Lisbon Treaty: Public Deliberations.

This is a statutory meeting of the Joint Committee on European Affairs, of which I am Chairman. Present are a number of Oireachtas Members who are either committee members or entitled to join us on the platform by virtue of being Members of the Oireachtas. Members of the European Parliament have an entitlement to speak, address and contribute at committee meetings but do not have a right to vote. We want to encourage a debate on the issues that lie ahead arising from the Lisbon treaty.

We are making history. The committee meets in plenary session on a weekly or, sometimes, twice weekly basis. Normally, we meet in the Houses of the Oireachtas, but last week we met outside them in Dublin City University, which was provided for by an order of both Houses. As this is the first meeting of an Oireachtas committee outside Dublin, the members of the audience are the first victims. We do not intend to do anything other than to engage in useful and fruitful debate on the issues that arise from the treaty. I would like that the meeting be as informal as possible but we are bound by the rules of the Oireachtas.

We are joined by the Oireachtas staff, some of whom are in uniform. I thank them in advance. They were with us last week and it is part and parcel of bringing the Oireachtas to the people, something that is of benefit in the context of the Lisbon treaty debate. Members believe that, being on the Joint Committee on European Affairs, we should be interested in exchanging views with the public and hearing the views of the public. At the end of this process we will prepare a report, with conclusions and findings based on the debate and the benefit or otherwise of the treaty from the point of view of the Irish people. Six meetings have been scheduled. Next week we go to Cork. We do not yet know who the speakers will be.

We are joined by the Chairman of the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny, Deputy John Perry. We are joined by two guest speakers, whom I thank for attending. We had much debate on how to select speakers. We considered having one expert speaker to address the technicalities of the issue, taking either side or neither side and giving a technical appraisal of the treaty. Then we thought it would be better to have one person to speak for it and another to speak against it. We decided on this approach and we have made provision for members of the audience to participate and raise questions after the initial addresses. The Members of the Oireachtas will address the meeting initially for a short period, then there will be a period of interaction between the audience and the committee. The Chair rules in all these circumstances and will do so fairly and honestly, I hope. I thank Dr. Laurent Pech, Jean Monnet lecturer in EU law, NUI Galway, and Mr. Barry Finnegan, lecturer and senior course tutor from the journalism and media faculty in Griffith College. The first-mentioned speaker will be for and Mr. Finnegan will speak against the treaty. We will decide who goes first.

We thank the Harbour Hotel for facilitating us. It is a lovely location and easy to find. I even managed to find it at the first attempt. This is a historic event, bringing the Parliament of the people to the people, an event we should all relish and in which we should participate. This is a formal plenary sitting of the committee and the procedures and arrangements that apply in the Oireachtas apply here. Contributions are being recorded and Oireachtas translation and back-up staff, whom I thank, are present. The recording is important because, when the report is compiled, reference will be made to the submissions that have been made.

Deputy Timmy Dooley is the Vice Chairman and I propose that each Member stands up, mentioning who they are, their function, and length of time in the Oireachtas. Some of them have spent a considerable amount of time, as I have myself.

I am a man of few words, as the Chairman knows. My name is Senator Camillus Glynn and I am attending in substitution for Senator Terry Leydon, who is out of the country. I wish the proceedings the very best. I am ten years in the Oireachtas.

My name is Michael McGrath, a Fianna Fáil Deputy for Cork South-Central, elected for the first time last May.

My name is Mary O'Rourke, from Athlone. I am a long time in Parliament and lost my seat at the election before last but came back the last time. I am in favour of Europe.

My name is Joe Costello, a Labour Party Deputy representing Dublin Central. I am spokesperson for European affairs for the Labour Party. I am not quite as long in politics as Deputy O'Rourke — I was elected to the Seanad in 1989.

Timmy Dooley is my name, a Deputy from the neighbouring county of Clare. I was elected to the Dáil in May and for the previous five years I served in the Seanad. Like others have mentioned I am supporting the treaty.

My name is John Perry, Fine Gael Deputy for Sligo. Likewise, I am supporting the treaty and I am the Chairman of the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny.

My name is Pat Breen, and like Deputy Timmy Dooley, I am a Deputy in the neighbouring county of Clare although I am from a different party, Fine Gael, and was elected in 2002. I have served on a number of Oireachtas committees including the Joint Committee on Transport, the Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business and the Joint Committee on European Affairs. I am delighted to be at tonight's meeting and, like other speakers, I am supporting the treaty.

I am Senator Fidelma Healy Eames, local to the area and elected to Seanad Éireann in July 2007. I am delighted the committee has chosen to bring this event to Galway and that Galway is the first location outside Dublin for this committee. This is the direction we should be going with our work, bringing it closer to the people. Like many people, I am learning much about the treaty and how it will have an impact on our lives. I look forward to the debate and the opportunity to bring this closer to the people of Galway East and Galway West.

Mr. Seán Ó Neachtain, MEP

Seán Ó Neachtain is ainm dom. I am a Member of the European Parliament for the North-West constituency, which includes County Clare, the five counties of Connacht and Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan. The constituency will soon be joined by two counties in Leinster, so that all four provinces will be represented. I am from An Spidéal, Contae na Gaillimhe. I have been a Member of the European Parliament since 2002 and I am in favour of the treaty.

I must also mention that the Minister for Foreign Affairs is an ex officio member of the committee and votes at committee meetings in the event of a division. MEPs and members of the Irish delegation to the Council of Europe are entitled to attend and participate in committee meetings.

There are two committees concerned with European affairs because some years ago we noticed that in order to scrutinise various directives coming from Brussels, and ministerial visits to Brussels, it would require an all-day, every day meeting of a single committee. We made recommendations five years ago, when I was Chairman, but I was happily missing for the subsequent five years, through no fault of mine. The Taoiseach and the Minister answered our queries by appointing two committees.

The scrutiny committee has a special role, scrutinising every single item that comes from the Commission and referring matters to sectoral committees in the event of a query. If members approve of a submission from the Commission it is sometimes referred to this committee. This arrangement allows for the maximum degree of scrutiny. It is not possible to state that Brussels pulled some stroke on someone because given the involvement of the Oireachtas, the Irish electorate and the public, we have access to what is happening beforehand and can monitor policy developments such as the Lisbon treaty, EU enlargement and EU external relations.

The European affairs committee meets the Minister before he attends meetings of the General Affairs and External Relations Council. He briefs the committee on what he proposes to do and we are provided with the agenda which we discuss. This means that prior to the Minister going to Brussels he has used the committee as a backup to improve the scope of his discussions.

The Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Scrutiny carries out detailed scrutiny of EU legislation proposals and draft directives presented by the EU Commission. Following its scrutiny, the committee may make recommendations to relevant Ministers on EU proposals, which the Ministers are legally obliged to take into consideration. This was not always the case. It is a dramatic improvement on what we had in the past.

This year, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs devoted a large part of its work programme to the treaty and since January we have heard from representatives from the main social partners and other groups such as the Union of Students of Ireland, the Irish Countrywomen's Association, the Peace and Neutrality Alliance, PANA, the People's Movement and VoteNo.ie. The committee has endeavoured to engage with those who espouse a “Yes” and a “No” vote in the forthcoming referendum.

This meeting is one of a series of public meetings that have arisen because many people have stated they do not know enough about European legislation and treaties to make an informed decision. The purpose of this exercise is for us to come to the people so they can ask questions and we, in turn, can walk away with their responses and they will have our responses. It is hoped we will all benefit from this.

Since its appointment in November, the committee has visited Strasbourg and Brussels. On one occasion we had 17 meetings in a 24 hour period in Brussels to obtain information on what we were likely to have to deal with. We met the Commissioners and heard what was on their minds. We have done a reasonably good job on separating rumour from fact. This public debate is important. After our initial meetings in Brussels, we published an interim report. We will issue a final report which will carry recommendations when we have finished our public meetings.

I will now outline the format of the sitting. The committee will endeavour to ensure objectivity, fairness and balance in the proceedings of this, and all, sittings. We hope to make it as informal as possible, to give everybody a fair hearing and to ensure we meet our time deadline of approximately two hours. Each invited speaker will make a short opening speech of not more than 15 minutes duration. The Chairman will then invite the audience to ask questions and make comments to the committee and invited speakers.

Questions will be taken in rounds of three or four, depending on the degree to which the audience wishes to raise questions. Members of the committee, Oireachtas Members and the MEP on the platform will be offered an opportunity to speak. Members of the audience will have up to three minutes speaking time and I must be strict on this. For the purpose of reporting on proceedings, prior to asking a question audience members shall provide their names, organisation if applicable and the area from which they come, as those on the platform have already done.

The Chairman will nominate the members of the committee and invited speakers to respond to questions from the members of the audience. An equal opportunity will be provided by the Chairman to each side to respond to questions and comments. In the event of concerns being raised, we will do what we can to help.

Proceedings will be officially recorded, including contributions from members of the public. The purpose of recording is to ensure the accuracy of the formal record of the proceedings. The Official Report of the sitting will be prepared and published on the website of the Houses of the Oireachtas and will include only the contributions of speakers recognised by the Chair. Comments or interruptions by members of the public other than those formally recognised by the Chairman will not be included in the Official Report. This is like when the Ceann Comhairle does not want to recognise a speaker in the Dáil. A former Ceann Comhairle used to state that the Chair does not see the Member. This meant the Member would not be recorded.

All speakers from the floor should clearly state their names, as failure to do so will mean the exclusion of their contributions. This is to help our staff as they need to hear the name of the person clearly in order to record it. Some people speak too close to the microphone which causes a booming sound. Others speak from a little further away and this is better from the point of view of those doing the recordings. Before commencing, speakers from the floor must take a seat at the microphones at the two tables set out in front.

I will now give a notice on privilege. All Members of the Oireachtas present have absolute privilege. This means what they state is not accountable to a court. Members of the public, whether on the platform or in the audience, do not have this privilege. Committee members are reminded of the parliamentary practice that members should not comment on, criticise or make charges against any person outside the Houses of the Oireachtas or any official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable — punishment by death if they do so.

The order in which guest speakers will contribute is decided by the toss of a coin but in this case they have already reached agreement. I call on our first speaker, Dr. Laurent Pech.

Dr. Laurent Pech

I thank the Chairman. Ladies and gentlemen, it is a great pleasure to be here to debate the merits of the Lisbon treaty, which was collectively agreed last December by the democratically elected Heads of State and Government of all 27 member states. It was agreed in Lisbon, which gives it the name we use. It is also known as the reform treaty.

As a preliminary remark, I emphasise that my intention is not to discuss or debate the benefits of Irish membership of the EU, although it is clear that membership has brought major practical benefits to Ireland in trade and jobs. European countries have no choice but to work together within the EU framework to effectively meet the global challenges Europeans face in our increasingly interdependent world.

The most significant change made to the EU during the past 15 years is how much it has grown. Initially, the EEC consisted of six nations and now the EU has 27 member states. The Lisbon treaty represents the latest updating to the EU's basic legal documents. Its modest goal is to improve the decision-making process at EU level. It is not a radical treaty. Technically, it is described as an amending treaty which means it will not replace the two treaties, the EC treaty and the EU treaty, which govern the functioning of the EU at present.

Prior to providing an overall personal assessment of the treaty, I will briefly describe what the treaty does. To enter into force, this treaty must be ratified by all 27 member states. If Ireland says "No", that is the end of the road for the Lisbon treaty.

The new treaty gives more powers to the directly-elected European Parliament in agreeing EU legislation. One must bear in mind that the EU Parliament must also agree with the Council of Ministers, that is, the institution representing the member states. When the European Parliament, directly elected by the peoples of Europe, agrees with the entity representing the 27 national governments, then we will have EU legislation.

The new treaty gives a greater role to national parliaments and formalises that role for the first time. New powers are given to national parliaments in controlling compliance with the principle of subsidiarity. While this is a rather complex term, it simply means that national parliaments will have the power to simply say "No" when it comes to adopting particular legislation. I will deal with how it works in practice later.

The new treaty simplifies the way the EU works and will help it, eventually, to become more effective. It does this by reforming the voting system in the Council of Ministers. It is also interesting from an institutional point of view because for the first time the new treaty creates a president of the European Council and a new high representative for foreign affairs. I will elaborate on those two positions later.

I have read some criticisms in the Irish press about the fact that the size of the Commission will be reduced under this treaty. We currently have 27 Commissioners, one per member state. Beginning in 2014, we will have a new system of equal rotation between member states, if the treaty is ratified. This reform has been criticised because it has been argued that Ireland will lose its right to appoint a Commissioner but this reform applies to all 27 member states. While Ireland will lose its right to appoint a Commissioner every five years, this change will also apply to Germany, France and all other member states. In effect, each member state will be entitled to appoint a Commissioner for ten out of every 15 years. Ireland does not lose its right to appoint a Commissioner. There will be an Irish Commissioner for ten years in every 15.

