An Bille um an gCeathrú Leasú is Fiche ar an mBunreacht, 2001: An Dara Céim. Twenty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 2001: Second Stage.

No. 3, motion pursuant to section 23 of the Referendum Act, 1994, prescribing a formal statement for the information of voters to be included on the polling card will be debated in conjunction with Second Stage of the Bill and will be formally moved when the debate on the Bill is concluded.

Tairgeadh an cheist: "Go léifear an Bille an Dara hUair anois."

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am pleased to have this opportunity to move the Second Reading by Seanad Éireann of the Twenty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill. As the House will be aware, the purpose of the Bill is to provide for the changes in the Con stitution necessary to permit the State to ratify the Treaty of Nice. The content of the treaty was agreed in Nice by Heads of State or Government at the conclusion of the intergovernmental conference in December last year. The treaty was signed by the Foreign Ministers of the 15 member states on 26 February this year. The purpose of the Treaty of Nice is to complete the process of internal reform required to prepare the Union for a significant expansion of its membership. The treaty thereby completes the programme of institutional renewal and updating which began with the Treaty of Amsterdam.

As Senators will be aware, a number of major issues, sometimes referred to by the, perhaps, misleading term of "Amsterdam left-overs", were left unresolved in Amsterdam with the understanding that they would be taken up again prior to enlargement. At the Cologne European Council in June 1999, the Heads of State or Government decided that an Intergovernmental Conference would convene in early 2000 and would address the size and composition of the Commission, the weighting of votes in the Council, the extension of qualified majority voting and changes in other European Union institutions necessitated by enlargement. It was subsequently agreed at the European Council in Santa Maria de Feira in Portugal in June 2000 to extend the agenda to include the issue of enhanced co-operation.

The Intergovernmental Conference began work in February 2000, operating under the political direction of Ministers for Foreign Affairs. Proceeding under the Portuguese Presidency, and subsequently the French Presidency, the Intergovernmental Conference concluded with agreement at the Nice European Council last December. With a view to allowing enlargement of the Union to proceed on schedule, the Governments of the member states have indicated their intention to complete the process of ratification by the end of 2002.

The Treaty of Nice is the latest in a series of treaties which have created and shaped the Union since the founding Treaty of Rome in 1957. These have included the Single European Act in 1986, the Treaty on European Union in 1992 and the Amsterdam treaty in 1997.

Since becoming a member of the then European Economic Community almost three decades ago, Ireland has played its full part in the development and evolution of what is now the European Union. From the outset we showed a level of support for the European project and a readiness to identify with the Union as our Union, which distinguished us from most other new members states. This partly reflected the material benefits associated with membership, but it went much further than that.

The European Union has allowed us to make our distinctive voice heard more widely in the international arena. With our strong tradition in human rights, conflict prevention, support for the United Nations and a proactive approach to co- operation with developing countries, full participation in the European Union has provided a larger stage on which to operate and one from which, working with our partners, we have sought to promote a positive and principled approach to international relations.

On a more general level, Irish people have responded enthusiastically to the reaffirmation, through our active participation in the Union, of our rightful place in the European mainstream. In what may appear paradoxical but is entirely consistent with the purposes of the Union, our membership has coincided with a remarkable strengthening of national self-confidence. With renewed faith in our European vocation has come a tremendous growth in interest and support for what is best and most distinctive in our own traditions. I have to recall that this is completely at variance with the predictions of persistent critics of our European involvement who, on each occasion when the question of our role in Europe has been put to the Irish people, have predicted fatal results. In this, as in so many other areas, these same critics have both misunderstood what the Union is about and failed to appreciate the resilience and resourcefulness of their fellow Irish citizens.

Apart from the economic benefits of an enlarged Union, to which I will revert shortly, one of the most exciting aspects of the forthcoming enlargement of the Union is the opportunity it offers to re-establish social and cultural links with the peoples of central and eastern Europe and of the other applicant countries. I am sure that the Irish people will eagerly seize this challenge, as so many of our young people and business men and women are doing already.

It is perhaps not widely remembered that many of these countries came to independence in the same period as ourselves and faced many of the same challenges of political and economic survival in those early inter-war years. Even then, as small countries we shared a mutual recognition of the importance of the rule of law in international relations and of the need for a stable international framework. It was Latvia, for example, now an applicant for EU membership, which formally proposed the admission of Ireland to the League of Nations. Will Ireland turn its back on Latvia and the other candidate countries now that we are in a position to help them?

Many of these countries went on to pay a terrible price for the failure to sustain a legitimate international order. Over a period of half a century they have known occupation, human suffering of unimaginable proportions, dictatorship and the massive denial of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Having at last recovered their freedom and regained an independent voice in international affairs, these countries have made clear the absolute priority they attach to securing admission to the European Union.

For those of us already in the Union, this is both a remarkable testament and a great responsibility. This responsibility falls nowhere more heavily than on us in Ireland. As the only member state which will have a referendum on this issue, we have an opportunity to deliver an emphatic message in support of the emerging democracies and of the re-integration of our European continent. Such a message from the people of Ireland would resound powerfully and be remembered throughout the Union, but most especially in the applicant states.

By contrast, if the Irish people were to say "No" to enlargement, it is difficult to imagine anything more damaging to our bilateral relations with these countries. I do not believe that the Irish people, rightly known for their open and generous response to those less fortunate than themselves, will want to deny to the Czechs, the Poles or the people of the Baltic States or other applicant countries, the opportunity which we were given in 1973.

While it may not be the intention, it is important to realise that this would be the consequence of a victory for the "No" vote in the referendum. It is important, therefore, that voters turn out in large numbers so that the decision taken truly reflects the instincts and wishes of the people of this country. I am confident, when exercising their responsibility, that the people will not be distracted by scaremongering and misinformation, but will extend the hand of friendship, as has been done to us at important stages in our development.

Membership of the Union is not a panacea. As we have seen here, and as we have explained to the many candidate countries who look at Ireland as a model for their path to development, the benefits of membership can only be realised in the context of a sound domestic policy framework. However, effectively pursued, membership can and does offer real opportunities to accelerate the pace of economic and social development. In the agriculture sector, for example, Ireland received some £24 billion from the Common Agricultural Policy in the period from 1973 to 2000. This has brought, as we all know, a major transformation of living standards in rural areas, in the process helping farm income as a percentage of average industrial income to rise from 60% in 1985 to 77% in 2000. Each year between 1994 and 1999 an average of over 250,000 Irish students, teachers, trainees, apprentices and unemployed people benefited directly from the support for their courses from the European Social Fund.

The Union has also contributed hugely to the improvement in our infrastructure. Since 1989, Ireland has been allocated over £12 billion in Structural and Cohesion Funds, including about £3 billion for the period 2000-06. The fact that by the end of the decade it is likely that we will no longer be a significant recipient of Structural Funds simply indicates that we have used the funds, as intended, to bring our economy close to the EU average. Viewed in this light, our eventual status as a net contributor, which, it is important to stress, is a consequence of our level of development and not of enlargement, is a badge of achievement and a source of justifiable pride.

By far the greatest economic gain to this country from EU membership is not the direct transfer of funds, but the opportunity it offers to take advantage of the Single Market which currently comprises some 350 million consumers. Enlargement, with the prospect of over 100 million new customers, offers significant opportunities in this regard. Trade between the Union and the candidate countries of central and eastern Europe is already growing at 20% per year and is set to grow further. Irish trade with the 12 countries in negotiation for membership has grown fivefold since 1993. Irish companies are also beginning to take advantage of the investment opportunities offered by the candidate countries. In Poland alone, total investment by Irish industry already exceeds £1 billion.

This is the background against which the Irish people will be asked to give their agreement to the constitutional changes required to permit ratification of the Treaty of Nice. In case there is any doubt on the matter, I emphasise that the reason we are putting this matter to a referendum is that the Government has been advised in the clearest terms by the Attorney General that constitutional change is required. The approach followed, including the precise wording of the amendment, mirrors precisely the line taken, with all-party agreement, in respect of the Treaty of Amsterdam. In particular, having previously cited identified options and discretions included in the Amsterdam Treaty, it is necessary again to list the specific options and discretions provided for in the Treaty of Nice. Account must also be taken of the move to qualified majority voting in some thirty areas. Quite apart form these specified provisions, it is in overall terms clearly desirable to minimise uncertainty as to the legal status of important treaties of this kind.

The terms of the treaty have been explained in a factual and easy to read White Paper. To assist in disseminating information about the treaty, a copy of the summary of the White Paper is being distributed to every household in the State. The provision of the White Paper free of charge and the distribution of a summary to every household go beyond the steps taken in the previous referendum and are an indication of the Government's commitment to maximum public information. Copies of the Treaty of Nice are available free of charge from my Department and copies have also been sent to public libraries and citizen information centres. The treaty, in English and Irish language versions, can also be consulted on my Department's website.

In addition, the Referendum Commission has been established and will operate on exactly the same basis as in the 1998 referendum. While the commission will itself decide how it wishes to proceed, I expect that it will again undertake a publicity and information programme as in the past.

I am confident that any open-minded citizen who examines the treaty will conclude that it represents a good deal for the Union and a good deal for Ireland. It will allow the institutions of an enlarged Union to function effectively, while at the same time protecting the essential balances which are the distinctive hallmark of the Union. For example, in relation to the the weighting of votes, as envisaged at Amsterdam, the weighting of those countries giving up a Commissioner has been increased. Under the new arrangements, Ireland will have a weight two and a half times greater than we would expect on the basis of population. Our weight will be the same as that of Finland and Denmark, two countries with a larger population than ours. The simple fact is that under the treaty, Ireland's share of the total vote will move from approximately 3% in a Union of 15 to 2% in a Union of 27. Germany's share will be reduced from 11% to 8%. The same applies to the UK, France and Italy. It is nonsensical to suggest that this represents some radical overthrow of established balances within the Union.

Similarly, the requirement that any decisions taken have the support of at least 62% of the Union's population, given that the equivalent figure in the past has, on occasions, been over 70%, hardly marks a major shift of power, especially when there is a simultaneous requirement that all QMV votes have the support of at least a majority of states. The position of the smaller states is therefore fully protected. Similarly, Ireland's representation in the European Parliament will be twice what it would be by reference to our percentage of the population. With the exception of the special case of Luxembourg, we will have the highest seat to population ratio of any existing member state.

As regards the Commission, Ireland will be on exactly the same footing as every other member state, irrespective of size. From the appointment of the next Commission in 2005, the five large member states will give up their second Commissioner. Thereafter, all member states will be entitled to nominate one Commissioner. When the Union eventually reaches 27, a system of rotation will be introduced. Key safeguards secured at Nice are that all decisions relating to the reduced Commission will be taken by unanimity and rotation will be on the basis of strict equality of member states. A number of measures aimed at strengthening the rule of the Commission President, while maintaining the body's essential collegiality, were also agreed.

As a country with an obvious interest in an effectively functioning Union, it made sound sense for Ireland to support a significant extension of the scope of qualified majority voting. Ireland has nothing to fear from this change and, indeed, it would have gone further if agreement had proved possible. It is not in our interests or that of other smaller member states that a single state can block necessary decisions on trade negotiations, economic co-operation with third coun tries or the appointment of the President of the Commission. Experience shows that these levers are far more likely to be deployed by an individual large state.

While facilitating QMV in many areas, we were insistent that unanimity remained the appropriate basis for decision-making in the taxation area. I want to dispel the notion that no real threat faced us in this area and that the eventual outcome was somehow preordained. I can only state that this bears no resemblance to the reality which we faced before and during Nice. Even as the European Council was under way, revised proposals, including a Presidency proposal to move to QMV for corporation and other taxes within five years, were in circulation. It was thanks to the strong position taken by the Taoiseach, working with a group of like-minded countries, that this threat was averted.

It is not the case that there will not be agreement on tax issues in the future. We have agreed VAT directives, customs directives and directives relating to a range of other areas. We are simply making the point that decisions on such matters should be taken on the basis of unanimity; we are not stating that they should not be taken at all.

