Lisbon Reform Treaty Report: Statements.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Power, and congratulate him on his appointment. As Chairman of the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny, I am pleased to present its report on the enhanced role of national parliaments in the Lisbon reform treaty. I thank the Whips for agreeing to the committee's request for an urgent debate on the report. A debate such as this is important for communicating to the public how its public representatives are actively working on important policy matters.

I will start by giving a brief overview of the work of the European scrutiny committee so I can put the Lisbon treaty provisions in context. The role of the committee is to examine the implications of all proposed EU legislation. That legislation, in the form of directives and regulations, has a real impact on the every day lives of all Irish citizens, be they on the farm, in business or consumers. The scrutiny committee makes recommendations to the Government on the negotiating position to be adopted in Brussels. It alerts the Oireachtas to any legislative proposals with a significant impact for Ireland. It is most important that people are alerted to concerns regarding proposed legislation.

Since its formation in November 2007 the committee has considered 586 documents. Of those, the committee recommended that 54 warranted further scrutiny. Scrutiny means that representatives of NGOs, stakeholders and interest groups are invited to a public hearing held by the committee and a thorough investigation is carried out, similar to that which takes place in the Committee of Public Accounts. It is an important exercise. The committee requested the opinions of sectoral committees on 29 of the proposals. It carried out a detailed analysis of 22 of the proposals, which included getting expert opinion, and produced scrutiny reports on 16 proposals.

The committee has also specifically sought a debate in the House on two of its scrutiny reports; they are Nos. 15 and 16 on today's Order Paper. No. 15 is a proposal to remove certain HACCP hygiene requirements from small food businesses. It is important to have a directive that reduces the amount of red tape. No. 16 is about proposals for a common regulatory framework for electronic communications networks and services, which is a huge industry in Europe. Our report has concluded that the telecommunications proposals breach the principle of subsidiarity as they would shift regulatory power from ComReg to the commission in Europe. The Lisbon treaty, if ratified, will give formal powers to national parliaments to have proposals such as this amended or struck down if necessary. That is an important power in the enhanced role of national parliaments but it is subject to the referendum being carried next week.

There is careful selection by the committee of proposals that have a significant impact on the Irish people. Due diligence is carried out. The democratic deficit arose because in the past this careful selection was not carried out. The scrutiny of NGOs, vested interests and Government officials and holding the Government to account are very important.

The Lisbon treaty is a package of proposals intended to modernise the EU's institutions to ensure they work better for the Irish citizen. This is particularly important in the expanded Union of 27 member states representing over 500 million citizens. The Union will be totally modernised and the impact of having accountability in Leinster House is critical. As part of the overall package the Lisbon treaty seeks to involve national parliaments more closely in EU policy making. The treaty aims to encourage the involvement of national parliaments as a means of ensuring that decisions are taken as closely as possible to citizens of the Union. This will address the democratic deficit.

The treaty contains a new title on democratic provisions which will, for the first time, give national parliaments a formal standing within the EU's institutional architecture. We have a right and duty, and we will have a mandate if the treaty is passed, to take part fully in the scrutiny of EU legislation. According to Article 5, national parliaments will become the guardians of the principle of subsidiarity, which is formulated to ensure the EU only acts within the limits of the powers conferred on it by member states. Under subsidiarity, it is critical that if laws can be enacted in the Houses of the Oireachtas, they should not be enacted in Europe. That is a simple but important principle.

Under the Lisbon treaty, all draft EU laws will have to be forwarded to national parliaments for scrutiny. Eight weeks will have to pass before draft laws can be put on the legislative agenda and a further ten days must elapse before a position can be adopted. Under a yellow and orange card mechanism, national parliaments can oblige the European Commission to re-think a draft legislative proposal. The proposal can be defeated if the Council of Ministers or the European Parliament supports the opinion of a majority of the national parliaments. It is simple. There are 27 countries and two votes per country, giving a total of 54 votes. There is total equality. The booklet on the treaty is informative and explains the yellow and orange card principle.

Article 12 includes a number of rights for national parliaments. It is important that this be made clear because it has been lost in the national debate. They have the right to receipt of information and draft legislation direct from the EU institutions. Once a measure is produced by the Commission it will be before Dáil Éireann in the same week. National parliaments have the right to ensure that draft legislation complies with the subsidiarity principle and to take part in any future treaty revision. If the proposed treaty amendment involves a change in the areas covered by qualified majority voting, QMV, or co-decision, an individual parliament has the right to veto the proposal and block the change. Parliaments can take part in the evaluation of EU policies in the area of freedom, security and justice and in monitoring and scrutinising the activities of Europol and Eurojust. This is an important role given the drug culture in Europe.

The scrutiny committee decided to consider the enhanced role of national parliaments in detail to facilitate a debate and increase public awareness. The resulting report is based on the available evidence and the views expressed by committee members. Copies of the report and a detailed information note have been circulated to Members of the Houses. I hope they will use them as a reference. The report is due to be discussed in the Seanad tomorrow. The report outlines in detail the four main treaty changes relating to national parliaments, the current role of the Committee on European Scrutiny, how the new treaty provisions would affect the work of the Oireachtas on EU matters and the conclusions of the committee on the treaty changes.

I will consider the main conclusions in the report. The committee strongly supports the Lisbon treaty provisions that would enhance the role of national parliaments in the EU political process. It notes the proposals have been supported by the European Parliament, other national parliaments, the majority of Oireachtas Members and a large number of Irish representative groups. The committee welcomes the new subsidiarity policing role for the Dáil. This is a significant new power which will bring national parliaments into the day-to-day decision making process of the EU and should result in better legislation, greater consultation, more integration, enhanced debate and greater public awareness.

The committee welcomes the initiative whereby national parliaments are given a defined role in EU matters separate to that of the national governments. It welcomes the commitment by the Government to consult with the committee on the legislative and procedural changes necessary to implement the treaty. Dáil Éireann will have an independent voice, separate from Government, and the committee will hold the Government to account on legislative matters through discussions with Ministers on issues of greater interest to Ireland. The committee strongly recommends that significant reforms are made to Dáil and Seanad procedures to ensure regular consideration of EU matters in sessions of both Houses. As an important start we recommend that the Dáil and Seanad should allocate a specific day once a month to consider EU business. That is most important in light of the democratic deficit and given the huge impact of Europe and the importance of information on Europe. I believe that if there were more debate in the Houses on EU matters the "Yes" campaign would not be experiencing its current difficulties. It is critical to hold the Government to account for its actions.

There is a need to promote greater public awareness about the important work done by the Oireachtas on European matters. The committee is actively considering how to better communicate our message to the public and interested parties. We need initiatives to address the information deficit that exists. In the modern media age we must be far more proactive in communicating our activities. There is a need to set up an EU information office under the autonomy of the Houses of the Oireachtas that would deal with European issues. It would provide impartial information on the role of the EU. I have seen such an office operate effectively in the Danish Parliament. In time, a dedicated television channel would be of great benefit to the European debate.