With respect to policies, the Lisbon treaty offers positive reform. It clearly sets out the areas where the EU does and does not have power. When one reads a set of articles, one knows what the EU and its member states do. It would not take more than two minutes to get a good assessment of the situation, by simply reading the new treaty. It will also make the decision-making easier in areas such as the fight against crime and terrorism and for the first time, there is also a provision for EU action to combat climate change.

The Lisbon treaty should be welcomed because, for the first time, the EU will have its own bill of rights. This does not mean the EU does not comply with human rights obligations already but it will have, in a single document, all of the human rights with which EU institutions must comply. The bill of rights will also be applicable to the member states, but only to the extent that member states implement EU law. It would be wrong to argue that the Lisbon treaty will have an impact on abortion in Ireland, for example, because abortion is not regulated by EU institutions or EU law. The adoption of a the new bill of rights would not change that.

Overall, the Lisbon treaty will bring positive changes that are needed. However, those changes are far from radical. A former Irish EU Commissioner said recently that the Lisbon treaty is by far the most minor of any of the EU treaties the Irish people have ever been asked to vote on. That is a fair and accurate assessment. This is not a radical treaty, unlike the Maastricht treaty, for example, when we decided to adopt the Euro as a single currency.

The most significant changes are the creation of the post of EU president, EU foreign minister and the switch to a double majority voting system at the Council of Ministers. These are positive reforms but they have led to some confusion among citizens. It would be wrong to assume the new president will act like the President of the United States, for example. In effect, the EU presidency will be much closer to the Irish presidency than the French presidency. The president will act as chairman of the most important meetings and will represent the EU in the international arena. If the treaty is ratified, we will get the equivalent of the Irish President at EU level. Perhaps we will also get an Irish person for this position, which is another reason to vote "Yes".

The new EU foreign minister, like the EU president, will be selected by the member states. There will be no direct election. The minister will be selected by the democratically elected heads of state and governments. That is sufficiently democratic, as far as I am concerned. The new EU foreign minister will assist the EU president in the implementation of EU foreign policy. However, it is very important to remember that the foreign policy will be defined by the member states and not by the EU president or EU foreign minister. They will be in charge of implementing the policies, as defined by the national governments of all 27 member states.

The new double majority voting system is rather complicated but deserves attention. The new system is much simpler than the current one. My students find it very difficult to understand the current voting system in the Council of Ministers. Truly, it is a difficult system to understand. However, the new system is much easier to explain. It is a clearer and more efficient system. In practice, the new double majority voting system will operate in areas where majority voting currently applies. There are two choices in Europe in this regard — either majority voting or unanimity applies. In the areas of taxation and defence, majority voting is not applicable. In that context, Ireland will maintain its right to veto any proposal, for instance, to harmonise corporate tax. It is inaccurate to argue that the Lisbon treaty will have an impact on defence, the Irish tradition of neutrality or Irish taxation laws.

Where majority voting applies, the adoption of EU legislation under the new system will have to get the approval of at least 15 member states out of 27 and those 15 states must represent 65% of the population of the EU. In essence, there are two conditions for the adoption of new EU legislation. Each member state gets one vote so Ireland has a vote, Germany has a vote and so forth. Obviously, it would be unfair if the voting system did not represent, to some extent, the population of each member state. Ireland has a population of 4.2 million while Germany has a population of 80 million. That is why the second threshold of 65% of the EU population was introduced. Overall, the system is perfectly democratic. It reflects democratic principles while paying attention to the interests of the smallest member states. Ireland does much better within the EU than outside it. Its weight, in legal and political terms, within the EU is disproportionate relative to the size of its population.

Most of the criticism of the Lisbon treaty is not based on a reading of the actual text. Critics have either not read the provisions of the treaty or they do not understand them. In fairness, I have studied EU law for the past 15 years. I have become something of a Euro nerd and enjoy reading European treaties whenever I have time. However, I must admit the Lisbon treaty is not an enjoyable read for the man in the street.

Why is it complicated? Why are European treaties complicated? European treaties are no more complicated than most national constitutions. I recently read the German constitution, compared to which European treaties are easy to follow. There is a good reason for complexity in European treaties. Member states want to preserve national sovereignty and control how the EU exercises its powers. In other words, it is precisely because the EU is not a super state that it needs a more complicated rule book. Were it a super state, whatever that meaningless term implies, it would have a short and concise text. Do not blame the EU, therefore, for complicated treaties because that is what the member states want.

A question that became controversial recently in Ireland arose in respect of the extent to which the Lisbon treaty differs from the EU constitution agreed and signed in Ireland in 2004. The drafters of the so-called constitutional treaty tried to simplify the decision making process and give greater transparency and effectiveness to the EU by replacing the two current treaties with a new, single text. In that regard the Lisbon treaty differs from the constitution signed in 2004 and the structures of the two cannot be compared. It is valid, however, to argue that the Lisbon treaty retains most of the provisions of the now abandoned constitution. Even the Taoiseach admitted that 90% of the constitution remains in the Lisbon treaty. I will not describe what was lost in the process other than to note, for example, there is no more mention of an EU flag or anthem in the new text and the term "constitution" has disappeared. It has been argued by a British MEP that although mice and men are 90% identical, the remaining 10% is rather important. To some extent, the dispute over whether the Lisbon treaty differs from the EU constitution is irrelevant because the constitution was not a radical document in the first place. The only radical element to it was perhaps the use of the term "constitution" because it contained a set of technical tools to improve the decision making process. There was nothing to get excited about unless one had a strong interest in European politics.

The Lisbon treaty offers a positive set of modest reforms that do not radically modify the relationship between member states and the EU. They do not affect national sovereignty to the same extent as, for example, the Maastricht treaty. Given that there will be no radical alteration in the current relationship between member states and the EU, I find it strange that it has inspired so much misguided or even deceptive analysis from its critics.

I thank Dr.Pech, among whose publications is The European Union and its Constitution: From Rome to Lisbon.

The next speaker from the opposite side of the fence is Mr. Barry Finnegan, who is a lecturer and senior course tutor in the faculty of journalism and media communications in Griffith College, Dublin. He holds an MA in international relations from Dublin City University and is a researcher for the campaign against the EU constitution — Vote No to Lisbon. Formed in 2005, the campaign includes a broad coalition of progressive and left organisations, political parties, trade unionists and individuals committed to democracy, peace and justice, Irish neutrality and equality.

Mr. Barry Finnegan

I thank the Chairman, Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas and audience members for the opportunity to speak at this historic forum, the first meeting of the Committee on European Affairs to be held outside Dublin.

I wish to make seven points about democracy before proceeding to address economic democracy, military issues, the environment and workers' rights. I will begin with a quote: "public opinion will be led to adopt, without knowing it, the proposals that we dare not present to them directly...All the earlier proposals will be in the new text, but will be hidden and disguised in some way." That comment on the new text came from Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, the veteran French politician and chairman of the negotiations on drafting the EU constitution, and was reported in Le Monde in June 2007. Subsequent to the rejection by the French and Dutch of the EU constitution, the European Commission decided it was the wrong answer and that matters had to proceed. Twelve projects were established to ask the people of Europe how they would like the EU to progress. One of the groups approached was the Bosch Foundation, which owns 92% of the $41 billion fridge and washing machine manufacturer, Bosch. That private foundation paid to establish a group called the Action Committee for European Democracy, which wrote the Lisbon treaty and presented it in much fanfare and publicity at a public relations event in Brussels in June 2007. Several weeks later, the same document was discussed at an intergovernmental conference of EU leaders as a new and improved replacement for the constitutional treaty. The report on the other 11 projects reaching out to the people of Europe was delivered in December 2007 on the same day as the final text of the current Lisbon treaty was published. All this talk about plan D for democracy from the Vice President of the Commission, Margot Wallström, and the others was, therefore, nonsense. The final report on our opinion was not included in the treaty.

When proponents of the treaty speak about increased powers for national parliaments they mean that the deadline for the task of scrutinising the hundreds of proposed EU legislative documents, which is carried out by four Deputies, one Senator and two full-time staff, will be extended from six to eight weeks per proposal. It is proposed to increase the power of European citizens by giving us the right to petition the all-powerful Commission if we gather 1 million signatures. However, such petitions will only be accepted as long as they do not go against the treaty provisions, policies and objectives of the European Union as they stand. Therefore if, for example, we propose that sustainable development, gender equality and environmental protection should be at the core of EU trade policy, we will be rejected. We can petition if we like but the Commission reserves the right to ignore us.

Not many will have heard of the European Parliament's voting to disrespect the result of the Irish referendum. Unfortunately the Irish media did not do its job and ignored the events of 20 February, when the European Parliament was presented with the European parliamentary report on the Lisbon treaty. In such situations, each of the political parties can put forward amendments to the committee report. Amendment No. 32 was that this Parliament — the European Parliament — will respect the result of the Irish referendum. Unfortunately 499 members of the European Parliament voted "No" while 133 voted "Yes". Approximately three weeks ago I made this exact point in this room. I asked Mr. Pierre Jonckheer, vice president of the Green Party group in the European Parliament, how he, as a leader of the Green Party in Europe, can be instrumental in instructing his members not to respect the result of the Irish referendum. He pounded the table and said the result of the Irish referendum is irrelevant, MEPs had spent five years negotiating this document, they are not going back and Ireland will not stop the other 26 countries implementing this treaty. I was rather shocked.

My other point on democracy is that the EU shall have legal personality. This means it will be a legal person in a court of law to fight for or against our rights. We do not know what the implications of that will be and maybe Dr. Pech could fill us in on it later.

Is the EU an association of equal member states? If so, little ones should have a higher vote weighting despite the small size of their populations to make large and small states equal in negotiations. Either we have that system or we do not. Are we moving towards creating a country? We will have a president, like the Irish President, or a foreign minister. The bigger countries are getting more votes in the European Council to reflect the fact that their populations are bigger. Countries such as Ireland will get fewer votes to reflect our smaller population. This makes it look like a country. Germany is increasing its share of votes at the European Council from 8.4% to 16.7% of all the votes, almost double. France is going from 8.4% to 12.8%, Italy from 8.4% to 12%, and the UK from 8.4% to 12.3%. Ireland has 2% of the votes in the European Council and we are going down to 0.8%. If we want the EU to be more like a country, with the vote of each state reflecting its population rather than the fact that it is a country, that is fine, let us go for it. However, if we think it should be more equal and to do with being a country, we should not.

I would like to discuss the Charter of Fundamental Rights. My colleagues and I established the campaign against the EU constitution in 2005. We went through the agony of reading the charter, what it says in the protocols at the end of the treaty on how it will become EU law and when and where other aspects of European policy could trump and overrule the charter. After hours of research we came to the conclusion that there are no extra powers in this. We thought about issuing a press release but Deputy Dick Roche, then Minister for of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs with responsibility for European affairs, did it for us. Speaking at the Irish Society for European Law he said, "the Charter does not extend the field of application of Union law or establish any new power or task for the Union." He went on to say, "the Charter is a significant development for the Union as it sets out, in a consolidated form, those rights that citizens already enjoy." There is nothing new in the Charter of Fundamental Rights, and people should not let anybody fool them otherwise. The Charter of Fundamental Rights is a legal document in which the institutions of the EU agree to abide by certain human rights rules and regulations when they implement their powers. It does not apply to individuals but to the institutions of the EU.

There is some incorrect information circulating about workers' rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights, for example, the suggestion that we will never have another Laval case. The Laval case is a situation in which a Latvian building company got a contract to do some building work in a Swedish school. It wanted to bring Latvian workers over to Sweden and pay them less than the Swedish workers. Every year in Sweden the workers and employers in the building industry meet and negotiate a deal on pay rises and terms and conditions for all the workers in the industry. The Latvian company wanted to bust up that deal. The Swedish trade unions shut down the building site, engaged in secondary picketing and the company shut down its operation. The company took the union to the European Court of Justice, which invoked the Charter of Fundamental Rights, saying the right of workers to engage in collective bargaining and strike had been written in Charter in 2001. These are fundamental rights recognised by the European Court of Justice now, before we vote on the treaty. As it has already been used by the European Court of Justice, accepting or rejecting the Lisbon treaty is irrelevant. The court also said there was another fundamental right, to do cross-border business and not to be dissuaded from doing so. In this case, one's right to strike and engage in collective bargaining is trumped by the right to do business across international boundaries in the EU, however one has the right to strike for the minimum wage. This is social democracy, European style. One can strike for the minimum wage. Needless to say, the Swedish workers are not too happy.

Last December the European Court of Justice ruling in the Viking Line case stated that the threat of strike action to protect workers' rights was legitimate, but that it could not be a restriction on the right to establish a business in another European country. So while the Lisbon treaty and previous treaties have beautiful sounding aspirations and ideals to create a positive place to work and an equal society, the European Court of Justice, which is like a Supreme Court for Europe dealing with the day to day running, always goes with the rights to establish a business, conduct trade and not to be dissuaded from conducting business.

