European Communities Bill 2006: Second Stage.

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

Is cúis áthais dom a bheith ar ais anseo arís chun Bille na gComhphobal Eorpach 2006 a chur faoi bhráid an tSeanaid. Tá mé ag súil go mbeidh spéis mhór sa díospóireacht an-tábhachtach seo. Le comh-oibriú na Seanadóirí, beimid in ann an Bille seo a chur i dlí na tíre.

I am pleased to bring the European Communities Bill 2006 before the Seanad. The Bill is short and technical but has an important national purpose. It is designed to enable us to discharge our European Union obligations in a proper manner. This is a necessity to which I am confident all Senators will subscribe.

The Bill contains just five sections which I will detail after I have provided the background to the Bill and its rationale. It has been drafted with a view to addressing the consequences of the Supreme Court judgments in two cases, known as Browne and Kennedy, heard in 2003 and 2005. The effect of the judgments has been to cast doubt on the mechanism used to give effect to European Community law where supporting domestic provisions are also required. As a result, doubt has been also cast on the validity of a range of statutory instruments adopted by successive Governments for the purpose of implementing EC law.

In light of the Browne and Kennedy judgments the prime purpose of the present Bill is to ensure an effective mechanism is available to transpose European Community measures which require domestic supporting provisions. The Bill will also validate a quantity of statutory instruments introduced since we became members of the European Communities in 1973. As part of its purpose in ensuring the effective implementation of EC law in Ireland, the Bill allows for the creation of indictable offences. Given the nature of the European Union, it is essential to be in a position to enforce Community law by introducing, where necessary, dissuasive penalties available only for indictable offences.

The effect of the Bill will be to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the procedures we use to implement EC law. If Ireland is to retain its proud place at the heart of the European Union and avail of the full benefits of membership, it is imperative we fulfil our side of the bargain and implement EC laws to which we have committed ourselves on foot of decisions taken by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. These unique decision-making arrangements are provided for in the EU treaties to which we have subscribed and our people have approved by referendum on a number of occasions since 1972. It is only by all member states living up to their commitments that the wide-ranging and complex work of the European Union can continue to evolve and serve the interests of the Irish people and the people of Europe as a whole.

Let us take this opportunity to reflect on the advantages which EU membership has conferred on Ireland over a period of more than three decades. Senators will agree that membership of the European Union has been pivotal to our contemporary success. Looking back, the decision we took in 1972 to join the then European Economic Community can be regarded as a turning point in our modem history. It was unquestionably the right decision.

By acceding to the EEC, we expressed a vote of confidence in ourselves and our capacity to stand tall among the great nations of Europe. This decision has paid rich dividends. Not only have we shown ourselves capable of competing economically with our European neighbours but we have become genuine Europeans, contributing to the shaping of our continent and no longer typecast by others as history's perennial victims. Ireland is now widely viewed as a conspicuous European success story.

European involvement set this country firmly on the road to economic progress, unprecedented prosperity and full employment. It has helped banish the scourge of mass emigration and dispersed the clouds of under economic achievement that had been our lot for much of our independent history.

In 1973, we joined a community that was driven by the noble ideal of uniting Europe so as to prevent war and bring the people of our long-fractured continent closer together. In throwing in our lot with our European neighbours we also aspired to create better lives for our people by opening new markets for businesses, attracting foreign investment and securing improved living standards for farmers and workers alike. As we look around the Ireland of 2006, we can see that our European journey has been a highly productive and rewarding one. Europe has worked for Ireland by providing us with an economic and political framework within which we could thrive and prosper.

Ireland has been also good for Europe because nowhere else have the objectives of EU integration been so handsomely realised. On six separate occasions, Ireland has occupied the EU Presidency and thus given distinguished leadership to the Union. This has enhanced our international profile and enabled us to play an active role in world affairs in keeping with Ireland's national values and traditions.

In May 1972, the people of Ireland approved the third amendment to the Constitution, which stated, "No provision of this Constitution invalidates laws enacted, acts done, or measures adopted by the State necessitated by the obligations of membership of the Communities, or prevents laws enacted, acts done or measures adopted by the Communities or institutions thereof, from having the force of law in the State". The subsequent European Communities Act 1972 confirmed:

[T]he treaties governing the European Communities and the existing and future acts adopted by the institutions of those Communities shall be binding on the State and shall be part of the domestic law thereof under the conditions laid down in those treaties.

The clear intention of the constitutional amendment and the 1972 Act was that the State must fulfil those obligations necessitated by our EC membership.

From my perspective as Minister of State with responsibility for European Affairs, I can clearly see that there are two sides to the coin of EU membership. There are both opportunities and responsibilities. The opportunities of EU membership are manifold. Our key EU responsibility is to live up to our treaty obligations, notably by giving proper domestic effect to European Community law. Over the years, Ireland's success in Europe has gone hand in hand with a diligent and faithful approach to implementing our EU obligations and this is as it should be. Those statutory instruments whose validity has been called into question by the Supreme Court judgments were made under powers given to Ministers by the Oireachtas but which did not specify that those powers could be used for the purposes of giving effect to EC law. It was a simple omission. Those ministerial regulations were all drawn up and applied in good faith on the basis that they allowed us to give full effect to EC law.

The legal basis on which these statutory instruments were applied has, however, now been called into question. It is imperative that this situation be rectified by the Oireachtas so that any doubt surrounding the mechanisms for giving effect to EC law is removed. The present Bill will ensure this is done.

Successive Governments have given appropriate priority to the crucial task of implementing European Community law in Ireland. They have appreciated the imperative of meeting our obligations under the EU treaties. Not only is this a legal requirement, it is also highly desirable in its own right so that Ireland can reap the full benefits of the many positive legislative developments that have taken place within the European Union since 1973.

This Bill also provides for the creation of indictable offences. There may be those who will question the need for this. They may ask why it is necessary to give Ministers powers in 2006 to create such offences if indictable offences were not provided for in the 1972 Act. Much of the explanation stems from the extraordinary evolution of the European Union since 1972, a process from which Ireland has benefited enormously.

The European Union's development since Ireland joined in 1973 has had many landmarks. In terms of the evolution of EC law, perhaps the single most important milestone was the creation of the Single Market in 1992. This removed most of the remaining internal non-tariff barriers to trade within the European Union. The Single Market extended trade liberalisation from goods to services and capital, bringing sizeable and lasting benefits for Irish traders. Irish firms gained significant cost reductions through cheaper inputs, transport, insurance and packaging. The increased competition generated from improved market access across borders also brought about price reductions. In turn, this led to an increase in demand and output and boosted trade between EU member states.

The smooth operation of the Single Market has necessitated a significant amount of EC legislation which needs to be transposed domestically. It is worth noting that Ireland has implemented more than 2,700 internal market directives in our years of membership. Ireland has benefited directly from agricultural support, and social and regional development and cohesion funding since we joined the EEC, all of which derive from measures which we have shaped and agreed with our EU partners. The resulting financial transfers have been wisely invested by successive Governments in projects and programmes to tackle the problems of under-development, regional imbalances and peripherality which had held this country back for generations.

Within Ireland, cross-Border trade has also increased dramatically. The Single Market laid the basis for the elimination of the technical, administrative and indirect taxation barriers between North and South. These developments provided considerable stimulus for the expansion of North-South trade in addition to offering opportunities for increased economic co-operation across a wide range of areas. They also enhanced the work of the economic development agencies, the International Fund for Ireland and the various other bodies and groups that work together to improve the competitiveness of the economy of the island of Ireland.

Senators will recall that this House recently debated the Bill to give effect to the Special EU Programmes Body, which is the managing and paying authority for certain EU programmes in Northern Ireland and the Border counties. It is responsible for a budget of more than €1.2 billion encompassing almost 6,500 different projects. All this activity is ultimately dependent on EC law that we need to be able to implement properly.