When Ireland joined the EEC in 1973 there were nine members. Now that the Union has expanded to 27 member states, common sense dictates that a larger organisation needs to revise its rules to advance the common good. Streamlining the decision-making process of the EU institutions will make them more effective, efficient and flexible. It is important to provide better awareness of how we do our business. There have been criticisms in some quarters to the effect that the proposed powers for national parliaments are not significant and do not go far enough. This includes a committee member who is on the "No" side of the referendum campaign. I do not agree with that view. The committee's report is the consensus view of members representing a large majority of political parties and opinion in the Oireachtas. The committee has examined the treaty provisions in great detail and it is our considered view that they represent a significant improvement for national parliaments. The committee, made up of elected public representatives, has a responsibility to put its considered opinion into the public domain. Today's report is our contribution to provide the public with information about the content of the treaty.

In the run-up to the referendum, it is important that the people are given clear and factual information about the treaty provisions. Much of the campaign to date has been side-tracked by inaccurate claims about negative aspects of the treaty. I welcome the way in which the referendum commission has come out in the public interest to clarify some of the issues that have arisen during the campaign. Various inaccurate claims have been made about how the treaty would affect Ireland's position on abortion, neutrality and taxation. Those issues are obvious headline grabbers, which can be used play on people's concerns. The unfortunate part is that the damage is usually done by the time the factual position about the treaty is clarified. It is markedly more difficult to engage people on the benefits of improving the structure and workings of the EU, but that is precisely what we need to do. We have a responsibility to inform people about what is in the treaty and to counter efforts to make divisive claims on issues that are not in the treaty. The Irish people can then make an informed choice in the referendum based on the facts.

It is important to record that the treaty provisions on national parliaments have significant support in Ireland and the EU. Twenty seven member state parliaments have endorsed the treaty. Representative groups such as IBEC, Chambers Ireland, the ICMSA and ICOS, all large employers and job creators, are in favour of the Lisbon treaty. The Joint Committee on European Affairs published its report this week and the committee found that the new powers for national parliaments were among the most outstanding features of the treaty.

We have been a huge success in Europe for 35 years. The Irish people have a unique chance in eight days to give their verdict on the proposed modernisation of the EU institutions as set out in the Lisbon treaty. It is often said that all politics is local. The referendum campaign has certainly shown a healthy interest in matters of Irish interest. The treaty offers the best deal for Ireland and for Europe. It represents the best balance between co-operation with other EU member states and protection of our national interests. We should recall the success of the European currency, the Single Market and job creation. The perception of Ireland and our ability to attract foreign direct investment is critical. I look forward to hearing the views of Members of the Dáil and Seanad in the near future. This is a very important issue and I am delighted we have an opportunity to discuss the report in the Dáil because I believe that, unfortunately, the debate has been side-tracked. The report clearly specifies the new powers of subsidiarity, the giving back of power to the people through the elected Members who represent them.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the role of national parliaments in the Lisbon reform treaty. I compliment the Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Scrutiny, Deputy Perry, on the good work he has done in recent weeks and months to examine the Lisbon treaty and other issues. I am especially pleased the debate has come to the floor of the Dáil so that for the first time we can have an opportunity to debate the new enhanced role of national parliaments in the decision-making process at European Union level.

Last year we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the founding of the European Union following the Treaty of Rome in 1957. Ireland joined the EU 35 years ago. In that time Europe has contributed substantially to Ireland's economic and social development and we have brought a level of dynamism to the European Union that is admired widely by member states. The European Union has achieved much of its objective in bringing peace and prosperity to the Continent of Europe which had been beset by two wars in the space of a single generation, world wars that brought devastation not just to Europe but across the world. The European Union has been extremely helpful in bringing peace to Northern Ireland, both in terms of the general context in which the European Union operates and the supports it has provided. We have much to be appreciative of in terms of benefits from the European Union. Likewise, the EU has benefited from Ireland's contribution to it.

As the European Union has evolved so also have the member states in terms of their internal structures and their relationships with the European Union. On five different occasions Ireland has voted by referenda in the past 35 years to participate in each step of the European Union project. First we voted to join, which, in effect, meant signing up to the Treaty of Rome in 1972. We also signed up to the Single European Act, the Treaty of Amsterdam, the Treaty of Maastricht, the Treaty of Nice and on 12 June we will vote on the Lisbon treaty. Every step of the way Ireland has voted by a plebiscite of its people to take each particular step. We now come to the treaty of Lisbon, and given that 90% of the European project is in place we are talking about 10% or less in this treaty. Nonetheless, it is an important 10%. The ratification of the treaty by referendum is the ultimate in democracy. I support this procedure and I am pleased the Irish people are voting — one person, one vote — in a referendum of this nature.

Given that it is the ultimate in democracy, the Joint Committee on European Affairs decided that as well as inviting all the stakeholders to meetings in Leinster House it would take Parliament on tour, so to speak, and it held six separate meetings throughout the country to invite the public to engage in the democratic process on the issues arising in the context of the European Union and the Lisbon treaty. That was an extremely valuable exercise. It was for the same reason that the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny conducted a thorough examination of the new powers granted to the parliaments of the member states. Its report has just been published in a very handy and attractive booklet. This examination was done in order to tease out the implications of the proposed changes in the treaty for the domestic parliamentary process and to inform the public accordingly. This is the fist time this House has had an opportunity — the Seanad will debate it tomorrow — to discuss the implications of the new proposed powers in the treaty for the structures, procedures and Standing Orders of the Oireachtas. In other words we will be carefully examining how we conduct our business in the light of the new powers the treaty confers on our national Parliament as distinct from the Government.

The "No" campaigners have either deliberately avoided this issue or shunned it entirely. Even though they speak strongly about being interested in democracy and bridging the democratic deficit, the campaigners for a "No" vote on the Lisbon treaty have given little attention to the very substantial new powers conferred on parliaments, which effectively bridge the gap considerably. National parliaments are given a new defined role in European Union matters which are totally separate from those of their national governments. This has been done for the first time and is unprecedented. National parliaments will be consulted separately on all policy matters and on all proposed legislation. National parliaments will be the arbiters on whether any new proposal breaches the principle of subsidiarity, namely that decisions that can best be made at local level must be made local level — at national, regional or local authority level. The competences we have given to the European Parliament or the European project are powers we have given them. We need to police those powers to ensure they are not abused and that the principle of subsidiarity and proportionality is not interfered with. The national parliaments will now be the watchdogs and police to monitor that and ensure that any policy decision that can be made at local level is made at that level and that the European Union does not infringe in this respect.