People talk about social Europe and the social market economy being protected. In 1961 in Germany the "Volkswagen law" was passed giving four equal votes to the board of directors of the massive Volkswagen corporation. These four votes were held by the local, democratically elected government of Lower Saxony, the Volkswagen works council, the union IG Metall and the shareholders of Volkswagen. This meant the profits from the company were used for environmental and literacy issues, helping the unemployed and such purposes. Porsche engaged in an aggressive takeover of Volkswagen. The board of directors said it did not want to move production to a Third World country but would like to keep the jobs in Germany where there was a high standard of living. Porsche was not happy with this and the case went to the European Court of Justice which, predictably, sided with the right of companies to establish businesses and the freedom to buy companies and move capital from country to country. Again, it downplayed employment rights, control of production and the environment.

These are three cases in which the European Court of Justice has sided with big business and the forces of neo-liberalism, despite the rhetoric in our existing treaties on high-sounding ideals such as the protection of the social market economy. It is a ruse. It is not true. In case after case the European Court of Justice sides with big business against workers and the environment. There was another case on 3 April involving Polish workers in Germany. The result was that if the employer wants to give minimum wage, despite what the rest of the EU is doing, it is tough luck on the workers. It is very unfortunate to hear this information. I believe in Europe and feel I am European, but I believe in the Europe of the Enlightenment in which we base our views on politics, politicians and institutions on the evidence, not on wooly-minded aspirations. Let us examine the evidence and action, and make our decisions based on that.

The third area I would like to examine is the issue of trade justice. We all know groups such as Oxfam, Trócaire, Comhlámh and Debt and Development Coalition Ireland have a problem with how world trade goes on. It is said big institutions and trade entities such as the European Union and America are doing trade deals with poorer countries to the detriment of those poorer countries. We should consider if that critique applies to this document. I believe it does. The existing Article 131 guides the European Union in the way it does trade deals on our behalf in negotiations with other countries and will be changed to Article 188. There is a policy in the European Union treaties on how the body should conduct itself when doing trade deals on our behalf. For example, does it indicate that the European Union must prioritise gender equality, the protection of the environment, sustainable development, the promotion of literacy and human rights? No, it has absolutely nothing to do with these elements. It is a hard-nosed policy, pro-free trade and pro-big business. It is explicit and clear. I will read the old and new versions together. The new provision states:

By establishing a customs union in accordance with Articles 23 to 27, the Union shall contribute, in the common interest, to the harmonious development of world trade, the progressive abolition of restrictions on international trade and on foreign direct investment, and the lowering of customs and other barriers.

The new article indicates that the European Union will conduct trade by the progressive abolition of restrictions on foreign direct investment and try to lower other barriers. The committee should read what Oxfam, Comhlámh, the Debt and Development Coalition and Trócaire have to say about what protecting foreign direct investment rights and others leads to. Their documents indicate that in trade deals the European Union is forcing poor countries to get rid of certain factors. These include foreign companies being made to employ locals and involve local business people, or that they must not buy collectively-owned common land or that they must protect and respect nature reserves and local traditions. These indicate that if a company wants to do business with a particular country, it must respect that country's culture, equality provisions and such other matters. These factors cannot now be promoted by the European Union as they act against our trade policy.

I will skip the military element because I am not an expert on the matter. To turn to the environment, given the amount of hot air expelled, the whole planet would be saved if we were to vote "Yes". There are six extra words on the environment in the treaty: "and, in particular, on climate change". That is all that is said on the environment. The treaty does not put it at the heart of trade or economic policy.

I wanted to give some quotes from——

To be fair to everybody else, this must be the last comment. Mr. Finnegan has gone way over time. He will have an opportunity to comment at the end, as will the other guest speaker.

Mr. Barry Finnegan

I thank the Chairman. To wrap up, because the people of France and Holland have already voted "No", for the sake of trade justice for the poor peoples of the world and the sake of transparency in international trade negotiations, I ask that we vote "No" also. I am sorry for running over time.

I wish to make a correction. Mr. Finnegan mentioned the Oireachtas scrutiny committee.

Mr. Barry Finnegan

Has it changed?

He mentioned that there were four Deputies, two Senators and two secretaries or staff members. There are two committees, one comprising 17 Deputies and Senators and the other, the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny, 15 Senators and Deputies. There are four permanent staff members attending to the two committees.

I am a little sensitive about the Charter of Fundamental Rights, as I was one of the authors a long time ago. I know Mr. Finnegan would never send me up on it. This is a minor intervention.

We are joined by Deputy Treacy, a former Minister of State responsible for European affairs. We will now hear from our final speaker before there is participation from the floor. I call the Chairman of the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny, Deputy Perry, who has a short statement to make. We will then hear from submissions from the floor. We will take three or four questions which will be followed by a response from three or four members on the platform.

I thank the Chairman and I am very conscious of the time restrictions.

I emphasise the role of the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny because of the role to be played by national parliaments under the Lisbon treaty. As up to 500 pieces of draft EU legislation come from the European Commission, it is very important to reassure the people that every piece is thoroughly scrutinised by the sectoral committees of the Houses of Oireachtas. Vested interests are brought in, as well as members of the social partners. The Government will be held to account on draft legislation. The big issues are subsidiarity and the role of national parliaments. It is important to emphasise the critical role of national parliaments in dealing with the different sections of the community, be it agriculture, education, enterprise and trade. Let me cite an example. In a recent hearing we dealt with country markets. It was a public meeting at which all the vested trades involved were represented. We have reached an agreement and the report of the committee will come before Dáil Éireann where it can be debated at length. This is very important as there is a perception that all laws emanating from the European Union are not thoroughly investigated. There is a view that they are foisted on the people, which is not the case. Each country will have two votes. With a figure of up to 55%, one can veto agreement and ask for renegotiation.

The previous speaker dealt with the role of national parliaments. One would assume they act as a rubber stamp as a result, with everything being a fait accompli. That is definitely not the case. Citizens’ concerns are taken on board.

One of the big issues in respect of the Lisbon treaty is reform, the tidying up of regulations and giving enhanced powers to the Houses of the Oireachtas. This is very important. I emphasise that 98% of laws are enacted within the Houses. That is how it should be.

With regard to the exertion of influence, this referendum does not deal with Ireland's membership of the European Union but does deal with the country's standing and the influence it can exert in the world. We have all spoken of the level of investment in Ireland. Some €83 billion has been invested by American companies here. This has resulted in sustainable job creation, which demands a certain level of scrutiny. It is very important to realise the influence Ireland can have within a strong European Union. It is equally important to ensure subsidiarity and that a role will be played by national parliaments. We have not emphasised before the role played by the Houses of the Oireachtas, as well as vested interests and civil servants. This committee will produce a detailed report which will result in Ministers being brought to account in negotiations on legislation coming from the European Union. The most important factor is that the Houses of the Oireachtas will be able to hold the Government to account when negotiating on behalf of Ireland at EU summit meetings. That is the critical test.

I chaired the Committee of Public Accounts for two and half years. The Joint Committee on European Scrutiny is well resourced and has the backing of top civil servants in compiling detailed reports. It will make a difference in ensuring many EU directives will not be imposed on Ireland without a clear and critical analysis.

I thank Deputy Perry. We now move to what will be the most interesting part of the meeting. We will call upon members of the public to come forward and raise questions. Contributors will have three minutes to raise specific issues that are relevant to the treaty. They should approach the table at the front of the room and give their names to a member of staff. We will take the first four contributors now. There are two tables and there are seats at which those who wish to speak can wait. Speakers will announce their names, where they are from and the organisation they are attached to, if any.

Mr. Seán Fitzpatrick

My name is Seán Fitzpatrick and I seek to be informed on this issue because I intend to campaign in favour of the treaty on behalf of Fianna Fáil, of which I am a member. I am a former member of Mayo County Council.

There is an aspect of this matter that scares me because if the people of Ireland believe it they may vote against the treaty. Mr. Barry Finnegan, who spoke in opposition to the treaty, raised this matter when he sought to have us believe that majority voting, involving Germany, Britain and so on, will trample on Ireland's rights as a small country. I briefly looked at the White Paper and I want clarification from those at the top table as to whether this is true. Is it the case that a 65% vote from member states is necessary to constitute a majority? Will this always be the case or will it only usually be the case?

The decision must come from 55% of member states and 65% of the population.

Mr. Seán Fitzpatrick

The decision must come from 55% of European member states and 65% of the population. If that is true then what the opposing speaker said is completely wrong. I would like this point to be clarified.

Mr. Laurent Pardon

My name is Laurent Pardon and I am from France, as those present will hear. I am part of the Galway "No" campaign on the Lisbon treaty.

My first question is for Dr. Laurent Pech. The official date for the referendum has still not been stated.

It has been stated, it will be held on 12 June.

Mr. Laurent Pardon

In that case it was stated very late and was not well publicised. Until recently there was no clear date for the referendum and this was unfair on the media in allowing time and space to the "Yes" and "No" sides. In Galway we have faced the problem of not having articles, letters and campaign meeting announcements publicised by the local media.

Mr. Pardon says the local media does not publicise the views of his organisation.

Mr. Laurent Pardon

Yes. Several letters and articles have been sent.

What is the name of the group Mr. Pardon represents?

Mr. Laurent Pardon

The Galway No to Lisbon campaign. This referendum is important and is the only such referendum on the Continent but the approach to it has been vague and there has been a lack of clarity.

On the policies contained in the treaty, the constitution was debated in 2005 and a constitution or European treaty should simplify the ways things are done, as contributors have said many times. A treaty such as this should put forward what it means to be European and cover areas such as citizenship, rights and guarantees. However, I see policies linking Europe to EURATOM, the European atomic agency that was created before the first six member states came together. The EURATOM Treaty forces EU member states to "create the conditions necessary for the speedy establishment and growth of nuclear industries while facilitating investment to develop nuclear energy". This is a clear policy and a guideline in the treaty.

Is Mr. Pardon saying this is being introduced in this treaty and was not referred to in previous treaties?

Mr. Laurent Pardon

It is clearly stating this policy, though I do not know how long this policy has existed. The treaty is giving a guideline that is worrying.

Another policy our campaign strongly opposes is the militarisation of Europe. Under a common foreign policy we find it alarming that the entire EU can, in support of anti-terrorism measures, enter conflicts as a single entity. Article 27.3 states that "member states shall make civilian and military capabilities available to the Union for the implementation of common security and defence policy". Article 28 lists a number of attacks that member states could be asked to support including "joint disarmament operations, humanitarian and rescue tasks, military advice and assistance tasks, conflict prevention and peacekeeping tasks, tasks of combat forces in crisis management, including peacemaking and post-conflict stabilisation".

Mr. Pardon has made his point.

Mr. Laurent Pardon

The final references to peacemaking and post-conflict stabilisation may be connected to trips made by President Nicolas Sarkozy and Chancellor Angela Merkel to the US Congress in December. They said they would support America's defence against the threat of Iran and told the Bush Administration and Congress, given the roles of France and Germany in the UN Security Council, or perhaps not the Security Council but——

Mr. Pardon has had his allotted time; he has received good value for his three minutes and has an elastic watch.

Mr. Laurent Pardon

My third point relates to the attack on democracy that the treaty represents. An article on foreign policy states:

[M]ember states shall actively and unreservedly support the Union's common foreign policy and security policy in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity and shall comply with the acts adopted by the Union in this area. They shall refrain from action contrary to the Union's interests or likely to impair its effectiveness.

This means the EU does not want opposition in these matters and, as Mr. Barry Finnegan mentioned——

The members are anxious to reply in detail to the questions asked by Mr. Pardon.

Ms Deirdre O’Shaughnessy

I am Deirdre O'Shaughnessy from the Galway Independent and I welcome the committee members and speakers to Galway. My questions are linked and I would prefer if a Government representative addressed my first one.

There has been much publicity in recent days relating to Government strategy in promoting the treaty. The Government is entitled to act as a campaigning party but many people feel it has taken this role too far. Is there any truth in the report, circulated in the Daily Mail and other newspapers, that the Government is trying to minimise publicity relating to unpopular EU decisions in the approach to the referendum? This matter includes the strategic timing of visits by people such as the President of the European Commission, Mr. José Manuel Barroso, who will endorse the treaty.

The second question is linked to this area. Why is the Referendum Commission not publishing information on both sides of the treaty debate as per the McKenna judgment? From everything of which the media have been made aware, it is only publishing one booklet, the Department of Foreign Affairs version of the treaty, which will be handed out. I was under the impression that the Government was obliged to provide both sides of the argument. Why is this not happening?

I thank Ms O'Shaughnessy.

Ms Sarah Clancy

I am Sarah Clancy and I am speaking in a personal capacity, although I work for a development education organisation.

Which organisation?

Ms Sarah Clancy

I work for the Galway One World Centre, but my opinions here are my own and not those of the centre.

