no member state has disproportionate influence. In the Nice treaty in 2000, member states already agreed in principle to reduce the size of the Commission once the Union reached 27 countries. This was done in the interests of efficiency. It represented a recognition that there would be insufficient portfolios to go around and that the number of Commissioners could go on increasing. The case is increasingly made that a large college of Commissioners is less likely to be effective and coherent. An unwieldy, inefficient Commission would not be in Ireland's interests.

The reform treaty reduces the size of the Commission in line with the agreement reached in Nice and endorsed by the people in the 2002 referendum. Crucially, it guarantees complete equality of treatment among all member states, large and small. Thus each member state will forego the right to nominate a Commissioner for one Commission out of three. Ireland will do this, as will Britain, Germany and all other states. We are all being treated equally. The House will recall that until 2004, the larger member states each had two Commissioners.

The European Union has been carefully constructed to accommodate the different interests of its member states. It is not a zero-sum game where a member state gets everything it wants. If it was, it would cease to exist. Despite the natural differences between member states, there is an underlying common interest not to repeat the past. Instead, there is a shared determination to move forward together. In negotiating the reform treaty, all 27 governments will have had this in mind. Our accepted need for common European institutions comes from Europe's brutal history. The establishment of these institutions required innovation and generosity, from which Ireland in particular has benefited. Europe has over the decades shown a great capacity to reform these institutions as circumstances required.

To listen to some of the criticism of the treaty, one might be led to believe that member states, particularly the smaller ones, abandoned their good sense and their national interests during the negotiations. We did not. We negotiated an outcome that we sincerely believe will serve Ireland's interests in the period ahead. To listen to some of the criticism of the treaty one might be led to believe that the largest member states are throwing their weight about and are determined to run the Union for their own selfish purposes. They are not and they will not.

The same principles that applied when Ireland joined the Union in 1973 apply today. It suits every country to live in a neighbourhood that is prosperous and at peace. It suits every country to live in a neighbourhood where borders are not disputed and where people feel secure. It suits every country to work toward a common decent standard of living for everybody in our European neighbourhood. It is these principles that have contributed to the achievement of previously unknown levels of prosperity in Ireland and to the emergence of peace between the people of this island. It is these principles which have allowed Ireland to work in close co-operation with Britain after centuries of difficulties. These principles are not something written on paper which gets dusted down for occasions such as today's debate. They have a real meaning in practice.

For instance, anyone who attended the 2005 European Council will be aware that it was flexibility and generosity on the part of Chancellor Merkel which allowed agreement to be reached on the 2007-13 EU budget. I dare say that Chancellor Merkel will elaborate on the meaning and importance of the Union to its largest member state when she makes a welcome visit here later this month.

In deciding how to vote in the referendum, the Irish people should vote rationally and with their own interests at heart. The choice we face is straightforward. The changes brought about in the reform treaty, like the changes brought about in previous treaties, will make the Union operate more effectively. The changes brought about in the reform treaty, like previous changes, reflect the changing circumstances in which the Union finds itself.

The reform treaty will also settle the debate about the internal workings of the Union for the foreseeable future. We will then be able to focus on the great issues of our time, economic management, climate change and peace and stability around the globe. Despite suggestions to the contrary, for us to say "No" to the reform treaty would damage Europe's and our own interests. To suggest that abandoning our positive attitude to the EU would win us negotiating space at tables in Brussels is unrealistic. It remains for opponents of the treaty to explain how the balance of our national interest could possibly be served by a "No" vote. I do not believe they can do so.

It is for the Irish electorate to identify where our nation's interests lie. I believe they will not allow rigid dogma, whether from the new right or the hard left, to prevail over common sense. Instead, they should see the reform treaty as the next step on what has been an exceptionally positive national journey. Voting "Yes" in the referendum will generate political goodwill, a precious resource on which Ireland can draw in the future. Voting "Yes" in the referendum will confirm that we maintain our faith in an international order based on solidarity, international co-operation and equality between member states. Voting "yes" in the referendum will confirm in the eyes of the international political and economic community that we continue to keep both our feet firmly in Europe, with our eyes fixed squarely on continued economic prosperity and social progress. That is why the Government believes the reform treaty should be ratified.

I will share my time with Deputy Lucinda Creighton.

The Lisbon treaty has undergone a long period of gestation. Its origins began with the Convention on the Future of Europe and it involved debate and discussion over several years. The convention took on board the views of many people before it formulated its proposal for the EU constitution. We now know that this constitution was not passed by the popular vote in France and the Netherlands, and thus the concept was put on hold as consideration was given to what the next step should be.

The purpose of the constitution was to consolidate the existing treaties and streamline the decision-making process for a membership of 27. What is often forgotten is that 19 countries ratified the constitution, three of them — Spain, Luxembourg and Romania — by referendum, with 77% voting "Yes" in Spain, albeit with a low turnout of 43%. At the European Council meeting of June 2007, it was decided to start negotiations on a replacement treaty, which culminated in the signing of the Lisbon treaty, referred to by some as the reform treaty, in December 2007.

In order for the Lisbon treaty to come into effect, it must be ratified by all 27 member states, with the intention that the process will be completed by 1 January 2009, when the treaty will come into effect. It appears that Ireland alone will hold a referendum on the matter. This will lead to additional focus being placed on us not just from the 500 million in the EU, but also from the other power blocks. The figure of 500 million is significant when compared to 4 million, but not so much when compared to China's 1.4 billion, a country with one fifth of the world's population and which now uses half of the world's cement and one third of its steel. This is the challenge that the European Union faces as the global becomes local.