National parliaments will have power to directly influence the European Union political and legislative processes and will effectively police the checks and balances of the European Union in the future. They will be in a position to decide whether a particular action at EU level is justified and as parliamentarians have direct contact with their constituents this will provide greater representation to Irish citizens. Thus European Union legislation will be better informed because of the new parliamentary representation. This is particularly important given that an estimated 75% of domestic legislation arises from the implementation of European Union measures. When it is considered in that context, we realise how important it is to have a direct parliamentary role in the framing of legislation.

The new provisions for national parliaments as set out in Article 12 of the treaty are even more extensive than purely the principle of subsidiarity. In the first instance the Dáil and Seanad — it needs to be remembered that we are not just talking about the Dáil but both Houses of the Oireachtas — will receive information on draft legislation directly from the European Union institutions at the same time as national governments. Instead of the Commission preparing legislation, a policy item or a draft directive, and sending it to the Council and the European Parliament, it must now also send it to national parliaments at the same time.

The Dáil and Seanad will receive increased time for scrutiny of European Union legislation proposals. Eight weeks must elapse before an item can be put on a Council agenda for any decision to be taken. That gives national parliaments the opportunity to give a considered opinion of their views on any Commission proposal. The Dáil and Seanad will ensure all draft legislation complies with the subsidiarity principle through the use of what are called yellow and orange cards, as outlined by Deputy Perry. This is substantial in terms of the power conferred. If one third of the national parliaments feel there is some infringement of the principle of subsidiarity, they will be entitled to ensure that a Commission proposal is sent back for examination with a view to amendment because of their concern about it. If 50% of the member states are concerned the matter can go back for either radical amendment or can be jettisoned entirely. The national parliaments have very substantial powers in this regard. This will mean that considerable tick-tacking will be necessary between the national parliaments in terms of how they see a particular measure impacting on their countries, parliaments and citizens, which will be positive as it will bring all the national parliamentarians closer to each other as they will be effectively personally participating in the legislative process.

Even after 50% of the member states express their wish, if an individual national parliament feels that the Commission's proposed legislation breaches subsidiarity and could be better done at a local, regional or national level, it can approach the European Court of Justice directly and request it to make a determination on the matter. This is a broad area of new powers available to national parliaments. As they will require an intricate engagement between the national parliaments they will effectively bring the European Union much closer in terms of dialogue to the citizenry of the country. If national parliamentarians in Ireland are expressing concern over a draft motion, it will be because our constituents are likely to be expressing concern. Hopefully we will at last have a direct line of intervention from the European institutions right down to the citizens of the member states.

In addition to those areas the Dáil and Seanad will receive further powers. They will take part in the evaluation of European Union policies in the area of freedom, security and justice. There is even greater power in this regard. Not just one third but one quarter of member states can ask that a proposal in the justice and home affairs area be amended. The requirement is for one third in other areas but it is only a quarter in this area, which is a further extended power in this area.

Europol and Eurojust will now be monitored by the national parliaments. In addition, national parliaments will have a specific role in any future treaty revision. Any Council proposal to move from unanimity to QMV can be vetoed by the national parliament, which is a new proposal. As each national parliament will now be required to be notified of any application to join the European Union, the area of enlargement will be subject to national parliament scrutiny. There will be interparliamentary co-operation between national parliaments and the European Parliament. Provision is made for all this in the new treaty. This is the first time national parliaments have featured in this way in any treaty. On the "Yes" side of the campaign, we should emphasise more strongly the extent to which the treaty seeks to open the dialogue between the member states and the institutions of the EU and to eliminate the democratic deficit that is allegedly there. I welcome the fact that the Government has agreed to consult with the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs as soon as the Lisbon reform treaty is out of the way to frame particular legislation that would facilitate these new powers. I hope the Government would be willing to support an independent role for the Oireachtas under the enhanced role envisaged in the treaty. I look forward to the day when European affairs are not dealt with by a committee down in the "bunker", as I always say, but are brought up to the full light of day in this Chamber.

On behalf of the Government, I thank the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Scrutiny, particularly its chairman, Deputy Perry, for its special report on the enhanced role for national parliaments in the Lisbon treaty. This Parliament, Dáil and Seanad, owes Deputy Perry a debt of gratitude for the production of this concise report in advance of the referendum next week. It dispels certain erroneous notions on the Lisbon treaty. It is a landmark report which succinctly defines the historic new role envisaged for this House in European affairs under the Lisbon treaty. It also makes a number of important recommendations which the Houses of the Oireachtas will wish to consider. Today's debate is, therefore, timely. I salute Deputy Perry's initiative in seeking time for full consideration of the committee's report today.

Fine Gael has a long record of support for the EU and since the 1970s has consistently argued that the Oireachtas should have a strong voice in handling EU legislation. The Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs with responsibility for European affairs, Deputy Roche, was very glad to meet the joint committee on 29 April to discuss the enhanced role for national parliaments in the Lisbon treaty. I restate the assurance he gave the committee on that occasion, that once the treaty is, hopefully, ratified the Government will work closely with the Houses of the Oireachtas and the committee on European scrutiny, as a matter of priority, to ensure their new powers are translated speedily into relevant statutory and administrative measures. I listened carefully to Deputy Perry's proposals to dedicate one day per month in the Dáil and Seanad to the EU and to establish an EU office, both of which are worthy of further consideration by the commission after the treaty is passed.

The report of the joint committee shows how far the EU has come in its thinking about the role of national parliaments in EU decision making. This treaty gives very clear recognition to the important role of national parliaments as the law makers closest to the citizens in the implementation of EU measures. The treaty marks a step change in three main areas. It includes new and innovative arrangements for the involvement of national parliaments in EU decision making. It provides comprehensive arrangements for information sharing. The treaty provides for dynamic, interparliamentary co-operation at EU level between national parliaments and the European Parliament.

The Government lobbied for and negotiated many of those changes, which the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, previously described as "revolutionary rather than evolutionary". We can feel justly proud of the proposals this country succeeded in incorporating into the treaty. They are revolutionary because these treaty provisions represent a change in mind set at EU level. The mind set change is about recognising the need for EU law making to come closer to citizens and national parliaments. This is vital if the legitimacy of the Union is to be maintained and strengthened as it needs to be. The challenge for this House is to seize the opportunity presented by these changes so that Ireland can make its proper mark on the evolution of EU laws, including by means of an important input on the part of the Oireachtas.

Why do we hear so little about the greater role for the Dáil and Seanad under the Lisbon treaty from those opposed to it? Deputy Costello was very eloquent on this point. It is because these positive changes for our national Parliament demonstrate, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the Lisbon treaty strengthens rather than reduces the democratic legitimacy of the Union and makes it more accountable to its own people. This is one of the ironies of the debate from those who seek to undermine the treaty. The convention that is the genesis of this treaty consisted almost exclusively of people who achieved a mandate by putting their names in front of the people of the EU while those who seek to undermine the treaty have never proposed their names for elected office. That is the irony.