My first point concerns the jurisdiction of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the opt-outs for Ireland. I am calling it "paper, scissors, stone" because nobody can tell — and I challenge anyone to tell me — which one of these will take precedence and which will be the vehicle by which a citizen can obtain his or her rights. A minefield is being created in the legislation, particularly where Ireland is concerned. As members probably know, we incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights at a sub-constitutional level with the European Convention on Human Rights Act. This has caused no end of problems ever since. With the treaty, we will supposedly be giving legal standing to the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which will be another vehicle for people to access human rights in Europe. At the moment the status of the convention is being worked out via judicial review, because nobody can tell whether the Constitution or the European Convention on Human Rights takes precedence. Does the Charter of Fundamental Rights have any impact on this situation? I think it does and that it will muddy the waters. If someone could answer this for me I would appreciate it.

My second point is about the citizens' initiative. The wording does not give anything except busy work for citizens to involve themselves in. At the moment, every citizen can petition the European Parliament if he or she wants to, but under the citizens' initiative, in order to petition the Commission one must obtain a million signatories from a significant number of countries, and one can invite the Commission to consider legislation that is already in the treaties. The citizens' initiative will not be a vehicle for anyone to change anything that is in the Lisbon treaty. It only allows people to ask the Commission to enforce what is already in the Lisbon treaty. This is one of my reservations about how it is being depicted.

I am against the treaty. My main objections are from a development perspective. Its commitment to liberalisation is an outdated ideological commitment. Anyone can see what has happened in the United States and in the British Government's buy-out of Northern Rock. The various free-market policies of these countries have started to get into trouble. They are in trouble here, but the trouble they are causing in developing countries is disproportionate to the trouble they are causing here. Ireland's aid policies have been commendable in many ways. Our aid is not tied to trade agreements with other countries. Now, our aid policies will be required to complement the policies of other countries. We are a small country in Europe. The majority of European countries' aid policies are tied to trade agreements and even arms agreements or to privatisation. The most recent example I can think of concerns Ghana. There are people's protests all over Ghana because the British equivalent of Irish Aid funded a water privatisation scheme which has left communities without access to water and, what is more, has left the water supply out of the hands of their elected public representatives and in the hands of a private company. In areas where it is not profitable to provide water it is no longer providing it.

These are not new things in the Lisbon treaty, but in the treaty we are missing a major opportunity. There is lip-service to human rights and to the millennium development goals, but we are missing an opportunity. We in Ireland can do something, even if it is only to get an opt-out on a matter of principle. We can take a stand and say that we would like our trade policies with the Third World to be dedicated to bettering the situation for developers in those countries and enhancing their opportunities to trade with us. We have missed a big opportunity with the treaty. There is a nice term in human rights law for this —"rights without remedy". The Lisbon treaty includes a list of rights such as dignity. We will supposedly be able to legislate for dignity. However, dignity cannot be given justice in the courts. We should not include it.

I attended a meeting in Dublin at which Deputy Joe Costello was present. One of the most ridiculous things I can see in the Lisbon treaty is that we are to have a voluntary corps of idealistic young people, as Deputy Costello called them, to go out and help people in Third World and conflict zones. That is the last thing that is needed. We need to professionalise aid services and ensure they are accountable and, wherever possible, indigenous. We do not need to send our young idealistic people off on junkets to developing countries. The wording is superfluous. If it is not aimed at achieving something it should not be in there. Those are my reservations. It is a bit of an incoherent statement. There are far too many things in there that we cannot ensure will happen.

Article 32(d) of the Treaty on the Functioning of Europe, in the section on the customs union, contains a phrase that commits us to an expansion of consumption within the EU. The phrase was there before and is not amended by the Lisbon treaty. This is a great insult to the 80% of the world's population who are living in poverty while we have an obesity epidemic. Just as we have sustainable development, we have expansion of consumption. That is why I think we should reject the treaty — in order to create a Europe in which the various member states can co-operate for the betterment of the whole world. This is a defensive, goal-keeping treaty. We are not going out to engage with the world; we are trying to keep the world outside and protect what we have.

I thank Ms Clancy. I am surprised no one mentioned the current financial crisis that is occurring across the world. Nobody mentioned what would happen if we were alone with our own currency or tied to the UK currency. No one mentioned what the consequences might be in the current situation. I throw that in as a reminder to everybody. We will take responses from the platform now and we will take the next four speakers from the floor immediately afterwards.

Ar mo shon fhéin agus ar son muintir na Gaillimhe ba mhaith liom fíor chaoin fáilte a chur romhaibh uilig, go háirithe ár gcomhghleacaithe polaitiúla agus ár oifigigh poiblí a tháinig anseo ó Bhaile Átha Cliath. On behalf of all Galwegians I warmly welcome all of our colleagues to Galway. We modestly welcome our visitors to the permanent cultural capital of our country. We hope they enjoy their visit and have a good evening here with us. I apologise for being late. This was because I was chairing another committee in the Oireachtas, the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. It was a historic day for us and we did not finish until 5.30 p.m.

I wish to respond first to Mr. Barry Finnegan, who stated that he believed in a Europe of the Enlightenment. Let us look back and reflect on the evolution of Europe. If we go back to 1957, we can see the enlightenment of people such as Schuman and Monnet, who got together to form the European Coal and Steel Community. They wished to eradicate the conflict that had appeared in two serious world wars in which Europe was absolutely ravaged. All these people got together to create a new economic structure that moved forward to a political structure, creating the European Economic Community and now the European Union. If that was not enlightened, I do not know what it was. Over the years there has been no greater force for peace, prosperity or democracy in the entire world than the EU.

Mr. Finnegan mentioned the European Court of Justice. The whole ethos of Europe is the mobility of people, goods and services, including finance and capital. If there were not a transfer of resources or the opportunity to reinvest, Ireland would not have the economy it does today. The transfer of resources is vitally important, in terms of both investment and direct transfers from the Union. Mr. Finnegan also mentioned voting, and Mr. Seán Fitzpatrick dealt very capably with this issue. We have 0.8% of the population of the European Union and 0.8% of the votes. However, we enter negotiations as a full sovereign state in the Council of Ministers, with the same rights as every other state. To get a majority decision under the new Lisbon treaty, which we are expecting to be ratified by the people of Ireland, there must be a 55% vote of that Council, which must reflect the opinion of 65% of the people of Europe. That is a double protection for democracy, the citizen and the entire operation of Europe. We are protected within the treaty.

Mr. Barry Finnegan mentioned foreign direct investment, FDI, which has been of great importance to Ireland. A total of 150,000 people are employed in this country as a result of foreign direct investment, with 100,000 of these jobs created by investment from the United States and 50,000 by investment from other countries. It is important to be able to relocate within Europe and to produce and export within and out of the continent.

We look at the contribution that Europe has made as the largest contributor in the world to overseas development aid, with Ireland as the largest contributor per capita within the European Union. These are important points to consider. We could never do these things as a nation on our own without the support, involvement and engagement of the European Union which has allowed little Ireland, with its small population, to box considerably above its weight in global affairs and to become recognised as one of the outstanding countries in the world from the points of view of democracy, human rights and economics, and as a sovereign entity.

It is a great pleasure to come to Galway to say a few words and engage in some dialogue. I have some difficulties with both main speakers. I entirely disagree with Mr. Barry Finnegan concerning the manner in which he presented the "No" side of the debate. I also have a slight difficulty with Mr. Laurent Pech's argument that this is the most minor treaty of all and is a modest piece of work. From the Labour Party's point of view, this is one of the most important of the six treaties we have had. The importance of the treaty depends on how it is viewed.

One might look, as Deputy Treacy has, at why the European Union was founded. It was founded after two of the most awful world wars in the history of mankind. Millions of people were killed and genocide was practised on the mainland of Europe. The Union was an attempt to change all that. This treaty has re-stated and expanded the founding values in Articles 1, 2 and 3, which are well worth reading. According to Article 2:

The Union 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 Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between men and women prevail.

In addition, Article 3 notes that similar rights will operate in the relationship between the European Union and the rest of the world.

That is a fantastic pillar on which to build the European project. It is further expanded by the Charter of Fundamental Rights about which much has been said tonight. However, have the speakers said that it is a good thing? Surely a charter of fundamental rights is a good thing. Its text is combined with those of the European Convention on Human Rights, the Social Charter in the Council of Europe and the United Nations Charter. In addition, all the constitutional rights in the different member states have been examined. The result is put together in a succinct simple document, published as a protocol to the treaty. It is a fine citizen's charter that is justiciable in the European Court of Justice. It speaks of workers' rights, children's rights, rights between men and women and more. It is an excellent document. It is unique in that it deals not merely with civil and political rights as set out in the United Nations Charter or in the European Convention on Human Rights but also with social, economic and cultural and administrative rights. The text expands those values mentioned in the original text to which I alluded and on which the European Union is based.

It is interesting that the British Government chose not to accept this. It opted out because it did not want to give this extensive set of rights to its citizens. Neither did the Polish Government. Two of the 27 states opted out of the treaty. Ireland did not but there was a time when we were thinking of doing so because of the importance of this charter and its implications. Thank goodness the Irish Government did not opt out. The trade unions played a major role in ensuring the Charter of Fundamental Rights remained as a legally binding document. That is its real importance. It was not in place as such before but it is now.

The citizen's initiative is a good way of going to the people and offering them a direct say in what interests them. At present there is a measure of such access. Any citizen of any member state can appeal to the European Parliament. This measure goes into the realm of making policy and legislation in cases where there is an issue that affects citizens to the extent that they will get the text and the signatures together by e-mail. Perhaps the requirement of 1 million signatures should be reduced but it is not that difficult when there are 500 million citizens in the European Union who can be reached by modern technology.

Regarding the area of militarisation and neutrality, nothing in the treaty changes one iota of Ireland's position on neutrality or European defence. Legislation being debated in the Dáil at present, with reference to the referendum on which citizens will vote on 12 June, specifically states that we cannot join a European army. Ireland's neutrality will remain and we have a very strict requirement in that regard. We do not engage in any military operation until we have what is called the triple lock. There must be a mandate from the United Nations in the form of a Security Council resolution. Then the Irish Government must decide in favour, followed by agreement in the Oireachtas. That is the triple lock.

It is very important that Ireland be involved where decisions are being made on military missions. There is no sense of us opting out. It is very important that we never have a situation where the European Union becomes a belligerent or aggressive entity. It should act strictly in accordance with the Petersberg Tasks, namely, conflict resolution, peacemaking, peacekeeping and all that goes into tidying up after belligerence has taken place, including humanitarian aid.

I was criticised for apparently having said it is a bad thing that young Irish people or volunteers from any of the member states should get involved in humanitarian aid. On the contrary, it is a fantastic idea. Contained in the treaty is a specific legal clause stating that a major goal of the European Union is the eradication of global poverty. The United States founded the Peace Corps after the Second World War so that its idealistic young people might work abroad. In much the same way, the treaty proposes the establishment of what is called the youth humanitarian corps whereby young Irish people might involve themselves in humanitarian issues. I do not believe that such a body would cut across the non-governmental organisations as one lady seemed concerned it might. This is something that should be strongly promoted and made a major issue.

The issue of climate change was included in the treaty by the Irish Government. It was not the Green Party or anyone else who did this. It was something we debated in the National Forum on Europe for two years and something all the parties sought. The view was that the European Union at this point in its history should be looking at global goals.

It was decided there were two significant global issues that should now become the union's challenge and objective. One was tackling global poverty which is addressed clearly in the treaty. The second was the urgent issue of the day, the environment and climate change. The Government inserted that in the treaty. It is also separately in the charter of fundamental rights. It is one of the strong, new, desirable challenges and it is great that it is in the treaty. This is not a minor matter, it is quite radical. The treaty is advancing in a desirable fashion with good quality values and objectives.

Quite a number of the questions have been answered by other speakers. Ms Deirdre O'Shaughnessy from the Galway Independent newspaper raised several questions she wanted answered by somebody from the Government side. She asked if the Government had a strategy on supporting the treaty and if it was working towards minimising unpopular decisions. The Government deals with decisions on an ongoing basis regardless of their popularity and from time to time it has to make difficult and tough decisions. It does this with no reference to the debate on the treaty.

Ms O'Shauhnessy asked about the Referendum Commission, which is a statutory agency independent of the Government. It has been established and will be working to produce and provide information. My understanding is the commission is not required to put forward both sides of the argument, rather it is required to put forward factual and impartial information to assist the public in making a decision on the provisions in the treaty. I have no doubt the commission will do that. It would be wrong of me to comment on its behalf at this stage but I have no doubt over the course of the coming weeks that will be dealt with. The Bill has not yet concluded in the Houses of the Oireachtas but it will progress from there.

One of the other points raised by the gentleman on behalf of Galway No to Europe, Mr. Laurent Pech, was on militarisation. Deputy Joe Costello has dealt with that. The involvement of Ireland in any such activity is related to peacekeeping and humanitarian issues. As Deputy Costello said, the triple-lock mechanism is there to protect our position of military neutrality.