The creation of the Single Market accelerated the internationalisation of our economy. A large number of Irish service firms in the banking, aviation and technology industries benefited from the opportunities that opened up to us in 1992. It is no coincidence that our economic revival can be dated from around the time when the Single Market came into being. Most of the increase in Irish employment during the 1990s was in this key services sector. The subsequent introduction of a single currency on 1 January 1999, further strengthened the cohesion of the Single Market to Ireland's great benefit as the only English-speaking eurozone economy. As a result, Ireland's economy is now firmly anchored in the skills and talents of our people and the unhindered access we enjoy to the world's most lucrative marketplace.

The creation of the Single Market has been one of the main factors behind the surge of foreign direct investment into Ireland during the 1990s. In 1972, a mere €16 million came into the economy from foreign investors. Thirty years later, with full access to European markets, we now measure foreign investment in billions of euro. Total investment has exceeded €30 billion and our economy has been transformed, with in excess of 128,000 people employed in more than 1,000 companies in the foreign-owned sector.

Irish consumers have also seen great benefits from EU membership. These changes have made travel abroad for thousands of Irish people simple, safe and relatively inexpensive. Not long ago, air travel was the preserve of the fortunate few. Today, popping over to London, Lisbon or Ljubljana is a widely accessible option. If we are unfortunate enough to fall ill when abroad, we can access free emergency care thanks to the European health insurance card. If our airline cancels our flight, we are entitled to compensation. The euro now means that we can buy breakfast in Ballinasloe, lunch in Lyon and dinner in Dusseldorf without ever having to change currency. These examples underline the extraordinary benefits that membership of the EU has brought to all the people of Ireland. These advantages did not come from thin air but are the product of EC law.

Irish people have endorsed major treaty changes at every stage of the Union's evolution and the Houses of the Oireachtas have been to the forefront of the legislative effort to align our national laws with EC requirements. European Union membership has involved almost every Minister of the Government bringing forward measures to give effect to European law with the many benefits it brings. Irish officials are deeply involved in the complex process which gives rise to EC law. It represents a unique pooling of sovereignty in which our interests are combined in a manner that benefits all.

European Community law is not something that is imposed on us from the outside. We are full and active participants in the elaboration of this unique body of law. It arises out of treaty provisions which the Irish people have endorsed at every step. Everything that is done in Brussels is treaty-based and we are at the heart of the decision-making process at all levels. The European Union itself has been on a journey of historic change over the past 33 years. It has been transformed from a small group of continental western European states into today's Union of peoples stretching from Galway to Nicosia, and from Stockholm to Seville. From an agricultural free trade bloc, the EU has evolved into an economic and monetary union with a Single Market and a Parliament elected by voters in 25 countries which will soon total 27 countries. The development of the Union's role is to be seen in its comprehensive legislative action across the range of its economic and social policies.

As Europe has changed, so too has Ireland's engagement with Europe. Thirty years on, our EU involvement has deepened, matured and, inevitably, become more complex. The process by which the Community enacts legislation is necessarily elaborate and complicated. Legislation in the Union's first pillar, which deals with economic and social matters, affects the work of most Departments. It has legislative implications for the work of those Departments who participate fully in the shaping of EC legislation in Brussels. It is worth noting that over recent years the number of new directives adopted has averaged around 55 per year.

The Union has been able to evolve and benefit Ireland because it is a rules-based environment. Small countries like ours have much to gain from such an environment, which provides protection for our interests. These are rules that must be implemented equally across all member states. Article 249 of the EC Treaty sets out the three different ways in which the Community makes its laws, namely, regulations, directives and decisions. Community regulations are binding on all member states and are directly applicable. Decisions are binding on the member states to which they are addressed. Directives on the other hand are binding as to the ends to be achieved but they leave member states some choice as to how those ends are to be achieved.

Members of the Oireachtas Sub-Committee on European Scrutiny, which was created in recent years in response to the EU's evolution, will be very familiar with these different instruments of EU law-making. I applaud the work of that sub-committee which has been in operation for nearly five years. The sub-committee scrutinises draft legislative proposals across the full range of the Union's activities as provided for in the Oireachtas Scrutiny Act 2002. Officials in all Departments are required to prepare scrutiny notes on draft legislative proposals within four weeks of their formal circulation. Ministers and officials are also required to be available to provide additional material and to brief committees of the Houses. Reports are produced every six months by Departments on developments within their policy areas in the European Union. My Government colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, and I brief the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs in advance of almost every General Affairs and External Relations Council meeting. This provides an invaluable opportunity for engagement with the Oireachtas on broad aspects of EU policy.

One of my responsibilities as Minister with responsibility for European affairs involves chairing the Government interdepartmental co-ordinating committee on European Union affairs. At our regular meetings, we review how Ireland is doing in transposing EC law and meeting our membership obligations. We are making satisfactory progress but it is undoubtedly the case that the increasing volume of European Community measures requires us to look in a strategic way at our procedures and at our capacity to meet our obligations fully and in a timely fashion.

The net point I want to make is that European Union affairs are very much a part of the day-to-day work of the Oireachtas and we have devised effective procedures for ensuring full Oireachtas involvement. The draft constitutional treaty will, when it is implemented, provide for a further enhancement of the role of national parliaments in European Union business. The Bill will significantly help to speed up the rate of Ireland's transposition of EU directives. This is an important national objective. Speedy and effective implementation will serve to enhance Ireland's standing within the Union.

When Ireland joined the European Communities, these Houses passed the European Communities Act 1972 as the principal legal instrument for implementing EC law. The Act provides that the treaties governing the European Community and the existing and future Acts adopted by the institutions of the Community shall be binding on this State and be part of domestic law. At the time of the passage of the 1972 Act, the scope of European Community law was relatively limited. Senators will be aware that section 3 of that Act provides that a Minister may make regulations enabling EC law to have full effect in domestic law. Such ministerial regulations may not, however, create an indictable offence.

The absence of such provisions in the 1972 Act has led to the practice of Ministers of successive Governments using regulation-making powers in purely domestic legislation, breach of which is an indictable offence, to ensure full effect was given to the EC instrument being transposed. In this Bill, the Minister will have only a limited power to make provision for indictable offences where necessary to meet our treaty obligations and the Minister, where it is necessary, will do so within the parameters set down by the Oireachtas in the terms of section 2 of this Bill.

In the cases of Browne and Kennedy, the Supreme Court found that regulations made under a domestic regulation-making power, which did not specify as one of its purposes that of giving effect to EC law, could not be used for the purpose of transposing EC measures. Accordingly, a statutory instrument to give effect to European Community law can validly be made only where the Oireachtas has specifically provided for this in relevant primary legislation. The Attorney General has advised that statutory instruments made under these types of procedures by Ministers of successive Governments since 1973 are susceptible to legal challenge. The Bill before us will confirm the validity of all such measures and will enable statutory instrument making powers under any Act of the Oireachtas to be used to implement European Community law.

No doubt some Members may be wondering why it is necessary for the Bill to give Ministers the power to create indictable offences under the 1972 Act. As is clear from my earlier remarks, European Community law has evolved greatly in the past 33 years. It now encompasses a much wider array of issues. As the Union evolves, there is a greater need for more stringent penalties in domestic measures to meet our obligations under the treaties. European Community instruments, which are implemented through domestic regulations, require the sanction for breaches to match the importance of the obligations being created. In many cases, the sanction available for summary offences does not meet the requirements of European Community law that sanctions be effective, proportionate and dissuasive.