The treaty also provides for some updating of the provisions with regard to enhanced co-operation, including limiting the veto and allowing groups of eight member states or more to constitute themselves as a group. It has been alleged that this paves the way for a two-speed Europe. This emphatically is not the case, not least because of the numerous safeguards which Ireland and other like-minded states secured for its operation. These include excluding the Single Market – a large part, over 80%, of total Union activity – and all matters pertaining to security and defence from its scope. The role of the Commission in ensuring the overall coherence of the Union has been strengthened, and, as a guarantee of openness, the right of any member state to join in establishing a group has been enshrined in the treaty. There are existing examples of enhanced co-operation and, in this regard, no one has suggested that the operation of the euro or the Schengen arrangements will bring about a two-speed Europe.

By common consent, including among the candidate countries, the overall result is to preclude the emergence of a single inner core or twin-track Union. Far more likely, assuming proposals emerge which satisfy the strict criteria now in place, is a number of groups with variable and overlapping membership. The reality is that enhanced co-operation, in the terms agreed at Nice, is essentially a last resort mechanism, available to the Union to facilitate continuing co-operation between member states in circumstances where the interests of the Union so require. Our experience of EMU, for example, itself a form of enhanced co-operation, suggests that to foreclose this option would be imprudent and short-sighted.

Against the background of the historic process of enlargement in which it is engaged, the European Union is continuing to seek ways of playing a greater role for peace, stability and security in Europe. Ireland has a strong interest in maintaining a stable, inclusive security environment and it is essential for Ireland to be centrally involved in shaping future changes in the direction that we would wish to see them take. Ireland pursues this objective not only through the Common Foreign Policy of the European Union, but also through the primary route of the United Nations – which is adverted to in the treaties of the European Union – as well as through other international organisations.

The Treaty of Nice has made only limited changes to the existing provisions for the Common Foreign and Security Policy which are intended to make it more coherent, effective and visible. These limited changes, which I will now describe, concern the deletion of references to the Western European Union and providing a treaty basis for the political and security committee in Brussels.

At the time of the Amsterdam Treaty, it was envisaged that the Western European Union would play a key role, acting on behalf of the EU, in the area of crisis management and conflict prevention. However, given the development of the Union's capabilities in this area, the role of the Western European Union has diminished. The deletion of the clauses concerning the Western European Union can, therefore, be seen in the light of the evolution of the European Security and Defence Policy and of a desire to update the treaty.

Reflecting the fact that the European Union will now implement the decisions it may take in this area, the Treaty of Nice also provides for the replacement of the existing political committee, which comprised representatives from capitals, with a political and security committee, based in Brussels, and operating on instructions from the respective Governments. The new committee will assume functions relating to the conduct of the Common Foreign and Security Policy. As part of its responsibilities, the political and security committee may exercise, under the direction of the Council, the political control and strategic direction of crisis management operations.

On Committee Stage in the Lower House, a debate took place on an amendment tabled by Deputy Gormley which sought to suggest that Ireland should opt out and that it should sign a protocol of some description. The example of the Danes' insistence on signing a protocol in relation to the Treaty of Amsterdam was put forward to support this argument. The reasons the Danes sought such a protocol is that they want to pursue their security interests exclusively through NATO and they do not want to be involved in the shaping of security and defence policy within the European Union. Denmark is a member of NATO and it wishes to proceed exclusively within the framework offered by that organisation.

Ireland has helped to develop and has taken a full part in the European Union. When opponents of the Union speak in relation to this aspect of the matter under discussion – which is not central to the Treaty of Nice but is really a re-run of previous arguments relating to the Treaty of Amsterdam upon which the Irish people have already spoken – it is important to point out that the development of competence in this area for the European Union relates to the Petersberg Tasks. That is the framework within which we are seeking to develop a European security and defence policy. The Petersberg Tasks specifically relate to crisis management and conflict prevention. We must move beyond the paradigm – which is really a confirmation of the time warp in which those who oppose the treaty by putting forward the type of arguments I mentioned find themselves – that the European Union is trying to become like NATO or is attempting to become a military superpower capable of competing with the United States.

The Cold War era is over. The Treaties of Amsterdam and Nice were introduced because progressive forces in the emerging democracies of Europe, for whom no one had much to say when they were under Soviet control and influence in the Cold War era, want to be part of the European Union. Those governments are speaking for their people and they are enthusiastic about enlargement. To facilitate that enlargement, other countries will pursue a parliamentary process while we, in compliance with our constitutional law and jurisprudence, will pursue the referendum process.

Is anyone seriously suggesting that those who claim to hold the high moral ground in terms of their views on neutrality can praise the extraordinary and excellent contribution Ireland has made, through its UN involvement, in far off fields in the Lebanon, East Timor and elsewhere while at the same time stating that we should not be involved in crisis management, humanitarian operations and conflict prevention in Europe? Are these people stating that we should not be involved with former adversaries, applicant countries and others, that are working in Kosovo at present? Are they saying that the efforts being made to try to rebuild the Balkans region should be abandoned and matters should be allowed to progress in the manner in which they progressed in 1914 or 1940? Do they believe that Ireland should take all the benefits of membership while not meeting its various responsibilities?

Given that the security and defence policy is being shaped in line with Ireland's foreign policy traditions, the competence or capability that is being constructed by the European Union is precisely designed to prevent crises and conflicts reaching the stage that was reached in the former Yugoslavia. There is a need to rebuild civil society and democratic structures and become involved in new policing arrangements in areas of crisis and conflict. There will be a military requirement to ensure that ethnic cleansing, which made its first reappearance since the Second World War in Europe in the 1990s, is not allowed to proceed. Do I understand it that people want Ireland to state that, as a member of the European Union, it does not want to make a contribution in this regard?

The idea that Ireland would not meet its responsibilities repels me – the idea that there are people in the Houses of the Oireachtas who, for some reason, seem to suggest that it is fine to be involved in peacekeeping in the Lebanon and the Middle East but that we should not become involved in peacekeeping in Europe. What is the logic of that position? On what basis are we pursuing our national interests when it is clear the European Union will work to be involved in conflict prevention and humanitarian tasks? We were all appalled when hundreds of thousands of refugees left Kosovo after their homes were burnt by a dictator. They had to go to another impoverished country, Macedonia, which took on that humanitarian responsibility single-handedly and without much help from the developed world or the more enlightened democracies. Macedonia met its responsibilities and it did not have many financial or other resources to do so. Will we say we are not prepared to contribute? That is not what Irish people believe.

There is a vociferous minority who continue with a line of argument which is irrelevant since the Cold War ended and the Berlin Wall came down. The proof of its irrelevance is that the people who suffered under those regimes are saying they want to become part of the European Union. They do not have a problem with the European Union developing a competence in these areas to assist these people so they do not suffer the ethnic atrocities we have seen in past decades in those parts of Europe. Ireland is mature and intelligent enough to recognise that the responsibilities we have there are of the same moral quality as those in East Timor, Lebanon or anywhere else.

The claim that we are departing from our foreign policy tradition overlooks the fact that we have negotiated a position where we will participate on a case by case basis, subject to a sovereign decision of the Government in each case which will require the approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas under the Defence Acts. Those Acts state that we will not get involved in such operations unless there is a prior UN mandate. Where is the beef in that argument? The people who pursue this line of argument in attacking and undermining our national interest by trying to get people to vote "No" to this treaty have sought at every stage since we became members of the European Union to opt out of the integration of the European economy and European institutions. However, we can do more in common than we can do by ourselves in the global world in which we live. Do we believe we will have a greater voice in the international arena by, ostrich-like, opting out of these obligations rather than shaping policy in a way which is consistent with our foreign policy traditions?

There is in all the European Union treaties, including Article 17 of this treaty, a recognition that the UN has a primary role in the maintenance of international peace and security. Those in the "No" campaign seem to be blissfully unaware or else they are mischievously omitting to mention that the UN peacekeeping operation is moving on. It is important in terms of the security of people who are working under the UN mandate that they have proper capability and professional preparation. We do not want to see the debacles which happened in West Timor and Liberia, for example, where UN troops were taken hostage by some of the factions involved because of the lack of preparation and logistical and up-to-date equipment required to do a job that is more dangerous and difficult than in the past. It is important to be part of this operation even from the point of view of protecting our soldiers. We must ensure we are knowledgeable and that our people are well equipped and trained under the auspices of the EU as it develops its defence and security policy into the future.

Are the people who say "No" also blissfully unaware that the UN is increasingly calling on regional organisations to take on these responsibilities on behalf of the UN with a mandate from the UN? That is another trend in global peacekeeping. They continue to trot out nonsense about a European army. Deputy Joe Higgins suggested that if it looks like an elephant, it is an elephant. However, it is not if one has bad eyesight. Is anyone seriously suggesting that Kofi Annan is in charge of a UN army of 147,500 soldiers from 88 countries? That is the standby system available if the UN requires to choose from those people who are available or qualified to take on any mission in the world. There is no such thing as a standing UN army.

By the same logic, without language losing its meaning, there is no European army. A capability is being determined by the European Union as to what is available in the event of a crisis or a humanitarian situation which must be addressed. We do not want to find ourselves in the position in which we found ourselves when, as people streamed out of Kosovo, some of the richest countries in the world did not have the capability or the preparations made to assist impoverished neighbours, such as Macedonia, Albania and others, to deal with that humanitarian crisis. The "No" people would want the television cameras to go there but they would not want anyone there who could help. They would want us to have bleeding hearts but not to help these people. They would want to take the high moral ground and talk about it, which they are good at. Deputy Gormley spoke for a half an hour on Committee Stage yesterday and I got three minutes to respond. That is what happens when one is a member of a big party. The smaller the party, the more time it gets.

I respect different voices and opinions on this matter. However, if we are to have a debate, it should be a real debate about real issues, not a manifestation of a doomsday scenario which has formed the basis of these arguments for long enough. I question the credibility of people who say we should listen to that line of argument. When a former esteemed Member of the other House, Mr. Garland, spoke on the Maastricht Treaty, he said emigration would return and there would be famine. It is hard to believe, but Members can read the record. These are the same people who say that if we accept this treaty we will have a European army. An MEP from the Green Party went unchallenged on a national radio programme two days ago when she said that if people vote "Yes", they will be voting to join an arrangement which will have a nuclear capability. The suggestion was made that we would use nuclear weapons in a humanitarian or crisis management situation. That is ludicrous.

I do not wish to be unduly dismissive or disrespectful, but if we are to have a debate we cannot trot out these lines of argument which do not have a basis in this treaty or in the plans for a European defence and security policy and which were not part of the treaty negotiations. It was suggested that neutrality means Ireland should be neutered and should not play a role in international peacekeeping. As members of the UN, that has not been the policy of any Government of which I am aware. The Governments of Frank Aiken, Eamon de Valera, Liam Cosgrave or John A. Costello did not suggest that we would not play a role in the maintenance of international peace and security.

Do people think nothing will happen or that we are not able to do anything? These are dangerous situations which require much planning and professionalism. The Army is ready and able. Its members have given their lives in the interests of maintaining international peace and security. We want to maintain that in Europe as we have done elsewhere.

I come now to the other element of the "No" lobby, Sinn Féin. I said yesterday when I was asked why I would not take on board a Private Members' Bill by Deputy Ó Caoláin which seeks to institutionalise neutrality in our Constitution that I was not inclined to take advice from that quarter about where the true Óglaigh na hÉireann, the Irish Army, will serve in maintaining peace and security in the world. I also hear from that quarter that this involves the militarisation of the European Union. I would welcome very much anything that we can do to reduce militarisation in this country. Let us preach at home what we want others to practise abroad. We need to add reality to the argument.

There is an element of the "No" campaign which has what I would regard as a very skewed view of neutrality, but, at least, it is sincerely held. I also detect political opportunism in the "No" campaign. It is taking the opportunity afforded by the McKenna judgment to secure significant air time for minority views and trying to peddle a political line that will attract public attention and, perhaps, it hopes, support in future elections. I say that openly because it is what I believe; I call it political opportunism. I will not be dictated to from that quarter as to how a democratically elected Government should proceed to ensure our foreign policy traditions are maintained in the international security sphere and that we play our full role in the European Union given that it has opposed our membership from the beginning. I will demand consistency and a track record in this regard before calling on the people to buy into that argument.

We openly and enthusiastically go to the people to receive their mandate in the matter. I hope we will get them to realise how important it is that the generosity for which we are known is demonstrated in a practical way by using our hard won vote to allow others, who fought hard to win their vote, the same chance that was so generously and appropriately given to us 30 years ago. They will then be able to pursue their destiny as democratic societies emerging from totalitarian nightmares of the previous half century. When the matter is put to the people in this way, they will vote yes in great numbers. They will not be distracted by the issues being raised in an attempt to put a contrary view. These are proxy arguments for very skewed notions of our neutrality and anti-EU sentiment, the kind of political thinking which has been the consistent approach of some of the parties concerned for over 30 years.