The citizens' initiative was also discussed and we should be clear about what we expect from it. An examination of legislation in our own country shows we do not petition the State on a daily basis to get certain legislation passed. The legislation finds a way of boiling to the top through the political process. That is how it works coming through the EU Commission. The citizens' initiative provides another mechanism for citizens to raise an agenda. It allows the political system including the EU Parliament, the Council of Ministers and the EU Commission, to identify and understand if there is an issue for which there is sufficient support across, as the treaty says, a significant number of member states and a population base of 1 million people.

As one of the speakers said, I do not believe that if an issue were relevant, it would be difficult to get 1 million people to support a petition addressing it using the modern technologies associated with the Internet. There has been much talk about subsidiarity with this treaty, which is dealing with an issue at the lowest possible level. We should not be petitioning the European Commission on local issues. If we are thinking local, and we are thinking in parish pump terms it would be difficult to get 1 million people together. For example, it would surely not be possible to get 1 million people across the Union to petition to solve a minor issue in north County Clare. However, if an issue is of relevance and importance to the citizens of Europe or has an impact on 500 million European citizens then it will not be a problem to get the support of 1 million people through the modern technologies. I will leave it at that.

Mr. Seán Ó Neachtain, MEP

Ní bheidh mé i bhfad mar tá go leor de na ceisteanna a cuireadh freagraithe go maith ag mo comhghleacaithe. I refer to what the speaker, Mr. Barry Finnegan said. He gave the impression that this is a treaty put together hastily by the Bosch corporation. That is not the way this treaty was put together, of all the treaties. This treaty started back in 1999 with the Laeken Declaration, where there was an emphasis put on how an expanding European Union would have to organise itself in the future. The treaty then went to the European convention which included participation by parliamentarians from member states, the accession countries, members of NGOs, other organisations and the European Commission. Of all the treaties, it is the most scrutinised with the most input. To say that it was put together hastily by some corporation is wide of the mark. We cannot allow the view to be put across that the treaty is put together in that way. If the Irish people vote "No" to the treaty, there would be some more scrutiny but there would ultimately be very little change in Europe.

I have been a member of the Committee of the Regions since 1994 and a Member of the European Parliament since 2002. Since I went to Europe the one thing that strikes me about European law, legislation and regulations is that it is made in a total spirit of compromise. I remember the first day I went to the Committee of the Regions there was an election for president and there was one clear obvious candidate who had most of the votes. Despite having most of the votes, that candidate entered into a compromise with another nominee to show a solidarity. That spirit has been in Europe since then.

The other question I wish to address, which might not have been fully answered, is the Daily Mail newspaper article raised by Ms. Deirdre O’Shaughnessy . She referred to the piece in the Daily Mail newspaper stating that the Commission or President Sarkozy might go AWOL in the intervening period and that it might be wise to have the referendum as soon as possible. That is outrageous, but it does not surprise me coming from the Daily Mail, which is the most euro-sceptic of newspapers. How could that happen if the Commission has already published its work programme? I will not say much about President Sarkozy. However, the next Presidency of the European Council is with France, but it cannot act on its own; Europe must act together. In view of this the newspaper in question has engaged in propaganda, which does not do justice to any newspaper.

We have a responsibility as public representatives — particularly as a representative of a significant area of the north and west — to let the public know from our experience what is the right thing to do. Since we entered the European Economic Community in 1973 we have obviously benefited. That benefit has been sizeable. The treaty is a continuation of that project which has served Ireland so well. If we do not advise our citizens that this is the best course of action to take, we are negligent in our duty. This is the reason the public should support this referendum. It will be to the benefit of Ireland and Europe in the future.

There is much that is not in the treaty and many ways in which it could be improved. However, the European project is just in its infancy. Deputies Treacy and Costello referred to the wars in Europe before the European Union was formed.

My final point is that Europe has adopted the unity by diversity motto. That means respect for human values, but particularly for the diversity of culture, across Europe. That is the reason we have 23 out of 27 working languages, including our own, which is another indication of the way Europe wants to progress into the future. Ba mhaith liomsa freisin fáilte a chur roimh an gcoiste go Cathair na dTreabh. Is deas an rud é gur tháinig sibh agus tá súil agam nach mbeidh sé ró-fhada go dtiocfaidh sibh arís.

I thank Mr. Ó Neachtain. We will hear from other participants. The officials will give them instructions. They should proceed to the tables in front of the microphones. We will then have a series of replies from the platform until we exhaust our queries. I am aware some members may have to do a radio interview locally. We will wait for a signal in that regard when the members may be released if we have not finished on time. I ask the participants to give their name and organisation. I ask members to record the issues raised and reply directly if possible. The next speaker can take the place at the other table.

Ms Colette Connolly

I am Councillor Colette Connolly, member of the Labour Party. I am here not as a member of the Labour Party but as a member of the No to Lisbon organisation. If I may, I will use my time to make two brief comments about Dr. Laurent Pech. First, the literacy rates in Ireland are staggeringly low. A total of 25% of our population are illiterate. Dr. Pech, being an academic, might bear that in mind when he criticises people for not reading and understanding the literature. Also, 40% of people over the age of 65 have not attained a primary certificate. That is a Central Statistics Office figure. He might bear that in mind. Also, it would be helpful if Dr. Pech elaborated on his definition of terrorism.

I thank Dr. Pech for the history lecture on the origins of the economic coal and steel pact but it is not helpful because member states of Europe signed up initially to what was close economic co-operation. That was followed by political co-operation but the new state being proposed will make our own national state a sub-state of the Union. That is not what the Irish people want and it is not the reason they fought against the English for 400 years.

Why adopt a treaty that has been rejected by two of the original founders of the European Economic Community, the United Kingdom and France?

The word "constitution" has been removed from the Lisbon treaty but the European state in the treaty takes on a legal entity. It is currently a descriptive term with no legal meaning but the Lisbon treaty gives the meaning of the European state a legal entity.

The European Defence Agency that was discussed at the Thessalonika summit in 2004 sets up a commitment to a defence budget. In response to a parliamentary question, Deputy Róisín Shortall confirmed that more than €10 million of Government money was spent on flight charges over Shannon in the period 2000 to 2005. In terms of the Lisbon treaty, would that budget expand in regard to those flight charges and to all military overflights going through Shannon?

Recently, the Irish Government pulled out the money in the Irish pension funds that was invested in the armaments industry, about which there was a good deal of media coverage. Why did the Government do that when there is a commitment to a defence budget?

The percentage of the GDP on defence is in the Lisbon treaty. It refers to a defence budget and increasing the spend on militarisation but it does not quantify it. Will that be done at a later date and, if so, at what percentage will it be fixed? Currently we do not have any say in regard to what will be that percentage of the GDP.

Much has been made of the triple lock system and the opt-out clauses. Even if we opt out of something we find morally reprehensible in terms of war, the funds the Government has invested in this military budget that will be held centrally will still be used to fund that war. I have a major difficulty with that.

For clarification regarding military affairs, etc., how would Ms Connolly regard the situation during the war in Bosnia, for instance, if the European member states had failed to respond to the pleas from the Croatians and others who were under attack, given that this was in Europe? How would she foresee a similar situation being dealt with? That is separate to the point about Shannon because there is nothing in the Lisbon treaty about flights over Shannon.

Nothing to do with Shannon.

It has nothing to do with Shannon or US military aid. The point I make is for clarification for the audience. We had a situation where the United Nations were in control. The UN was the protector of the people in the safe havens that were created for them but the UN did not have the capability of responding. As a result, the UN and the European Community had to enlist the aid of NATO to take over. How would Ms Connolly wish to see Europe respond to that type of situation in the event of their being a repetition? I apologise for interrupting her.

Ms Colette Connolly

I wish I had all night to speak and I had not been at meetings all day. I will pass on answering that question. I do not agree with wars. The solution to that is to create a just society but how can a just society be created when such an enormous amount of money is being spent in this area. The Chairman mentioned the downturn in the economies.

Was it just——

Ms Colette Connolly

I am not here for that. The Chairman gave me three minutes to ask my questions——

I will give Ms Connolly the three minutes.

Ms Colette Connolly

——and I would like to use that three minutes.

The Referendum Commission was mentioned earlier. The people are at a loss in not having the "Yes" and "No" argument put clearly to them in the debate. Also, the information is very late in being sent out.

On the reference to the abolition of the 68 national vetos in the areas of crime and justice, sport and so on, can that be extended by the individual states at a later date if they are not listed now?

On the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the question was alluded to earlier by one of the questioners. The existing human rights have been incorporated into the constitution but my understanding is that they are subservient in the courts of law. People are unclear as to whether the new charter of human rights that is to be incorporated will be in a similar position.

I want to comment on our commitment to create the conditions for the establishment of nuclear industries, given Ireland's position on Sellafield over the years. I am very concerned about the liberalisation of the market, particularly in regard to health and education.

If 90% of the constitution as proposed remains unchanged but is being rejected — we are the only country to hold a referendum — why does the committee expect the people of Ireland to vote for it? A climate of cynicism prevails and the position has not been helped by the quotes attributed to the EU Commission President Barroso and the former French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing referred to earlier in terms of their flippant attitude to the Lisbon treaty. Therefore, it would be difficult for the Irish people to vote in the referendum on the treaty.

Mr. Winfried Eamon Scheides

I represent myself. I have been an Irish taxpayer for more than 30 years. With a name like mine, members of the committee will gather that I was born in Germany but I have been living here for more than 30 years. I have seen Ireland develop from being a member of the European Economic Community to become a member of European Community and now we are members of the European Union. During that time Ireland has experienced substantial growth. We have witnessed many positive developments and received substantial support, especially the farming community, the members of which have received considerable financial support from the EU. At the same time possibly even a higher amount of money has been taken out of national resources from the fisheries sector and given to other countries. Therefore, we have to be balanced in our view. There are pros and cons for Ireland's membership of the EU as Ireland developed within the EU.

However, I am simply reflecting on the history of this country. Ireland has a proud tradition of having fought for independence again and again for hundreds of years. That right was established by the people who signed the 1916 Proclamation. I have one question for everybody here, namely, what would the signatories to the 1916 Proclamation say now? Would they say "Yes" or "No" to this treaty? I believe they would say "No". I will certainly vote "No".

How does Mr. Scheides know that?

Mr. Winfried Eamon Scheides

That is why I am asking this question and would like to hear the opinions of the members of the committee.

Yes, we will answer that.

Mr. Scheides said he predicted that the signatories would say "No" to the treaty.

Mr. Winfried Eamon Scheides

I like to believe that the answer to my question is "No".

I like to believe that I will win the lotto but I am not so sure about it.

Mr. Winfried Eamon Scheides

This is why I asked the question.

Yes, we will answer that. I thank Mr. Scheides for his contribution. I call the next speaker.

Mr. Douglas Foxvog

I am a researcher at NUIG. I am not representing any organisation. "Foxvog" is a Norwegian name. The Minister of State, Deputy Noel Treacy, spoke about how great the EU is. Most of those involved in the "No" campaign, of which I am not a part, are not arguing against membership of the EU. If the EU has benefited Ireland greatly, that is not an argument for changing the EU. My concerns relate to the military issues involved. Article 28 states that all member states shall undertake to progressively improve their military capabilities. The question at issue is from how much of that can Ireland opt out. Is there any reason for Ireland to improve its position in that respect if it will not be involved in the EU military? One of the opt-out phrases is that each nation is required to make civilian and military capabilities available for the implementation of EU defence policies.

Ireland can opt out of some provisions, but is the only country whose people will have an opportunity to vote on this treaty. This provision will place an obligation in this respect on every other member state of the European Union whose citizens do not have the opportunity to vote on this treaty. Probably the citizens of many member states would like to be able to address this issue, but we are the only citizens who can do so. We need to take a broader approach than a provincial one, that we can opt out of this provision and, therefore, we do not need to be concerned about this. People throughout Europe who are concerned about this will not have a chance to vote on the treaty.

On the issue of establishing an EU army, the treaty states that a common EU defence policy will lead to a common defence. The current treaty states that it "might lead" to that, which is a drastic difference. Article 28 also states that if a member state is a victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other member states shall have towards it an obligation of aid and assistance by all means in its power. Turkey is trying to become a member of the Union. Turkey regularly attacks Iraq and there are tit for tat attacks back and forth. When an attack is made by the PKK in Iraq on Turkey, it can be interpreted as an attack on Turkey's national territory, even though it is part of a process of attacks back and forth that has been ongoing for many years. This seems to mean that every nation in the EU would have an obligation to aid Turkey in its war against the PKK. I do not believe we should be involved in this. Even if we can opt out of this provision, I do not believe that every other European nation should have this obligation.

I thank Mr. Foxvog for that. I call the next speaker.