These provisions give the Dáil a voice and a vote it never had before in direct contradiction of the web of conspiracy theories and myths about loss of sovereignty which are peddled by the treaty's opponents. The Lisbon treaty makes the EU even more democratic than before. It strengthens the role of national parliaments, including the Houses of the Oireachtas, by giving us a direct input into European legislation. It enables the House to ensure the Union does not exceed its authority. The treaty also gives us a right to veto any proposal to change voting rules from unanimity to qualified majority voting in the European Council or Council of Ministers, as well as any extension of co-decision between the Council and the European Parliament. The Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill goes even further by requiring the affirmative consent of each House of the Oireachtas before the Government can agree in the European Council to any such change. These new powers will enable national parliaments to contribute more fully to the democratic character of the Union.

As I said, given that most European citizens understandably feel most connected to their national parliaments, these measures will serve to advance the cause of democratic accountability within the Union in a practical and meaningful manner. I commend the joint committee report to all Deputies as a succinct analysis of what the Lisbon treaty means for the work of this House in the area of EU law. Notwithstanding the key innovations we have made nationally under the European Union Scrutiny Act since 2002 regarding EU business, it is clear that the treaty, once ratified, implies further significant changes in the role of the Oireachtas regarding EU affairs. The current national arrangements work well and provide for full oversight by the Houses of the Oireachtas of the actions of the Executive in negotiating EU measures and implementing EU law. The Lisbon treaty, however, marks a major change and provides for a more substantive role for the Houses of the Oireachtas in EU affairs than is currently provided for by law or under the Irish Constitution. The new powers being granted to the Houses of the Oireachtas on EU policy under the Lisbon reform treaty are sufficiently significant for it to require the express approval of the people in a constitutional referendum before the treaty can be ratified.

The Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill contains all the necessary provisions required to give effect to the role to be played by the Houses of the Oireachtas. The terms of the Bill underline the Government's desire to maximise the role of the Houses of the Oireachtas in the future development of EU legislation. This treaty, if ratified, will give this House and its sister parliaments in the member states — the directly elected voices of the people of Europe — a stronger say than ever before in the way the EU is run. Therefore, the people who elect us to the Houses of the Oireachtas will have a stronger say than ever in shaping the direction of EU affairs.In reality, it means Irish citizens need not look to Brussels if they have questions about a particular policy. Because of the increased role of the Houses of the Oireachtas, more than ever, Irish citizens will have good reason to bring their views to our clinics and advice centres throughout the country.

As Members know, we are within eight days of the referendum. It is the most important and decisive vote on Ireland's future in the EU since we first became a member of the EEC in 1973. Polling on 12 June follows one of the liveliest debates on EU issues we have ever had in this country, a debate I very much welcome. Facts surely have been butchered in the process by treaty opponents but it certainly has not been dull.

In Ireland, we can be proud that the referendum process has moved the debate about Europe's future to the front-line democratic question on the minds of our constituents and national parliaments. As elected politicians, we know the real question on people's minds is how the EU can better serve them, their families and their communities on the day-to-day issues. Explaining how the organisational and institutional changes involved in the Lisbon reform treaty make the EU better equipped to defend Irish jobs, prosperity and a fairer world order is not easy. However, it is clear the people understand the stakes are high and they are reflecting seriously on Ireland's role in Europe and what they want Europe to mean for Ireland in the coming decade.

I am confident that by voting day people's experience of the positive changes we enjoy as equal members of the EU, combined with a national confidence in our ability to advance our interests at the heart of the EU, will result in a decisive "Yes" vote. Even after the referendum, we will continue to have debate about the nature of the EU. The treaty will strengthen democracy at European level by increasing the number of areas in which the European Parliament will share law-making with the Council of Ministers and also by strengthening the Parliament's budgetary role. The citizens' initiative will also give people across the Union a more direct say on European matters. The citizens' initiative has the potential to breathe new life into the democratic functioning of the Union. For the first time, under the reform treaty, a petition with at least 1 million signatures obtained from a number of member states can request the European Commission to propose EU legislation. I have little doubt that people across the Union will embrace the citizens' initiative and will raise interesting questions for us to address.

With specific reference to the report of the joint committee, the Government attached particular importance to the strengthening of the role of national parliaments in the negotiation of the treaty. As stated in the committee's report, both the new Article 5 and Article 12 to be inserted into the treaty on European Union, and the two significant related protocols, strengthen the role of the EU and give it a vital and early say in the evolution of EU law. These powers will connect the Union's institutions with the interests and aspirations of the people of Europe in a new and dynamic manner. The new treaty, once ratified, will give the Houses of the Oireachtas a unique opportunity to work in concert with other national parliaments to ensure that national prerogatives are respected in the further development of the European Union.

The treaty proposes to give national parliaments of member states a direct input into European Union legislation. It recognises the enhanced role of national parliaments as a key element of the democratic fabric of the Union in what will become Articles 5 and 12 of the treaty on European Union. The first of these protocols recognises that the manner in which national parliaments scrutinise their government's activities within the Union is a matter for the particular constitutional organisation and practice of each state. However, the desirability of encouraging greater parliamentary involvement in EU activities, and of enhancing the ability of parliaments to contribute to debate, is also recognised.

Under the protocol all Commission Green and White Papers, the Commission's annual legislative programme and all draft legislation are to be sent directly to national parliaments. Similarly, the agendas and outcomes of meetings of the Council of Ministers must also go directly to national parliaments at the same time as they go to the member state governments. Except in cases of stated urgency, at least eight weeks must elapse between the provision to national parliaments of draft EU legislation and it being placed on a Council agenda for decision. There should normally be a ten-day gap between the publication of an agenda and the taking of a decision. This is intended to give national parliaments more time for consideration and debate.

The protocol on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality further develops the role of national parliaments in regard to the implementation of these important principles. The principle of subsidiarity is designed to ensure the EU takes action only when this is necessary and appropriate. The so-called "yellow card" system is a major development which will bring national parliaments directly into the EU decision-making process. The use which is made of this mechanism will depend on the capacity of national parliaments, individually and collectively, to prepare reasoned opinions within the timescale laid down. The application of the principle of subsidiarity is intended to take place primarily before the adoption of legislation.

The treaty goes on to provide that any national parliament may veto the use of the passerelle. In addition, and importantly, future changes to the treaties involving the conferral of new competences on the Union would be prepared by a convention in which it is envisaged that national parliaments would be strongly represented.