Many people who will vote "Yes" will do so for idealistic reasons, perhaps motivated by the Charter of Fundamental Rights, and others will vote for economic reasons. Since 1973, Ireland has received about €60 billion from the EU budget and has made contributions of €19.5 billion in the same period. Some will vote "Yes" for a combination of these reasons. Some will vote "No" for idealistic reasons and one has to respect that. However, the most important thing is that people have as much information as possible to make an informed decision and vote in a certain manner for the right reasons.

Traditionally, Irish people have voted in a pragmatic manner but the decreasing turnout certainly gives one food for thought as the comfort zone creates a certain disengagement. This can create a fertile environment for "No" campaigners who can oppose a policy from opposite ends of the spectrum. Strangely, very few are opposed to the general principles of the European project. Indeed some "No" campaigners talk about how good Europe has been. Alas, this treaty is the one that will cause the difficulty. It is difficult to go back and establish which treaty might have been supported in the past by those advocates of a "No" vote, albeit they recognise the good that Europe is doing.

The same arguments are made time and again. Our neutrality is akin to the cat with the nine lives — it being lost on each occasion that we passed an EU treaty. Our neutrality must have many graves stretching from Rome to Maastricht to Nice. I would like to be in a position to say that our concept of neutrality has ceased and that we are full participants in the common foreign and security policy but this is not so. If something is worth being a member of, it is worth protecting. Where we can assist in dealing with evil and oppression, we should do so and follow our own sovereign decision. In recent weeks, there has been much criticism of China's role in the Tibet Autonomous Region and yet that country, as a member of the UN Security Council, can decide our foreign policy, as can any other permanent members if certain circumstances arise. The comfort blanket of the UN can dictate our sovereignty in some decision making on foreign policy, while the European Union, strangely, cannot. This is paradoxical. I also believe that the majority of Irish people would favour our participation in the common foreign and security policy if they were afforded the opportunity to voice their opinion on it. Hopefully, they will get that opportunity in the not too distant future.

Support for membership of the European Union is high in this country. A recent EU barometer showed that this support is at 74%, with recognition by 87% of the people that we have benefited from Europe in the past. However, there is also concern that six out of ten people believe that their voice is not heard in Europe. Many see Europe as being out of reach and this presents a challenge to us to try to bridge this divide. If we took responsibility for some hard decisions rather than seeking to blame Brussels, we could assist in this regard.

Right around the world, we witness unrest such as that in the Middle East, conflict in South America and human rights difficulties in China. When this is contrasted with the peace that exists within the European Union, we are starkly reminded of one of the main reasons the Union was established. It is difficult for the generation of today to visualise that Europe was the cockpit of two world wars.

The referendum campaign will throw up many issues, some of which are factual and some of which are not. To date, much misinformation has been put into circulation and while one has to deal with this, the detail of the treaty and what it does must be outlined. The reform treaty will provide for a more effective Union over a number of areas and will permit the Union to develop in a positive manner.

I will now move on to aspects of the treaty itself because, as I have outlined, it is very important that people know what it proposes to do. With respect to institutional provisions, it proposes many changes, such as a new full-time president elected for a renewable term of two and a half years. This concept aims to improve the coherence of the Council. The presidency of the Council of Ministers will held by blocs of three with one lead country. Ireland will be grouped with Greece and Lithuania. Again, this aims to improve the coherence of the Council. There will be a new voting arrangement called the double majority system where 55% of the states and 65% of the population will be required. This replaces the cumbersome method used at the moment which is based on a certain allocation of votes per country. Where the Council is acting other than on a proposal from the European Commission, 72% of member states will be required.

As outlined by the Minister, the size of the Commission will be reduced from 2014, with a maximum cap of two thirds of members. This was agreed to in principle in the Nice II treaty. The detail of it was not adhered to so this is something that has been decided in the past. In real terms, in respect of the concept of Commission cake time, we will be in a healthier position than we were prior to 2004 where the five larger countries had two Commissioners each and the remainder had one. We will be on a par with others, as we have been since 2004.

There will be a high representative for foreign affairs and security policy combining the current High Representative for Common and Foreign Security Policy and the Commissioner for External Relations. This appointment will also represent the Vice President of the Commission. This is to enhance the co-ordination of EU activity in respect of third countries and improve the EU's visibility in external relations and support the person who will answer the phone to Mr. Kissinger. The European Parliament will be capped at 751. The role of the Parliament is enhanced by extending areas of co-decision with the Council of Ministers.

There will be an increased role for national parliaments. The Commission is obliged to give them at least eight weeks advance notice of legislative proposals. Each national parliament will be given two votes. In Ireland, the Dáil will have one and the Seanad will have one. There will be 54 votes in total. National parliaments or houses can vote to issue a reasoned opinion on whether a Commission proposal respects subsidiarity — the principle that the EU does not take action in areas of shared competence unless it is more effective than action taken at national, regional or local level. If at least 18 votes out of the 54 are issued, the Commission's draft must be reviewed.