If the treaty only required parliamentary approval, as is the case in the other 14 member states, the vast majority of Members of both Houses would be supporting it. It behoves us, as public representatives, to make sure that this is reflected in the vote of the people whose sovereign will will decide whether the Treaty of Nice will be part of our law and facilitate enlargement of the European Union.

The House will agree with me that it is difficult to over-emphasise the importance of the issues with which we are concerned in the Bill. Nothing less than the future political configuration of the continent is at issue. In all previous referenda the people have reiterated their commitment to the European project and Ireland's place at the forefront of the European Union. On this occasion, as the only country in the European Union to decide by referendum, they will, in a sense, be voting not just for themselves, but also on behalf of our fellow Europeans who aspire to join the Union. I have no doubt that this discussion in the Seanad, a body rightly renowned for the quality of its discourse on issues of major national importance, will contribute to a constructive national debate on the real issues involved. On that basis I am confident that the House will facilitate, and the people endorse, a positive result in the forthcoming referendum.

I welcome the Minister, Deputy Cowen. The Fine Gael Party fully supports the passage of the Bill.

This is an extremely important Bill which will put in place the mechanisms necessary for enlargement. Enlargement of the European Union is a highly commendable proposition and we, as members for 30 years, must be seen to be positive and generous in our approach to the current applicant countries. There is a long list of applicants in eastern Europe awaiting ratification of the treaty before their accession negotiations can proceed.

As the only country holding a referendum, it is important that we are successful. We are holding the referendum because of constitutional implications. It is interesting to note that the Danes, who greatly cherish their sovereignty, believe that they do not need to hold a referendum to ratify the Treaty of Nice.

It is vital that all the facts are placed before the people. Unfortunately, to date, there has not been adequate public debate and there is considerable ignorance of what is involved in the treaty. Polling day is set to be 7 June. I hope that between now and then the Government will inform the public of the issues involved.

Membership has proven to be very successful for us and all member states. We cannot underestimate the benefits that citizens have achieved. Many of the applicant countries have encountered major political difficulties in the recent past and had to fight to secure effective democracies. It is vital that they are given support from countries like ours, which has the comfort of being a proper democratic republic for 80 years. It is important that we now afford them the opportunity of providing the economic and political stability required and, if necessary, security to ensure they continue as democracies.

I welcome the opportunity of speaking and fully supporting this fundamental treaty which deals with issues not fully addressed at the time of the Amsterdam Treaty. Some elements are exceptionally welcome. At the time of the Amsterdam Treaty it was envisaged that the Western European Union would play a vital role in a common foreign and security policy for Europe. It has emerged since that the European Union will be able to do more of the work independently, as a result of which the role of the Western European Union has diminished substantially. I welcome this as it is important that the European Union establishes itself separate from any other institution. This is a move in the right direction.

Reference was made by the Minister for Foreign Affairs to the arguments put forward by those who oppose the treaty. I join with the Minister in asking opponents of the treaty to be consistent. Members of both Houses who call for the protection of human rights and who castigate the violation of human rights across the world, including eastern Europe, have repeatedly put on record their abhorrence of the ineffectiveness of the EU in dealing with such abuses. The Treaty of Nice will give capability to the EU to address these matters and I welcome that. If any scorn can be laid on the EU in recent times it is because it has had no common policy for addressing human rights breaches in eastern Europe.

I welcome the formation of an EU Rapid Reaction Force which will implement the Petersberg Tasks. This is vitally important. As a democratic, sovereign State that has always defended human rights issues, it is important that Ireland partakes in the implementation of these tasks. The RRF will be the means to do that, if required. I hope the Irish Army will participate. In the past, the Army has successfully participated in UN operations and it can successfully participate in the EU RRF where there is a need for crisis management and a need to bring political order to member states.

I congratulate the Minister for not accepting advice on what military activities the Irish Defence Forces may perform in an EU context. It is difficult for the public to listen to condemnation from Deputy Ó Caoláin given his record and his past associations. That the Deputy castigated the idea of a European army was quietly amusing. That level of hypocrisy must be condemned. It is unfortunate that a person in Deputy Ó Caoláin's position has chosen this occasion to go down that route. We are talking about the properly formatted armed forces of democratically elected Governments. Their actions will be decided by democratic Governments and put in place by the member states of the EU. The Government is above board, accountable and responsible for the Irish Army. I am delighted the Minister has put his position on public record.

There is too much hypocrisy on human rights matters. Many in both Houses have castigated Governments which have abused their citizens' human rights. We now intend to protect those human rights through the Nice treaty and to be consistent Members should support the putting in place of the mechanisms required.

The Minister should rap the knuckles of the German Chancellor, Mr. Schröder, and the Belgian Prime Minister at the next Council of Europe meeting. The two leaders are audacious in pushing the boat forward far beyond the current treaty proposals. It is premature of Germany and Belgium to advocate a much further developed European state when the Nice treaty has not yet been ratified by a number of EU states, and does not have to be ratified until the end of 2002. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Taoiseach should point out to their European partners that this is not politically helpful when the treaty is not yet ratified in member states. This is particularly so in Ireland where a referendum must be held. Recent comments have not been helpful to getting the treaty through.

It is important that the public is made aware of the specifics of the Nice treaty. Some Members are only now becoming aware of these. I welcome the proposed setting up of a political and security committee in Brussels that will diminish the responsibilities of the Western European Union. The EU will now implement the decisions which it may take in the security area.

The European Parliament is fundamental to democracy, as are all Parliaments, because that is where the citizen has his or her say. There was long argument on membership of the European Parliament and the need for it not to exceed 732 members. I realise that the number of Irish MEPs will be reduced from 15 to 12. Given the level of argument, this was not a bad number to finish with, although we would prefer if it had remained at 15. It is important that number does not diminish further and that future Governments ensure this does not happen. As the total number of MEPs rises, the share of each member state may reduce.

The Commission's powers have greatly increased and that is commendable up to a point. Increased flexibility and the election of the President of the Commission by qualified majority vote are welcome changes. The Nice treaty will allow the community to have incentive measures, excluding harmonisation measures, to support anti-discrimination programmes introduced by member states. That is important and welcome. Given that we will be signing up to the European Convention on Human Rights, it is important that this is put on record and is established in the Nice treaty.

This treaty ensures that discrimination does not take place among citizens of different nationalities within member states, and that equality applies in relation to pay and other matters. Equality of opportunity is intended for all citizens across the EU and that needs to be implemented and monitored. Serious discrimination has taken place in Ireland toward some who have come as immigrants and refugees, particularly in workplaces where there has also been exploitation. Anything that can be done within the European structures is important and commendable.

Ireland and the other member states have benefited greatly from EU membership. Following his recent election, the Fine Gael leader, Deputy Noonan, spoke of the comparison between the Boston and the Berlin models. He came down strongly in favour of the Berlin model. This relates to the Brussels model where there is a social charter, a social conscience and an attitude which strives for equality, fair play, natural justice and an equitable standard of living for all citizens. That is to be commended.

Those who oppose the Treaty of Nice are, effectively, prohibiting the entry of new states into the European Union. Some of these applicant states have experienced political, economic and other difficulties. The Irish people have always adopted a generous approach at international level, whether on a voluntary or official basis. I hope Irish people will recognise the need to provide a framework whereby people in eastern European countries can attain economic, political and social security and the Government and other Irish institutions will do all they can to ease their accession discussions.

The Minister referred to the human and cultural dimension of the applicant countries. Their fascinating diversity of culture and background is something from which we could all benefit. Applicant states have encountered various difficulties in regard to the criteria they must meet on an economic, social and human rights level. The standards set by the European Union will automatically result in the improvement of standards and conditions within these countries. Fine Gael fully supports the Bill and will display that support in the public discussion and debate in the run-up to the referendum. I have some reservations about the timeframe in this regard as it does not allow a great deal of time to encourage a big turnout. I understand polling day is scheduled for 7 June.

That is an indicative date.

It is vital that the treaty is ratified, but there is much work to be done before polling day.

I look forward to the Senator's assistance.

I will be happy to assist the Minister. This is commendable legislation which we fully support. As the treaty does not have to be ratified until the end of 2002, what is the Minister's hurry?

I welcome the Minister once again. This is a good week for democracy; we have debated Bills on the establishment of the International Criminal Court and the abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances. The Treaty of Nice represents a further exercise in democracy of which we should be proud. Rather than imposing decisions on the people, the Government is allowing them to make their own decisions in the forthcoming referenda. I hope there will be large turnout on 7 June in recognition of the manner in which democracy works in this country. Such a turnout would also serve to show up the people who criticise our lack of democracy.

There has been much media comment about the inadequacy of public debate on the treaty. Members of the media, with the exception of one journalist whom I am delighted to see in the House, will not even cover this debate. The very people who criticise our lack of democracy and public debate are not even prepared to cover debates on this or any other subject in this House. It is time they lived up to their responsibility to contribute to public debate on very important issues, rather than ignoring them or giving them the "Miriam Lord" treatment.

The inadequacy of public debate does not result from the actions of elected representatives, but from the paucity of intellect of certain people in the media who criticise everything we do without highlighting the positive aspects of our work. The media should encourage an informed debate on the pros and cons of issues such as the Treaty of Nice.

The referendum is due to take place on 7 June at the end of the Swedish Presidency which adopted the three "Es" as a model – enlargement, employment and environment. The Treaty of Nice covers all these issues, primarily enlargement. However, the enlargement process encompasses issues such as employment and the environment. Problems are emerging in the employment situation throughout Europe as a result of the downturn in the US economy, which is not as bad as many people forecast, and the problems associated with the Asian and Japanese economies. We must address these economic difficulties which are not all of our own making.

The accession of new countries into the European Union presents us with a necessary challenge. The Minister strongly emphasised the fact that Ireland has benefited hugely from participation in the European Union. A Kilkenny man, Raymond Crotty, vehemently opposed Ireland's entry into the European Union and travelled throughout Ireland and Europe making the case against it. He argued that for every job lost in agriculture, 1,000 would be lost in industry and that these could not be replaced. There is no doubt that some traditional industries in Ireland suffered as a result of our entry into the European Union, but they also suffered due to technological innovation and changes in the manner in which goods are manufactured and marketed. I contend that for every job lost as a result of our entry into Europe, at least 1,000 have been gained. I am not sure of the statistics but I grew up in an era when there was no employment, a total dependence on emigration and returning dollars and a dearth of innovation in Ireland. The critics of Ireland's entry to Europe were right about certain aspects but, overall, the country's membership has been exceptionally beneficial. Enlargement of the Union will also be extremely beneficial.

Eastern European countries lived under totalitarian regimes for many years. At this stage, a number of them are behind in terms of economic and social development. However, they have the potential not only to be major players in an enlarged Union, but to respond to the overall needs of Europe. It should not be forgotten that many of the emerging countries have pre-USSR backgrounds which were extremely strong and viable. Their social and economic histories are much more extensive than Ireland's history in those areas.

In the context of the treaty, the issue of enlargement is being most pressed. However, it will be good for Europe and the planet in general if eastern European countries that have been hin dered by a lack of environmental controls over the past 50 years must bring themselves up to even the minimum standards in this area. There was a saying ten or 15 years ago that the greatest industry created by the EEC was unemployment. That is not the position now. There was much pessimism about the large growth in unemployment ten to 15 years ago. However, the worst economies in the EU at present have growth rates of between 2% and 2.5% per annum. Ireland's rate will decrease to 5% or 5.5%, but at least every economy in Europe is producing jobs. However, unfortunately, they are not producing enough replacements for people leaving the job market.

One problem is that I understand Germany is pushing for a seven year embargo on the free movement of labour from the new member states throughout the EU. I hope that is not the case. However, the movement of labour should not be restricted to within the enlarged community. The movement of people from the Third World, who emigrate to the EU from totalitarian societies, should not be cut off to accommodate people from the enlarged community.

Reference was made to the anti-treaty group. This involves the Green Party—

There was a time when the Senator's party was anti-treaty in Irish history.

We are not discussing the time the Senator was alive in North Great George's Street. My party was satisfied with being anti-treaty at the time and history has proved it right. I do not take away from the people who took the pro-treaty side, but that matter should not be discussed on this occasion. We are debating the Treaty of Nice.