In conclusion, following a "Yes" vote in the referendum, which I strongly believe is in Ireland's best interests, the challenge facing the Houses of the Oireachtas and the joint committee will be how best to engage with its new role under the Lisbon treaty. The committee makes a number of points and offers some conclusions regarding the implications of a ratified Lisbon treaty. It rightly raises questions about the steps to be taken to give practical effect to the strengthened role of national parliaments under the treaty.

The Government will play its part in reviewing the European Communities Acts and the 2002 Act to bring our domestic provisions into line with the treaty, and it will be necessary to make these amendments in the autumn. This is all contingent, of course, on the successful ratification of the treaty. I call on all Members of the Oireachtas to do all in their power in the week ahead to explain this important treaty to our constituents. In that regard, I reiterate what I said at the outset, namely, that this job has been made much easier by the excellent work carried out by Deputy Perry and his committee, for which the Government and this House ought to be rightly grateful.

I thank the Minister of State.

Cé gur ball den Chomhchoiste um Ghrinnscrúdú Eorpach mé, ní luíonn an dtuairisc seo le mo thuairimí nó leis an méid a bhí le rá agam ag an gcoiste. Níor aontaigh mé leis an tuairisc seo nuair a bhí sé os comhair an choiste. Níl aon bhealach ann faoi láthair inar féidir le mion-tuairisc, nó "minority report", a bheith ann. Ní féidir liom é a shoiléiriú ina leithéid de thuairisc go bhfuil mé ina choinne. Agus é sin ráite, déanfaidh mé déileáil leis an méid atá sa tuairisc agus an chomhthéacs ina bhfuilimid ag déileáil leis inniu.

Nuair a bhunaigh an tAontas Eorpach an chomhdháil ar thodhchaí na hEorpa, bhí sé mar aidhm aige saoránaigh a thabhairt níos gaire do institiúidí na hEorpa. De réir na treoracha ghinearálta a thug Comhairle na hEorpa don chomhdháil, bhí dualgas ar an chomhdháil féachaint an raibh gá ann cumhachtaí a thabhairt ar ais go dtí parlaimintí na ballstáit. Bhí ar an chomhdháil bealaí eile chun cumhachtaí nua a bhronnadh ar na ballstáit a lorg. Sainíodh na treoracha sin de thoradh na buartha a bhí ann go raibh fás ag teacht ar an easpa daonlathais, nó democratic deficit, i gcroílár na hEorpa thar na blianta.

Léirigh nádúr mídhaonlathach na comhdhála fhéin, chomh maith leis an slí ina rinneadh iarracht an chomhdháil a dhaingniú, nach raibh spéis ag an tAontas Eorpach déileáil i ndáiríre leis an teaspa daonlathais atá i gcroílár na hEorpa. Measaim nach bhfuil suim ag an tAontas sa bpróiseas sin go fóill. Tá níos mó spéise ag ailtirí lárnacha an próisis na moltaí atá déanta acu a bhrú tríd ná éisteacht le tuaraimí an phobail.

The Green Party Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, who participated in the convention, was vocal in his criticism at the time. He stated that most of the real negotiations took place behind closed doors, with no vote taken on any of the more than 1,000 amendments offered. Most were never even discussed, according to the Minister. That indicates where the convention started and finished. My party was excluded from the convention, despite requesting a place.

That is not true.

No request was ever made.

I personally made a request.

The Deputy's party did not make a request.

I am a member of the party and I wrote a letter on headed paper requesting a place, but we were refused.

The Deputy should address the Chair.

I was simply responding to Deputy Costello's interjection.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh is in possession.

Rather than address the democratic deficit, the Lisbon treaty will widen it. The treaty removes Ireland's right to a permanent Commissioner for five out of every 15 years, which means that we will not have a representative on the body responsible for drafting and implementing laws. Ireland's representatives on the Commission have played a crucial role over the years and, regardless of how well the Irish Government builds its relationship with European Commissioners from other states, that is not a substitute for an Irish voice at the table. Such a voice would reflect, or at least understand, Ireland's values and its past, present and future. It would help us decide at an early stage whether to support or oppose legislation planned by the Commission. For a small country like Ireland, it is vital to have a permanent voice at the European Commission, especially given our small number of MEPs and the fact that our voting strength on the Council of Ministers will be halved if the Lisbon treaty is passed.

The treaty will also remove member state vetoes in more than 60 highly sensitive areas, including energy, asylum, immigration, judicial co-operation and the inclusion of health and education in international trade agreements. I thank the Taoiseach for making the argument for retaining our vetoes when he tried to buy off farmers' opposition to the treaty by promising to use our veto on Mandelson's WTO package. However, if we do not have a veto, we cannot even threaten to use it in the future. That will be the case for the 60 areas that will transfer to qualified majority voting. We will give more than 100 new powers to the EU, including self-amending articles that will significantly strengthen EU institutions while weakening the influence of member states and citizens on legislation.

In order to make this process of centralisation appear less dramatic, the drafters of the Lisbon treaty included a protocol on member state parliaments. Advocates of the treaty argue this protocol will greatly increase the role of parliaments in the decision making process, but nothing could be further from the truth. When one cuts through the rhetoric and examines the detail of what is proposed, it is clear that the new powers for member state parliaments are nothing more than cosmetic window dressing designed to improve the treaty's appearance. At the core of the proposals contained in the protocol are two new mechanisms known as the yellow and orange cards. Under the yellow card system, member states will have eight weeks to scrutinise proposals from the European Commission and, if one third of parliaments believe a proposal goes beyond existing powers of the EU, they can request, but not instruct, the Commission to reconsider the proposal.

A number of problems arise with this system. Eight weeks is not sufficient time to scrutinise detailed Commission proposals. The Joint Committee on European Scrutiny is already overloaded, as its members will attest, and if it was to receive a controversial proposal during a busy period in its schedule or in the recess, it is unlikely that it would be scrutinised. When we tested this mechanism earlier this year, the Commission could not supply the required documentation in time. God forbid that we would have to deal with all the Commission's proposals. Furthermore, member state parliaments cannot object to the substance of proposals or suggest amendments but can only raise concerns if they believe the EU is overstepping its legal mandate regarding proportionality and subsidiarity. Member states can already make such objections at Council level or through the European Court of Justice. As if this was not bad enough, there is absolutely no obligation on the European Commission to do anything other than consider the objection. If it disagrees, it can carry on regardless and member state parliaments are powerless to do anything until the proposal reaches the Council of Ministers, where our strength will be halved if the treaty is passed.