In the case of judicial co-operation in criminal matters and police co-operation, the threshold is 13. The two measures mentioned earlier make up what is known as the yellow card system. However, the Commission is not obliged to amend or reject the proposal but if it maintains it, it will have to justify it in a reasoned opinion. If a majority of national parliaments oppose a Commission proposal as a breach of subsidiarity and the Council or European Parliament agree with them, the proposal can be struck down. This is known as the orange card system. National parliaments are to be kept informed of evaluations of the member states of the Union policies in the justice and home affairs area, the work of a standing committee on co-operation on internal security and the evaluation of the activities of Eurojust and Europol.

A new treaty article will state that the Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights as we incorporate the Charter of Fundamental Rights into the treaty. The treaty will confer legally binding treaty status on this charter, which was only a political declaration when agreed in 2000. This is very welcome. This charter consists of 54 articles, divided into seven sections, covering a diverse range of rights, for example, the right to life and respect for private and family life. It applies to the Union's institutions and to member states in their implementation of EU law. Nothing in the charter is to be interpreted as restricting or adversely affecting human rights as recognised by, for example, the member states' constitutions.

In the area of justice and home affairs, the European Union defines itself as an area of freedom, security and justice. Where people move freely across borders, police and judicial co-operation is required to protect people from terrorism and serious crime. Under the existing treaties, the EU can already act in the areas of police co-operation and judicial co-operation on criminal matters but using inter-governmental co-operation methods with a limited role of the Parliament and Court of Justice, rather than the normal "Community method". The new treaty will enhance the EU's effectiveness in fields where it has already been active, for example, external border control, visas, asylum and immigration. The new treaty will extend the EU's field of action in the fight against serious cross-border crime, police co-operation, mutual recognition of decisions by courts and judges and the creation of an EU public prosecutor with functions in defined areas. Majority voting will now become the norm in this area but unanimity is retained for some matters, such as family law.

In the area of judicial co-operation in criminal matters, there will be an "emergency brake". A member state can refer a proposal to the European Council if it is concerned that it would affect fundamental aspects of its legal system. If there is no unanimous agreement at European Council, a group of not less than one third of member states may proceed among themselves after four months but this is not binding on other states. Ireland has availed of an opt-out in regard to judicial co-operation in criminal matters and police co-operation. In a separate declaration, Ireland has indicated its intention to opt in to the maximum extent possible and to review this measure within three years of the treaty's adoption. Fine Gael opposed this policy decision. However, we acknowledge the existence of the declaration and we hope that the opt-in will be availed of in the not too distant future.

The treaty provides for little overall change in the Union's competences in policy areas. It sets out some basis principles. Regarding conferral, the Union only has those powers explicitly conferred on it. All other powers remain with member states, which is important to remember.

Regarding subsidiarity, the Union shall only act in so far as the objective in question cannot be sufficiently achieved at member state level. In respect of proportionality, the Union shall only act to the extent necessary to achieve the objective in question. I cannot see how anybody could argue with any of those points. The Union is conferred with a single legal personality. Competences in different policy areas will be grouped by category. The Union will have exclusive competence in areas such as competition rules for the Internal Market and monetary policy for euro currency states.

Regarding shared competences, member states can take action if the EU does not, for example, in energy policy, environment and consumer protection. There is the concept of a supporting role where competence lies with member states but the Union has a supporting role, for example, in health and education. Unanimity is retained in taxation and defence. There are new areas of competence dealing with cross-border threats to health, energy security, sport, humanitarian assistance, space policy and climate change, which are all very desirable.

Enhanced co-operation will require at least nine member states, which is one third of member states. This would need to be open, then and later, to all member states. When relating to internal EU matters, external economic relations and humanitarian aid, it would need to be backed by the Commission, approved by the Council and accepted by the European Parliament.

Common foreign and security policy will need to be unanimously approved by the Council. Decisions in common foreign and security policy would in general continue to be made by unanimity. However, there will be two exceptions. The treaty provides for the possibility of QMV where a particular decision relates to a policy previously decided at summit level or alternatively to details of implementation. However, even in these cases, a member state could, for vital and stated reasons of national policy, veto any resort to decision by QMV. There is a general clause, under which the European Council could decide unanimously to transfer decisions from unanimity to the QMV category in any common foreign and security policy domain, other than military and defence aspects.

I wish to deal with the concept of structured co-operation, whereby member states with bigger military capabilities could come together. Only member states taking part in this arrangement will be permitted to debate and vote. Member states are bound to support the Union's common foreign and security policy. Regarding common defence, when the EU unanimously decides, it will be up to Ireland to decide what arrangement or participation we will have and if we participate in common defence, a referendum will be required.

I hope we will get an opportunity to deal with details of the Bill on Committee Stage. There are many other aspects with regard to foreign direct investment, which I hope speakers from this side of the House will address. On Committee Stage we will raise some issues with respect to what will become subsections 13° and 14° of Article 29 of the Constitution. It may be unnecessary to include them as we believe the authority already exists in the Constitution given that we have signed up to the treaty.

Fine Gael wholeheartedly supports the Bill. We compliment the Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister of State, Deputy Dick Roche, on the work they have carried out in the past on the EU constitution. We on this side of the House will give any assistance we can over the coming months. It is in our interest and the country's interest that we all support this referendum.