Mr. Denis O’Brien

I am from Galway. I am a community forum representative on Galway City Development Board. I have been a community forum representative since 2000, having been nominated by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. I received the document on the EU reform treaty in the post today. I applaud the committee for its "just in time" communication process. Page 15 of that document states that the Union shall take into account requirements linked to the promotion of high levels of employment, the guarantee of adequate social protection and the fight against social exclusion, etc. I printed a copy of the document, as per the advertisement in The Irish Times, and the statement included in it is the same as that on the Union’s internal policies contained in page 76 of this document. The European Union designated last year as the European Year of Equal Opportunities for All. Considerable debate took place on that and it presented a great opportunity to debate Ireland’s position in that respect.

In 1973 the then Government established the National Economic and Social Council, NESC, to advise the Taoiseach on economic and social justice issues. In 1993 the then Government established the National Economic and Social Forum to address unemployment and social inclusion. Our institutions have failed in many respects in that regard. The NESC's Strategy into the 21st Century was published in November 1996. The Taoiseach chose to disregard the pay policy recommendation from that body. In its document, People, Productivity and Purpose, the NESC repeated the same recommendation on pay policy but the Taoiseach again chose not to take it on board.

The national anti-poverty strategy was adopted in April 1997. The NESF undertook an mechanistic review of that document but it should have undertaken a systematic review of it. The principles which underpin that policy of empowering the poor was never taken on board. The Government also reviewed that strategy.

Moving forward to the position today, as stated in the back pages of the NESC's document of December 2005, the pay and pensions estimate was €15 billion. We now know that figure has to be increased by a factor of five, to €75 billion. This is a diverging society.

I thank committee members for coming to Galway.

Mr. Michael Connolly

I am a member of Galway County Council, on which I represent the Tuam electoral area, and a member of Fianna Fáil. Having supported all previous referenda, I am not always regarded as a conformist to Fianna Fáil policies. In this case, however, without going into too much detail, I consider that I have wide and varied work experience outside politics, including in eastern Europe. I come from a rural community and know that the farming organisations are promoting a "Yes" vote. I will be doing the same. The treaty does not just concern the farming sector which has seen advances in agriculture, it is also closely connected to environmental issues, although it has a lot to do with our farming practices.

Consumption will rise in Europe because the population will rise. Production will also rise. In a global economy we may have to produce food for other parts of the world. That is why the IFA and others have had reservations about Mr. Peter Mandelson and the WTO. As a former union official and policy officer for a particular union, I ask Mr. Finnegan what is wrong with saying people can strike to seek payment of a minimum wage? These are the liberties the European Union has given us. I am speaking as someone who worked in industry as a refrigeration engineer. I have worked in eastern European countries where I saw the communist system in operation. While living and working in those countries, I was lucky enough to see the first free elections held in them. Their peoples always looked west in hoping for liberty, human dignity and the freedoms we enjoy, based on democracy. No system is perfect but we have provisions on the transfer of undertakings, a brilliant piece of work from the European Union, that have stopped unscrupulous industrialists abusing workers. Having seen industries closing down in my constituency in the last couple of weeks — other public representatives are in a similar position — we probably need to tighten national legislation to prevent the abuse of workers. Everything is not provided for in the provisions on the transfer of undertakings but matters must be provided for locally also. At times we do not tighten domestic legislation, although we have the right to do so.

Mr. Barry Finnegan

Social partnership is dead in Sweden because of the European Union decision.

Mr. Michael Connolly

Social partnership is very much alive in this country.

Only the Chairman can interrupt.

Mr. Michael Connolly

I also worked in France and Germany at a time when we did not have the common currency. I saw small dealers being driven out of the refrigeration business because they could not compete with the bigger buyers who bought and sold at certain times. The common currency has brought stability to industry, a point the Chairman made. I know what the common currency has meant to business. That is the primary reason I came here. It has been a huge plus, particularly for an island country such as ours, to be connected to the eurozone. We are in a peripheral location, yet it has strengthened our hand in transacting business globally.

What is wrong with the free movement of capital? As councillors, we get annoyed when we see legislation introducing borders on property. There has to be free movement of capital. As somebody at the top table asked, what type of country would we have if there was not free movement of capital, not just within the European Union but globally? What type of European Union would we have if we did not have the common currency? Incidentally, in my travels I used to collect foreign currency because I always envisaged that one day it would be obsolete and would become a valuable collector's item.

We have more food for thought.

I will touch on a few of the subjects raised, while leaving other questions to others.

I returned today from a meeting of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg where I attended the bureau of my own party which is affiliated to the EPP. It is bigger than the European Union because there are 47 member states. The Lisbon treaty has nothing to do with the Council of Europe. At the bureau meeting last Sunday, however, I was asked by the chairman to speak on the importance of the forthcoming referendum. There were 47 member states represented and all eyes were focused on the referendum.

Initially two countries rejected the constitution. So far about eight countries have ratified the European treaty. The latest was Poland with 80% in favour and 20% opposed. During the years we have had a lot of treaties. We have had the Single European Act, the Maastricht treaty that paved the way for monetary union, the Amsterdam treaty and the Nice treaty in 2001. We rejected the Nice treaty on the first occasion. At the time we heard all the concerns that many speakers have expressed tonight about issues that have nothing to do with the treaty. The Nice treaty gave an opportunity to some of the eastern bloc countries whose peoples had lived under the old Soviet system for years. If we had not ratified it, countries such as Poland and Hungary would not now be members of the European Union. We know how important this multinational community is to this country and the major role it is playing in building our infrastructure.

The French ratified the Lisbon treaty some time ago at an elaborate ceremony in the Palais de Versailles. One of the smaller parties which played a major role in opposing the constitution abstained in the treaty vote. That means that progress was made. I do not know the name of the party off hand, but it remained neutral in the vote to ratify the treaty in the French Parliament. The European Union has changed during the years.

A previous speaker asked a question about the 1916 leaders. I think they would be proud of the role Ireland has played in the European Union for over 30 years. Irish is now an official language of the Union, as Seán Ó Neachtain, MEP, said. We can work in and move freely from state to state. There is peace on our small island, in the achievement of which the Union played a role. We can avail of free health care when travelling all over Europe. These are the benefits of EU membership.

Previous speakers mentioned that Peter Sutherland had said the Lisbon treaty was one of the least complicated treaties of all the treaties ratified. It is. Most people find the treaties boring and complex and many are not interested in them. People want to know what is in it for them, including what money is in it for them because most of the time, that is what people consider.

On his visit to the Forum on Europe today, EU President Barroso said it is not a perfect treaty but it is very hard to get perfection with 27 member states. That is why we want to try to streamline the European Union and make it work more efficiently. Small countries are playing a role. The fact the four large countries — Italy, Germany, Britain and France — had two Commissioners up to a few years ago shows that these large countries have lost power and that small countries, such as Malta and Ireland, have the same rights as these countries. Members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs visited Ljubljana in Slovenia at the beginning of the year. It is a small country and a new republic which was once part of former Yugoslavia. It now holds the Presidency of the European Union and is playing a very important role in that regard. Much has happened and much has changed.

A speaker referred to Shannon which is not part of the Lisbon treaty. However, I would like to respond in regard to Shannon Airport and the troops. Military traffic from 35 countries use Shannon Airport and have been doing so since the 1950s. It is not only American troops who go through Shannon. They pay landing charges to the airport.

Our patriots — a word very much used at the moment — would be very proud of our EU membership and the fact the European Union has emerged from two World Wars. We also have peace in our country now. I believe our patriots would vote "Yes" to this treaty on 12 June next.

In response to Winfried Eamon Scheidges, we have no way of knowing how the men and women of 1916 would have voted. The first words of the declaration from the GPO are "Irish men and Irish women". How advanced that was for 1916 in terms of social equality. I have always thought when reading it or teaching it what a good note it sounded at the beginning of the declaration of independence. However, one can go back further than 1916 to Robert Emmet who said: "When my country takes her place among the nations of the earth, then and not 'til then, let my epitaph be written". That was in 1803. We have no way of knowing what they would have thought, so it is fanciful.

I will respond to some of the speakers because we should try to answer people if we can and if they are willing to listen. Ms Colette Connolly asked several interesting questions. She is fundamentally against the treaty and said she did not want any more history lectures but life is history whether we like it or not. However boring it is, Europe is history. She also spoke about education and health and is very worried about privatisation but as I read it, the treaty is neutral on the provision of education and health.

Mr. Douglas Foxvog asked why we were improving military capabilities. We are doing so because if we are to go into the field of humanitarian endeavour, we had better have a good army to so do. That is why we place emphasis on that.

Mr. Denis O'Brien, who is the community forum representative, made a very interesting contribution. He said recent years have provided opportunities for internal debate on the National Economic and Social Council and the National Economic and Social Forum and for the people and Governments to come forward with thoughts on how to confront inequalities and poverty. He is quite right about that. Each year Fr. Seán Healy of CORI strikes a very sound note about what he wants in the budget and from Government. Mr. Denis O'Brien is right in a way in that there is not enough debate about all those worthwhile fora that were set up. We read their reports but they go out of our heads immediately.

Councillor Michael Connolly spoke in favour of a "Yes" vote. He has great experience from his earlier life and where he worked. I was very interested to hear him speak.

Ms Deirdre O'Shaughnessy spoke about the Daily Mail and whether we believed the stories. I believe the Daily Mail sometimes stretches credibility.

Ms Deirdre O’Shaughnessy

It was not the Daily Mail but The Irish Times.

I suppose it was taken from the Daily Mail.

The Irish Times is not beyond stretching it too.

I suppose it is not; I do not know. The remark made about President Sarkozy was that he was unpredictable. Who could challenge that? In some aspects of his life, he is certainly very unpredictable but, nonetheless, attractive. That is my opinion on him. It would not really be a very damning thing to say that somebody was unpredictable because predictability is dull, and dull he certainly is not.

I very much liked what Ms Sarah Clancy had to say. I know she is against the treaty but I think she is very idealistic. She said the aid policies we have were correct because they are not linked to armaments or trade, although Mr. John O'Shea fulminates about that daily in the newspapers and at lectures.

I do not understand why she took issue with Deputy Costello who is able to fight for himself; I am not fighting his battle. She spoke about groups of idealistic young people going to other lands. She wants that done on a far more professional and formal basis, or at least that is what I took from what she said. It lingered in my mind because——

Ms Sarah Clancy

I will clarify it if the Deputy would like. The main reason is that type voluntary activity overseas happens——

We cannot hear Ms Clancy without the microphone.

Ms Sarah Clancy

There are all sorts of organisations in Ireland organising volunteers to go overseas. Some of them are dodgy while some are great. Some of them involve idealistic young people while some people are going on junkets. That does not need to be in a treaty for Europe. What needs to be in a treaty for Europe are professional methods of helping countries to come out of poverty and not idealistic young people. If we want to educate people in our schools about the economic policies impoverishing the Third World, we can do so with the volunteer corps or otherwise. We do not want the boy scouts heading off to Darfur on foot of a treaty on the functioning of Europe.

I took on board what Ms O'Shaughnessy said. I thank her for taking the trouble to speak again. She said it required much greater professionalism and shaping. Nobody could quibble with that. However, there is always a place for idealism and it would be a sad world if it lost its place. However, I take the points Ms O'Shaughnessy made which were very well thought out.

These fora are very good, although I was not at the Dublin meeting. However, more time should be provided for people to give their opinions. We only heard seven or eight persons — I have a list of them here. There are many people here who look interesting——

We are willing to accommodate them all.

——and I would like to hear many more of those interesting people.

Hear, hear.

I hope that on another occasion we would have more time for people to speak and for us to respond in a more natural way. It is better that it be done in a natural way. We should bear in mind that the people who came here took the trouble to come up to their chairs and to say their piece, deserve to be recognised by their names, to have their points of view recognised, and to be spoken with.

Hear, hear. We have not finished yet of course.

Of course we have not. I ask Mr. Winfried Eamon Scheidges to remember what I told him about Robert Emmet.

I thank the Chairman. The range of speakers so far tonight underlines how European we as a people already are. The speakers' different backgrounds show they are from all over Europe. That is great to see. For me, that is as good an endorsement of the European project as one will get.

I want to address some of the points raised. Ms Colette Connolly spoke of a new state being proposed. There is no new state being proposed by the Lisbon treaty. Effectively, it is modernising the European Union which is a union of sovereign independent states which will work collectively on areas of common interest where greater progress can be made on issues when we work together rather than working individually.

Much has been made of the two countries that rejected the European constitution a couple of years ago but it should be pointed out that it was approved by up to 18 countries, a number of which did so directly by referenda. That is just brushed aside as a footnote in history, notwithstanding the importance of the votes in France and Holland.

Mr. Winfried Eamon Scheidges asked what the 1916 signatories would make of the discussion we are now having and the direction we are taking. Personally, I believe that they would be supportive of our role within Europe and would be supportive of the further development of the European Union. Back then it was a very different Ireland. We were ruled against our will by a foreign power. As a sovereign independent state within the European Union, we are now participating on an equal basis with countries much larger and much more powerful than ourselves. The world has been transformed since 1916 and while it is impossible to predict what men and women of that courage would say today, I believe the principles that they espoused in 1916 would be supportive of the direction in which we are taking Ireland and, indeed, Europe.