I am convinced there is a need to be able to provide for enforcement by means of more rigorous penalties in regulations without having to resort in every such case to the introduction of primary legislation in the Houses of the Oireachtas. If the Government needs to resort to primary legislation on each occasion, this will inevitably slow the implementation of European Community law and potentially leave us in breach of our treaty obligations.

I will now take Senators through the main provisions of the Bill. They will have received the explanatory and financial memorandum attached to it. Section 2 will give Ministers the power to create indictable offences in regulations made pursuant to the 1972 Act where the Minister deems such a sanction necessary for more serious breaches of European Community law. The Bill provides for a maximum fine of €500,000 and a maximum term of imprisonment of three years. In some cases, it may be necessary to provide for stronger penalties than those available in this Bill. Ministers in these cases will have to provide for such penalties in other legislation, either existing legislation which already provides for such penalties or, if no such legislation exists, Ministers will have to propose new legislation which will be fully debated by the Oireachtas.

Section 3(1) will permit statutory instrument-making powers contained in existing primary legislation to be used to give effect to an EC law provided the European obligations imposed upon the State relate, in whole, to matters to which the statutory instrument making power relates. It will allow the regulation making power in any Act of the Oireachtas to be used for the purpose of implementing EC law as long as the domestic Act deals, in whole, with the policy area that the European Community measure covers. It is entirely appropriate that legislation intended for domestic purposes can be used for the additional purpose of giving effect to EC law also.

Section 3(2) takes account of the primacy of European Community law. It replicates the existing provision in the 1972 Act which allows regulations made for the purpose of giving effect to EC law to amend primary legislation. This provision must be replicated to allow statutory instruments made under the new dual purpose power under section 3(1) to amend primary legislation where this is necessary for the purposes of giving effect to European Community law. Without this section, statutory instruments made by Ministers and validated under section 4 of this Bill could not be subsequently amended or revoked except by primary legislation or regulations made under the Act of 1972.

Section 3(3) is intended to enhance transparency of the implementation of Community legislation into Irish law by requiring a statutory instrument that gives effect to an EC law to refer to that law. Put simply, the statutory instrument being used to give effect to a particular European Union measure must refer specifically to that EU measure.

Section 3(4) confines the exercise of the power to make statutory instruments to Ministers. Section 4 will confirm the validity of all regulations giving effect to European Community law made under a domestic regulations-making power. This confirmation shall not affect the constitutional rights of any individual.

My officials have consulted widely with Departments and, in particular, with the Office of the Attorney General in the preparation of the European Communities Bill 2006. I look forward to a positive and supportive debate on this important and much-needed change to the manner in which we implement European Community law in Ireland. This Bill represents an important updating of the 1972 Act for the purposes of responding to the relevant Supreme Court judgments and ensuring we are in a position to give proper and timely effect to European Community law. I, therefore, commend this Bill to the House.

I welcome the Minister of State and the legislation. I agree with him on its necessity and urgency in some respects. It stems from the Supreme Court judgments of 2003 and 2005. I could ask why we have been waiting almost three years since the 2003 judgment. However, the legislation is now before us.

The language in the Bill, the Minister of State's speech and the general language used when debating EU legislation and directives are very much a jungle of jargon as far as most citizens are concerned. It is important that we ensure we use user-friendly language when debating and implementing EU decisions and directives. The benefits of European Union membership for Ireland are significant. The Minister of State referred to the fact that our economic revival stemmed very much from the Single Market introduced in the late 1980s. Our economic survival as a country and society stemmed from our earlier decision to enter the European Economic Community in 1973.

We all acknowledge the benefits of what has been achieved here from our membership of the European Union and the benefits of the Acts, directives and decisions which have come through that. Sometimes, however, citizens of the broader European Union feel removed from the bureaucracy and decision making that takes place in Brussels. It is important therefore that when we present such Bills and proposals in the Oireachtas we try to be as clear as possible on their meaning and expected impact.

Fine Gael supports fully the transposition of EU directives into national law. This is not simply a matter of good legislative housekeeping. It is through EU directives that European legislation is enacted in the member states, including Ireland. In view of the significant and positive impact of EU legislation on our citizens, we must support this Bill. Directives on the environment, working conditions, equality and many other areas have brought significant benefits to everybody living and working in the European Union. When their implementation is delayed or any doubt is cast on implementation, the benefits to citizens are delayed. It is important therefore to progress the directives as quickly as possible.

I have been advised that currently, some 128 EU directives await transposition into Irish law. Also, at 31 October 2006, five weeks ago, some 22 directives were overdue for transposition. Will the Minister of State indicate what progress can be made in resolving these legislative blockages? Currently, eight directives, three of which are overdue, await transposition into Irish law in the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. One of those overdue relates to the energy efficiency of buildings. When we use normal EU language to talk about this type of directive, the issue can seem remote. However, when we explain that directives relate to matters such as the energy efficiency of buildings, we make them more aware of the importance of progressing the directives.

In April of this year the European Commission announced it would instigate legal proceedings against Ireland for failing to transpose EU directives into Irish law with regard to the opening of electricity and gas markets to competition. This is a substantive issue from the point of view of competition, price and choice. Notwithstanding the modest good news we had recently on fuel prices, the overall trend in fuel prices over the past two years demonstrates the need for competition. We have a directive awaiting action, but no action has been taken to date on it. The Minister of State and the Department must do the required work in that regard.

I have been advised of a report in a document of which I had not heard previously, the Internal Market Scoreboard. This document rates the speed at which EU members implement Internal Market directives. Ireland lies in 19th place out of 25 on that scoreboard. If there was a relegation prospect in that league, we would be in the danger zone. In the debate on European issues here politicians and the Government are often criticised because it is felt that Ireland is often first to the fray with regard to introducing EU directives and regulations. We hear from our constituents that we over regulate and hear stories that the French, Italians and others are far more relaxed about the implementation of EU decisions. It is felt that we are somehow overbearing in this regard.

They just adopt them, but do not implement them. There is a difference.

We are in 19th place out of 25 and perhaps the Minister of State would indicate the thinking in that regard. The Internal Market Scoreboard listed Ireland as one of the eight EU member states that had not met the target set for the implementation of Internal Market directives and stated that it faced 51 legal cases relating to its failure to adopt legislation in this important area. While the broader political body is almost unanimous in pointing out how committed we are to our membership of the European Union, our response to the implementation of many EU directives casts doubt on the validity of this claim.

Fine Gael believes strongly in the benefits of EU membership for Ireland. Therefore, we hope we progress the adoption and transposition of EU directives into law at a faster pace. We consider that our national failure to progress some directives results in our people losing out on some of the benefits due to flow from the directives. We hope this legislation will help expedite matters in this regard.

I, Senator Dardis and some other Senators are members of the Sub-Committee on EU Scrutiny. The committee does much excellent work and meets at 9.30 a.m. every second Thursday, far removed from the glare of the media. While the committee is quite effective, it possibly needs further resources to cater for these and further directives which will come before it. We will need assistance to get the work done. Over the course of 2005, for example, some 75% of the work of the sub-committee was spent on examining directives, regulations and decisions of the European Union. It is important the committee is beefed up. The decision to set up the sub-committee stemmed from the referendum on the Nice Treaty. It is working well but probably needs more assistance.

My attention has been drawn to section 3, which allows Ministers to implement EU law by way of statutory instrument. Will the Minister of State advise us further with regard to this section? The power to amend Irish domestic legislation is a new element. Does the Minister of State believe this provision will amount to the authority of the Oireachtas being usurped by individual Ministers? If the Oireachtas sees fit to pass legislation, can a Minister unilaterally undo that action even if it provides for the transposition of necessary European law? Will the Minister of State also give us his opinion on safeguards to be written into the proposal? Currently, a statutory instrument that transposes EU law can be challenged on the basis that the statutory instrument does not do its job. In light of section 3, would the Minister of State, the Department or the Government be averse to an additional proposal to delay the implementation of such an order for 21 Oireachtas sitting days, during which time a Member could raise an objection to it if it were warranted? The Minister of State might respond on this issue, which was brought to my notice.