I and my party, Fine Gael, are proud to support the Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill. We support it because the Lisbon treaty is good for the nation and it is good for the people. It would certainly serve Fine Gael's short-term political interests to oppose the Bill proposed by and negotiated by the Government. However, we are putting the potential for short-term political opportunism aside in order to put the national interest first. We believe it is in the interest of the people to secure a "Yes" vote and Fine Gael will be playing its part in convincing the people that this is the case.

It is important to put the treaty in context. Let us cast our minds back to Ireland before we joined the European Union or European Economic Community as it was in 1973. In the period between Ireland's gaining independence and our joining the EEC, we became a closed, inward looking, insular nation. We were a nation that had thrown off a major colonial power in this country and our natural response was to draw into ourselves and shut the door behind us. We ourselves, sinn féin ironically, characterised the Ireland of the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s. At that time, however, we had in reality no meaningful economic independence whatsoever. We were absolutely dependent on the United Kingdom as our dominant export market. Our economic policy was purely dependent on that of the UK. When sterling was devalued, there was no option open to the Government other than to follow suit and the Irish punt would automatically be devalued within hours. Clearly, if England sneezed, Ireland caught the cold.

Our insular economic policies and our absolute dependency on the UK led to the type of economy that can barely be imagined today and has not been experienced by most of my generation. We had enormous rates of unemployment. We experienced depression in the extreme. There was no growth, high emigration and a very depressing and bleak picture for the future. Then we joined the EEC and things began to change dramatically and quite rapidly. The EU and in particular the Common Market has provided a framework through which Irish business has thrived. Ireland has managed to gain confidence and independence by accessing new markets. The EU has opened up enormous opportunities for Ireland to thrive. The new markets opened up to us have seen the Irish economy benefit beyond any expectation we might have had on joining the EEC.

Ireland has been a beneficiary of European funds since our accession to the EEC. Receipts from the EU budget during that period amount to a staggering €58 billion in total, or 3.3% of our GDP. We have received billions of euro in Structural Funds, which built roads and railways that have contributed to our prosperity. While there have been frustrations, dealing with the bureaucracy, red tape and some of the stringent requirements of the EU system, overall it has benefited the country beyond all belief.

What will this particular treaty achieve that will be so significant? Many people are asking whether the treaty is really necessary. Previous treaties focused on clear and crucial initiatives of the EU. At first it was dealing with the Single Market. As it progressed, it dealt with the common currency, the euro. More recently we voted for the Nice treaty to support the enlargement of the European Union, allowing 12 new member states from the eastern bloc to join the EU and benefit from it in the same way as we have done. We now face a new juncture in the development of the European Union. We face new challenges and the Lisbon reform treaty is designed to assist Ireland and other member states in facing up to these challenges.

These challenges are numerous. They are the challenges that affect each and every citizen of this country. Anybody who believes this referendum, this Bill or Europe is not relevant to their lives should think again because they are simply wrong. The challenges that face us are relevant to every citizen. They include the challenge of global warming and climate change, the threat to energy security in Ireland and the rest of Europe, the challenges associated with Third World hunger and peacekeeping and peace-enforcement missions in our neighbouring regions.

Critically, the treaty also addresses perhaps the greatest threat to the Irish people, that of the global economic downturn and the prospect of job losses in this country. The Lisbon treaty focuses on making Europe more competitive and on the completion of the Single Market, with the prospect of greater economic security for all of us in the context of our place in Europe in the future.

While the treaty proposes many important changes in tackling those challenges and in dealing with the functioning of the European Union, it does not, as Deputy Timmins outlined, interfere in any substantial way with how power is divided within the European Union and its member states or with the substantial powers that are already vested in the European Union. Very importantly, this treaty proposes institutional changes which will deal with some of the problems that have been associated with the EU for some time. It will improve the role of democracy by strengthening national parliaments and the European Parliament and by enhancing the role of MEPs. It will downsize the Commission to make it work more efficiently and to make it less unwieldy. It will also create a permanent figurehead and Chair of the European Council who can ensure that there is consistency in the work of the European Presidencies. These changes are good for Europe and particularly for Ireland.

The detractors from this treaty, from the extreme left and right, are the same people who opposed our accession to the EEC in 1973. At that time those same people warned of a real doomsday scenario. They claimed we would have our sovereignty negated, that we would become subsumed into a giant European super state and that the children of Ireland would be conscripted to a massive war-mongering army. The "anti" campaigners never referred to the huge export markets that would open up to us, nor to the confidence and self-sufficiency that membership of the European Union would lead to in this country. They never mentioned how the Union would enhance equality and workers' rights, while strengthening competition and ending monopolies. They never acknowledged the peace and prosperity that would come from our membership of the EU. Fine Gael did so at that time and continues to do so.

Today, the same people are proffering the same old, tired and discredited arguments. They are peddling the same old misinformation and it is time that this propaganda be exposed for what it is. Let us look at the myth being put forward, that Ireland will become part of a militarised war-mongering Europe and that our neutrality will effectively become a thing of the past. We heard this in 1972, prior to joining the EEC. We heard it again in 1986, before the Single European Act. We also heard it in relation to the Maastricht treaty in 1992, the Amsterdam treaty in 1997, during the first Nice referendum campaign in 2001 and the second successful Nice treaty campaign in 2002. On every single occasion they have been wrong so why should we believe them now?

