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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 29 Nov 1984

Vol. 106 No. 4

Developments in the European Communities: Motion (Resumed).

Debate resumed on the following motion:
That Seanad Éireann takes note of developments in the European Communities since January 1984.
—(Senator Ferris).

The period to which the motion relates is not one that will go down in the annuals of European history as having been of any tremendous importance. There has been an amount of difficulty and stagnation in the past 11 months. Perhaps this indicates that there has been a greater upsurge of nationalism to a point among the Governments of the Ten. This is regrettable. Many true blue Europeans are looking with a certain amount of hope to the new SPARK Committee which is under the chairmanship of our distinguished colleague, Senator Dooge. While I consider that the work entrusted to that committee has not made tremendous headlines except perhaps for some side issues, I pin my hopes on the committee being able to reintroduce into the Community the kind of spirit and the kind of prespective that enthused and fired the founding fathers to embark on this great ideal of a united Europe where countries and nations would talk out their differences and would plan the future together in harmony and co-operation.

I wish Senator Dooge every success and I hope that the work of his committee will give a very clear verdict and will map out what needs to be achieved and what needs to be done in order to bring back into the Community the kind of momentum that was there 25 years ago when the Community was starting off. That is the important task. Up to a few years ago the meeting of Heads of State was a sort of bastard affair in that it had not got a foundation in the Treaty itself. It would have been better of if it had been left illegitimate for the simple reason that in the vast number of summits they clearly demonstrated their inability to rise over their own narrow-minded national interests. That is where we fail as a civilised Community. We in Europe would like to preach to the rest of the world about how to run their business, whether we are talking to the Indians, the Africans or the people of the Carribean or wherever. Yet we cannot sink our differences at home. We cannot appreciate the difficulties between one member state and another. One of the major points on the agenda, I presume, in the coming week in Dublin Castle will be the enlargement of the Community yet again. I look forward to the enlargement of the Community not so much from an economic point of view but from a political and peace aspect.

During the seventies both in Spain and Portugal were rescued back into the democratic systems. Sometimes one thinks that democracy has lost its usefulness because people, at least in this country, find it more difficult to accept the democratic process from an administration point of view. They do not wish to contribute extra taxes and yet they do not wish to lose any services they had grown accustomed to. While everybody pays lip service to running the country as it should be run, it is very hard to accept the realities. It is much the same in the Community.

Some weeks ago I was shocked at the attitude of at least one Spanish trawler captain to our Naval Service. We are not a warring nation. We have not got a Navy per se but we have a naval section in our Defence Forces who have given valiant and distinguish service to this country since the State was founded. It is unacceptable that any Spanish fishing captain should attempt to ram one of our few fishery patrol vessels and expect to get away with it. If I were the Minister for Defence, and I suppose many would say thank God I am not, anyone who would offer any resistance to a fishery protection vessel would be blasted out of the sea. I would say to the Taoiseach and to the Ministers who will be involved in negotiations for the next five or six weeks that the difficult problems surrounding Spain's entry to the Community must be settled and that we must have guarantees that the Spanish people will abide by them before anything is signed. The way the Greek entry was negotiated was not the ideal but all the people involved should be able to learn from history. I would not want to see that repeated again because it is unacceptable that we should expect any section of our population to suffer inordinately just to accommodate a new entry into the Community. What we are talking about so far as Spain is concerned is our fishing industry.

The species of fish that we have in our national waters in the main represent a species that are quota controlled and quotas have been allocated. If we bring in Spain, which we are told has a fishing fleet which is on a par with, or even greater than the combined fishing fleets of the Community of Ten, where are the quotas to come from? It is unreasonable to expect that our population and our fishermen in particular should be left under a cloud. It is of paramount importance to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Taoiseach that they should be left under no misapprehension in this regard. There must be an agreement that is acceptable to this country and to the various sectoral interests before anything is signed. We should not allow the situation to develop where Spain can be allowed into the Community on 1 January 1986 while leaving a number of difficult cases to be negotiated.

On the question of the Portuguese entry I believe that it is a completely different case. I would welcome the entry of Portugal to the Community as we welcomed that country into the democratic process after a prolonged period of dictatorship. In the short few years that they have had democracy a number of free elections have taken place and have been successful. One of the problems which does not directly affect us is on the question of sugar. Portugal have a long standing arrangement with a number of their former colonies in Africa whereby they import a considerable tonnage of raw sugar. This is refined in Portugal. While that would appear to be outside the sugar quota system at present most people would agree that since the former colonies from part of the ACP there should be a special derogation provided for them. I would hope that our country would support that. However, I do not wish to be misunderstood. This year our sugar best farmers have been changed over to a quota system. They found themselves in the summer, due to the fine weather, producing tonnage in excess of the quota they contracted for and having to feed the excess to cattle. The Sugar Company are only offering £5 a tonne for it. That is outlandish. In the Government's programme, Building on Reality, the farmers are being asked to pay a farm tax in order to stimulate production in an agricultural economy where every crop that is common to this country is being over-produced.