Is that not the very opposite of what we are trying to discuss?

I did not raise the hare. Enlargement will lead to the rebuilding of civic society in Europe. There is a need for this, although matters have gone a little astray in that regard. Senator Taylor-Quinn referred to enlightened democracies. I often wonder what the term "enlightened democracy" means. A country is either a democracy or it is not; there is no such thing as an unenlightened democracy. However, I do not want a situation where every country in the enlarged Europe is of the same mind on every issue. I would prefer arguments, for example, about the way jobs are produced, education or religion. Democracy must be maintained in the national countries involved in the EU, although it must also take a global view.

Reference was made to crisis management and the role of the European crisis management army. I am delighted Ireland will be involved in it – it is not the case that Ireland is joining NATO. The PfP is a good idea. The availability of Irish Army personnel and resources on a crisis management basis at the behest of others, but with the agreement of the Parliament, is a good and democratic development. It is an element of democracy that must be admired and continued.

I attended a conference last week at which the intifada was discussed. There was a huge amount of rhetoric at this Islamic conference in support of the Palestinians. However, I continually asked what could be done for the Palestinians now. The rhetoric went as far as condemning Israel and the US, but it did not reach the stage where people said what would be done now for the Palestinians. Crisis management must be on the basis of doing things, not only talking about them at international conferences. A group of highly paid people is travelling around the world to international conferences, talking about the need for peaceful resolution. However, nothing has been done for the Palestinians. If a crisis management team, involving Ireland, was established in Europe, many of the conflicts of the past could be overcome.

I have worries about the United Nations mandate in terms of global peacekeeping. Ireland is only a temporary member of the Security Council and, unfortunately, the five permanent members of the council have a veto. Although there are 15 members of the Security Council, a resolution falls if only one member dissociates itself from it. The five countries which have a veto were on the victorious side in the Second World War – it is called the Second Great War although it was no bigger than many of the wars taking place throughout the world at present. Unfortunately, the balance of power remains with those five countries. That must change if there is to be equity. When the European Union agrees to enlargement, as I hope we do on 7 June, it must play a greater role in negating the problems which have arisen in international affairs in the past 40 to 50 years.

Reference was made to the moral morons who oppose everything this treaty represents. While I do not wish to refer to them as such, I disagree with their views and will vote in favour of the treaty. However, if there is to be a balanced argument, it is up to us to project what we feel. It is also up to the media to help us, not by projecting only the arguments in favour but by being balanced in their approach. They should not suggest there is no public debate on the issue when they are, in a sense, the creators of public debate. They say that politicians do not debate certain issues, but it is not that we do not debate them but that they do not report the debates. The Seanad is not well reported, although I must compliment our Seanad reporter for the excellent support he has given over recent years.

I said on 8 February that ratification of the Nice treaty appears to be necessary. It is necessary for a democracy such as ours to prove our democratic mandate. If people examine the issues involved, they will pass the referendum. Senator Norris claimed that Germany's population will help it control decisions made by the EU. He also said that, in an EU of 27 members, Ireland's percentage of the total European population will fall from 3.4% to 2.2% in terms of our voting strength. We are doing exceptionally well and I hope the balance—

Is the Senator referring to a previous debate?

I am flattered.

I mention the Senator's name as often as possible because I know, if I do, I will be quoted.

That is even more flattering. I thank the Senator.

The issues surrounding the political and strategic control of crisis management have been raised.

I welcome the fact that the Minister was extremely frank. Senator Taylor-Quinn complimented him on departing from his script and said that he was perhaps more direct than diplomatic. Between his scripted and unscripted speech, he said what needed to be said about the Nice treaty and I compliment him on that. I welcome the Minister of State and wish her a long and happy stay in her job. We agree with the Bill in absolute terms and I hope the people pass the referendum by an enormous majority on 7 June.

There is no doubt that this is an important debate and I welcome the fact that it is taking place in the Seanad, although I share Senator Lanigan's concerns that there probably will be no report of this debate. That is a pity, and I say that not just out of vanity, from which perhaps we all suffer, but because the issues are important. The people need to become imaginatively engaged. I take a view of the treaty which is not shared by all Members, but all sides should be heard. The danger is that there will be an extraordinarily low turn-out, something neither side wants. We want full democratic participation by the people in the discussion leading towards the vote on 7 June.

Obviously I give a general welcome to the expansion of Europe and the creation of new institutions which are democratic and transparent. I have no doubt that this is a global pattern. In the 19th century, Germany was a geographical area full of small states and little principalities. The customs union was established which led to the dominance of the Prussian kingdom. Later, this expanded to become the German empire. This created friction leading to two wars, after which the economic interests of the European coal and steel industries came first, leading to the first formation in 1957 under the Treaty of Rome of a European entity. It was principally an economic machine. Out of it grew pol itical institutions, and there will now be a potentially significant expansion of those, something Ireland welcomes.

I visited Croatia as part of a group from the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs. Although that country has been extremely troubled, many of us were struck by how European was the quality of life and ambience in places such as Zagreb. Most of us felt it an impertinence to talk of places such as Croatia, which had been centrally involved in Europe from the time of the classical empires of Greece and Rome, joining Europe because, in many ways, it has been European in a cultural sense as long as the island of Ireland has. It will be necessary for us to build alliances of friendship with small candidate countries because they will share similar interests to us.

We welcome the expansion as there are practical benefits to it also. There is no question or doubt that the expansion of markets will be good for Irish trade. We will be in a position to expand much more. It is significant to reflect on Ireland's status within the European Union. We have a significant political, moral and even economic status. We are not an economic superpower but we have done some remarkable things which have attracted a good deal of attention.

Joschka Fischer, a German Cabinet Minister and a member of the Green Party, delivered a speech at the Institute of European Affairs this week. He began by paying a considerable compliment to Ireland because of the position we have achieved. He indicated that we were about to make the transition from being a net recipient to being a net donor, that this might be uncomfortable and that some citizens may feel the edge of this and complain. At the same time, it was something that was welcome and which showed our status in Europe.

He went on to speak about the Nice summit and its result. He said:

The significance of this summit lies in the fact that it created the practical conditions for enlargement and simultaneously launched the necessary process of further deepening the EU by agreeing on the Intergovernmental Conference 2004. It is the right balance between enlargement and deepening that has always been the magic formula for successful development in Europe. And the fact that Nice managed to preserve the balance between these two vital pillars of European progress despite an extremely difficult negotiating situation, is a success. Nice was a step forward for Europe.

I largely agree with that.

He went on to speak about the role of Ireland in enlargement. He said something I found interesting:

Ireland's success has become a role model for the new candidate countries. Her voice is therefore accorded special weight in Central and Eastern Europe. It is impressive to see how wisely and strategically the Irish – despite their geographical distance – are getting ready for eastern enlargement: they are bearing their share of pan-European responsibility with a clear regard for the great economic opportunities that are opening up to them. Enlargement will add more than 100 million people to the common market...

That is to be welcomed.

I turn now to the Minister's speech. On the subject of qualified majority voting, the Minister states:

While facilitating QMV in many areas we were insistent that unanimity remain the appropriate basis for decision making in the taxation area. In this regard I want to dispel the notion that no real threat faced us in this area.

The Minister then pays tribute to the strong position adopted by the Taoiseach in the discussions. It is crucial for the continued economic vitality of Ireland that we protect our tax regime which has been significantly successful in encouraging investment from abroad. I agree with the Minister on this point.

I watched the Minister speaking on the monitor in my office. When he departed from his script and continued in a wonderful coda at the end of his speech he was at his best. I will be unable to match him because I am smothering in a transatlantic cold. I am, nevertheless, in a position to appreciate what he said and the bite with which he said it. I am glad that he gave continued support to the United Nations and its peacekeeping operations. This is my real concern and I will table an amendment on the issue on Committee Stage. The wording of the amendment will be familiar to Minister and his advisers. It originated in Denmark, was filched by Deputy John Gormley from whom I have filched it. The tabling of the amendment will, apart from anything else, mean that our journey to Leinster House tomorrow will not be an entirely academic exercise to rubber stamp the Bill and push it through. We will have an opportunity to ventilate some of these issues further.

For those of us who have doubts about the full implementation of the Nice treaty, these doubts concentrate on the area of neutrality. The Minister, with his huge rhetorical flourish and capacity for dealing with concepts in a certain way, said that those who take the view I take seem to be opposed to Ireland embarking on a peacekeeping role. That is not the case. We have, however, an understanding of the correct place for the peacekeeping role to be undertaken by Ireland. We do not say that Ireland should not take part in peacekeeping, but that we should be very clear that it is done under the auspices of the United Nations. Many of us are worried by the continual weakening of the United Nations structure, especially in terms of its capacity to respond to crisis situations. This is paralleled with a growing investment in bodies such as Partnership for Peace and the European rapid reaction force, all of which have been justified in humanitarian terms which are extremely doubtful, but which really operate to undercut the significance of the United Nations.

I was amused and entertained by some of thead hominem arguments employed by the Minister. I thoroughly agree with him. It makes me laugh to hear Sinn Féin spokespeople complaining about the militarisation of Europe as though they were opposed to any kind of military strategy. What did they think they were doing in Northern Ireland for the past 20 or 30 years? They were not exactly throwing snowballs at the other side. My argument is not strengthened by the intervention of people who have a murky past and co-operated enthusiastically with the Gestapo in the 1940s. Seán Russell died in a German submarine and Frank Ryan in Berlin. After the collapse of the Nazis they went on to collaborate just as happily with the Stasi. Their military history does not leave them in a position to throw anything more offensive than snowballs at the Nice treaty. This does not impugn what others may have to say. The fact that Sinn Féin and other groups of which I disapprove take a particular position does not mean that position is wrong. It means there is a level of hypocrisy and lack of clear thinking on the part of Sinn Féin, but that should not discredit the position taken by people on the same side as myself.

There are two key elements in this treaty that are new and cause concern. The first is article 1.5 which gives formal treaty status to the political and security committee. That is a significant development because it transfers power in a worrying way. The second is the deletion of the reference to the Western European Union. It has been said that this is reminiscent of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story about the dog which did not bark. What was significant was that the dog in the story did not bark during the night. The deletion of the Western European Union is significant because it has become redundant. If these two elements are taken together, it becomes clear that the European Union, as a political entity, is taking unto itself significant military responsibility for the first time. That also has implications for the munitions industry in Europe. I will deal with this matter further when and if we discuss my amendment on Committee Stage.

It is interesting that the presiding officer of the new structure is to be Javier Solana who is intimately associated with NATO. Kosovo has been mentioned. Was that a peacekeeping operation and, if so, was it a success? Should the dropping of depleted uranium and cluster bombs which killed children meet with unqualified approval? When we talk about peacekeeping interventions, the example of Rwanda is often quoted. We are told that we need someone who could get involved in such a situation. A European government, one which would play a significant role in this new arrangement, did intervene during the period of genocide in Rwanda. I refer to France. The operation was called Operation Turquoise and its impact was to protect the genocidal government of Rwanda. Let us be clear about the cynical motives which have been shown to exist in some of the most influential capitals of Europe. This is worrying.

I have received a very useful booklet launched today by AFrI, Action from Ireland. It opposes the Nice treaty. The Government must answer the questions raised by this document if we are to have a proper, useful and enlightened debate. In answering this document one must take into account the credentials of AfrI. They cannot be as easily dismissed as the credentials of Sinn Féin, on which the Minister and I agree. The booklet quotes a group of commentators who state, "There is little doubt that the EU started off on the path to becoming a military power to be reckoned with." That is said by the commentators with approval. The author of the booklet echoes his reservations and records the credentials of AFrI, "whose executive committee members have worked in Cambodia, Rwanda and the Sudan and who campaign in solidarity with people in Burma, East Timor and West Papua". If any group has the moral entitlement to invoke the tragic names on this list, it is this organisation whose personnel, at the risk of their own lives, have been honourably engaged out there.