It is time to listen to the facts rather than the scare-mongering spin, and here are some of the facts. On the issue of neutrality, Ireland will retain its veto on all matters concerning European defence policy. We cannot be forced into anything of which we do not want to be part. The treaties will continue to recognise that EU policy "shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain Member States", a clear reference to Ireland. The constitutional prohibition in this country on joining an EU common defence force remains in place. The triple lock means that no Irish troops will be deployed without a UN mandate. That position is very clear. These three levels of protection from the treaty and the Constitution mean that no amount of spin from "No" campaigners can undermine the true facts of this scenario.

I am not particularly interested in what we will not be able to do but am more interested in what the common foreign and security policy will enable us to do. I am concerned about what we will be able to do through our membership of the EU. Such a policy allows us to face the challenges of the 21st century in the knowledge that we are facing these challenges from a secure base at home and that we are facing them abroad with a capability that matches our moral position. This is extremely important in the context of any negotiations we have with other major powers in the world. We only have to cast our minds back to the invasion of Iraq when the European Union was so divided on that issue.

The changes introduced by the Lisbon treaty will equip the European Union to undertake widely supported crisis management and peacekeeping tasks around the world and particularly in neighbouring regions. The current UN-authorised EU mission to Chad, in which Ireland is playing a leading role, is a prime example of the European Union's activities in this area of common security policy. The mission will provide security for the provision of humanitarian relief to hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced persons, many fleeing persecution in Darfur. Surely that is a meritorious activity for Irish troops to be part of and I am proud of it.

Other missions with Irish involvement have included police training in the Palestinian territories, monitoring a peace process between rebels and Government in Aceh, Indonesia and providing support to the police authorities in Bosnia. There have been more than 20 such missions since 2003. The European Union is receiving more and more requests for assistance and it must be in a position to react. I would question the patriotism of those in this country who claim to be patriots while at the same time detracting from what our troops are doing abroad in terms of their fine peacekeeping and humanitarian work and criticising the common foreign and security policy of the European Union, which is simply trying to ensure that the security of our troops is safeguarded.

The reform treaty also extends the EU's potential in terms of conflict prevention missions, post conflict missions and so on. It introduces the idea of permanent structured co-operation, which has been totally misrepresented by certain factions. This will enable our troops to ensure that when they are on a peacekeeping mission with French, Dutch or other European troops they are able to work with them. It will ensure that they have equipment that is suitable and will be able to train in advance to ensure there is harmony between the troops from different member states. I do not see how that could possibly be a bad thing. It is in the interests of the security and safety of the good men and women who represent this country abroad.

Another myth being propagated by the "No" side, particularly by the so-called pro-business elements of the "No" side, is that this treaty will undermine business in this country. I wonder where they have been for the past 35 years.

In eastern Europe.

By supporting this treaty, the Irish people will be enabling the European Union to take specific action which will benefit business interests in Ireland. The treaty will ensure increased access for Irish business to European markets. It will also ensure that Ireland will retain a veto in key areas for Irish business, such as taxation. We must not be deluded or confused on this issue — we retain our veto on taxation. The treaty will improve our ability to attract foreign direct investment and will increase access for Irish business to international markets. It will lead to enhanced investment in research and development and an improvement in the European transport infrastructure. Critically, it will also reduce Ireland's exposure in the area of energy security. If the opponents of the treaty are seriously suggesting that such developments are bad for Irish business, then I throw up my hands in absolute desperation and exasperation.

Overall the case for the Lisbon treaty is indisputable. The EU has been and will continue to be good for Irish business and the Irish people. Those of us supporting this Bill realise that we have the facts on our side. The people who oppose this treaty do so on the basis of misinformation, misinterpretation and the concoction of some far-fetched tales. By sticking to and promoting the facts it will become clear to the public that this treaty is in their interests. I commend the Bill to the House.

"The Lisbon Treaty provides the Union with a stable and lasting institutional framework ... so that the Union will be able to fully concentrate on addressing the concrete challenges ahead, including globalisation and climate change." That is a quotation from the European Union Council meeting on 14 December 2007, after the treaty had been signed. I pay tribute to the Minister of State, Deputy Dick Roche, and particularly the Taoiseach for the work he did on the constitutional treaty. I agree with him that this treaty contains 90% of what was in that treaty, much of which was good material.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. Its publication has been long anticipated but the Government has kept it under wraps like the third secret of Fatima until quite recently. However, many of the other elements of the referendum package remain under wraps. There is still no sign of a consolidated text, annotated text or a complete text. There is no sign of activity by the Referendum Commission, which was established on 6 March. The commission will play a key role in disseminating information on the substance of the Lisbon treaty. The commission is expected to operate for approximately 90 days before the referendum but four weeks have passed and its website remains blank.

Until today there was no sign of the promised White Paper, which was anticipated before the publication of the Bill. Presumably, the White Paper contains a substantial summary and analysis of the treaty. I do not know because I have just received a copy and I have not had an opportunity to examine it carefully. The White Paper is the Government's contribution in advance to informing the debate on particular legislation. It should have been published well in advance of this debate. This is most unsatisfactory. The Taoiseach has hummed and hawed about the date for the referendum and we were kept in the dark until today. After some prompting earlier, he finally and reluctantly announced the date. We are glad this has happened but we still do not have the wording of the amendment. Will the Minister of State consider publishing it? People at the public meetings I have attended want to know the wording they will vote on. We need to know the date and the wording. These are simple matters and it is not rocket science to deal with matters of this nature.