The second proposal, the orange card, also allows member state parliaments eight weeks to scrutinise proposals but if a simple majority believe a proposal breaches subsidiarity they can seek the support of the Council of Ministers or the European Parliament in blocking it. Again, however, eight weeks is too brief a timeframe to scrutinise proposals given how long it can take to put them before the Dáil. Having given a proposal its scrutiny, a parliament will have to secure the support of 13 other parliaments within eight weeks and, even then, the proposal can only be blocked with the support of the European Parliament or the Council. Anyone who is familiar with the workings of the European Parliament will be aware that months can pass before the Parliament takes a formal view of controversial proposals. I have come from a meeting of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights, which just received a proposal sent on 1 April for report by the committee. This proposal has not even been discussed by the Oireachtas.

The idea that eight weeks is sufficient time to scrutinise proposals, build a coalition of 14 member states and achieve the support of the European Parliament or the Council is ludicrous. Of course, the power to block a proposal is completely subject to securing support from an EU institution. Thus, when one considers the details of the protocol on member state parliaments, it is clear they do not offer any meaningful form of intervention into the legislative process. They merely provide a cumbersome procedure that is unlikely to be used successfully to block Commission proposals.

If the drafters of the Lisbon treaty were serious about bringing citizens closer to EU institutions, they would have designed democratic, transparent and effective forms of member state intervention. Instead, they are offering something that is weak, cumbersome and completely opaque. The protocol on the parliaments of member states gives the EU nothing new or meaningful with which to address the democratic deficit. On that basis, it cannot form any part of a credible argument for supporting the Lisbon treaty.

A better deal is possible. All states should retain a permanent Commissioner and voting strength at the Council should reflect the fact that states come to it as equals. Member state parliaments and citizens must be given meaningful forms of participation in the legislative process, including, in this State, the absolute right for citizens to have the final say in any significant changes to EU treaties in the future. Key strategic vetoes on public services and taxation should be strengthened. The Irish people can secure a better deal if they vote "No" on 12 June. The Government will be given a strong mandate in the new negotiations with our European partners as a result of such a "No" vote.

Tá mé ag impí ar mhuintir an Stáit seo teacht amach ar Dhéardaoin, 12 Meitheamh chun a vótaí a chaitheamh. Creidim gur féidir, trí vóta "Níl", margadh níos fearr a fháil d'Éireann agus cur leis an cumhacht atá ag an Pharlaimint seo agus parlaimintí eile na hEorpa. Tá mé ag caint go háirithe mar gheall ar an tír bheag seo, le daonra beag. Ba cheart dúinn an chumhacht vótála bheag atá againn a láidriú. Is ina mhalairt de threo atá conradh Liospóin ag dul, in ainneoin an méid atá sa tuairisc seo. Tá mé ag cur in aghaidh na tuairisce seo. Diúltaim é in ainm na baill ar fad den choiste. Níor thacaigh mé leis. Ní raibh aon deis agam mo sheasamh a chur ann. Is ait liom nach bhfuil an tuairisc seo ar fáil go dátheangach, in ainneoin Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla 2003.

I wish to share time with Deputy Dooley.

As Vice Chairman of the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny, I welcome this opportunity for Members to discuss the findings of the recently published special report on the enhanced role for national parliaments in the Lisbon reform treaty. I also wish to take this opportunity to compliment the Chairman, Deputy Perry, other members and officials of the joint committee on the work they did to deliver this timely and informative report.

The nature and responsibilities of the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny will be greatly enhanced under the provisions of the reform treaty. In light of the increased responsibilities the committee will assume if the referendum is passed, it has devoted a great deal of time to examining the enhanced role envisaged for the Oireachtas in the Lisbon reform treaty. Like the other members of the committee who were involved in the publication of this report, I look forward with interest to hearing the views of other Deputies on its contents and on how they foresee the role of the Oireachtas developing under the reform treaty.

The increasing importance of the relationship between the Oireachtas and the European Union was recognised last year when the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny was established. Prior to this, EU scrutiny was dealt with by a mere sub-committee of the Joint Committee on European Affairs. Since its establishment, the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny has examined every item of proposed European legislation. This not only serves to ensure that both the Government and the public are aware of the likely impact that any proposed European legislation will have on Ireland's interests, its also imposes a layer of accountability onto the Government when it is negotiating legislation at European level.

It has been clear for some time that there has been a distance between the institutions of the European Union, on one hand, and the national parliaments and citizens of member states, on the other. This distance has been regularly characterised as a democratic deficit in the EU. While Ireland has been to the forefront of trying to remove this deficit through initiatives such as the establishment of the National Forum on Europe, the Lisbon reform treaty is the first real attempt by the European Union to address this issue.

In the context of the report under discussion, the attempt to remove the democratic deficit in the EU is characterised by the proposals to increase the powers and involvement of national parliaments in the European legislative process. For the first time, national parliaments will have a direct role in the legislative process and this will be enshrined in European law.

Following detailed study of the Lisbon reform treaty and the effects it would have on the relationships among the national parliaments and the European Union, the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny reached a number of conclusions which should be examined in the context of this debate. The joint committee strongly supports the provisions in the Lisbon treaty to enhance the role of national parliaments in the EU political process. For the first time, the role of national parliaments in the EU legislative process will be recognised as a right and they will be entitled to make a contribution throughout the entire legislative process rather than when legislation is presented as afait accompli. These measures have been strongly welcomed by other national parliaments within the EU. They will strengthen the independence of individual member states and will help remove the divide between the institutions of the EU and the citizens of member states.

The committee welcomes the new subsidiarity policing role for national parliaments, which should lead to better legislation within the EU. The principle of subsidiarity, which states that legislation should only be introduced through the EU when it cannot be successfully implemented at local or national level, has been established in previous EU treaties. Under the Lisbon treaty, however, national parliaments are, for the first time, being accorded a policing role to ensure adherence to the principle of subsidiarity. The yellow and orange cards will allow the Oireachtas and other national parliaments to give a warning to the EU if they are of the view that particular items of legislation do not adhere to the principle of subsidiarity. If sufficient numbers of other national parliaments use this warning system regarding an item of legislation, it must be reviewed. This is the first time national parliaments have been given this level of power over the EU decision-making process. As national parliamentarians, we must welcome this development.

The joint committee also recognises that, for the first time, the role of national parliaments in EU affairs will be separate to that of their national governments. This development will not only increase the power and influence of national parliaments at EU level, it will also strengthen the role of parliaments locally. Separating the roles of parliaments and governments will also allow parliaments to act as watchdogs on governments that are negotiating legislation in Europe. This will ensure that governments act in the best interest of their citizens.

Although the report only examines one element of the Lisbon treaty, the issues outlined in it show how positive the treaty can be for Ireland. The enhanced roles of national parliaments will add to the powers of the Oireachtas, give us a new role in the European legislative process and strengthen our country's place in Europe. These gains for Ireland will be lost if the people of Ireland vote against the Lisbon treaty next week. Having examined these aspects of the Lisbon treaty as part of the joint committee's preparation in drafting this report, I am more convinced than ever that it is in Ireland's interests that the referendum to be passed. I call on the public to vote "Yes".