It is not acceptable for the armchair generals of the political parties to railroad the Irish people without discussion into this situation which is clearly new, or at least developing. Although we were mocked for doing so, some of us warned over earlier treaties such as the Amsterdam treaty. Article J7 became notorious and we argued hammer and tongues about it at the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs. On one occasion I remember that Patricia McKenna, who appears to be abête noire for some people, sat in on the committee, as she was entitled to do as a member of the European Parliament. She was attacked in an extremely strong and personal fashion over raising concerns about Article J7, which in my opinion, as the situation develops, continue to appear to be justified. Article J7 of the Amsterdam treaty states:

The Common Foreign and Security Policy shall include all questions relating to the security of the Union, including the progressive framing of a common defence policy . Questions referred to in this Article shall include humanitarian and rescue tasks, peacekeeping tasks, and tasks of combat forces in crisis management, including peacemaking [the so-called Petersberg Tasks].

The European Union leaders have also agreed that by 2003 they will be in a position to deploy a 60,000 strong EU military force drawn from member state armies, capable of being deployed within 60 days and maintained in the field for at least a year. It would have an operational radius of 4,000 kilometres from EU borders. In November 2000, the EU member states pledged 66,000 troops to that force, with Ireland pledging 850 troops. That is a rather interesting figure because that is the number we currently have employed in peacekeeping in particular areas. It seems clear that they will be transferred so that our commitment to the UN will be run down in parallel with our commitment to the new force.

Other non-EU states, such as Turkey, are weighing in with further troop pledges also. The European rapid reaction force will not be a standing army with headquarters and barracks; forces will be brought together under an EU flag for specific operations and returned to their homes afterwards. This is a significant development.

I want to mention the question of links with NATO and how they might affect our neutrality. We are told that we need not worry about this and that there should be no concern with regard to things like the Partnership for Peace. I remember that in the debate on that issue I quoted the two principal American architects of the Partnership for Peace, who made it perfectly clear that in their minds – they were the people whose concept this was – it was membership of NATO by any other means. A rose by any other name will smell just as sweet or sour, depending on one's taste. There is no question, however, that this is giving off a particular odour and that the people responsible for that odour have no doubt in their minds what it consists of.

In a speech at a conference entitled Défense Européenne: le Concept de Convergence, in Brussels on 29 March 2000, the NATO Secretary General said:

Indivisibility of the transatlantic [US-European] link . will have been carved in stone [by 2005] on a monument outside the building where joint NATO-EU Council sessions are being held. By 2005, NATO and the EU will enjoy a close and confident relationship at all levels. Both formal and informal exchanges between the secretariats and the military authorities will be a matter of routine. Joint meetings will be held, and senior officials of our respective organisations will brief each other on a regular basis.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

The Senator's time is almost up.

Thank you, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, although I am not sure I should be grateful. At least I have made that significant contribution.

I thought the Senator had a cold.

Yes, I have caught a cold, although I hope it is not a political cold. I would hate to catch one of those coming up to an election. In the Dáil the other day, Deputy Gormley asked the Minister why the Finns and the Swedes no longer describe themselves as neutral. Why does NATO refer to the Finns, Swedes, Irish and Austrians as former neutrals? They seem to have caught up with the situation that we have been eroding our neutrality on a steady basis. In other words, everybody else can see this, including the architects of the PfP, our partners in Europe and NATO. They all say: "Ireland, you are not neutral any more, are you really, if you are honest?", and really we are not, or certainly not as neutral as before.

The Minister has a wonderfully acute intelligence and is a charming person. I hope it will not be too embarrassing for her, however, to be reminded of what her leader, the Taoiseach, said on the subject of neutrality and the PfP when he was in Opposition. He said that if we went in with the PfP the French would be in Killala, the Spanish in Bantry Bay, the Germans on Banna Strand and the British in the Curragh. That was his view some time ago.

The Russians would be in the Curragh.

Indeed, that is true. I have considerable reservations about the military aspects of this treaty. We are looking towards the growing militarisation of Europe, of which I am extremely suspicious. The fact that there are some uncomfortable partners in the political bed at the moment does not mean that we are not right to raise these reservations. Although I will be the only voice in the House on this occasion to raise such reservations, I am glad to have this opportunity to do so. I am glad the Seanad exists so that we can have a reasoned debate which expresses, among other things, the views of a substantial group of people in this country.

At the moment, probably 40% of the population have significant reservations about the Nice treaty, yet there is little articulation of their views in the political limelight. I am glad, therefore, the Seanad is there for that purpose. I am also glad that an opportunity was provided for the Minister to make what I thought was a superb speech, especially the coda, although I did not agree with all of it. He was in good form and the speech was enlivening and stimulating to listen to. My heart went out to the Minister when he said that in the Dáil Deputy Gormley was allowed a whole 30 minutes on a particular point, while he was confined to a mere three minutes. He felt that his democratic voice was being stifled. The Minister should come to the Seanad as often as he likes where he will be afforded every courtesy. We will give him the opportunity to expand on these very significant issues, as he did this afternoon. I am signalling that I will table an amendment on Committee Stage.

I will talk later about the European army issue, but I agree with Senator Norris that the Minister's speech was a veritabletour de force. It was magnificent and he was in full flow. He is blessed with a great intellect and a superb knowledge of the facts. It was a pleasure to listen to him.

This is an important debate and it will be an important referendum. On 22 June, it will be 60 years since the Germans launched an unprovoked attack on the Soviet Union. That is not so long ago in the lifetime of many people. The Germans marched into battle with millions of men against a country with which, up to then, they had a non-aggression treaty. Four years later when the war was over, there were 27 million Russians dead and probably another 18 million to 20 million wounded, although I am not sure of the exact figures. Some 45 million people died across the whole continent of Europe and a total of 145 million people were wounded or displaced. That figure does not even represent those who lost all their possessions. For that reason, each time there is a debate on the European Union or its institutions, we must remind ourselves that we do not want to see this type of conflagration ever again. It is for that reason the cohesion, stability and prosperity of the Union is important.

The referendum next month primarily relates to the enlargement of the Union to include new members provided they fulfil certain criteria. Originally the Union had six members: Belgium, France, Germany, Holland, Italy and Luxembourg. Ireland joined in the 1970s with Denmark and the United Kingdom and in the 1980s Greece, Portugal and Spain were admitted, bringing the number of members to 12. Austria, Finland and Sweden took up membership in the 1990s, bringing the number to 15. It is hoped Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia will accede next, followed perhaps by Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Romania, Slovakia and Turkey, and not long after that Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia and Albania will, I hope, join. I hope to live to see the day Belarus, the Ukraine and Moldova take up membership and there will be free a Europe from Achill to the Urals, from North Cape to Valetta, where everybody can live in peace and prosperity.

The Union will be much bigger. Bigger is not always better and, while a famous novel says "small is beautiful", it is better in this case. As the Minister stated, the countries which were formerly under Communist rule are knocking down the gates to join the EU. Why would they do so if membership was of no use to them? It should be borne in mind that many of the countries seeking admission to the Union are at the centre of the Continent. Prague is the centre of Europe, not Brussels. If another Parliament is built, given that there are three or four already, it should be located in Prague. The faults of the current Parliaments is that they are moving material back and forth between them, but that is a debate for another day. When I was young I thought I was living on the periphery of Europe in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean while those living in countries in the middle of the Continent were in Europe. Now I am in Europe and they are not, and that is strange.

Nobody can deny Ireland has benefited from membership, particularly in terms of prosperity. When we joined the EEC in 1973 our GDP at current market prices per head of population was 58.8% while now it is 111.7%, with the European average in both years equalling 100%. Turlough O'Sullivan, director general of IBEC, in an article in today'sIrish Independent wrote: “Our Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern has secured agreement that the Nice Treaty does not remove our right to veto any proposal to increase Irish corporation tax rates to the uncompetitive levels of other EU countries.” The negotiations which were conducted by the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs will benefit Ireland.

There are two major changes in the treaty which will lead to reform of the institutions. The changes to the voting system of an enlarged Council of Ministers means that Ireland, which currently has three votes out of 87, representing 3.4% of the total votes of 15 countries, will have seven out of 345, representing 2% of the total votes following enlargement to 27 countries. As Ireland's population represents 0.7% of the total population of the Union, this revised voting strength, while reduced, still gives Ireland an advantage beyond what its population warrants, which is welcome.

The number of members of the European Parliament will increase from 626 to 732 but there will be a reduction in the number of Irish MEPs and that of most other countries to facilitate the increase in the number of member states. Ireland will in future have 12 MEPs, which equates to 1.6% of the total number of MEPs. As our population represents 0.7% of that of the enlarged Union, we will continue to have an advantage beyond that which it warrants and that is also to be welcomed.

There has been a great deal of debate about the destruction of our national identity but that is codswallop. When the treaty has been ratified and the new countries are admitted to the Union, will the French stop marching down the Champs Elyseé on Bastille Day, will the Spanish stop bullfighting or will we stop going to Croke Park? It is pure fantasy to suggest that will happen. The French will not cheer for the Welsh during a rugby or soccer match. We will retain our identity similar to the French, Italians, Germans, Czechs, Slovenians and so on.

America is supposed to be one country but when one drives through it from coast to coast one realises it comprises many countries called states which are linked together. They have a common language and a common currency, which Europe will have soon, but they are very disparate in many other ways.

The EU will have a rapid reaction force and I share some of the concerns expressed by Senator Norris and others. There is no doubt there will be a move towards a European army shortly because Europe will be an empire, although I do not know who will be the emperor. However, the army will defend, not attack, and the rapid reaction force is the beginning of that. It will not affect our neu trality, nor will it diminish us. We do not plan to attack America, China and Russia but there will be a defensive force.

However, I worry about the forces behind NATO. There is a freemason lodge on every NATO base in Europe. It may not mean much but it means something. There are many fears, as NATO is a nuclear force, but Ireland will contribute to the rapid reaction force and will not be part of a European army for the time being. If one is not in, one cannot win and if Ireland backs out, the force will develop without us.

Ireland's participation in the EU thus far has been exemplary. Some people may not approve of the Minister for Finance but the Americans think he is doing a great job and is a credit to us. We have been exemplary Europeans. We have voted properly and benefited accordingly and we hope to contribute in many ways to the benefit of other countries which are in the same position we were prior to accession.

I have reservations but not many. I have been a committed European for many years. I was a member of the Irish Council of the European Movement for years. I served as an executive and vice-chairman. I was also a member of the council and finance committee of the Institute of European Affairs. There is no other way to go. Ireland cannot survive on its own, unless it becomes an American state. We cannot be isolated and we are on the right track if the Swiss are considering their position.

I will campaign in favour of this referendum. Ireland has done well out of Europe and will continue to do so. I support the referendum for altruistic reasons as well as selfish reasons. It behoves us to help countries that were under Communist rule for a long time, experienced hard times and witnessed the deaths of millions of their people and to make a commitment that this cannot be repeated. Let us have a Europe from Achill to the Urals and from North Cape to Valetta, which will be a place of peace and prosperity for all its inhabitants.

I am an unequivocal and unapologetic European. By that I mean, I am an Irish European, which by definition means I put my own culture first, but I believe that the other cultures in Europe have equal standing. They have something to contribute to us and we have something to learn from them. As the previous speaker, I will be supporting this amendment at every opportunity, on the radio and in the local media, to press for a "Yes" vote.

People have spoken of the benefits which have accrued to Ireland over the years of EU membership and this should not be forgotten. Neither should we forget the alternative if we vote "No". Many people spoke of the benefits of the Celtic tiger, which has its foundations in our accession to Union membership many years ago. It started with the Common Agricultural Policy and has continued in other ways since. We have been net benefici aries. The inclusion of 12 additional countries will bring the population of the EU from 372.8 million to 479.5 million, an increase of 106.7 million consumers.

What does that mean to us in Ireland? It means a lot, and if we take the west of Ireland and Galway in particular as an example, we see that most of the industries there are American. The American economy is at present looking at a possible downturn, resulting in cutbacks and downsizing. The markets there are decreasing and these companies are seeking new markets. When they see the potential for an increased market of 306 million, I have no doubt that they will remain in Ireland and perhaps increase in size and productivity as a result. A window of opportunity is provided for them to look into Europe. From that point of view alone, the prospect of increased numbers will be of great benefit to Ireland.

When we joined the EEC in 1973 Ireland had a gross domestic product, at present market prices, per head of population, equal to 58.8%. In 2001 our GDP equals 111.7%, with the EU average being 100%, indicating that we are amongst those benefiting most in Europe. This will continue if we accept this amendment. The majority of applicant states are currently at about half the EU average. The Irish public are no doubt mindful of the benefits that have accrued to our country since accession in 1973 and would wish the same prosperity on those other countries as well.