The Government has been in rag order since its accession nine months ago and nothing demonstrates this better than its dysfunctional approach to the preparations for this referendum. The making of laws in Parliament requires care and professionalism but making an amendment to the Constitution requires absolute care and professionalism. The citizens of Ireland who will vote in the referendum in approximately two months expect that the highest standards are observed in preparing and presenting it. They deserve no less because our Constitution contains the values and principles which guide our lives and our society. Alas, those high standards have not been met to date and time is running out.

The Bill before us makes provision for the 28th amendment to the Constitution. It seeks to amend Article 29 of the Constitution. The text of the referendum Bill is understandably complex like the treaty itself. I thank the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister of State with responsibility for European Affairs for their willingness to consult Opposition parties on finalising the text and I compliment the Labour Party's legal advisers on their constructive contribution over a period. The aims we had regarding the text of the legislation have been achieved to a considerable extent. Our aim was to have a wording that was as clear as possible and easy to read, that avoided unnecessary duplication of provisions and that included existing provisions while removing any unnecessary matter from Article 29.4. Those aims were largely achieved and I appreciate the fact that the Government was prepared to consider all suggestions in this regard.

I particularly welcome that the wording avoids duplication and removes unnecessary material by deleting Articles 29.4.97° and 29.4.11°. Article 29.4.9°, which relates to defence, will be replaced in the new wording while Article 29.4.11° on the patents convention is obsolete and will be removed. The wording of the new Article 29.4.10° reflects the continuity between the existing European Union and the Union post-Lisbon and the layout of the amendment is readable, particularly given the complexity of the matters involved, especially Article 29.4.14°. The parliamentary approval process contained in Articles 29.4.12° to 14°, inclusive, reflects a proposal made by the Labour Party during the drafting of the Amsterdam treaty to ensure full democratic scrutiny of the exercise of the EU options.

Article 29 has been amended to incorporate the Treaty of Rome 1957, the Single European Act 1986, the Treaty on European Union, signed at Maastricht in 1992, the Treaty of Amsterdam 1997 and the Treaty of Nice 2002. These treaties established the original European Economic Community — the forerunner of the European Union — in 1957 and moulded it progressively to its current structure of the European Union half a century later. Each of the five treaties was voted on by the people in successive referenda. On each occasion the treaties were ratified. The Treaty of Lisbon is the latest in a line of treaties to come before us for ratification. If Ireland or any other of the 27 member states rejects the treaty, it cannot come into force. Since Ireland is the only member state to require ratification by referendum, the ratification process is fraught with difficulties and, therefore, requires the greatest of care.

The phoney war is over and the formal debate has begun in the Oireachtas. Both the National Forum on Europe and the Joint Committee on European Affairs will take the debate to the people throughout the length and breadth of Ireland, which is most welcome. The Labour Party is also taking the referendum very seriously. We debated the substance of the Lisbon reform treaty at our annual conference in November 2007 in Wexford and voted overwhelmingly to campaign for a "Yes" vote. We have produced high quality literature to inform our members and to inform the public and we are holding a series of public meetings in the main urban centres in Ireland.

When the campaign begins next month, we will treat the referendum like an election and ensure all the units of the Labour Party are involved in canvassing the electorate and in ensuring that our members and supporters deliver a "Yes" vote. Ireland's interests are best served in Europe. An island country on the periphery of Europe cannot afford to be isolated in terms of society, culture or the economy. Those who oppose the Lisbon reform treaty must not only demonstrate it is bad for Ireland but also that the Treaty of Rome, the Single European Act, the Treaty of Maastricht, the Treaty of Amsterdam and the Treaty of Nice were also bad for Ireland because these are the pillars on which the new edifice is built.

The same people who opposed the earlier treaties are using the same arguments they used during each treaty debate to assert that particular treaty would be the one that finally broke the camel's back. The Lisbon treaty is the end game, the doomsday treaty or the apocalypse now, according to the naysayers. How can any right-minded person believe that having got it wrong on five previous occasions using the same arguments that they will get it right this time? The more often they cry wolf and the wolf does not materialise, the more threadbare their admonitions and warnings become.

Not only has the European wolf not consumed this little island but Ireland has become a prosperous, equal and respected member of a European Union of 27 member states. We have progressed significantly through our association with the Union over the past 35 years. The old Irish proverb, "Ní neart go cur le chéile", is absolutely true in this case. It is difficult to conclude that more has been achieved towards implementing the aims and ideals of the 1916 Proclamation and the 1919 Democratic Programme through Ireland's 35-year association with Europe than had been achieved in the previous 50 years of isolated national independence.

The founding fathers of the Labour Party, James Connolly and James Larkin, were internationalists. They believed the progressive way forward was to build solidarity and equality between neighbouring countries and fellow workers in those countries. Neither they at the beginning of the 20th century nor the Labour Party at the beginning of the 21st century would have ever supported the narrow concept of sovereignty which isolated and suffocated Ireland for 50 years after the foundation of the State and which consigned our people to poverty, emigration and the tyranny of monopoly British capitalism until the European Union provided the vehicle for economic freedom.

The European project unites the people of Europe by democratic consent on the basis of shared values and in doing so the participating countries agree to pool and share sovereignty in the pursuit of peace, prosperity, stability and solidarity. At the same time the principles of subsidiary and proportionality ensure that matters which can be dealt with by the individual member states are left to the individual member states.