I accept the necessity for the Bill, difficult as its language may appear. The Supreme Court judgements needed to be responded to and I hope this is a full response. At the end of the day, the more progress we can make in responding quickly and efficiently to EU directives and decisions, the better for the Irish people, as has proved to be the case in the past 30 years or so.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. As I understand the Bill from listening to the Minister of State's presentation, its purpose is to amend the European Communities Act 1972 to align our national laws with European Community law. I had to grasp that fundamental point before I could go any further. I had to ask what it really meant. It means that up to now we did not have the power to apply sanctions for breaches of EU law. The Minister of State might come back to me in this regard as I am not clear as to the real strength of the Bill when it comes into law or how much it will improve effectiveness and procedures with regard to the implementation of EU law.

I echo the Minister of State's point that Ireland has changed much since we became members of the EU, as has the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of people. I read some old reports in taking a journey from 1972. We have introduced equal treatment for men and women, maternity leave, parental leave, child care, better conditions of employment, better health and safety regulations, better working conditions and the protection of young people. This is what membership has given us. It has created the conditions whereby these issues can be addressed. There has been powerful change since we became members of the European Community.

There has been dramatic change since the Single European Act came into being. Mr. Jacques Delors, who was President of the Commission when that Act came into force, stated it would mean: "the commitment of implementing simultaneously the great market without frontiers, more economic and social cohesion, an European research and technology policy, the strengthening of the European Monetary System, the beginning of an European social area and significant actions in environment". When we consider those words, we realise what a journey we as Europeans have undertaken since then. All the objectives of the late 1980s have been achieved and exceeded. We have the Single Market of 470 million people and a very successful single currency, the euro, now used in at least 12 member states and recognised as the second most important international currency.

Ireland has benefited greatly from the Union's policy to achieve economic and social cohesion. We look forward to helping new member states as they embark on a similar mission. Therefore, the Bill is of great importance to us. As the Minister of State outlined, because of its technical nature, it has enabled us to meet our EU obligations and we can now transpose EU legislation. However, I am not fully clear on this area of the Bill so perhaps the Minister of State will explain further.

It is my understanding that if there are breaches of EU law, we in Ireland can introduce sanctions. It is important that we all sing the one tune and that all member states have updated their legislation to deal with this issue. There have been treaties and referenda in recent years. If the requirements are necessary, we must update our legislation to allow for the application of sanctions in domestic law when EU law is breached with regard to policy matters.

On that basis, the Bill is welcome. I am still giving it thought, and do not have a total grasp of it. I will give it more thought before Committee Stage.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, to the House and welcome his enthusiasm for the European Union. The Minister of State will be aware that I also have enthusiasm for the European Union. On the day I finished my university exams way back in the 1950s, I travelled to Cork, boarded a boat, travelled from Cork to Le Havre and spent that winter in Europe. The Minister of State may not remember the Europe of the 1950s but my memory is of leaving Ireland as a strong Nationalist and coming back as a European. I was still a strong Nationalist but discovered that winter the dimensions of a new Europe through meeting Belgians, Dutch, Luxembourgers and French, who regarded themselves as having their own nationalities but also as committed Europeans.

Next year we will commemorate the 35th anniversary of the air crash on 18 June 1972 at Staines, Middlesex. Eleven leading Irish business people and industrialists were on that aeroplane and were killed. The accident happened on a Sunday afternoon six months before we joined the European Economic Community. Those business people had recognised our future was in Europe. I later met a person from Belfast who said he had not detected or identified the threats and opportunities that arose in Europe. Those 11 Irish businessmen who lost their lives were travelling because they recognised the importance of Europe. Six months later we joined the EEC. The Minister of State correctly drew our attention to the benefits of that involvement.

I know the Minister of State's enthusiasm for Europe and to make our link with Europe stronger. As a committed European, I should be expected to give almost knee-jerk approval to any legislation involving the European Union. In this case, however, I am afraid I cannot give approval to this measure which I regard as a retrograde step.

It is commonly accepted that a fundamental problem within the EU is its perceived distance from the people of the individual member states. This is not just an image problem or, if it is, it is an image problem with very real, practical consequences. With an increasing part of our lives dominated by what happens at European level, it is important the people feel personally involved with what is going on and that they are interested enough to monitor the day-to-day decision-making processes of the Union.

There are many obstacles to making this a reality in practice. One, which is relevant in the context of the Bill, is the relative influence of the EU decision-making process which is exercised by officials rather than by politicians who have an electoral mandate. I am not just talking about the Brussels bureaucracy, which is probably the most malign civil service in the history of humanity. I am talking just as much about the role of officials in the day-to-day interface between the individual member states and the European Commission in Brussels. Since last June, I have been the chairman of Eurocommerce, which is a Brussels-based organisation that acts as a voice for 5.5 million enterprises. Given that Eurocommerce represents 27 million employees of every shop of every kind in Europe, it is clear it is a strong voice. I can understand the frustration I hear from Europe about negotiating, dealing and being listened to in Brussels.

A vast amount of decision-making on European affairs is taken by officials and between officials. Quite often, political people do not get involved until the last minute, when their role may be to apply a rubber-stamp or to add a tiny bit of finesse to what has been decided. I refer to the day-to-day decisions which are the bread and butter of European decision-making, rather than to the issues which get aired at European summit meetings. When one considers that the European Commission has the sole right of initiating EU legislation, it could be argued that the system is heavily over-balanced in favour of officials to the detriment of those who have been politically elected.

We should resist the dilution of one or two highly valuable safeguards, the most important of which involves national parliaments, which tend to be closer to the people of their countries than a bureaucracy that is based in another country. Members will remember that after the Oireachtas engaged in some soul-searching following the rejection of the first referendum on the Nice treaty, it adopted a raft of measures that were designed to increase its scrutiny of European legislation, which had been passing into Irish law almost totally unnoticed. Members will also remember that in the discussions which led to the development of the proposed EU constitution, which is in limbo for the moment, a prime consideration was the need to increase and deepen the role of national parliaments in the overall European process.

The Bill before the House today flies in the face of the facts and trends I have mentioned. It is possible to argue for the Bill's provisions on the grounds that it will be more efficient to replace the process of passing primary legislation with a simpler process of providing for a statutory instrument in the form of a ministerial order. Equally, it is possible to argue against the Bill's provisions on the grounds of openness and transparency, as well as the need to increase rather than dilute the amount of EU business that is dealt with in the full light of day.

Ministerial orders are, in practice, invisible. They represent a form of stealth legislation that is not subject to any scrutiny. Such orders rarely raise themselves above of the parapet of public visibility. There is a place for them in the overall scheme of things, but we should be careful about what matters we choose to deal with in such a manner. When ministerial orders are used, we give up accountability and consign the matter in question to the outer darkness of invisibility. Officials love ministerial orders, as opposed to primary legislation, because they involve having to convince a constituency of just one person — the Minister. Such orders need just one ministerial signature rather than the formal approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas. In my experience, many officials have a horror of getting involved in the legislative process — some of them are happy to avoid it, if possible.

The net effect of this Bill will be to make it possible for a European legislative proposal to pass through the entire process, from conception until promulgation into law, without the benefit of any political input. Despite all the respect I have for officials, I think it is a step too far. I ask the Minister to correct me if I am wrong, but that seems to be my reading of the effect of this legislation. We can increase the efficiency of the parliamentary scrutiny of European measures in many ways. I urge us to consider alternative routes before we confess defeat and follow the course outlined in this Bill. I ask the Minister of State to rethink the steps he is taking in this Bill.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, and his officials to the House. I readily accept the need for this Bill. I do not have a problem with that, as the matter needs to be regularised. Some important court judgments are relevant in this regard. I would like to ask some questions which are similar to those which were posed by Senator Quinn, although I will not go as far as he did in his final remarks.