As Vice Chairman of the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny, I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the time that has been accorded to the members of that committee to present the report to the House. The issues we have highlighted show the potential to strengthen Ireland's democracy through the Lisbon treaty. I look forward with interest to hearing the views of other Members on the report.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this important debate. As a member of the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny, I welcome the provisions of the Lisbon treaty. I hope that members of the public will find it within their capacity to vote "Yes" on Thursday next in order to give effect to the provisions outlined in the report. I accept that there are many other important elements to the Lisbon treaty. However, those which provide more power to national parliaments will begin to tip the balance in favour of citizens. For far too long people have referred to the feeling of a distance between the institutions of Europe and its citizens.

I welcome the mechanism that will allow member states, through their parliaments, to object to any breach of the principle of legislating in the most appropriate forum. This is obviously guided by the necessity to retain the development of legislation in the forum that remains closest to the citizen. This matter was alluded to by previous speakers when they referred to the principle of subsidiarity. The mechanism to which I refer, in conjunction with the other elements of the treaty that set out how national parliaments can have a greater role, is extremely important.

Like other Members, I canvassed extensively in respect of this matter in recent weeks. People have informed me that they do not want Europe to be given the opportunity to generate more and unnecessary legislation. They believe there is a disconnect between the institutions and citizens and also that there is a lack of democracy and transparency. The passage of the Lisbon treaty will help to redress the balance in this regard. The elements as they are set out clearly do that. It also provides the first step towards shifting the balance back towards the citizen, which citizens have been demanding for some time.

The same principle applies in the reduction of the number of Commissioners. Clearly, with the passage of the Lisbon treaty, together with some of the provisions set out in the Nice treaty, there was a clear decision to reduce the number of Commissioners. The Nice treaty does not set out how to do this but the Lisbon treaty sets the process by which this would be achieved. This is important as it eliminates more of the bureaucracy and removes unelected people from the central decision-making process. It also shifts the balance back towards elected representation, whether it is in the European Parliament or national parliaments.

The "No" camp is telling us the EU has too much of a role in our lives and for that reason it suggests we should vote "No". On the other hand, one of the other reasons it tells us we should vote "No" is the loss of our Commissioner. The truth is they cannot have it both ways. There would be too many Commissioners at 27 and people are in positions generating, in my mind, unnecessary legislation and directives. By removing such people from the process, we provide a greater element of control to the elected representation and dispense with the bureaucracy that many of our citizens speak about. If the "No" camp was honest, the answers to the arguments they are advancing are provided in the Lisbon treaty referendum.

To my mind, national parliaments will be fully recognised as part of the legislative process of the EU, which is very positive. Surveys have shown that the citizens are feeling a level of disconnect from the EU decisions, which they view as very negative. For that reason, the report is very welcome.

The increase in the co-decision process, which will give a greater role to the directly elected Members of the Parliament, is also a very positive element. In terms of how we transpose this particular process into the workings within these Houses, we will need to discuss the issue over the next number of months.

I recognise the input of the Chairman of the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny, Deputy John Perry, in what he has tried to do in evaluating the type of scrutiny carried out in other member states. The next step in the work he has set out in that regard is vital. Other member states have some very good processes in place and I have no doubt the next report before the House will set out how we should deal with such processes. I welcome that development.

I propose to share time with my colleague, Deputy Durkan.

I speak as an ordinary Member of the House flanked by two eminent chairmen of august committees, Deputy John Perry of the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny and Deputy Bernard Durkan of the Joint Committee on European Affairs. My comments will be brief.

The Deputy is in safe hands.

They are two extraordinary men.

The Lisbon treaty proposes to give the parliaments of member states eight weeks after publication to vet a proposal and offer an opinion. Under the terms of the treaty, if a number of national parliaments object, the proposal must be reviewed. Each national parliament has two votes, with the Dáil and Seanad having one each. The review must take place if a third of the national parliaments request this and the treaty would give national parliaments a specific role in the proposed changes to the treaty.

While I believe that giving national parliaments a role in EU decision making is welcome, I strongly feel this will be a meaningless gesture unless appropriate resources are provided. The Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights, of which I am a member, has been considering a wide range of EU proposals in recent months. Many of these are complex and technical.

For example, today we dealt with a motion on convictions in member states in the course of new criminal proceedings, co-operation between the special intervention units of the member states in crisis situations, protection of personal data processed in the framework of police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters and the stepping up of cross-border co-operation, particularly in combating terrorism and cross-border crime. That was just this afternoon and by any standards, it is a most significant workload, particularly when combined with other portfolio responsibilities and constituency work.

Ministers enjoy a range of resources and have a veritable raft of people to draw on should they wish to clarify any aspect of a proposal. In contrast, ordinary Members are starved of resources. If this Parliament is to play a significant role in EU affairs and be more than an uninformed rubber-stamping mechanism, it is imperative all Members have access to objective legal expertise in regard to EU matters coming before the Houses from time to time.

Briefings must take place in a structured manner and provide Members with sufficient time to consider matters before dealing with them in a meeting. I recently wrote to my colleague, Deputy John Perry, outlining my concern in this regard. Following my correspondence, a number of Department officials contacted me, offering to brief me on the context of appropriate motions. While I appreciate that my correspondence resulted in some action, as well as the courtesy and professionalism of the officials involved, I object to thead hoc nature.

What is required is a comprehensive briefing for Members by experts in EU law attached to or contracted by the Oireachtas. If we want this House to be respected by the citizens of this State and our colleagues in other member states, we must take our responsibility seriously and show that appropriate levels of professionalism in regard to these matters is at all times evident.

Steamrolling motions through committees with guillotines and very little time for debate is a wholly unsatisfactory way for this Parliament to operate. I appeal to Government to take immediate action in this regard. Members of this House must be resourced, as well as committees.

I appeal to every office holder present in this regard. Deputy Chris Andrews and I are the only two Deputies present at this debate now who are not office holders, although Deputy Joe Costello probably has aspirations in that regard.

It is important scrutiny is carried out by national parliaments and committees, and that committees are not a rubber stamp and tool of Government.

I thank my colleague for sharing his time and I concur with what he has just said. He made a very important point in that if national parliaments do not do the job they will be given under the Lisbon treaty, we will have nobody to blame but ourselves.

The job is ours.

The job will be ours and it is a matter of doing it. This is something we predicted at least ten years ago. It became obvious to some of us on the committees dealing with European and foreign affairs that a great improvement in resources would be necessary if national parliaments were to do the expected job effectively. For example, there is a notion in some quarters of this House that Oireachtas committees are extensions of Departments. They are not; they are extensions of the Parliament instead, which is important. That must be clarified very quickly.