The Lisbon treaty starts by restating the values enshrined in the existing treaties and expanding on them. Article 2 of the Lisbon treaty states the internal values that will apply to the member states of the European Union:

The EU is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the member states in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between men and women prevail.

These are the internal values which apply between member states of the European Union. It is the bedrock in terms of the values on which the European Union is built and which has been restated and expanded in this new treaty.

Article 3(5) of the Lisbon treaty goes to the next level and states the future values the European Union will have in its external relations as follows:

In its relations with the wider world, the European Union shall uphold and promote its values and interests and contribute to the protection of its citizens. It shall contribute to peace, security, the sustainable development of the earth, solidarity and natural respect among peoples, free and fair trade, eradication of poverty and the protection of human rights, in particular the rights of the child as well as the strict observance and the development of international law, including respect for the principles of the United Nations Charter.

These two statements of values constitute a magnificent foundation for the creation of a European Union of equal member states and for determining that Union's benevolent relationship with the rest of the world.

At every referendum since Ireland joined in 1972, dire warnings and predictions were given and made about what Europe would do to Ireland. However, Europe did not do any of these awful things. It did not reduce Ireland to a province of a European empire or super state. It did not enforce the conscription of young Irish men and women into a European army, as we heard so often. It did not force Ireland into aggressive imperialist wars. It did not bring about a disastrous fall in the nation's population — in fact the reverse has occurred. It did not cause wholescale unemployment or destroy the small Irish economy — again, the reverse has occurred. It did not undermine Irish culture or the Irish language; the Irish language is now an official language of the European Union. It did not put an end to trade union or workers' rights; they are firmly supported and enshrined in the charter of fundamental rights. It did not introduce abortion or euthanasia, nor can it.

All these predictions were made again and again during every treaty debate by those campaigning for a "No" vote. Every one has proved to be groundless and inaccurate. They are being made again by the same individuals and groups who are opposing the Lisbon reform treaty. They are just as unfounded, inaccurate and misleading today as they were when first made.

In 1972, the Labour Party campaigned against Ireland joining the European Economic Community, the EEC. The given wisdom in the Labour Party and the trade union movement at the time was that the powerful industrialised countries of Europe would destroy Ireland's weak protected industries, thereby causing widescale loss of jobs. However, a resounding 80% of the electorate voted for Europe.

Brendan Corish, the then leader of the Labour Party, immediately accepted the outcome, declaring that the people had spoken and that they had clearly decided that Ireland's future was with Europe. The Labour Party soon realised the benefits of the European Union and that our fears were groundless in the particular areas of concern. We re-assessed the situation in the light of Ireland's experience as a member of the European Economic Community. It proved to be a wise choice for Ireland to move from isolation on the periphery of Europe to collective decision-making at the heart of Europe. Since then, Irish citizens have voted democratically in referenda in every decade to approve every stage of the development of the EU to the present time.

The European Union has a long tradition of promoting rights in the workplace, including women's rights to equal pay, parental leave, working time and health and safety in the workplace, all of which have benefited Irish employees. The first action taken by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions was under the Treaty of Rome in 1974 to obtain equal pay for women. The European Union vindicated certain rights from the beginning.

The Common Agricultural Policy transformed Irish agriculture, providing farmers with a substantial transfer of EU funds and with incomes no longer dependent on Britain's cheap food policy and price monopoly. The education and training of our young people was hugely supported by the European Social Fund. A countrywide network of institutes of technology was established in the 1970s and 1980s with European money. They produced the young graduates with the high-tech expertise that made Ireland the European hub for so many international companies and so much foreign investment.

At the time of membership of the European Union, Ireland was by far the poorest of the nine member states. Ireland's gross domestic product was only 58% of the EU average in 1972. Today it is 130% of the EU average. The massive haemorrhage of our young people in search of work across the world has ceased and now the youth of Europe is attracted to our shores. A workforce of less than 1 million in 1972 now exceeds 2 million.

Clearly, membership of the EU has had a significant and positive impact on who, what and where we are at this stage in our history. The Lisbon reform treaty is not a bolt out of the blue but rather the latest in a line of treaties which have moulded the Union since its foundation in 1957. The Lisbon treaty is an amending or reforming treaty which seeks to make the EU institutions in an enlarged European Union more effective, transparent and answerable to the member states.

Under the Lisbon reform treaty, all member states, large and small, have exactly the same rights in an EU Commission reduced in size to ensure greater efficiency. Article 4 of the Lisbon treaty states clearly that the EU shall respect the equality of the member states as well as their national identities. All the law-making deliberations of the European Council of Ministers will take place in public for the first time. The directly elected European Parliament will have co-decision powers with the Council of Ministers and will have democratic control of the European budget for the first time.

Important new powers are given to national parliaments which will enable them to play a key role in the framing of policy and law making. A citizen's initiative will enable ordinary citizens to have important issues placed on the European Union agenda and they will have to be dealt with there. Each aspiring member state must adhere to the provisions of the United Nations Charter of Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights and international law and have democratic institutions in place before it can join.

The Lisbon reform treaty will give effect to a new body of human, civil, social, cultural and workers' rights that will be binding in law. These are contained in the Charter of Fundamental Rights which will underpin all law-making in the European Union once the treaty is passed.