I agree with the sentiments the Minister of State articulated about the benefits of Ireland's membership of the European Union. I will not repeat those remarks, other than to say some of the other benefits we have enjoyed as a result may be even more significant than the economic benefits. I refer to the improvements in our national self-confidence and our development as an outward-looking society, for example. Ireland has started to look beyond its nearest neighbour for alternative ways of doing things. Consensus is a significant feature of the European parliamentary system, which is quite different from the system we are used to, which we inherited from Westminster. Another notable benefit of EU membership is that it has helped to erode the ultra-nationalist thinking in some sections of society. I do not refer to nationalism in the sense of one's pride in one's nation but in the narrower sense of the sort of feeling which led to the world wars. The EU's enduring monument is that it has kept the peace on this Continent since the Second World War.

I attended the funeral of one of the people who was killed in the 1972 air crash that was referred to by Senator Quinn. The late Michael Rigby Jones of Irish Ropes, who had created a substantial business, was killed in that accident. It is interesting to think such a business would find it difficult to survive in the modern European Union, which sees intellectual property as more important than physical labour. The process used by Irish Ropes at the time to make ropes involved heavy labour. That such industries would no longer survive here is a measure of how this country has changed.

I am always somewhat suspicious of simple Bills which come to the House late in the session. The Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, will recall one such Bill which related to licences for fishermen. It caused considerable difficulties, not least in his part of the country. It is possible to step on some landmines late in the session and late in the day. While I do not think this Bill is such a landmine, we should bear in mind that difficulties can arise. We need to regularise, from a legal point of view, the manner in which we confirm the standing of various EU transpositions.

I agree with Senator Bradford's comments about EU jargon, which is the crucifixion of a great deal of EU legislation, including directives. One of the most popular phrases of recent times has been "the information deficit". I think I am given credit for having introduced a similar piece of jargon — "the comprehension deficit". There was no problem with information because we were deluged with it. The problem was that we could not understand it.

That is right.

There is a message in that for the people who draw up EU regulations.

I thank the Minister of State for his remarks about the Sub-Committee on European Scrutiny. It is noticeable that many of the documents which are referred to the sub-committee are extremely difficult to understand. I do not refer to the complexity of the issues, but to the nature of the language that is used. Given that the EU works with a multiplicity of languages, one would have thought its officials would try to ensure all matters are clear. That does not seem to happen very often, however. Perhaps that is outside the scope of what we are talking about today.

There is a need for checks and balances in respect of all these matters. The most appropriate way of doing that is by means of Oireachtas scrutiny. While we have put in place a structure in the form of the Sub-Committee on European Scrutiny, a broader form of analysis is needed. Some issues are of such fundamental importance they need to be debated on the floors of the Houses, even if they are of a technical nature. We should consider the length of time it took to transpose the nitrates directive. That was because it was so controversial it impacted heavily on farming. That was a politically important issue.

Are we giving somebody the power to introduce the nitrates directive by order without the Houses being involved in that process? The Minister of State is shaking his head, and I am interested to hear his reply. From a practical political point of view I do not believe that could happen. There would be such an outcry the matter would have to come before the Houses. Moving back from that extreme position, however, there are grey areas about which I have some concerns. Will it be transposed by fiat? Something can be done which appears sensible but in which Parliament would not have much of an involvement. We are getting into areas such as the Petersberg Tasks and so on. They are not regulations. It is a more fundamental process.

Another point that is reasonable, and Senator Quinn referred to it, is the degree to which Europe legislates through the Commission. It was raised recently by the press in Belgium, whose members believe they are being controlled increasingly by what happens in Brussels rather than by their domestic law. Perhaps some issues may not be strictly within the scope of the Bill but they are important and ones to which we must pay some attention.

There is also the issue of subsidiarity. The sub-committee on European scrutiny must have regard to that aspect. The new constitutional treaty will have systems in place, and we had the so-called yellow card and so on — more jargon — with regard to subsidiarity but will adequate regard be had if we transpose European legislation under the Bill to matters such as subsidiarity? Parliamentary scrutiny is of fundamental importance and must be protected.

The Minister of State stated that those statutory instruments whose validity has been called into question by a Supreme Court judgement were made under powers given to Ministers by the Oireachtas but which did not specify that those powers could be used for the purpose of giving effect to EU law. I understand that and it confirms for me the need to pass the legislation before us. It stated: "... conferred the power by the Oireachtas". The Oireachtas is conferring powers here again. The Oireachtas must always be careful about vesting too much power in the Executive, something I have spoken about many times in the past on both sides of the House. The primacy of Parliament is something of which we must be protective.

There have been long delays, some of which were referred to by Senator Bradford, in the transposition into Irish law of regulations and directives but some of those delays were understandable. As I remarked when the Minister of State was speaking, just because our adoption rate is low does not mean our implementation rate is low. I understand we have a good record with regard to ensuring that when we introduce these measures they are taken into account.

Incidentally, I might be keen about breakfast in Ballinasloe. I might be less keen about lunch in Lyon and I would not like dinner in Dusseldorf. I might like it in Paris, and I might even settle for Berlin, but Dusseldorf would not be one of the choices. I take the point that the new currency has been hugely beneficial.

The fundamental question is whether it will be possible, as a result of this measure, to bypass the Sub-Committee on European Scrutiny and the Houses and allow people who are less enlightened than the Minister to behave in a manner we might not regard as appropriate at some future date? There is reference in the Bill to the legislation under the first pillar. We will come back to the issue of the dominance of the Commission within the entire system. I accept that, ultimately, the Council, under the various pillars, is the legislative body but the Commission has substantial powers. The Minister also stated: "We have devised effective procedures for ensuring full Oireachtas involvement". That is an important statement but is one that might need some back-up.

I am not sure where the fines apply. The sum of €500,000 is a very large fine on an indictment. I appreciate circumstances may arise where that might need to be the case where industries are at variance with the particular directive but it is a very large sum. Does that mean that if a farmer in the west is in breach of the nitrates directive, he is leaving himself open to a €500,000 fine? I cannot imagine the court would impose that but it appears it is technically possible that could happen. I welcome the overall thrust of the legislation. I accept the need for it and will support it.

Along with other Members who spoke, I am an enthusiastic supporter of the European project. I am willing to go one step further than Senator Dardis in embracing German cooking as part of the project. The Minister of State spoke about it at great length. I am not sure why he did so because it did not appear to be entirely apposite to what we are discussing. I will let that pass, however.

I share some of Senator Quinn's scepticism about the Bill. We are looking to remedy a fairly shoddy administrative practice that has developed over the years but it is having the effect of shining the light into one of those dusty corners where one finds things one did not think were there. It is no harm that it is allowing us the opportunity to debate the practices that have developed in terms of the transposition of European legislation into Irish law.

Essentially, the Bill has two or three measures. It allows Ministers to create indictable offences up to certain limits provided they are of the opinion that they are necessitated by the requirements of membership of the European Union. It confirms the power, which I gather already exists in the 1972 Act, to amend primary legislation by statutory instruments. It confirms the validity of all instruments implemented over the course of the past 35 years since we became members of the European Union and it also allows statutory instruments which were not specifically created for the purpose to be used to create indictable offences, even though they were created for an entirely different purpose.

