I thank Deputy John Browne for sharing time with me to allow me to contribute to this debate on the European stability treaty.
Few politicians in this House, either past or present, or any other elected body, have not at times questioned how the European Union is moving forward, but if we look back in time, we can see from where Europe came in the aftermath of the Second World War during which it was decimated and the ability of countries to come together to solve its problems collectively. Recently I read a number of books about Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty who played a significant part in helping escapees in the Vatican and Rome during those troubled times. If one considers how difficult it was at the time when Europe was torn apart by fascism and a war, one can see that the citizens of Europe have benefited enormously from the entire project connected with the Common Market and the European Union.
In the past four years, since the crisis to which the Minister referred began in the United States in 2008 and then crashed into Europe with a vengeance, it has been an issue that the European system and institutions have been slow to react to put mechanisms in place to ensure the the European Union is saved from the worst of the financial and economic crisis. It is vitally important, therefore, that we go out and sell the stability pact and fiscal treaty as being right for the people, as we have benefited enormously from being at the heart of Europe.
Given the democratic deficit in Europe about which my party has spoken, it is important that the treaty is put to the people in a referendum. When it was negotiated in December and being finalised in January, my party called for it to be put to the people because of the democratic deficit. We are delighted, therefore, that it is being put to them in a referendum. During the 1930s, when countries across Europe were falling to fascism, we put in place the Constitution of 1937 which we are now seeking to amend to facilitate ratification of the treaty. We should always recognise that our democratic institutions were strong at a time when other countries in Europe were doing otherwise. This is a lesson for them. The treaty aims to secure the euro which form a considerable part of the European project.
It is important that I, as the Fianna Fáil spokesperson on agriculture, indicate that it is vitally important for agriculture and the agricultural community, particularly the food sector, to ensure Ireland is at the heart of the European Union. Irish agriculture has benefited enormously since Ireland joined the then Common Market, or European Economic Community, in 1973. There are significant exports from the sector to other countries in Europe and beyond. In about one year we will be negotiating the new Common Agricultural Policy for the period post-2013 up to 2020 and 2021 and it is vitally important that we have a strong hand in the European Union.
During the years we have developed a world-class food sector. Primary food producers have worked tirelessly and borne the brunt of considerable regulations to produce a world-class product. We should acknowledge them and others in the farming community for the efforts that they have made to bring this about. As we look beyond Europe, we consider the importance of achieving the targets set in Food Harvest 2020, about which Deputy John Browne spoke, but also ensuring the Government and its agencies fight in the emerging markets for an increased market share. That is on the agricultural side, which is vital. Everybody in the agricultural community and those interacting with farmers and the farming organisations are very strong on this treaty being voted upon on 31 May. We must make every effort to ensure we get the message across that the interests of the agricultural community, which is now a huge industry, are best served by being at the heart of Europe.
In addition, Irish economic and political interests are best served by being at the heart of Europe. With regard to our economic interests, we have benefited enormously from being within Europe and we also benefit internationally by being the only English speaking country within the eurozone, which has allowed a huge amount of foreign direct investment to come to these shores. I am glad the Minister, Deputy Burton, when speaking in regard to being in the US and the many organisations she dealt with, made the point that we were all out there to sell the message. It is very important that Members and everybody else talk up the Irish economy. It is not that long ago the self-same Minister was using language that denigrated the Irish economy from other benches. That being said, it is important we speak about what is positive in our country in order to attract foreign direct investment.
Ireland is politically best served by being at the heart of Europe. Because of our being at the heart of, and firmly committed to, all of the European institutions, we are seen internationally as being part of Europe and, therefore, as being a more attractive location for foreign direct investment and in regard to many other issues.
To recap, I certainly will promote the treaty across the country and canvassing at any farmers' meetings or agricultural meetings which will be held in the coming weeks. We will focus very strongly on the benefits and encourage as many people as possible not alone to vote for the treaty but to campaign for it also. This morning's opinion poll in The Irish Times illustrated that this cannot be taken for granted. Some of the opinion polls that came out a number of weeks ago gave the impression it was a foregone conclusion. It is vital that we get out the message, in the first instance for our economy, growth and the ability to grow out of the present difficulties and circumstances. We accept there was a slowness within the European Union to respond adequately and that we need to put in place mechanisms. The flaw was inserted when the euro was first put together in 1996 and there are issues which must be addressed to ensure this treaty builds on the strengths of Europe to allow it to respond adequately and quickly.
The second point concerns agriculture, which has been at the very heart of Europe. Many countries are looking to the success of agriculture, which has been consistent in Ireland through the years. While other European countries were sidelining agriculture and food production, now that it has come into its own because of the perceived shortage of food within the world economy, Ireland is seen as a place to produce it, which is important for our agriculture and food industry.
It is vital we understand from where Europe came. Over the past century, two world wars were fought for control of Europe. The European Community, for all its flaws, has ensured generations upon generations of European citizens have experienced Europe without the difficulties and tragedies of war. As I said at the outset, many articles and books, including one written by a former Labour Party Oireachtas Member, Mr. Brian Fleming, in regard to Monsignor Hugh Flaherty, which is a fascinating read, show the difficulties that existed in Europe during and after the war period. We should always understand the huge political difficulties that existed, and the enormous tragedy and challenges that brought about the birth of the European Union. We should always strive to ensure that Europe and the European institutions are democratic and secure.
It is an easy soundbite to find the flaws. If anybody stands up at a public meeting, they are guaranteed to get a round of applause if they mention the EU directive on crooked or straight bananas or something nonsensical like that. That is not what we are debating. We are debating the very future of our economy and of the young people in this country, including the people who have been forced to emigrate and who we will try to get back to our shores. The only way we can do that is by having our small, open economy at the centre of Europe and by having a "Yes" vote on this very important treaty. I commend the Bill to the House and I commend the referendum to the Irish people.