I thank Members for inviting me back to the House. I seem to have spent more time addressing this House in the past two years than when I was a Member of the House. I hope that is not a sign of things to come.
It goes without saying that all of us who supported the Lisbon reform treaty are deeply disappointed with the outcome of the referendum, not just for ourselves but for Ireland. We are in uncharted waters and it is difficult to know where this takes us. However, one fact is absolutely and crystal clear — the people have made their decision, which must be respected. The Taoiseach made that clear last Friday and again today in the Dáil.
The Government strongly supported the Lisbon treaty on the basis that the 27 member states had reached an agreement which we all believed sincerely would allow the European Union to work more effectively, efficiently and democratically in the interests of the people in all member states, including Ireland. We also believed sincerely it would equip the countries of Europe to deal with the global challenges facing us collectively and individually, big or small. We also believed that Ireland's national interests would, as they are now, be best served by being at the centre of the Union playing a constructive, realistic, engaged role.
As I have stated, we are now in uncharted territory, and that must have some question mark over it. Whatever else we disagreed on in the recent campaign, there was close to unanimous agreement that Ireland's place is at the heart of Europe. It is interesting that the Flash Eurobarometer poll reported in today'sThe Irish Times demonstrates that the majority of those who voted “No” — some 80% — support Irish membership of the European Union. They felt positive about such membership.
In our support for the treaty we were joined by all but one of the political parties, representative groups, ICTU, IBEC, chambers of commerce and other business organisations, the IFA, ICMSA, Macra Na Feirme, ICOS and others who played a committed part at national and local level. I am very grateful for this support.
As has been clearly stated by the Taoiseach, we will need time to analyse the result properly and to look for an acceptable and practical way forward. The result of the referendum brings about a position of considerable uncertainty, significant difficulties and in an uncertain economic period, it brings very distinct potential problems. It will not be resolved easily and the Government and our colleagues in Europe understandably will need time to reflect.
We must reflect not only on the way forward for Ireland but also on the way forward for the EU, which will take time. There is a need to avoid snap judgments and hasty decisions at what is a very important point in the history of Ireland's hugely successful engagement with the European Union. This engagement has been a central pillar of our national development since 1973.
Along with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Micheál Martin, I attended Monday's meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council, where our counterparts were briefed on the referendum. There was an understanding of our position and of our need to reflect in light of the result of our referendum. There was also a wide degree of disappointment. On the positive side there was no attempt to isolate us.
There was a real sense of solidarity at the meeting and in the bilaterals which the Minister and I had during the course of the day and half in Luxembourg. Members of the House will be aware from media reports that there is also a general and very strong desire that ratification should continue in other member states. Member States do not want to abandon what they all see as the very real advances made in this treaty.
In my contacts with my counterparts I stressed the need for us to take sufficient time to analyse what has happened and to consult, both domestically and with our European partners, in order to find an agreed way forward. I recalled the Union's record of success in overcoming past setbacks of this kind and expressed the hope that, working together, we can do so again on this occasion. As has been stated time and again over the weekend, we are very distinctly in uncharted waters and it is very hard to see where we go from here. As of today, 18 member states have ratified the treaty and the 19th will ratify it within the next 48 hours. The others are on the cusp of ratification and they want to move forward with a treaty they believe is in the interests of their citizens.
The European Council, which begins tomorrow, provides an early opportunity for the Taoiseach to give his initial assessment of the referendum result and its implications. An important point which the Government will stress in the period ahead is that the Irish people continue to be committed to the European Union and Ireland has not turned Eurosceptic. It is interesting to reflect on the European Commission survey mentioned earlier, which was taken immediately after the referendum and which was reported today. It provides some interesting insights.
It showed very high levels of support for Ireland's membership of the EU among those who voted against the treaty. Some 80% of people who voted "No", as I mentioned already, support Ireland's EU membership. It is reasonable to suggest that 100% of those who voted "Yes" also support Ireland's EU membership. Where do we go from here? This is a very positive and important place for us to begin our analysis and understanding of the outcome of Thursday's referendum.
Another very interesting point which was also reported in the press was that approximately three quarters of those who voted against the treaty believed the Government can somehow renegotiate exceptions. At this point, 18 member states have effectively ratified the treaty and it will not be long before 25 or 26 have ratified it. The Government will have to work hard to reflect the Irish people's concerns as we move forward. At the same time we must respect that there are 26 other parties to this agreement.
The point was made in the Dáil today that we should stick with the facts. That is correct but it is not what happened in the recent campaign. Every conceivable distortion of facts was used by some element or other of the "No" campaigns to demonise the European Union. We were warned about conscription, abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, the incarcerations of young children — nothing was too outlandish to put into the mix.
One fact that is undisputable is that the sight of Monsieur Le Pen and his ilk, the United Kingdom Independence Party and the virulently anti-EU foreign-owned newspapers rejoicing at our decision must give pause for thought to anybody with the welfare or well-being of Ireland at heart. The sight of UKIP members celebrating Ireland's "No" vote in an Irish pub in Brussels — using the tricolour as a tablecloth for their drinks — is hard to stomach. The same people in the EU Parliament today were decked out in green jerseys. There is also some irony that the newspapers from across the water which have attacked the EU for decades presented themselves as pro-Irish, pro-EU and even pro-agriculture when hostility to this nation and the Irish people is deeply embedded in their history and editorial lines, going back decades. However, their sincerity in this matter is for history to judge.
I agree with the Taoiseach's comments in the Dáil that our debate should be part of the national discussion. We must undertake this debate and be honest with ourselves now that we, as a people, have taken our decision. Today is about reflecting not only on the events of last week, but on what they might mean for our nation in the years and decades to come.
There are lessons to be learned from the campaign for Ireland and for the EU. There is a need to reconnect the Union with citizens and we have said this for some time. There is a particular need to bring to light the continuing benefits of the Union to all and there is also a need to simplify our message about the EU, including about the Union's laws and treaties. There is a need for the Union to speak to all of its citizens in language to which they can relate and to consign to the waste basket the jargon, the special language and terminologies that exclude people. There is a need to try to centre debates on the EU on the facts. I found it striking in Brussels last Monday that so many people, all seasoned politicians, were genuinely surprised by the level of misinformation and untruths that circulated throughout the campaign. People were amazed and affronted in equal measure by the distortions we saw reflected. One person asked me how Sinn Féin could, on the one hand, discuss the Union as some form of militaristic venture when the Deputy First Minister in the North recently praised the EU, in most extraordinary terms, as a force for peace. It was a speech I would have been proud to have written. He spoke of the peace the EU brought to the continent, the progress it brought to Ireland and the help it gave during our peace process. Yet his colleagues down here demonised Europe on every possible occasion. They spoke of a militaristic Europe to which we should not sign up.