The primary action we seek to take here is to amend the 1972 Act to allow Ministers create indictable offences. The Minister asked the rhetorical question in his contribution as to the reason we need to do that now when we did not have to do it in 1972. It is important to remember that the 1972 provision did not come about by accident. There was a view at the time that the Dáil and the Seanad should not allow the creation of serious criminal offences directly by Brussels. The view was that if we were to deprive somebody of their liberty on foot of a criminal offence, that offence should have been created specifically in primary legislation or at least by discussion in this House and in the other House.

That is an important principle. If somebody is being deprived of their liberty, it is an important principle that Parliament, in our case the Oireachtas, in the first place creates the offence set to deprive somebody of their liberty. If we take the view that in some circumstances that is not so, there is an onus on the Government to state explicitly the reason that should be the case. The wording of the section we are inserting in the 1972 Act states that the regulations may make provision for offences to be prosecuted on indictment where the Minister of the Government making the regulations considers it necessary. It does not specify that the Government has to take that view, although I suppose it is implied. It simply states that the Minister must be of the view that it is necessary. I am not sure it is a good practice to allow a Minister to create a serious criminal offence, simply because he or she believes it is necessary, without reference to this and the other House. There is an onus on the Government and the Minister to explain the reason that should be the case.

Notwithstanding his enthusiasm, the Minister nonetheless believes it is necessary to confine this power in some way and that it will be available only if the maximum fine is to be €500,000 or less and the maximum imprisonment is three years or less. Is that provided for somewhere else or is that simply a decision the Department or the Minister made in considering how we should transpose this measure or amend the 1972 Act. If it is a case that the Minister was using his discretion, why did he settle on a term of imprisonment of three years and a maximum fine of €500,000?

The second measure the Bill provides for is that it allows statutory instruments to amend primary legislation. Perhaps it is the lawyer in me but this seems to offend the natural hierarchy of law.

Hear, hear.

If this and the other House have passed a Bill, why should a Minister acting on his or her own be entitled to amend it? If we have had a full debate and this House has taken a view, if the other House has taken the Bill and the President has signed it in the normal course, why should a Minister, simply because he or she considers it is necessary to fulfil our obligations to the European Union, be entitled in five or ten years' times to amend the primary legislation without any serious reference to this House? That is an important principle. I appreciate we have been doing this for many years now and that the power is contained in the l972 Act, but nonetheless it is an extraordinary important principle and one that perhaps deserves further discussion. All the issues about subsidiarity and hierarchy of law and so on come into play here.

When I saw that this Bill was ordered for today, my first inclination was to say, "this is horribly technical, maybe I will just go home early". Having decided not to do that, I read the comments of the Tánaiste when he went to the House of Lords in June of this year and debated what he considered to be an important issue, some of the issues that arise out a European Court of Justice Case No. 173/03. I appreciate this is technical in nature but nonetheless the Tánaiste thought it was sufficiently important to justify him going to the House of Lords, and perhaps we should tease it out. Essentially, what he sought to do reflects on what Senator Dardis said. He sought to resist the power, which the Commission is seeking to take unto itself, to require individual parliaments to transpose criminal law into national law. The European Court of Justice decided a requirement — which came under environmental law but involved the imposition of serious fines — which did not come within the third pillar but rather fell within the community jurisdiction, fell to the Commission to do. To put it in simple terms, the Commission considers it has power to require parliaments to impose serious crimes for serious criminal offences. I mention that case in the context of this debate because the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform considers the Commission should not be entitled to take this power in areas of criminal law. He waxed lyrically and persuasively to the effect that because we have a different system of criminal law based on common law here and in Cyprus, Malta and the UK, we are entitled to set our own procedures and to deal with matters in our own way and that the Commission should not be allowed to take this power onto itself.

It seems the Minister's views, expressed strongly in the House of Lords, run contrary to what we seek to do in this Bill in so far as we seek to give the power to a Minister to simply transpose criminal law into Irish law by regulation. That is something which, implicitly at least, the Tánaiste and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, who is an important player at Cabinet when dealing with these issues, has opposed publicly. I would like the Minister of State to deal further with that issue.

We had a debate recently in the Joint Committee on European Affairs about the passerelle provision, where the Finnish Presidency was making a proposal to move certain issues related to criminal law from the third pillar into the first pillar. Again, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is strong about not wanting this done. That would have the effect of moving some issues dealing with criminal law from the third pillar, which is intergovernmental and which requires unanimity, into Community competence, which generally speaking does not.

I am struck by the determination of the Tánaiste to avoid any interference, as he would see it, by the Commission in our integral criminal law, yet we seek to do what is provided in this legislation. We seek to ensure that if the Commission provides in a directive that our criminal law should impose serious fines or even potential imprisonment, a Minister should be entitled to simply translate that into law without even reference to this House. There is contradiction there which I find difficult to reconcile.

Having read the Bill carefully, I consider this is important legislation. I appreciate it is simply, as the Minister would see it, regularising the position that has obtained heretofore. That particularly applies in the case of statutory instruments which are introduced under other Acts. However, viewing it dispassionately, one could only view that procedure that we have been using as simply a way of getting around the 1972 Act. It provides that we could not create indictable offences. Therefore we have been using other Acts to make statutory instruments which allow for the creation of indictable offences. That was a way of subverting the intention of the Oireachtas when it passed the 1972 Act, including that prohibition.

With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps it was just as well I took the trouble to read this Bill this afternoon because it shines a light on a sloppy administrative process and one to which I am reluctant to in any way give approval at this stage.

I will be brief in my contribution. This is one of those short Bills introduced from time to time that slips through, as it were. It has been said it is a short, technical and important Bill and that we should pass it. While this is a short Bill, it is a deadly one in many ways.

The Minister of State said, "No doubt some of you are wondering why it is necessary for the Bill to give Ministers the power to create indictable offences under the 1972 Act". I have the same reservations about the Bill as those expressed by Senator Dardis and others. I am considering it from the perspective of a fisherman from the place from where I come, Killybegs. If a fisherman sails his boat from one box to the other and does not record that journey, this becomes an indictable offence and huge penalties can be imposed willy-nilly by a Minister giving effect to EU law in such an instance without any reference back to the House. Is that true or false? That is not good law and it is a bad way of doing business.

The Minister of State said that if we have to return to the House every time to introduce a measure, we would slow down the implementation of European Community law, which would leave us potentially in breach of our treaty obligations. What of it if such a process would slow down the implementation of European Community law? We are in charge of our own affairs. The principle of subsidiarity must apply here. This Bill seems to provide that a Minister can bring forth an indictable offence incurring a maximum fine of €500,000 or three years imprisonment. That is a great deal of money and constitutes a major fine, particularly where it is not referenced to a specific crime. That amount is the maximum fine if the Minister wishes to create an indictable offence. I have grave reservations about such offences when they are not connected to a particular act. If the Minister of State were to say that if a person does A, B, C, or D, that is an indictable offence punishable by a fine of €500,000, then we would know what we are talking about. However, it appears he is saying a fine of €500,000 will apply and there will be an indictable offence if the Minister decides with reference to A or B. If the Minister of State could explain the position to me, I would like hear it because I am uncomfortable with the provision as it stands.

I am sure the Bill is necessary. I have read it a number of times. It is a short Bill and not that technical or difficult to understand, but the implications of it are wide-ranging. I do not doubt the bona fides of the Minister of State in this matter. I know what he intends and I am sure the Bill might be necessary. At the moment, Ministers can only create summary offences and regulations pursuant to the 1972 Act, but if the Bill is enacted, it will provide for indictable offences. The penalties for those offences are very severe. I am not sure about the way the Bill deals with them. Why cap the fine at €500,000? Why not make it €1 million or €300,000? Where does the figure come from? Surely the punishment must fit the crime and if we do not know what the crime is, how can the punishment fit it?