In addition, a social clause requires that social issues be taken into account when defining and implementing all policies. The treaty makes legal provision for social dialogue and recognition of the social partners. From a Labour Party point of view, these are important issues bearing in mind we started off with the European Economic Community, the Single European Act and the Common Market all of which placed emphasis on economic matters, the eurozone and so on. There is now a better balance in terms of the social and economic dimension written into this treaty.

I will now deal with the provisions of the Bill before us. The text of the referendum Bill is even more complex than the text of the treaty, which is understandable. The explanatory memorandum is helpful in providing the context of this treaty and in assisting us in interpreting the provisions. The Minister referred to Articles 10 and 11 which are key provisions. Under these articles ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon by the people in the forthcoming referendum would "ensure legal compatibility between the provisions of the Treaty and the Irish Constitution and would carry forward the concept of constitutional cover for laws, acts and measures necessitated by the obligations of EU membership". That is the standard and necessary statement of incorporation into Article 29.

Article 13 makes provision for Ireland to exercise the right to opt in or out of measures in the area of freedom, security and justice. Given the profound differences between the common law system of justice in Ireland and the UK and the legal system operating in mainland EU countries, these provisions are essential to avoid situations that could give rise to future constitutional conflict. However, Ireland's commitment to tackling cross-border crime and co-operating with EU police forces is asserted by a special declaration incorporated in the treaty which states that police co-operation is a priority and that Ireland will review its position after three years with a view to fully opting into the freedom, security and justice provisions if that is legally and operationally possible.

In the past 50 years Europe has been at peace with the world and with itself. The EU common foreign and security policy is firmly anchored in peacekeeping, peacemaking and humanitarian missions of a civil and military nature. The Petersberg Tasks have been extended in this treaty. The Lisbon reform treaty specifies that all missions must be in accordance with the United Nations charter and with international law.

Article 15 restates the existing prohibition inserted at the time of the referendum on the Nice treaty in 2002 in respect of Irish participation in any EU common defence structure that might be established in the future. It states: "The state shall not adopt a decision taken by the European Council to establish a common defence pursuant to Article 1.2 of the Treaty referred to in subsection 7 of this section or Article 1.49 of the Treaty referred to in subsection 10 of this section were that common defence would include the State." This is a welcome re-affirmation.

A policy of non-alignment and military neutrality is at the core of our security and defence policy. Ireland only engages in military missions under the triple lock mechanism of a UN Security Council mandate and Government and Dáil approval. Ireland's neutral status remains unchanged and our participation in peacekeeping and humanitarian missions such as those in Kosovo, the Lebanon and Chad will continue under the Lisbon reform treaty. Indeed, Ireland has a proud record of serving on peacekeeping, peacemaking and humanitarian missions abroad for 50 years under the UN mandate. Some 87 Irish soldiers have lost their lives serving on such missions. It is important that the principle of active military neutrality be redefined and restated in the context of European Union defence policy in a transparent way. Thus, the constitutional re-affirmation is exceedingly important.

The treaty creates new goals and challenges for member states. At the National Forum on Europe the Labour Party argued that the EU should take leadership of the great challenges of the day affecting humankind. Under the Lisbon reform treaty the EU has firmly placed itself as the leading player in tackling climate change and the sustainability of the planet. Article 37 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights states "a high level of environmental protection and the improvement of the quality of the environment must be integrated into the policies of the Union and ensured in accordance with the principle of sustainable development". Likewise the Lisbon reform treaty commits the EU to become the world leader in Third World development, humanitarian aid and the eradication of global poverty.

The Labour Party believes that the Lisbon reform treaty contains worthy challenges and objectives for the 21st century. In terms of the Bill, I suggest there are two areas where, perhaps, the Minister could have added to the Bill. The Lisbon reform treaty gives, for the first time, a new, significantly enhanced role to national parliaments in the law making process at European Union level. It also provides for citizen initiatives which will enable one million citizens to have an issue of importance placed on the European Union agenda and that this will have to be dealt with by the institutions of the European Union. It is important to emphasise that these new democratic initiatives bring the workings and institutions of the European Union closer to the people of the member states and to their public representatives elected to democratic parliaments. I suggest to the Minister that the best way of doing this would be to write this into the Irish Constitution by way of amendment to Article 29. This would be a constitutional reminder to the Irish people and parliamentarians of the extra democratic powers contained in the treaty. This would help to ensure these powers would be utilised to the maximum.

Also, given the new powers granted to the parliaments, we will have to review the way we do business in this House. The new role for the Dáil and Seanad will have to examined bearing in mind their central role in law-making and decision-making in the context of the European Union. I am not sure this matter can be adequately dealt with in committee. I believe it will have to be dealt with in the full light of the Dáil Chamber. However, this is perhaps a matter we can discuss in the future. It would be valuable if this new power were highlighted in a permanent fashion in the form of an amendment to the Constitution through this legislation. Perhaps the Minister will on Committee Stage consider the merits of my suggestion in the context of the new role for national parliaments and citizens initiatives.

The Labour Party believes the Lisbon reform treaty reflects more than any previous treaty its ethos and values. We believe it will be good for Ireland. We are totally opposed to an Ireland on the periphery and isolated from Europe and to an Ireland that exports 90% of its produce. Previously we had the Single Market. We now have a single European market which is a horse of a different colour. The treaty is deserving of our full support and I, too, commend it to the House.

The Minister will have 20 minutes to respond when the debate resumes.

Debate adjourned.