Mr. Douglas Foxvog raised the issue of military involvement. That issue has been dealt with well tonight. The issue of money has been raised, but the treaty states clearly that the cost of any military or defence operations under the Common Foreign and Security Policy will be borne by the member states who are participating in that policy and participating in those missions.

Mr. Denis O'Brien raised very interesting points on social welfare and the development of our social and economic policy since our membership of the European union. The essential point I would make is that there is no way we would have as developed a social welfare system such as we have today if we were not a member of the European Union and if we were not to the forefront in the further development of the Union. While organisations such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and CORI appear before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Social and Family Affairs regularly and make suggestions and proposals, as is fitting in a normal democracy, in general the Irish social welfare system is strong, generous and responsive to the needs of the people who we represent. That would not be possible if we had not been in a position to develop our economy in the manner in which European Union membership has allowed us to do over the past 35 years or so.

Councillor Michael Connolly of Fianna Fáil asked about the issue of currency and if we had retained the Irish punt where would it leave us today. In the macro-economic environment in which we now compete — we have seen the uncertainty in the global markets — I personally believe it would place us in an extremely vulnerable position. We have seen in recent times the weakness of currencies, such as sterling and the US dollar, in economies which are much more powerful than we could ever imagine ourselves to be. One of the fundamental strengths of our economy is that the euro is so strong. It is a currency for all of the European Union and that protects our economic independence and our economic strength, and means that decisions are made collectively.

My final point relates back to the contribution of the first speaker, Mr. Seán Fitzpatrick, who raised the issue of decision-making. He asked whether there will be an erosion of our ability to make our point known and to contribute to decision-making. The opposite is the case, as Mr. Fitzpatrick mentioned. When people speak of qualified majority voting it is so important to recognised that qualified majority voting means that at least 15 of the 27 countries in the European Union must agree to a measure for it to be implemented. That is aside from the sensitive areas such as tax and neutrality where unanimity is required. In the other areas which are competences of the European Union, 15 member states must agree and it is simply not possible for the large blocs of France, Germany and the UK to get together and out-vote all the small countries. The small nation states which are members of the European Union will be in an extremely strong position if we endorse this treaty, which I very much hope we will.

I begin by referring to Mr. Winfried Eamon Scheidges's question on what the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation would say. It is not quite as abstract a question as one might imagine. Even up to the 1960s we were almost totally dependent economically on the UK. Although there was an independence of sorts, it was the EU, and its development, that allowed us become much more independent. I am speaking about an independence that was alluded to, for example, by the Barrington report on how difficult matters were in Ireland in the early 1960s. The demographics were askew. There were young people and old people, but many of that demographic group in the middle were emigrating to the UK and America. In a sense our economic independence only came through Europe. There were other points mentioned in that report which showed that women were not getting married in Ireland. The reason for that was there was not sufficient money. There was very low participation in second level education in the 1960s before it became free through Donagh O'Malley and the initiatives to ensure that everybody got second level education.

To answer the question, I think the signatories would have looked at it objectively. They were European looking. When one considers the wars that took place at that time — in 1916 the Great War was ongoing — and then subsequently, there is no doubt about the benefits that have accrued. At that time there was German imperialism in Europe and British imperialism in Ireland. Many Irish people fought against German imperialism in Europe and they died on the battlefields of France, and Irish men fought against British imperialism in Ireland. I think they had a strong sense of what needed to be done in Europe, even at that stage, and they undertook it. They were very forward looking.

Mr. Douglas Foxvog made an interesting point about Turkey and what would happen with the Kurds and the PKK. The interesting point there is we are now speaking about something that is either a fact or a shadow. That is a "what if". Turkey is not a member of the EU. It has not even complied with the stability contract for the EU. Therefore, how can we ask what would happen in the case of Turkey? Turkey is not a member. We cannot deal with shadows. We can only deal with facts.

My colleague, Councillor Michael Connolly, asked a good question, namely, what type of Europe would we have without the single currency. We might look at what happened in the 1990s when there was a run on the punt during Albert Reynolds's time as Taoiseach and we were forced to devalue. It was very serious for the economy to have somebody like Mr. George Soros speculating against the Irish punt. He recently lamented the fact that Ireland still has the euro as its currency. That is because he cannot speculate against the euro because it is too strong a currency. However, it would have been possible to speculate against the punt and, as a result, Ireland would have lost and some people with foreign currency accounts would have gained substantially, especially in light of the current uncertainty in the markets. Speculators would have identified Ireland's relatively small and open economy, which would have been totally exposed to the downturn in America and the credit crunch, and we would have found ourselves in a very difficult situation.

Michael Connolly also stated that interest rates here once stood at 20%. Being part of the euro has meant that our interests rate stands at 4% and we have all witnessed the resultant benefits, growth and stability. Long may these last.

Colette Connolly referred to crime and justice. I am involved with an anti-drugs group, part of the work of which includes discussions with young people. Questions continually arise about those who illegally import drugs into Ireland. By and large, the main dealers are based in offshore locations. The greatest problem we face is that we cannot combat these individuals directly. The Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, has been able to seize money and assets from criminals. However, if the CAB tries to retrieve moneys from Spain, for example, its representatives, not the criminals, would be arrested. We must resolve this problem. Again, this comes back to subsidiarity. There are certain matters which are definitely the responsibility of Europe and one of these is to ensure cross-border crime does not pay.

The concept of subsidiarity also applies in respect of agriculture and climate change and it is built into the treaty. There are positive developments at each stage of the treaty.

I have a question for Colette Connolly. Some 25% of people in the State are illiterate. That figures seems extraordinarily high and must almost certainly depend on how one evaluates illiteracy. I do not accept that figure.

Mr. Barry Finnegan

It is functional illiteracy.

That was not stated earlier.

Ms Colette Connolly

I did not ask a question about justice. I inquired about the lifting of the 64 vetoes currently in existence. Can these be expanded into other areas as a direct result of the Lisbon treaty?

By unanimous agreement there are areas where they can change.

Only by unanimous agreement of the member states. We will be bringing matters to a conclusion shortly. There is an opportunity for one further short round of questions and brief replies from those on the platform. Our guests speakers, who have been extremely patient, will then bring our deliberations to a close.

Ms Patricia McKenna

I am Patricia McKenna and I am a member of the national executive of the Green Party. I am also chairperson of the People's Movement.

I have represented the Green Party for ten years in the European Parliament and I know a certain amount about climate change. The treaty contains some new material on climate change but no new powers are provided to allow the EU to act internally in respect of climate change. I firmly believe that, regardless of whether the treaty is accepted or rejected, the EU will still pursue the issue of climate change at international level. There is no doubt that, in comparison with the US, it is much more progressive. Reference to climate change is really a ploy to encourage people to support the treaty.

As a previous speaker pointed out, it is not just the Irish Daily Mail that is reporting on particular aspects of the treaty. I refer to the fact that, for example, a health directive and a number of other directives have been shelved by the EU. Even www.euobserver.com stated today that the EU is delaying its budget proposals until after the Irish referendum because it does not want to upset the result. Last week, the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Roche, and Deputy Gilmore both criticised the French Minister who referred to what his country would do in respect of a consolidated tax base when it takes over the Presidency of the EU. The Minister of State and Deputy Gilmore stated that the French should not interfere in our referendum by outlining what they intend to do. It is interesting that the Minister of State and Deputy Gilmore were both seen at Dublin Castle fawning over the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the head of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso. It is fine if one is saying what the political establishment here wants one to say. If, however, one is not doing so, one has a problem.

When it was originally established, the Referendum Commission had two important functions, namely, to provide information on the yes and no arguments and to stimulate and organise debates on referendum issues. When the people voted "No" in the first referendum on the Nice treaty, the Government removed those functions from the commission. The function of providing information on the yes and no arguments is of extreme importance to members of the public because it is the only reliable source of information they receive in respect of the pros and cons.

The Referendum Commission is statutorily obliged to be fair and balanced and to treat both sides equally. It is also obliged to ensure the arguments it is circulating are legally vetted and relevant to the issue subject to referendum. The information to which I refer is being denied to the public because the Government has decided it is dangerous to give people information relating to both sides of the argument. The latter is because the first referendum on the Nice treaty showed that the people will not always do what the Government or the political establishment want them to do. This is a regrettable development and it represents an assault on the entire democratic process. Barry Finnegan is a tad outnumbered in respect of this matter this evening. If the Referendum Commission were hosting this meeting, a completely different approach would be taken.

That is not an issue. In the democratic system, the committee is representative of the Houses of the Oireachtas. It represents, proportionately, all parties that were elected. All parties that were elected to the Dáil, including those whose representatives are not members on the committee, were invited and are entitled to speak here. That is the way the system works. However, there is no provision which states that one must extend the amount of time available because a particular opinion or group of opinions are not represented on the committee. The committee operates within the rules set down for it. The report it produces will have regard to the case made by those who favour a no vote as much as it will in respect of those who are seeking a yes vote. However, a case cannot be made for an in-between vote. It must be either a yes or no vote.

Ms Patricia McKenna

The Supreme Court judgments in the case I took and also in the Coughlan case refer to referenda. In the latter, it is not political parties but the people who make the decision. Political parties are not even recognised in the Constitution. In the referendum campaign to which the Coughlan case referred, RTE tried to base party political broadcasts on the level of representation enjoyed by political parties in the Dáil.

I know what Ms McKenna is saying.

Ms Patricia McKenna

The Supreme Court ruled that this was wrong. There is no denying the fact that the treaty will progress the militarisation of Europe by many steps. The mutual defence clause has been recognised by the current Presidency as a mutual defence pact. The wording of the clause and that of Article 5 of the NATO treaty are almost the same. As reported in The Irish Times, the current EU Presidency issued a memo relating to this matter to all the embassies.

The European Defence Agency is being incorporated in the treaty. When the agency started, I was in Europe and I was amazed at the pressure exerted by the European arms industry to have a European armaments agency established in order that it could increase productivity and compete with the United States. It was not selling enough arms and bemoaned the fact that since the end of the Cold War, there had been a slump in arm sales and indicated that something had to be done about it. It got its way. The agency was put in train by the Amsterdam treaty and is incorporated in this treaty which allows the agency to set the agenda on what is necessary. When one considers that member states will have to increase military spending, there is great concern.

With regard to the triple lock mechanism, I refer to the amendment to the Defence Act. As the leader of the Green Party, Deputy Gormley, said, the legislation took a hacksaw to it. Anyone who is interested will find it on the PANA website and they should check its credibility.

Mr. Barroso said earlier this treaty had nothing to do with the tax issue. It affects taxation in three areas. Article 113 covers distortion of competition. It was admitted earlier that a member state or a company could go to the European Court and argue that Ireland's low corporation tax rate of 12.5% was a distortion or barrier to competition. While it requires a unanimous decision, the escalator clause will allow a future Taoiseach to go with a majority decision on taxation. The Constitution provides that the people decide on taxation because it is unanimous. To change this, the people would have to be asked. By agreeing to the treaty, we are agreeing to the principle that a future Taoiseach or Minister can decide to move from unanimity to majority voting. I also refer to the issue of own resources. No one has mentioned these three taxation areas. On the issue of amending the Constitution to allow a future Taoiseach, if he or she so wishes, to bow to pressure from the European Union and to agree to a move from unanimity to qualified majority voting on taxation means that if anyone as brave as the late Raymond Crotty goes to the Supreme Court to fight for the right to a referendum, the court will not rule in that person's favour.

Mr. Frank Mulcahy

I was the first director of the Small Firms Association and a founding director of the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association. I attended the meeting at DCU and I am expecting a letter from the Chairman in due course.

Mr. Mulcahy will receive it.

Mr. Frank Mulcahy

I thank the Chairman. Will I receive it before the Cork or Athlone meeting?

I hope Mr. Mulcahy will receive it between the next two meetings.

Mr. Frank Mulcahy

I refer to a copy of a letter from the Department of Finance in support of the argument I made at the last meeting, which I accessed via the Freedom of Information Act 1997. I refer to the danger in the referendum of giving a blank cheque to the European Commission to do what it likes by virtue of the amalgamation of hundreds of regulations and decisions. Nobody knows what we are facilitating by their amalgamation, including, for example, Regulation 2064/97. The letter is from the second secretary of the Department of Finance, Mr. Noel O'Gorman, to spending Departments and dated 19 July 2001. It has relevance up to 2006. Dealing with the historic position, the second secretary stated:

Article 3 of 2064/97 requires all declared expenditure to be audited. I understand that Ireland was assured orally by the Commission that this would not apply to expenditure prior to the effective date of the regulation, namely, 12 November 1997. Acting on this information Ireland required verification to be carried out only on expenditure subsequent to that date.