I could talk about the Bill and say different things about it, but all has been said in the Minister of State's very fine speech and opening remarks. Other Senators have referred to aspects of the Bill, which is very short. I do not want to go on talking about it, but I would like the Minister of State to address the questions I have raised. Too often, legislation slips through the Oireachtas on the nod and we are sorry afterwards. I am sure the Minister of State has answers to these questions, but if he has not, I hope he can come back another day and explain them.

It is interesting that a technical Bill to correct retrospectively an anomaly in the European Communities Act 1972 should generate such heat. It is another indication of the importance of this House in analysing the minutiae of technical Bills. When the Minister of State's fine speech is stripped away, the core of the debate only takes up a page and a half. However, he was right to explore in detail the evolution of the European Union and Ireland's participation in it since 1972, because it is one of the major issues of our time. Senator Ormonde has often referred to the lack of clarity that allows the eyes of the electorate glaze over whenever we talk about European affairs. That is true, as successive referenda seem to suggest. However, it is right to acknowledge the outstanding work done by the Forum on Europe under the chairmanship of Senator Maurice Hayes. The forum has gone a long way in comparison with our EU neighbours towards clarifying and informing the public about European issues. I also compliment the Minister of State for making a valuable contribution to the forum, as Senator Dardis can testify as a distinguished member of that body.

I am interested in the historical background to this. I am sure Senator Lydon was aware, when he referred to fishermen in Killybegs, that it was two fishermen who originally brought this case to the Supreme Court. They felt that the indictable offences imposed on them for breach of EU law were invalid and the court found in their favour. It raises an interesting question. Who blinked in 1972 and did not realise that the European Communities Act 1972 needed only one extra line? That might have solved the problem that we are addressing 34 years later. I understand that the indictable offences under which the two fishermen related to a 1927 marine Bill, so this may be another reason for the new Bill. There is also reference to statutes from Saorstát Éireann in the Bill. In looking at Bills of this nature, we find little historical nuggets which cover all the bases. It is not often that one sees references to Saorstát Éireann in Irish legislation today.

Are we unique in this respect? Must we bring forward this Bill owing to our particular form of common law and law making in this country? Does it apply across the European Union? Will the Minister of State have to inform our EU neighbours that they might have to take a look at their own domestic law? Their superior courts might find that some of the regulations used by Ministers are legally invalid in their jurisdictions.

We need clarification on the issue of the maximum fine. The core of this Bill is about the indictable offences, apart from the fact that it regularises an anomaly that arose unexpectedly as a result of the Supreme Court judgment of two years ago.

In the wider debate on statutory instruments, directives and information, I feel that this House should be the vehicle through which such regulations and directives should come into the Irish parliamentary system. We are ready, willing and able to do that. This House could be used as a second stage Chamber for directives and other regulations. The Minister could come before the House to explain and clarify regulations and directives to the wider public, which will allow all of us to make a valuable input. This idea is not a reflection on the Committee on European Affairs or the Committee on Foreign Affairs but the Seanad is a primary Chamber of legislation. Much of what we discuss is primary legislation or addendums to primary legislation, as well as giving powers of regulation to Ministers.

The Minister has the power to make regulations following on from European directives. Is it not convention to lay those regulations before both Houses of the Oireachtas? This would afford Members of both Houses the opportunity to debate the regulations once they are on the Order Paper. I join in the concerns and plaudits that have been expressed to the Minister of State. He has eloquently taken the opportunity to maintain the message that membership of the EU has been good for Ireland and continues to be so.

I welcome the Minister of State and his officials, and I support this Bill. I pay a warm tribute to the work done by the Minister of State and his officials from the Taoiseach's office, the Department of Foreign Affairs and many other Departments, as well as the permanent representation in Brussels. They make a great contribution in keeping Ireland's end high in the European Union. We should also mention senior Irish officials who work in the European Commission. In recent times, Irish officials have occupied very senior posts, which is a great credit to them and the country.

I am glad the Minister of State placed an emphasis in his speech on the benefits to Ireland of European Union membership. At times, people take it for granted. When we have a dispute or a difficulty, particular groups think we can kick over the traces. The European Union has been the making of Ireland in every sense, be it political, economic or anything else. In the 1840s, Thomas Davis said that Ireland was needful of foreign alliances. By that he meant countries such as France and Germany, although the latter was not united at that stage. We now have such a situation and the European Union transcends the differences and conflicts of the past. We can be friends with Britain as we can with France, Germany and Spain, whereas in the past it was strictly an either-or situation.

When we joined the European Economic Community, our living standards were approximately 63% of the Community average. Our early years of membership were chequered. We did very well for a while on the agricultural front, but then there was some shake-out with regard to industrial employment. However, in combination with the right domestic policies we have had over the last 20 years, Ireland has flourished as never before in its history. As was pointed out yesterday, not least by myself on the Order of Business, the 1987 Budget Statement by the former Minster for Finance, Mr. Ray MacSharry, played on RTE radio yesterday, who also had a distinguished European career, was in many ways the start of this transformation. I say this not to give all the credit to him, because his successors, continuing on the same path, have contributed to the result as well.

There is a constant challenge to uphold our position and our interests, which in some way is perhaps more difficult now that there are 25 member states in the EU, and in another month's time, 27. It is necessary for us to move ahead and I hope the political conditions will be right within the next 12 months or so with regard to the constitutional treaty. I do not accept that because it was rejected in particular circumstances, two or three years ago, by a couple of member states, the question cannot be revisited. We have revisited such questions in the past.

In a sense democracy is about looking at questions. If the notion that a referendum is the final answer were true, we should never have had divorce in this country, given the outcome of the 1986 referendum in that regard. Given that some 18 member states have not ratified the notion of a constitution, we need, for the sake of coherence and cohesion, to resolve this question. I accept that not too much damage seems to have been done in the short-term and the Union has done reasonably well. However, the status quo is not a long-term solution and we should be adding our voice to the need for a completion of ratification.

The Minister of State referred in his speech to the convenience of the euro. It still gives me pleasure to be able to travel all over Europe without having to change currency except, unfortunately, when we go North or visit our nearest neighbour. On the Order of Business the deputy Chief Whip, I believe, spoke about the euro not being acceptable in a large number of outlets across the water.

It was Senator Glynn.

That is correct. As was pointed out, if one presents a Northern Ireland-denominated Bank of Ireland note in London, one will get very queer looks, too. That and the adoption of kilometres, Celsius, etc., have all helped to contribute towards a healthy and non-claustrophobic climate. Probably for the first time in our history we do not feel particularly overshadowed by our neighbour. We have communications that go directly to America and to other European countries. The European Union is part of that. Without the fact that Ireland is firmly placed in the European Union, the country would not enjoy positive investment decisions.

I recall reading Thomas Addis Emmet, who was a brother of the patriot, Robert. He was hauled before a parliamentary committee in 1798, which was looking into the rebellion. The Church of Ireland Archbishop of Cashel, Charles Agar, put it to him: "You surely do not believe that Ireland could be independent either of Britain or France". He replied: "America is the best market in the world, and Ireland is the best situated country in Europe to trade with that market". That pretty much sums up where we are today. I recall mentioning it to a US Secretary of Commerce, who replied: "A far-sighted man, your Mr. Emmet". He was not just our Mr. Emmet, but also America's, because he was Attorney General in New York State in the period 1812-13. A magnificent monument to him, which needs to be somewhat refurbished, stands outside St. Paul's Church, Lower Manhattan, just beside the 9/11 site.

I am very supportive, though not in an uncritical way, of Ireland's membership of the European Union. Various ministerial and official teams as well as our MEPs do a magnificent job in representing Ireland's interests, and also in making a positive contribution to the common European good. We do not just look for what is in it for ourselves, and it is very important to keep getting this message out to the general public. Many of us here are privileged to be members of the National Forum on Europe, whose distinguished chairman is Senator Maurice Hayes. On that tone of support I shall conclude.