In his brief outline of the history of Europe, Senator Norris spoke of minor states, some hundreds of years ago, with kings and barons fighting for their own niche and trying to extend their territory. Subsequently the concept of nationalism grew and the idea of dominion through nationalism, leading again to continuous strife and warfare, particularly in western Europe. The smaller countries in eastern Europe have experienced a similar situation in the last 50 years. As we have a somewhat parallel history to these small countries, we should recognise that as we have reaped the benefits of the European Union that they should have the rights to those same benefits.

There are extraordinary benefits in education to us also. I am a lecturer in the Institute of Education in Galway and some 30% of one of my degree classes is made up of foreign students. They come from France, Italy, Estonia, and Germany and bring with them a wealth of experience. In return our students are getting the benefits from their colleges and universities. This intermixing of the educational and the cultural has to be of benefit to all of us, learning new skills and ways of looking at the world.

However I do have some concerns, which other speakers may have referred to earlier. One of these is that the environmental standards of these 12 prospective member countries will have to be brought up to our levels. This is something from which we will ultimately benefit. At present they do not have the same technologies that is available to the rest of us, but through membership they can acquire them and, in so doing, reduce the environmental hazards that they are currently producing.

Others have referred to the major aspect of employment. At present we have a high employment rate and difficulties in getting people to fill vacancies. I recently spoke to somebody involved in the marketing of fish, who related his difficulties in finding workers due to the seasonal nature of the business. He took on some refugees who lived nearby and have shown a dedication and commitment to the workplace that is second to none. He said he would gladly employ them at any time. They are great savers and very responsible people. We can benefit from that point of view as well.

There are other questions which have to be asked. The Minister did respond to them. I had intended bringing up the issues of human rights and democratic protection for individuals. He said he would watch keenly to ensure that human rights and the standards of democracy – liberty, equality and fraternity, as the French say – would have to be met before he would give total agreement. I believe the Minister is sincere. Standards in these areas must be brought up to the same level before full membership is given to any country.

I fear that the debate may become muddied by issues such as the rapid reaction force, which may be seen as a negative factor. It has nothing to do with the Treaty of Nice, but already it has been brought up. A few moments ago I met a former Deputy of my party downstairs. She has been gone, I think, since 1987, and she said that she hoped I would be voting "No". I said that in fact I would be voting "Yes". Some might guess that it was Alice Glenn. I am pro-Europe and I do not see us losing our identity in Europe. It will enhance our identity and protect our culture, and that the variety of cultures throughout Europe will enhance that tapestry of Europe that we shall all enjoy.

Another issue with which people are trying to muddy the waters is the watering down of Irish representation. In the past our representation has been disproportionate in comparison to other countries, with our one Commissioner, and I believe it would only be fair if it were to be slightly watered down. I believe we are not losing any rights in the Nice treaty and we will be as well protected with less representation, even if we do not have a Commissioner.

Anybody saying no to this treaty must consider the kind of message being sent out to the rest of Europe about the Irish nation. If we cannot invite those small countries to come and join us and bring their standard up to ours, what does it say about us? I appeal to all the constituencies that I have any say in, through radio and the local media, to say "Yes" to this. It is vital for our well-being, and for Europe, to say "Yes".

I welcome the opportunity to say a few words on the Nice treaty. Like other speak ers, I am fearful that, as with past referenda on Europe, a small minority will misrepresent the fundamentals of the treaty while failing to acknowledge the benefits which we, as a small nation, have enjoyed since joining the EEC in 1973. The treaty is about the institutional reform needed to accommodate the expansion of the European Union. I agree with Senator Coogan that to oppose it is to send a very bad message to the rest of Europe and deny the countries of central and eastern Europe the opportunities that we, as a small nation on the periphery of Europe, have enjoyed. We have enjoyed success across the board, politically, economically and socially.

The Sinn Féin Oireachtas Member, who is from my constituency, is encouraging the people to vote "No". He has said that the treaty will cause a flight from the land, but nothing could be further from the truth, not only in relation to this treaty, but in relation to all others in the past. We, as a small nation of 3.5 million, will open our markets to up to 500 million people with the enlargement of Europe and far from removing people from the land, we have only to look at the problems we are encountering from returning emigrants and immigrants from all over the world to discover that Ireland is a land of opportunity where people have a chance to improve their quality of life.

The treaty can only enhance our position in Europe because at this stage we are in a good position upon which we can only improve if we continue with the same policies at national level. Our ability to maintain independence in our taxation policy will be hugely beneficial. As with all referenda, one has to look at what is beneficial. On the economic front, we are particularly lucky. The treaty is about opening up to other European countries where, as others said, we have benefited and can now contribute. We can show countries such as Poland and Hungary, which I was lucky enough to visit, what we have achieved. While they have put us on a pedestal, we can learn as much from them as they can from us while they take advantage of the social and other opportunities we have had. Very often, eaten bread is soon forgotten, but I come from a Border county where we have been extremely fortunate since 1994 because of EU Structural Funds. The European Fund for Peace and Reconciliation has been very important to the peace process in communities of differing political and religious persuasions, north and south of the Border, and we cannot underestimate its value. We await the next round of the EU support programme for peace and reconciliation and it is expected that by the end of the programme the Border counties will have received £106 million from which almost every town and village in counties Cavan and Monaghan will have benefited to some extent.

It was with great interest that I listened to the Minister refer to the great hypocrisy of Sinn Féin in relation to the social aspect of the referendum and peace and reconciliation funding. What is particularly hypocritical is the Sinn Féin Deputy from my area turning the sod on EU funded projects while at the same time encouraging people in the constituency to vote against the very institutions which fund them, but one always has to take the photo opportunity which, as we all are aware, speak volumes. The reality is that in the Border counties we have been particularly fortunate because Europe has recognised our problems during the last 30 years, as a result of which funding was allocated to help. I agree with the Minister that there is also hypocrisy in talking about the militarisation of Europe when one considers the acceptance by some members of Sinn Féin of certain acts and the militarisation that has taken place in Northern Ireland.

The referendum clearly focuses on peacekeeping which can sometimes be lost sight of in this argument. Mention of a rapid reaction force is emotive for many. There is no doubt that down the line it is a matter that we, and perhaps parliamentarians long after us, will be discussing, but at this time it is not an issue. It is only on the authorisation of the United Nations that peacekeeping missions will be embarked upon. It is important to outline the charter of the United Nations which refers to the preservation of peace, the strengthening of international security, promotion of international co-operation, development and consolidation of democracy and the rule of law as well as respect for human rights.

For many in eastern Europe the principles of democracy, the rule of law and human rights are only recent phenomena. We must acknowledge that they have the same rights and desires for freedom, prosperity and security that we have and had in 1973. Those who oppose the treaty and pontificate about the importance of social inclusion and looking after of the marginalised in society are the very ones encouraging the Irish people to deny those rights to eastern Europeans who want to participate in and contribute to the European Union as we have done. We have come a long way from being net beneficiaries in Europe to being in a position where we can contribute. I hope people will leave the high moral ground, come down to reality and realise that this can only benefit us economically, politically and culturally.

My constituency colleague talks of social inclusion and bringing people in from the cold. This is an ideal opportunity to do that rather than score political points by taking the populist view. It would be more to important to look at the whole picture of Europe and vote "Yes" in the referendum. I am fortunate in that I do not remember a time when we were not part of Europe and if we are as fortunate in the next 27 years as we were in the past, it can only hold good for the country.

I welcome the Minister to the House and I welcome the Bill which I hope will allow us to warmly accede to the Nice treaty. Too often the emphasis is on the material gain that Ireland has had from our membership of the European Union, and we would be churlish if we did not wish the other small countries of eastern Europe to share in our prosperity, but what cannot go without remark is the huge psychological impact membership of the European Union has had on Ireland. Once we were an island behind an island, but we all know now that we are running the place. I am speaking to a discreet audience so I am sure no one will tell that to some of the larger countries. When one considers that our Commissioner, David Byrne, is telling people across Europe on a daily basis what they can and cannot eat and my own constituent, David O'Sullivan, is at Mr. Prodi's right hand, one can see that we have a very influential position.

Any of us who have had the good fortune to travel to the various eastern European countries which are applicants can see what an enormous difference membership would make to them. The fall of the Berlin Wall changed the whole geography of Europe. Where Vienna was once at the end of the line, it will shortly be in the middle of Europe and it is most important that we ensure there is warm support for this enlargement process.

Like other Members of the House, I, too, have had the opportunity to visit various eastern European countries and the changes that have taken place there in the past ten years are extraordinary. A former Member of this House, Gemma Hussey, is the director of the European Women's Foundation and with her I have spoken in some European countries encouraging women to take an active part in the democratisation of those countries. It is extraordinary to see the changes which have taken place within a few years. Some of them have been unexpected for the inhabitants of those countries. I was asked to go to Slovakia about seven years ago to give the Dubcek Foundation lecture, which was a great honour. I returned there before Christmas and I had the pleasure of meeting some of the parliamentarians whom I had addressed seven years ago. One of the parliamentarians said to me, "The last time you were here you encouraged us to have a free press. We have a free press and they are very unkind to us." I suggested he should contact Tony Blair, who had a much more difficult time with his press than we had with ours, because he might be able to give them some advice on how they should deal with the press. It is important to say, on Press Freedom Day, that this is an area where the most astonishing developments have taken place. Years ago, western European papers were seized on when one went to eastern Europe but now one can buy any newspaper there. It is most encouraging to see the huge strides that have been made towards democracy in those countries.

The labour market is extraordinarily important because there are great fears that with globalisation many of the companies which have located here might relocate in eastern Europe. That is always a possibility but one has to remember that our great windfall has been with companies from the United States, which particularly favour English speaking countries. We will probably be able to retain all these companies despite the fact that the labour market in eastern Europe will be cheaper for some time, but it is important to remember that our labour laws will apply within the applicant countries as they become members so that difference in remuneration of workers should not continue for too long.

I have some concern about the area of professional qualifications. When we entered the European Union there was a strict assessment of our training programmes and the education of people within the professions. I have the best knowledge of my own profession, the medical profession, and I would like to be sure that this continues.

The reason I raise that matter now is that I echo the concern of the President of the Medical Council regarding the disappearance of the advisory committee on medical training in the European Union. That committee advises the Commission on medical training and this would be the worst time for that committee not to ensure that those who have trained in non-EU countries, which are now applicant countries, are assessed as carefully as possible.

It is important for us to encourage the rigorous investigation of training in the applicant countries because already some health boards which are having difficulties in recruiting junior staff are looking in places like Latvia for trainee psychiatrists to come here. It is splendid that so many people should want to come to this country for training in different fields, and we have people in the hotel industry and in agriculture who are most useful employees and who are gaining great experience, but when they are dealing with the Irish public it is important that we are absolutely sure that their training programmes are rigorously examined and that the high criteria which are applied to people in the European Union are also applied to them.

I congratulate the Minister on the efforts he is making to promote the treaty. Despite the misgivings that have been expressed by various Senators, there is never an egg about which we are totally pleased and I will certainly give the Minister my support in respect of the treaty.

I, too, am pleased to have the opportunity of discussing the issue of the Treaty of Nice and preparation for the referendum, which presumably is still to be held on 7 June. I welcome the Minister to the House and compliment him on the various media interviews he has conducted in recent times. He has been forthcoming, clear and logical in his presentation of the situation and in his response to those who have urged a "No" vote. My position is clear. I am in favour of a "Yes" vote. That is the position of my party. There is need for a strong campaign.

The whole European project which was initiated in 1957 with the Treaty of Rome is a fine one. The basic fundamental principles underlying it are essential for a Europe which is built on the principles of humanitarianism, justice, fairness, economic and social development and pluralism. It would be a tragedy if Ireland, a country which is regarded as the star and the main beneficiary of the European project, were to opt out at a crucial stage in the expansion and development of that project to the east in particular. For many years those countries have looked to us as their future and they want to gain the benefits we have gained from the European experience. As we all know – it has been mentioned here frequently – the eastern European countries see Ireland as a model of development. By and large these are underdeveloped countries which are relatively small, with the exception of Poland, which is a huge country. Many countries see us as a model, which they hope to imitate or even surpass.