I wonder what An Foras Talúntais and ACOT are talking about when they say that farmers should be penalised for not producing more. I was horrified when at an Agricultural Science Association function Dr. Brendan Kearney made a speech on those lines. It is something that is tied up in the Community. While we have a very well developed Common Agricultural Policy we have not got long term policies or long term prospects in any field. We are to enlarge the Community to 12. We are taking in two countries a percentage of whose GNP would be agricultural based and we have not got agreement in the Community on adequate budgetary arrangements not only to accommodate the new member states but to meet the ordinary bills and running expenses of the present membership of the Community. This is where the Heads of State do a tremendous disservice to the concept of a united Europe.

It would be better if those various knotty problems were left to the Council of Ministers and not have a glamorous fall-back, namely the Heads of State or Governments. I should like the SPARK committee to look at the institutions and their evolvement to see if it is worth while having these glamorous and spectacular meetings of Heads of Government. We have not had a successful summit since 1975, one where there was tangible work and where there were decisions taken that have been implemented. We cannot put the clock back. We must find a way of making the Community work in order to bring the realisation and the visions of the people who set it up, but we are losing ground. The enlargement of the Community is very important to everyone in this country, because it will have an effect on the economic and budget side and also on the living conditions of everyone in this State.

Portugal is a food importing country. Two-thirds of their food is imported but presently it is imported on the world market mainly from the US at prices which are much lower than the floor prices under the Common Agricultural Policy. Looking at the figures for the Portugese budget it will be extremely difficult for them to pay the traiffs if they are to import all their requirements from within the Community or else pay the tariffs on the imports from the third world countries. That has to be resolved, and it will be resolved if there is goodwill and if the wealthier countries are prepared, as they undertook to do when they signed the Treaty of Accession, to work towards a society where the wealthier regions would support the less developed and the poorer regions.

For the past couple of months the lead story has been the famine situation in Ethiopia and in other African countries. It is important to mention this in the context of activities in the European Community. The Community's allocation from the budget to development in third world countries, of which there must be 70 at present between Africa and the Carribean, is almost £4,000 million. That is a sizeable contribution. One would hope that it would be all used to great advantage.

I must compliment the Irish people in the way they responded to the plight of the starving millions of people in Africa. Most of the countries have defence allocations amounting to almost 30 per cent of their GNP. Some of those underdeveloped countries do not seem to have a great interest in nourishing and looking after the ordinary welfare of their citizens.

The only country in Africa that has any semblance of a social service is the Republic of South Africa, which often gets a belt in this House. I would hope that the Community Committee for Development and Aid would examine the possibility of expediting development programmes as much as possible in the next few years to see if we can more or less short circuit the trend which is becoming apparent in many African countries where they are incapable of generating the food necessary to feed their population. As a Christian country we must be concerned with that problem. My own view is that the governmental agencies do not do enough in trying to co-operate with the non-governmental agencies.

There are many fine voluntary agencies but perhaps with more co-operation between them and the mission people more could be achieved more quickly. It might be very helpful, for instance, if the ordinary volunteers were financed to put in the infrastructures necessary and even to have Irish parishes adopt comparable areas in some of the African countries and to put in some of the necessary irrigation and perhaps set them up with food-producing co-ops. I think that is possible, Many of our missionaries have done that on a shoestring. If we could have people more readily identify the problems and bring them closer to the people it could be of greater benefit and perhaps bring greater momentum to the problem.

I am sure everybody will recognise the tremendous input that the Irish Presidency has made in the past five months. The Taoiseach and his Ministers have worked extremely hard. In a short time they have got a momentum into the Social Affairs Commission and into the progress that has been made in agriculture, through the problems are exceptionally difficult.

I take this opportunity of wishing our out-going Commissioner, Mr. Richard Burke, success. During his years with the Community he has, by his work, his input and his understanding of the system and of the role of the Community, carried out his duties in a manner that has brought great credit and honour to our own country. I wish his successor, Mr. Sutherland every success also. I hope that at the end of his term he will report a big improvement in the cohension of the Community. I hope also that in the next few months we will succeed in getting agreement on the enlargement of the Community. It is important that we have a united Europe and one that is prosperous. The only hope of doing that is under the umbrella of the EC. With the various Governments working together we should be able to achieve spectacular success, if we have from the leaders of the Community countries the kind of unselfish input that the founding fathers dreamed of and in their own way set the pace 27 or 28 years ago.

I, too, welcome the comprehensive report which the Minister gave to the House. There are many aspects of it with which we could deal and many aspects with which I am in agreement with other Senators. The area of greatest concern is unemployment. I, too, am very disappointed that so little has been done in this area. Unemployment and housing are two of our greatest problems. I suggested on a previous occasion that in some imaginative way something could be done to solve both these problems by engaging the unemployed in the housing area. Something in general could be done by introducing shorter working hours or by a combination of all these factors. Because of our high unemployment figures, something along these lines will have to be done in the very near future.

We do not have any formal report to cover this period. The last report which I have on file is the 23rd Report which was issued in January 1983. As I said previously there is no scarcity of documentation on all the activities.

In my contribution of 4 July 1984 I covered most of the areas with which I was concerned so there is no point in going over those areas again. I mentioned at that time that we were awaiting reports of the planning regions towards development strategy to the year 2004.

Debate adjourned.