I congratulate my colleague, Deputy John Perry, on the production of the report from the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny. I thank him for his help in compiling our report from the Joint Committee on European Affairs, as he travelled around the country with us when we brought to the people the trappings of Parliament for the first time in an outreach programme. Deputy Costello also did so. It was an effort to bring to the people the dialogue and facts relating to the Lisbon treaty.

We found much confusion and we still hear people say they are confused. I am not surprised people are confused because there is so much contradictory information being poured from all corners in this country; I have never seen the like of it in my life. The people concerned must have readThe Catcher in the Rye because there are so many conspiracy theorists out there, one could write several books from the information.

I find it difficult to understand how, with a Parliament where the vast majority espouse a "Yes" vote in this referendum, any time we speak here and throughout the country there is reportage of the number of people who spoke on the opposite side. If such people have not spoken, they must be found and there should be "balanced debate". I find it very difficult to understand how that would be a balanced debate as the vast majority of the 166 Deputies in this House, for example, espouse one side. I would have thought there should be some reflection of that numerical strength in the amount of coverage.

There is room for a change in legislation that must take place in the not too distant future. If this does not happen, it will make life extremely difficult and we will have this contradictory debate at all times throughout the country. People say they cannot read the treaty, while others have no difficulty doing so. I cannot understand how this is the case because the facts are there in black and white. The crucial fact is that most of what is contained in the Lisbon treaty has already been passed in previous treaties. Some of those who complain about elements of the treaty have already voted for them in the Nice treaty. It is extraordinary.

We must pay attention to the work of the committees. We cannot afford to allow our concentration to lapse for one moment. There is a great responsibility involved in this and resources must be provided by the Government or the work will not be possible.

I want to concentrate on two points raised by previous speakers. Much has been said about the loss of our Commissioner but every one of the 27 member states can say the same. It was never intended that a member state should regard a Commissioner as its own. It was always intended that the Commission would represent the entire European Union. The agriculture Commissioner, whoever he or she may be, represents Irish, UK, Danish and French interests, with those of all other member states. The same goes for the trade Commissioner, the financial services Commissioner and all other Commissioners. Unfortunately, as other speakers have noted, Commissioners were created in order that every country could state "we have our Commissioner". That is what occurred with Mr. Mandelson. He saw himself as "their" Commissioner and set off on a world tour that, I hope, will not be as successful as he wished. If it is, it will have serious consequences for food producing countries in the European Union, not only Ireland.

The Deputy has one minute left.

It is one minute to ten. A great deal of damage can be done in one minute but the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will be glad to learn I will not do this. Instead, after all of the talk, action and conspiracies, I will quote from the report of the Joint Committee on European Affairs. It states:

The committee has come to the conclusion that the Lisbon reform treaty achieves its objectives of enhancing the efficiency, democratic legitimacy, transparency and accountability of the enlarged Union, as well as the coherence of its external action in order to allow it to respond to the needs of its citizens as they face the challenges of the 21st century. It protects Ireland's vital interests and it allows Ireland to remain at the heart of the EU, thereby ensuring that we continue to benefit from our membership of the Union.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak on this important issue. I pay tribute to the Chairman of the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny, Deputy Perry. As a member of the committee, I have seen him close up and know that he runs a professional, enthusiastic and efficient committee, on which I compliment him.

A recent Eurobarometer opinion poll showed that a large majority supported our EU membership but the difficulty was only one quarter believed their opinions counted when the European Union made decisions. The challenge facing us as public representatives is to not only widen the areas covered by the European Union's structures but to strengthen those structures. We have a responsibility to build a bridge between what is considered a distant European Union and the day-to-day lives of the citizens we meet and represent during our working week. The way to build this bridge is to make the European Union more efficient and relevant. This can be done through committees such as the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny and by giving more power to the Houses of the Oireachtas, the Seanad and the Dáil.

The only way to give more power to the Oireachtas is to vote "Yes" to the Lisbon treaty. The treaty will make a difference by enhancing the role of the Seanad and the Dáil in a way separate from the role of the Government. I find it difficult to understand how the likes of Deputy Finian McGrath and Senator Norris who have long been advocates of reform of the role of the Houses of the Oireachtas can advocate a "No" vote having seen this opportunity to enhance the role of the Houses. I am sure that after the referendum on the treaty, we will hear them speak eloquently about the need to enhance the role of the Seanad and the Dáil, yet they are not taking this opportunity and are advocating a rejection of the benefits of the treaty.

The Lisbon treaty will ensure compliance with the principle of subsidiarity. In layman's terms, this means that the Dáil and the Seanad will have key roles in the decision-making process. New measures that will be introduced should the treaty be passed will mean this Parliament will receive documents directly from the Commission, giving it more time to react to proposals and an opportunity to involve itself in the legislative process at the earliest stage. Our MEPs will have increased involvement due to the increased power of co-decision in up to 40 new policy areas. The European Parliament will have the right to elect the President of the Commission; currently it only has the power of assent.

There are measures that we in the Houses of the Oireachtas can take to build on the positive aspects of the Lisbon treaty, should it be passed. There must be reforms. Deputy Perry, as Chairman of the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny, proposed that one day a month should be given over to consideration of European business. I acknowledge that this is only a start and that MEPs should be allowed to contribute in the Dáil Chamber on specific issues relating to the European Union. This would help strengthen the connection between the Union and the citizens we represent.

Ireland is at a crossroads in terms of its relationship with the European Union. We have contributed a great deal and made a huge positive input in developing the Union. In the past 35 years Ireland has also benefitted hugely from its involvement in the Union. For this reason, I am disappointed that the "No" side is running what I deem to be a self-interested, isolationist campaign. This campaign does no one justice, as Ireland has been a shining light for the rest of the Union and further afield. When one considers all we have received from it, it is amazing to think some wish to pull up the drawbridge on other countries which are in the same position we were in 35 years ago. It is disappointing that people pretend to care about the European Union when, in fact, they only wish to pull down the shutters, keep what we have and make sure nobody else benefits as we did.

Many have questioned the motives of the "No" campaign and its leaders. Some wonder why, after years of doing business with the US military, some involved in the "No" campaign have suddenly found an interest in defending Irish sovereignty and political structures. Personally, I welcome Libertas's concern for Irish political structures but I am more interested in who ignited this concern and who would gain most from a "No" vote. The United States does not want a strong European Union, as it does not suit its interests. I am not usually a believer in conspiracy theories but the contributions of Oliver North and other US military luminaries in Central America give cause for grave concern. It seems the US military establishment would be happiest with a "No" vote, and I am concerned that Declan Ganley is the political wing of the US military generals. This is a dangerous and sinister situation. I thank the Acting Chairman for his forbearance.