I have many concerns about the approach taken to the negotiation of the various treaties. The process is fundamentally flawed. We need to prepare for the future. It will become increasingly difficult as time goes on and the European Union gets larger. The various governing mechanisms of the EU will inevitably become more complex and cumbersome in response to an increasing population and a rising number of member states. We need to examine how to put together a structure that is both democratic and fair and can avoid circumstances in which one set of countries feels it is being overwhelmed either by a larger bloc or by the possibility of larger countries coming together to create a kind of superstate or go it alone. This would be a denial of the fundamental principles of the European Union for everybody.

We will have to put in place Oireachtas-based as well as Government-based structures. It is not good enough that Ireland is represented at negotiations in Europe solely by the Government of the day, as in the case of 6 December last when the Taoiseach was accompanied by his Minister for Foreign Affairs and a number of civil servants. I do not doubt that much of the work was completed by the Minister beforehand in smoky corridors and committee rooms. This approach means that the Oireachtas has little or no say in negotiations leading up to a treaty. We need a forum, a mechanism, that will operate in the years leading up to the next Intergovernmental Conference in 2004 and not just in the final months beforehand.

We should look into that possibility as soon as this treaty is ratified as I hope it will be. It is particularly important that we lay down the ground rules now because this country is likely to hold the Presidency of the Council of Ministers in 2004. Regardless of which Government is in power or who happens to be Taoiseach and Minister for Foreign Affairs, we will need an outline of procedures that will enable us to carefully develop our view of the most desirable outcome of the next Intergovernmental Conference and treaty in 2005 and how Europe should progress in the years thereafter.

It is not just a question of preparing the groundwork for the content of the next treaty in the most comprehensive fashion possible – and that will be an extremely complex and difficult task given the number of outstanding issues awaiting decision in 2004 and 2005 – there is also the whole process of awareness and education. This is very much a problem. There is a minimalist approach to awareness of Europe in this country. There are no agencies employed by the Government to promote awareness, although there are voluntary bodies in receipt of subsidies who do a lot of good work. To date, we have had no success in getting the message across in any meaningful way. Consequently, we have a very low voter turnout and minimal interest in Europe.

The view that as long as the money continues to arrive, the Irish will be in favour of the European Union is now changing dramatically. The money will dry up totally after 2006, when we will become net contributors. The fairy godmother has disappeared and the cold reality of becoming net contributors is almost upon us.

The Minister pointed out that farming alone has received £24 billion in European hand-outs since 1973. This year alone, according to today's newspaper, farmers have benefited by £1 billion, which is a colossal amount. Similar amounts have been allocated to infrastructure and other schemes through the Structural and Cohesion Funds. The amounts allocated to education and training and community employment schemes have also been colossal. All of that stood to us in the years of mass unemployment, which are still not very far off.

On the economic side we have benefited enormously. The spin-off of our membership of the European Union and the fact that we are an English-speaking country has been the decision of many American companies to invest here. Our level of education aside, the fact that we are the only English-speaking country that fully participates in the EU also had an enormous bearing on American investment.

Other benefits have been in the area of human rights and in great improvements in employment and education. Europe has been of enormous benefit in getting us to deal with matters which we have been slow to tackle for one reason or another. It took Europe to get us to focus on the environment through things like waste management and we are now under Europe's cosh to ensure that we come up to decent standards.

We will vote "Yes". Enlargement will increase the population of the EU from 350 million to 500 million and we have an open market with over 90% of our produce going abroad. Considering the degree to which we have benefited from the generosity of Europe, it would be churlish of us to interfere in any way with enlargement. We should not deny to other countries the benefits we received.

It is incumbent upon us to retain ownership of the European project. We have to be in a position to counteract those who are negative about it. It is always easier to vote "No" than to vote "Yes" and opt for thestatus quo. There are fears out there and the danger is that failure to acknowledge and deal with those fears will lead people either not to vote or to vote “No” because of a vague sense of negativity. It is very important that the Government has a good campaign.

The issue of the rapid reaction force has to be dealt with very strongly. That can be done by arguing vigorously that it will operate purely under United Nations authorisation. Every incident or activity that we engage in comes under the Petersberg Tasks. We can opt in or opt out. We will be dealing with it in the context of crisis management, peacekeeping and humanitarian considerations. As the Minister stated, if we are prepared to do that in various countries outside Europe, under a United Nations mandate, why should we not be prepared to do it under a United Nations mandate within the European Union?. That argument must be put across in the strongest terms.

The Treaty of Nice offers no threat to our neutrality. If it is put about that our neutrality is in danger, we will face serious difficulties. There are large groupings which, for various reasons, will play on people's fears about the loss of our neutrality.

Another matter of major concern is the idea that a two-tier Europe will be created, particularly in terms of the idea that there can be enhanced co-operation and that eight countries can come together and move forward at a different pace from other member states. People believe that the larger countries could take advantage of the enhanced co-operation procedure and begin the process of establishing a super-state. This would be out of kilter with what we are trying to achieve in Europe. This matter will have to be dealt with and it is difficult to see how this can be done in logical terms because the danger is that those countries which are impatient with the current rate of progress are most likely to consider coming together. We must remember, however, that the major countries do not have the best of relations. If memory serves, in the negotiations on the Nice treaty the British, French and Germans were at loggerheads over many issues.

I am disappointed the Charter of Fundamental Rights was not incorporated in the treaty. That is a pity because its inclusion would have done a great deal in terms of selling the treaty as a fundamentally principled document that will have advantages across the board. I would like to see work being done in this regard in preparation for the next intergovernmental conference. In many ways, the Nice treaty will be seen as a transition treaty in which a number of difficult decisions have not been made. Many of those decisions will have to be made before the extensive enlargement takes place after 2005.

The greatest difficulty we will face in the next month will be encouraging people to vote. It is probably not helpful that so many referenda are being taken on the same day. There is bound to be something that people will vote against. In a situation where they are expected to vote on three or four items, they will probably vote against that in respect of which there has been the most hype and opposition. In this instance, that will inevitably be the Treaty of Nice. The disparate groups gathered to oppose the treaty are already active. They range from both wings of the church to Sinn Féin, a variety of Independents and the Greens. Even though the Greens in Germany are adopting a different approach, the Green Party in this country has seen fit to interpret the treaty as the advent of the holocaust.

There is quite an extensive lobby which is active and which has produced and distributed a great deal of literature. The Government must take the initiative in respect of this matter. In recent times an amount of cold water has been poured on the European Union issue by senior members of the Minister's party and by a number of senior Ministers such as the Tánaiste, the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands. Their support for Europe appears to be more lukewarm than hearty in nature. One of the issues that has been raised is the advantage of choosing Boston over Berlin. I do not believe this is an issue because we have links with both. In my opinion we can retain a level of individualism while at the same time taking account of the collective good of Europe and its citizens. The Government should put in place a strong campaign designed to show the way and to attract the support of the other parties because, as already stated, the other side has already launched such a campaign.

This will be the first occasion on which we will be voting for a treaty when, as a country and as a people, we perceive that we no longer need the benefits offered by the European Union. The danger is that we could become blasé, selfish and uncaring, that we will not make the effort to ensure that the referendum on the treaty is passed and that we will fail to consider matters in the broader terms in which we will be obliged to consider them in the future.

I thank the Senators who participated in the debate. It is fair to say that the Upper House is unanimously supportive of the treaty. Obviously, people will take different views on the negotiations. There are aspects which in no way affect our national interests. However, there is a common sense approach which confirms that in any negotiation one must compromise and find solutions which meet the agreements of 15 member states, 15 Prime Ministers or 15 Foreign Ministers. That is not an easy task.

The essential strategy drawn up by the Government when this Intergovernmental Conference began, which was about being open to improving decision-making procedures, recognising that an increase in the number of member states would require changes in those procedures, particularly in the areas of qualified majority voting, reducing the number of areas where a veto would apply and confirming that QMV extension is very much in the interests of smaller rather than larger states, was easy to adopt. We were prepared to move in 47 of the 49 areas mentioned in respect of QMV procedures being adopted. One of the areas in respect of which we did not agree was taxation, while the other related to a prescriptive view of social partnership which does not fit with our social partnership model. We were not alone in that regard. The consensus which emerged, which is that 30 areas of the 49 allowed the move to QMV, confirms that the charge which was made, perhaps in the heat of the moment, that the Government was being eurosceptic was incorrect. The empirical evidence runs to the contrary: we were prepared to move in all but two areas for the QMV procedure. As already stated, the actual consensus was for just 30 areas so there were clearly countries with much more difficulties than Ireland in terms of being helpful in accommodating more effective decision-making procedures.

The situation in relation to the Commission was similar. There was a strong body of opinion that we need a strong Commission. Small states would be particularly sensitive to that, given that the Commission is the guardian of the treaties. We were informed, when we returned to Ireland after the negotiations, that we should have held out for one Commissioner per member state in all circumstances. We would not have had a treaty at Nice if we had held that position.

It is important to indicate that the Commission had a position of ten or 12 Commissioners. It was not backing the position of small states. What emerged was an upholding of the small states' position which confirmed that the equality of member states had to be respected and that one per member state, including those applicant countries which would become members during the expansion of the European Union in future years, had to be recognised. We were prepared to agree to review the number of 27 on the basis of everyone unanimously agreeing a change and that it would be done on strict rotation. The principle of equality was upheld in that compromise. That was a good outcome in the context of securing an agreement, given our negotiating strategy.

As regards reweighting, one of the leftovers from Amsterdam, it was agreed at Amsterdam that if the larger member states agreed to reduce the number of Commissioners from two to one, they would have to receive a reweighting balance in relation to the Council, which they did. The contention by the "No" lobby that the compromise reached on that point has meant a huge shift of power to the large member states is refuted by the empirical evidence. Leaving aside the fact that we make decisions at Council level by the Community method where the Commission makes a proposal which is discussed for the purposes of trying to accommodate everyone's views, where we try to gain consensus and then, if necessary, move to a QMV procedure, the idea has been put forward by the "No" lobby that member states have taken over the Council. The votes large member states, such as Germany, Britain, Italy and France, have represent approximately 11.5% of the vote. When we reach 27, Germany will have 8% of the vote. Where is the big move to the large member states? It is true that as enlargement proceeds, it will increase to approximately 12.5% in the first phase, but it is not a major shift to the large member states.

The problem I have with the "No" lobby is that it is making assertions in the media which are going unchallenged by those asking the questions and that then seems to be the position. The "Yes" lobby must try to move people away from that position, which is not true. I support having a debate, but it must be based on facts. I cannot have a debate based on contentions and assertions which are not in the treaty under discussion.

The institutional balance we want to see maintained, which has been the position of successive Governments, is that of a Commission, a Council and a Parliament with increasing co-decision procedure mechanisms to recognise the democratically elected base of that organisation – it would not be in our interests as it is presently formulated and the way it presently operates – without it becoming a dominant feature of the institutions' framework. That would not suit Ireland and anyone who thinks otherwise does not know what they are talking about. The European Parliament's position on the Common Agricultural Policy, for example, would be inimical to our interests. We need a strong Commission, not a secretariat which does the job of the large member states. We need a strong Council because we do not want all the operations to become intergovernmental where the large member states start doing side deals. We also want an accountable Parliament, but it must be more effective. The Parliament, which has been vociferous about increasing its role, must take a critical look at what it is doing, how effective it is and whether the citizens of Europe look to it to in a way one would expect citizens to look at its parliamentarians and in the way citizens of nation states look to their national parliaments. There is a greater nexus, familiarity with and knowledge of the people who represent citizens in national parliaments than is the case in the European Parliament.

One of the issues in the future of Europe debate, separate from this one, is how European Union institutions can become more relevant to citizens of member states. Despite the fact that they have a huge impact on their daily lives, people do not see them in that way. They see them as distant and bureaucratic. It is a stereotypical view peddled by the tabloid press and others, but there is also some evidence to support it. What is in the declaration of the Treaty of Nice regarding the Intergovernmental Conference in 2004 about the need to simplify the treaties and decipher the proper competences between the region, the state and the European institution is the means by which we hope to improve the affiliation with and identification of the institutions by the citizens of member states. That will improve the democratic deficit in a greater way than the Charter of Fundamental Rights, although it is laudable. There is an idea that becoming part of a European constitution willipso facto mean that every citizen in every corner of every street in Ireland will jump up and down and be grateful to the European institutions for giving them these rights. Sometimes we can fall into the trap of being perceived as an Establishment elite by making contentions about something which do not stand up to scrutiny. I heard claims being made for the charter when it was being adopted at Feira. As an observer and a Minister for Foreign Affairs, I felt a number two in that type of company.