In other words, the Department of Finance had an agreement with the European Commission that a regulation introduced in 2001 would not be applied retrospectively but later in 2001 the second secretary wrote to all spending Departments stating, "In discussions with Mr. Brian Gray [currently the deputy director of DG budget], the director with responsibility for financial management, we have maintained our view that the Commission line on these issues is contrary to that communicated by them at the time of regulation 2064/97".

I do not want to interrupt but I must mention again the rule regarding privilege and mentioning people who are not present and cannot defend themselves.

Mr. Frank Mulcahy

It is in the letter.

It does not carry privilege for Mr. Mulcahy but does for members of the committee.

Mr. Frank Mulcahy

The second secretary is saying in the letter that the Commission changed its view on what the regulation meant, demanded that Ireland comply in 2001 with its interpretation and threatened a fine of £400 million if Ireland did not comply. There was then a requirement for a Government decision to authorise civil servants to apply a regulation retrospectively. That was on foot of threats by senior officials in the Commission who required Irish civil servants to confirm what both the Commission and the Irish civil servants knew had——

Anyway——

Mr. Frank Mulcahy

What does the Chairman mean by "anyway"? This is fundamental to what the committee is talking about.

It is not.

Mr. Frank Mulcahy

The committee is talking about the European Commission threatening an elected Government and an elected Government then passing a decision, S2972.

I am sorry; I have given Mr. Mulcahy latitude.

Mr. Frank Mulcahy

I have two questions for members of the panel. Can it ever be right that a European Commission, past, present and future, can demand confirmation of compliance with a new regulation on foot of significant and sizeable financial penalties which both sides know did not happen? Can it ever be right for the Commission and its agents — in this case, the Government and certain Departments — not to put something right where it has facilitated a wrong?

I thank Mr. Mulcahy. We will reply, as I said previously, in detail. We got most of this from him last week. His questions have been recorded and because he had correspondence from Departments and EU institutions on this matter previously, it is more appropriate that he be replied to in detail confidentially. We will arrange for that to happen.

Mr. Frank Mulcahy

Can I confirm I will receive a reply on the Chairman's behalf within the next few weeks? I have been waiting for a reply from various Departments for a number of years, including to parliamentary questions tabled by senior politicians such as Deputy Ruairí Quinn. When the replies came, they were fabricated.

We will do that. I am sorry we did not start an hour earlier. Had we done so, we would have had a great night. I thank everyone for coming and participating in the debate which will be hugely beneficial. I call on our two guest speakers to conclude with Mr. Finnegan to go first.

Mr. Barry Finnegan

I will not get to all the points made but will be brief as I can.

Where would we be without the euro? In 1986 the Government was facing high unemployment and needed to do something to help the people of Ireland. We had democratic control of our currency and devalued the punt. Because of this, our exports were cheaper, more factories opened, more stuff was sold abroad and we had more jobs. We had a range of reasons for increasing or deceasing the value of our currency or increasing or decreasing interest rates. Elsewhere in Europe that is illegal. The only people allowed to interfere with the value of the euro or interest rates are the members of the European Central Bank. There is no political interference. One cannot elect anyone to change the policy on the value the euro. The only thing they are allowed to take into consideration is pure Thatcherism, basically price control. Stable inflation is the only rule. With regard to full employment, equality and environmentalism, we would be better off with democratic control of currencies.

I agree Ireland has benefited greatly from foreign direct investment. This is because we have democratic control over the way the money was spent. We could decide to put it here and not there and ensure that at least 20% of management are local people and that we buy supplies from local companies. These are the dynamic, democratically made decisions the Government could dictate when considering how foreigners invested in Ireland. The idea of the new provision on trade policy in the Lisbon treaty is that we will try to abolish democratic control of foreign direct investment for poor countries so that we will be able to move into those countries.

If the leaders of the 1916 rising were alive today, there is no way they would vote for this treaty. They were internationalists. They believed in international solidarity and were anti-imperialist and anti-colonial. The EU is currently trying to negotiate a free trade agreement with the Andean countries in South America where there is a coalition of more than 200 groups, including peasant farmers, co-ops, women's, environmental and human rights groups. One condemnation of the EU trade policy they have is that the agreement will be widely beneficial to the European transnational corporations and promote the privatisation of health, education, public services, agriculture, knowledge, culture and the traditions of indigenous people in South America. They reject all of this.

To go further on the issue of international solidarity, the Seattle to Brussels Network, which is made up of Action Aid International, Friends of the Earth, Corporate Europe Observatory, La Via Campesina, Greenpeace International, New Economics Foundation, the World Development Movement, Oxfam Solidarity have stated that they condemn the treaty of Lisbon which reinforces the power of the European Union in matters of trade and development and further reduces the capacity of citizens to influence its policies democratically. This is from the mouth of people at the coalface trying to improve the standard of living and democratic standing of poor people around the world.

It has been said that Ireland's standing in the world has been improved as a result of joining the European Union. We were punching well above our weight before we joined in 1973. Consider, for example, Seán McBride and the first nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which was a great credit to us. Consider too being stuck in the United Nations between Iran, Iraq and Israel. We are well respected around the world. As for the proclamation of 1916, it was an amazing document. We broke the mould of global imperialism. We were the first to say no more colonisation, no more imperialism and to seek equality for men and women and democracy. This created space in the imagination of the oppressed peoples of the world to overthrow their European colonial masters.

Where are we now? Chad is a dictatorship. Chad released itself from the colonial oppressor, France, in 1960. Every five to ten years since, the democracy is overthrown by another tinpot loopy dictator, militarily, financially and politically helped by France. There are 2,500 French troops in Chad currently, separate from the EU military forces there. France provided guns and helicopter gunships. The rebels are nationalist democrats fighting a dictatorship to install democracy. The rebel leader has said that the French troops the rebels are fighting are a colonial oppressor which is keeping the dictatorship in power and that if there are French people among the European military forces, they will treat all the military force as the enemy. Ireland is out there in that force. I hope none of our boys get killed between now and the referendum. If they do, it will focus Irish minds. What the European Union is doing is helping a French colonial oppressor to keep the dictatorship in power.

With regard to military issues, the European Defence Agency is created by this treaty. Its objective is to promote and develop the European armaments trade. It will create more jobs, more money, more bombs, more guns, more killing. What does one do with stockpiles of weapons? One uses them. The treaty also states that the Union must progressively improve military capabilities. What happens when one builds stockpiles of weapons? Are they buried in the ground, hidden forever and never used?

I do not want to interrupt, but Mr. Finnegan's five minutes have elapsed.

Mr. Barry Finnegan

My final point is that we must look at the evidence. The European Union seeks more military capacity. With reference to Gaza, who operates the gate between Gaza and Egypt? Gaza is basically a prison of malnourished people. The European Union mans that gate. What did the EU do when 60% of Palestinians voted for Hamas? The response was "We do not like you because of whom you voted for, so we will cut off your aid". Poverty and malnutrition are now at crisis levels in Palestine as a result. Chad is another issue.

Finally, I ask voters to please respect the French and Dutch people. People say we have got rid of all the constitutional issues and that there is no need to worry about the treaty any more as it is no longer a constitution. What is the EU flag doing in the corner of this room? They said they got rid of the flag. I travel around the country and see the EU flag hanging outside schools. There is a European Union flag in this room, but they are telling us this treaty is different from the constitution because we have got rid of the trappings of constitutions. We must use our minds and imaginations. Try and read the treaty, but it is extremely difficult. People should campaign against the EU constitution and check out our website to read further arguments against it.

Well done. I should mention that history is my favour subject.

Dr. Laurent Pech

There and many questions and many claims were made against the EU in general and the reform treaty. There is little time left so let me advertise my book, The European Union and Its Constitution, where critics may find answers to their claims. Most of the claims made are unsubstantiated. It is simply not true that the EU is currently some sort of super state or military power. The reform treaty will not change the fact the EU is no super state, that it is completely in compliance with democratic principles and that the treaties offer a balanced set of principles and values. It is for all the member states of Europe to define sound and balanced public policies.

Somebody said earlier that I criticised people who do not know how to read. That is not exactly what I said. I explained why European treaties are complex and gave a rational reason. What I criticised was misrepresentation of provisions of the reform treaty. They are complex documents, but that does not mean we are entitled to misrepresent reality and facts.

The French were mentioned a great deal tonight. I am a French citizen and, perhaps, one day, hopefully, will be an Irish citizen. I voted "Yes" to the constitution in 2005. We should respect the right of French people to change their minds. When Nicolas Sarkozy ran for the Presidency in France, he made it clear that he would amend, through parliamentary ratification, any new European treaty that would be negotiated with the other 26 member states. As far as I remember, the leading candidate for the Left, made the same commitment to the French people. Therefore, when we voted to elect the new President, we also voted for ratifying the new European treaty the way it was done a few months ago. Therefore, it is inaccurate to argue that we did not respect the vote made by the French people the first time around. This is a different treaty, although it does in substance contain most of the same provisions that were in the EU constitution where we were entitled to vote, and it is perfectly legitimate and constitutional for the European Parliament to ratify the treaty.

That said, perhaps I should return to the Laval judgment. I will be glad to have a pint with the speaker where I can explain where he got the judgment so wrong. My understanding of the judgment is that the European Court of Justice, for the first time, has recognised social dumping as a legitimate public objective. Therefore, member states are entitled to fight social dumping, but they cannot use this as an excuse to discriminate against foreign workers. It is a balancing exercise. It would be wrong to affirm, to state that free movement can always prevail over fundamental rights. This is not true. It is always a balancing exercise, done on a case-by-case basis. I will be brief because it is late. It is unfair to criticise the European Court of Justice for not relying on the EU charter as this is not yet a legally binding document. One cannot expect the European Court of Justice to apply a document that is not currently in force and which will enter into force only when and if the Lisbon treaty is ratified. If we are to believe critics of the EU, then the EU could be blamed for all dictatorships and the poverty in the world and this is simply nonsense. Everyone is entitled to argue that Europe should change its policies and that it should become less integrated. However, this is no reason to vote against the reform treaty which proposes a set of modest but positive reforms, but it is for the Irish people to make up their own minds and to make a final decision in June.

I thank in particular our two guest speakers for attending the meeting. It is a very thankless job because they must face questions and not everybody will agree with the answers——

Mr. Barry Finnegan

Nobody agrees.

I would not agree that nobody agrees. I am sure some did and some did not. I thank both our guests for being here.

Mr. Barry Finnegan

Nobody from the panel.

I thank all those who participated from the audience. I am sorry time has run out because I have a long list of questions I intended to deal with at the end of the meeting but unfortunately there is no time. Those questions will have to wait until the next meeting which will be a week from tonight in UCC in Cork. Anyone who wishes to come to that meeting in Cork will be more than welcome.

I thank our Oireachtas colleagues on the platform, some of whom have come from Cork and others from Sligo. I thank the people who came from Dublin and from further afield. Patricia McKenna came from Dublin. I hope she will come to Cork because I would not like to go down to Cork on my own.

The purpose of the meetings is to generate debate, hear the views expressed by both sides and then people can make up their minds. There is no space for a "maybe" result; it must be for one side or the other. I will conclude the meeting with this thought.

A great deal of attention has been given to militarism and the commitment and liability facing Ireland if this treaty is approved. I am a strong supporter of neutrality as are all the Members of the Oireachtas. However, a problem arose a few years ago which was not addressed. The war in Bosnia could not be addressed by the European Union and was not addressed by the UN at the time. Safe havens were created by the UN in which those under threat were given protection by the UN. We all know what happened. The UN force was overcome and the entire population of the safe haven was executed. A total of 8,000 people were shot. I would not call that war, I would call it a slaughter. Something had to be done. The people of Europe stood by and did not lift a finger to help. It does not make any difference what their religion or ethnic background was, it was totally and absolutely morally wrong for Europe, a well-developed group of countries, to allow such an event to happen without saying or doing anything to stop it. This is the reason the battlegroups have been introduced. Several speakers referred to whether one country would come to the defence of another. This is the reason this is in the treaty. Europe learned its lesson because many of the European countries around that war area, the western Balkans, had a history. Britain, Russia, Germany, Italy and France all had a history in that area and as a result, nothing happened and the people were slaughtered. It is an appalling and terrible indictment of a modern, civilised society of 500 million people that this happened in the way it did without anybody raising a finger. I know it also happened in Somalia where 800,000 people were slaughtered. Those are the events we need to think about as well as the other material issues.

I remind the meeting that not all defence is bad. Irish soldiers have been going all over the world for the past 50 years. They have distinguished themselves in peacekeeping missions and have defended themselves when called upon. We should not shirk from nor feel apologetic about something like that. Ireland has done its duty; it has led and has given example and will continue to give example in that area in the future.

I will answer the rest of the questions when in Cork on 24 April. The next meeting of the joint committee will be in Leinster House on next Wednesday. I thank the staff from Leinster House, the ushers, the secretarial staff, the translators, the operators of the various technologies. I am sorry we had to detain everyone for so long this evening. We look forward to the meeting in Cork.

The joint committee adjourned at 11.45 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Wednesday, 23 April 2008.