I thank all of the Senators for their outstanding contributions and positive support and for the searching questions they have raised. I shall do my utmost to respond in a general way to those. I will return to the specifics on Committee Stage.

I would again emphasise that the effect of the Bill will be to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the procedures used to implement European Community law. As I demonstrated earlier, EU membership has brought great benefits to Ireland. No one doubts that. However, these benefits bring responsibilities. One of those obligations is to transpose European Community measures in an effective and timely manner that is legislatively correct. The Supreme Court judgments in the Browne and Kennedy cases cast doubt on the mechanism successive Governments have been using over the last three decades to transpose EC measures. The Bill seeks to remove this doubt and put in place a more effective approach for the transposition of European Community regulations and directives. The Bill seeks to address the issues raised in the Supreme Court judgments in an effective and appropriate manner. We are being honest, open and forthright with the Oireachtas in this debate. The Bill makes important changes to the 1972 Act and the way in which we give effect to European Community law. It has an important national purpose.

I fully accept that the Bill is technical and complex. The issues involved do not, unfortunately, lend themselves to simple explanation. If I may paraphrase no less a man than Albert Einstein, everything should be made as simple as possible, if not simpler. Of course we want to ensure that we have absolute transparency. I am happy to go into further detail in any or all of the provisions to ensure the Oireachtas is fully satisfied in endorsing this approach. This Bill did not come about by accident and it could be stated that it has been created as a result of time differences. Two people, namely, Mr. Browne and Mr. Kennedy, both fishermen, were granted licences by the State under the Common Fisheries Policy of the European Union. The Union mandated the State to ensure the rules pertaining to the Common Fisheries Policy were adopted, endorsed and implemented on the island of Ireland and its territorial waters. The fishermen were prosecuted for breaches of the Sea Fisheries (Driftnets) Order 1998, that is, under SI 267 of 1998. This order was made under the Fisheries (Consolidation) Act 1959 to provide for the creation of an indictable offence regarding breaches of the relevant Council regulation.

Members should note the timings. The 1959 Act was passed before Ireland joined the then European Economic Community in 1972. The statutory instrument was created in 1998 on the presumption that the European Communities Act 1972 included the power to make the statutory instrument absolute, linking into all previous legislation. However, the Supreme Court ruled this was not the case. The Government has introduced this Bill to validate, clarify and rectify the position and to ensure absolute sustainability in the force of law in respect of the decisions taken.

While taking into account the evolution of the European Union, the Government is also taking the opportunity to bring forward indictable offences. Members who study the legislation and my earlier speech carefully will note it is proposed to introduce maximum fines of €500,000, as well as maximum penalties of three years in jail. These are the maximum penalties and discretion will rest with the courts whether to apply a fine of less than €500,000 or a jail term of less than three years. This is the Government's intention and it asks Members to legislate for it. It has taken into account the manner in which the Union has evolved, the way our responsibilities have evolved and the manner in which the Union, now after its fifth enlargement, has enlarged and grown. Having taken into account the enormous amount of legislation that Ireland has enacted as a result of European directives, the Government wishes to ensure uniformity and commonality pertaining to the laws it enacts and to statutory instruments in particular.

The Government does not ask the House to give absolute power to any Minister to make statutory instruments that do not conform to this State's laws or to the directives and laws of the European Union. It asks for a refinement of the position to achieve uniformity and commonality. The courts may then decide to impose penalties of less than or up to three years or fines of €500,000.

In the past, this House has already passed legislation to enable the courts to fine those who break the law. For example, the Financial Transfers Act 1992 allowed the courts to impose fines of up to £10 million. In the present case, the proposed fines, at €500,000, are much lower, along with a maximum term of imprisonment of three years. The Government asks Members to bring uniformity and commonality to statutory instruments that may be created in the future.

The legislation also provides that in future, no Minister can make statutory instruments for the courts with fines greater than €500,000 or terms of imprisonment greater than three years. Ministers must introduce specific individual primary legislation asking the Oireachtas to empower the courts to so do. The Government's intentions are clear. It wishes to validate that which its predecessors should have validated or included in the 1972 Act in order that no laws are out of sequence or out of sync with legislation that has been passed subsequently. This Bill is to validate the position. The issue only arises because the Supreme Court has taken the aforementioned decisions. Legislators are obliged to ensure conformity and adherence to the law as decided by the Supreme Court. It must be made uniform, solid and enforceable as it pertains to Irish citizens, or others who come to Ireland, who transgress the laws of either Ireland or the European Union.

At the outset, Senator Bradford raised a number of points regarding Ireland's present ranking of 19th on the Internal Market scoreboard. It was noted during the debate that this should be taken in the context of the nitrates directive. It had been thought the nitrates directive had been completed and cleared in the past year. Fifteen years have passed since it was first proposed by the European Union. As a result of pressures in the political system and the farming organisations, it was not dealt with until last year. One problem associated with its resolution has been the European Commission's dissatisfaction with the level of penalties this Legislature has imposed for transgressions of the nitrates directive. Negotiations to conclude this issue are under way at present and the directive is being implemented by the Departments of Agriculture and Food and the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. This is causing some difficulty at present. Given that the directive has existed for 15 years without being completed by Ireland, Members can imagine how inefficient we have become and how far behind we are. They can imagine how out-dated the monetary penalties that would have existed 15 years ago would be at present monetary values. This issue demonstrates how Ireland might happen to rank 19th on the Internal Market scoreboard.

Members may reflect on this for a moment before considering the position in 2004. In April 2004, Ireland was doing very well and stood joint first on the Internal Market scoreboard. Since then however, ten new countries have joined the European Union. On accession to the European Union, new member states must accept automatically those directives that have already been passed and agreed by the existing members. They must be accepted automatically into the domestic law of such countries. When Ireland decided to become a member of the then European Economic Community, it passed the European Communities Act 1972. In the domestic legislation that enabled the new member states to join the Union in 2004, they were obliged to accept all European Union laws, directives and otherwise, passed by the existing member states prior to the 2004 enlargement.

To bring this point a stage further, the ten new member states have only a small number of directives to deal with compared with the number we have inherited and accumulated, including the nitrates directive, and with which we may not have dealt. This puts them in a better position than Ireland at present and puts us back. However, this can vary and we have set targets. As I noted previously, I chair the interdepartmental co-ordinating committee. It is representative of all Departments, as well as the Office of the Attorney General, which advises the Departments and me on these directives on a continual monthly basis. The committee sets targets to meet the target dates established by the European Union in order that Ireland can adhere to the Internal Market scoreboard and can transpose European directives into domestic law. This may be done through either primary legislation or secondary legislation and statutory instruments, where necessary.

The Government now asks Members, through the passage of this Bill, to do that which should have been done in 1972. This legislation will validate what has been done from 1972 to the present. Moreover, it will bring commonality and uniformity to indictable offences and the penalties commensurate with such offences and we will know where we are going henceforth. The legislation will place the State on solid ground in order that the force of law, pertaining to both domestic and European law, is equal, enforceable and acceptable to the Supreme Court. This is the reason for the Bill's introduction. I will be happy to go into further detail on Committee Stage next Tuesday. I want to ensure Members are satisfied to endorse this important legislation. I look forward to debating the next Stages of the Bill on Tuesday. I am sure it will be an interesting and positive discussion that will eventually lead this distinguished and august body, Seanad Éireann, to ensure that this legislation is implemented quan celerimme.

Question put and declared carried.

Acting Chairman

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Next Tuesday.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 12 December 2006.

Acting Chairman

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday next.