It is important that we do not allow the European project to become engaged in a continual constitutional crusade where there is an obsession with institutional frameworks and how we might improve bits of the European architecture in a way which alienates the citizens rather than bringing the institutions closer to them. The Taoiseach's speech to the European Movement before we travelled to Nice was instructive in terms of its emphasis on the need for Europe to do things which are seen as relevant by the citizens of Europe. What are we doing about international crime, the drugs trade, human trafficking into Europe, apart from the excellent work we are doing in the economics and social spheres and the environmental areas? People need to see that we are attacking problems in all our societies in a common and effective way which impinges on their daily lives. The constitutionalisation of the European Union institutions is as far away from their immediate concerns as is the sun from the earth. It is important for politicians and everyone else to recognise this.

The negotiating strategy adopted by the Government was successfully completed. Parties which support the European project had some problems with the outcome of the negotiations. They would have liked a better position on the Commission, for example, than emerged. It is more difficult when one is not at the negotiating table. The political imperative of the Treaty of Nice negotiations was that we would have a Treaty of Nice. Everyone knew that if there was failure at Nice, it would have sent all the wrong signals. It would have put the enlargement project back years and greatly undermined progressive and democratic forces in applicant countries. They have been enabled to stay in government, having come out from under the shadow of totalitarian regimes, and engage in serious restructuring of their economies on the basis of a legitimate expectation that they will be entitled to rejoin Europe by becoming full members of the European Union.

There was a political commitment in Helsinki to allow for enlargement of the Union. Had the European Union not agreed in Nice the institutional logistics to meet that commitment, the political implications would have gone beyond the borders of the European Union as it currently stands. It would have been a crisis of confidence and a serious blow to democratic and progressive forces in the applicant countries and others further east trying to pick up the debris of a Soviet system, which collapsed when the Berlin Wall came down.

The outcome was consistent with the essential national interests which the Government sought to protect in the context of a very complex set of negotiations and Intergovernmental Conferences which spanned two presidencies, the Portuguese and the French, culminating in the Treaty of Nice.

The Treaty of Nice simply deals with the Amsterdam "left-overs" as they are somewhat inelegantly called. In Amsterdam, there was a failure to agree on certain issues which meant that a further treaty was required before enlargement could proceed. That was successfully negotiated in my view and that of the political mainstream, although there may be aspects on the fringes that some people may not be too happy about.

With the unique opportunity to have a referendum, since other member states will accept the treaty by parliamentary procedures, it is important that we activate everyone in our political parties. People who have a sense of the importance of the European project for Ireland, including those in business, farming, the voluntary sector, the trade union movement and employer organisations, must show the importance of citizens exercising their franchise and voting for this treaty. We are the democratically elected representatives of the people and were we enabled to use parliamentary procedures for ratification we would pass the Treaty of Nice.

However, we know that in a referendum it is more difficult. Apathy is as big an enemy as political opposition. It behoves us as political parties to be seen to work together on what is in our national interest. Once this Bill becomes an Act, which allows the question to be put to the people, we must unify behind the overall assessment that it is in our interest to vote for the Treaty of Nice. We should endorse it in large numbers and by as great a majority as we can muster. This is a challenge and an inconvenience for some.

Politicians would rather that it be done here in the Houses of the Oireachtas, but in compliance with our Constitution and our Supreme Court jurisprudence, it is a great opportunity for the people to show that they are prepared to give the same chance to the Czechs, Poles, Hungarians and others that was given to us 30 years ago. That is an exercise in popular sovereignty, which we should welcome so that we can further our national interest.

Those applicant countries look expectantly to us in terms of the quality of the response we give. By our enthusiastic support of this treaty in the referendum, when they meet the objective criteria and become members, we will enable ourselves to open many opportunities for us in those countries in terms of trade, jobs and investment. More importantly, it will be a statement by Ireland that we want these nations to reach their potential, which we have thankfully reached.

When Lemass started our application process 40 years ago, could he have envisaged an Ireland that had dealt with the historical legacy of emigration, chronic unemployment and under-education and led to greater opportunity through building an entrepreneurial class? Just as much as civil war politics, it was the absence of a native entrepreneurial class that held back the prospect of enterprise and employment for over 40 years before we started to modernise and use this great idea of the European Union to bring us to the forefront of the prosperous trading bloc that it is today.

Having dealt with the technicalities, as we move this debate out to the people, generosity and appreciation will become the issue. As I said to the German Foreign Minister when he attended the Institute of European Affairs, a great disservice has been done to this country by those who have propagated the myth that we have benefited because we have had a mentality of handouts from Europe for 30 years and we have now become so smug and self-indulgent that we hesitate to contribute. That is not the case. We also allowed our domestic debate on Europe to be dominated by determining success or failure by the amount of money that was negotiated.

However, Ireland is looked to as a model by applicant countries not because we maximised handouts, but because we use the mechanisms there. To complete the market, the centrifugal nature of a single market which was going to benefit the centre had to be counterbalanced by policy mechanisms which allowed those at the periphery to catch up in economic development so that it could be a true Single Market and hence the idea of Structural and Cohesion Funds. These phrases trip off our lips without our contemplating what we are saying.

Delors had a political vision and political skill to bring the leaders of Europe with him to devise the Delors 1 and 2 packages so that he could proceed with the next process of integration, the Single Market. This economic co-ordination of nation states' policies was the forerunner to bringing about the European Central Bank and the single currency, which will become a reality in much of the European Union at the beginning of next year. That vision was comparable with the original vision of Monet and Schumann who saw that, after the cataclysm of the Second World War, there was a need for an institutional frame work that could overcome the cycle of history. The European Union has been successful in that.

There are groups in other areas of public life that are regarded as progressive voices, such as the Green Party on environmental issues. It greatly dismays me that such groups lose that overall perspective. I heard Senator Norris talk about the militarisation of the European Union. However, the process that formed the EU was the mechanism that demilitarised national perspectives and led to a recognition that we can do more in common than in isolation in a globalising world. The European Union and its predecessors have been a mechanism for removing war from Europe.

Despite the ending of the Cold War there is still time-warp thinking about the EU being a superpower about to compete in an arms race with the US, or about to compare itself in global prestige with the US and acquire a similar military capability. That is not what the Treaty of Amsterdam or the Treaty of Nice are about. The Nice treaty makes minimal changes and alterations to the European Security and Defence Policy which found its first expression in the Treaty of Amsterdam.

The opposing view in this debate is a re-run of the doomsday scenarios of those who opposed the Treaty of Amsterdam. It was suggested then that security and defence policy was in some respects the militarisation of the EU. A phrase like that gets a lot of coverage because it indicates that there is a conspiracy at work. It suggests that democratically elected leaders of Governments are conning their own people into creating something they do not want. This is ludicrous and does not stand up to the most cursory examination. The Security and Defence Policy enunciated in the Treaty of Amsterdam is firmly within the framework of the Petersberg Tasks. These concern conflict prevention, humanitarian issues and civilian and military crisis management, and they are a response to the ending of the Cold War. They try to answer questions about how we get into areas where there are difficulties and how we develop capabilities to get people into these areas before situations arise such as the disaster in Yugoslavia.

In that instance, the EU appeared powerless while hundreds of thousands of Kosovars fled as their homes were burnt behind them by a dictator over whom they had no control or sanction. This was because the EU had not devised the necessary capabilities to react. The Kosovars had to move to their impoverished neighbours, Macedonia and Albania, who to their great credit took on that human catastrophe and sought to deal with the situation with respect for human dignity. They got little help from prosperous European countries.

Does the "No" lobby, which speaks glowingly and correctly of our contribution under UN auspices in East Timor and Lebanon, believe that we should not do the same in Europe? Does it believe that we should not be involved in prob lems in the Balkans? Is such an intervention qualitatively different, and does it affect our neutrality in a way that it is not affected by participation in UN missions in areas where we do not have economic interests but only humanitarian concern? Where is the consistency of this approach? The "No" lobby often lectures others on how unprogressive they are and about their failure to see the bigger picture. Should this debate be dominated by issues which are not relevant to the Treaty of Nice? It is no surprise that people do not vote.

It is imperative that all, including the "Yes" side, are responsible in national debate. Ms Patricia McKenna MEP of the Green Party spoke on RTE radio recently and she was unchallenged by an interviewer when she said that to vote "Yes" would bring about a situation where we would become involved in a military set-up which has a nuclear capability. She suggested that because some members of the EU are members of NATO and have a nuclear capability, the separate capability that we are setting up to deal with crisis management will in some way lead to the use of nuclear weapons. She seemed to suggest that we would pursue crisis management and humanitarian tasks in Europe using nuclear weapons. This view comes from a member of the European Parliament.

Why is she saying that?

She must believe it and she is entitled to say it in a democratic society. However, those involved in both sides of the debate have a responsibility to be informed, knowledgeable, rational and intelligent about what they say. This is the challenge that faces all parties in this House, bar one or two, going into this referendum campaign.

Deputy Ó Caoláin of Sinn Féin has spoken of the EU as a bulwark for partition. This is because we have the euro in the Republic but not in the North. These are the same people, as Senator Leonard pointed out, who have no problem turning up when a Peace and Reconciliation Fund grant is being given out by the EU, or for a cross-Border initiative. They are happy to be associated with the Ireland Fund in every parish in every Border county. Yet we are not to adopt the Nice Treaty because of the militarisation of the EU.

It would be better if we practised at home what we preach abroad. If demilitarisation at home is possible, we should start it. The capability we are building up in Europe should not be used for anything other than the Petersberg Tasks and this cannot happen as there is no treaty basis for it. It would be illegal to act outside these tasks. That is why we sign treaties and why the rule of law is upheld in democratic societies. This is a new lesson that some people are learning, but that is how it works.

Deputy Joe Higgins is another legitimate and vociferous minority voice, and he is entitled to be heard as a Member of the House. He claims we are joining a European army and makes the point that if it looks like an elephant and walks like an elephant, it must be an elephant. There is just one proviso. One must have good eyesight because if one has tunnel vision one cannot see whether it is an elephant. Is Deputy Joe Higgins suggesting that the UN has an army and that its Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan, leads an army of 147,500 troops from 88 countries? That is what the UN has as a standby system in the event of the requirements of peacekeeping, peace enforcement or Chapter 7 of the UN Charter.

In the case of the EU, national Governments have indicated what capability will be available to deal with crisis management and humanitarian crises. Ireland will participate if there is a UN mandate, if a sovereign decision is made by Government and if it is approved by both Houses of the Oireachtas as required under the Defence Acts. It is not possible to send more than 12 Irish Army personnel anywhere for peacekeeping purposes without doing that and without their having a UN mandate.

Where does this idea come from that we are all being led blindfold into a militarised EU? The empirical evidence is to the contrary. The existing position can only be changed if the Oireachtas changes its basic policy. I made it clear at the Military College of the Irish Army where the real Óglaigh na hÉireann reside, that should our mutual defence guarantee ever be changed to the effect that we would automatically be required to come to the defence of any nation other than our own, the people of Ireland and nobody else would decide that.

How many safeguards and guarantees do people want? If they are still not satisfied and continue to peddle the contrary view that this will result in the creation of a European army and that these doomsday scenarios will arise, one can only conclude they are not interested in debate at all. One can only conclude that many of the "No" lobby, whatever was agreed by the Taoiseach and me on behalf of the Government and people of Ireland, subject to their approval, hold a view of the European Union and European defence and security policy which they will continue to believe, regardless of treaties, agreements, procedures and decisions. To hold that view and to seek a "No" vote in those circumstances is to ask the Irish people to ignore reality.

I firmly believe in the common sense, intelligence and discernment of the Irish electorate. Those of us with political skills, knowledge and ability must go to our respective constituencies and motivate activists to publicise this treaty – not its technicalities because they are a turn-off – and say to people that Ireland got an opportunity 30 years ago and that we and our 14 member state colleagues believe other Europeans are entitled to a similar opportunity. We have an opportunity to demonstrate our conviction by voting "Yes" in large numbers. I urge all elected representatives and others in leadership positions throughout the country to convey that point to the people, if for no other reason than to rekindle some sense of the importance of public life and of using a hard-won vote.

Cuireadh agus aontaíodh an cheist.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Friday, 4 May 2001.