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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 9 Jul 2009

Vol. 196 No. 13

Twenty-Eighth Amendment of the Constitution (Treaty of Lisbon) Bill 2009: Second Stage.

Item No. 4, motion re section 23 of the Referendum Act 1994, that a formal statement for the information of voters be included on the polling card, will be debated in conjunction with Second Stage of the Twenty-Eighth Amendment of the Constitution (Treaty of Lisbon) Bill 2009 and will be formally moved when debate on this Bill is concluded.

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

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

It is an honour for me to introduce this Bill. Its purpose is to provide for the holding of a referendum on 2 October 2009, which would allow the people to vote on the Lisbon treaty.

As the House knows, the people voted last June not to ratify the Treaty of Lisbon. The Government has made it clear throughout that it respects the decision of the people, as expressed in that referendum. Everything we have done since last June has been motivated by a desire to understand the reasons behind the referendum result and to find ways of accommodating the concerns that arose last year.

In respecting the will of the people, the Government has also had regard to the desire of other member states, our European partners, to see the Lisbon treaty enter into force. The desire to implement the reforms provided for in the Lisbon treaty has been sharpened by developments such as the global economic crisis, the disruption of gas supplies to a number of European countries last winter and the invasion of Georgia. Those events have served to bring home the importance of having a coherent and well-run European Union that can help us cope with this economic downturn, protect jobs and work together to rebuild prosperity.

Over the last 12 months, the Government has worked hard to find a way forward for Ireland in Europe which would give us what we wanted and could be accepted by all 27 member states. Following a period of internal consultation in which the Oireachtas Sub-committee on Ireland's Future in the European Union played a significant role, the Government began a process of consultation with the other member states aimed at identifying a solution that would deal with Ireland's concerns.

After intensive contacts and negotiations at the European Council in December 2008 the EU Heads of State and Government unanimously agreed "that provided the Treaty of Lisbon enters into force, a decision will be taken, in accordance with the necessary legal procedures, to the effect that the Commission shall continue to include one national of each member state". On 19 June, the 27 Heads of State and Government repeated this firm, unambiguous commitment. This means the Commissioner issue is settled. Backing Lisbon will mean retaining our Commissioner indefinitely. Claims that this arrangement is somehow time-limited are entirely bogus.

This is a considerable win for Ireland as some member states favoured a smaller Commission. Yet they were willing to accommodate Ireland on this point, because they accepted that his had been a real issue during our referendum campaign last year. Following further intensive discussions with the member states, last month's European Council agreed a package of legally binding guarantees that respond comprehensively to the concerns of the Irish people. Ireland's legally binding guarantees are in the form of a decision of the Heads of State and Government. The European Council further agreed that the contents of this decision will be incorporated in a protocol to be attached to the EU treaties after the entry into force of the Lisbon treaty. This will happen at the time of the next EU accession treaty.

Our legal guarantees state that the protections in the Irish Constitution on the right to life, education and the family are not in any way affected by the Lisbon treaty; Ireland retains control of our tax rates; and Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality is unaffected by the treaty. The Council also adopted a substantive solemn declaration on workers' rights and social policy. The solemn declaration is designed to deal with the confusion that exists about the impact of the Lisbon treaty on workers' rights.

This treaty represents a real advance for workers' rights. This is because of the treaty's new horizontal social clause, which was originally inserted at Ireland's behest, and because the treaty gives legal effect to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU which contains important provisions relevant to the rights of workers. The decision of the Heads of State and Government on the legal guarantees constitutes an international agreement. EU leaders have accepted that these guarantees are legally binding and that they will take effect on the date when the Lisbon treaty enters into force.

If there is a "Yes" vote on 2 October, both the Lisbon treaty and the decision containing our legal guarantees will be registered with the United Nations under Article 102 of the Charter of the United Nations. Article 102 provides that all international agreements to which UN member states are party should be registered with the UN Secretariat after their entry into force. The Heads of State and Government also agreed that the legal guarantees will be set out in a protocol to the EU treaties at the time of the conclusion of the next accession treaty. As a protocol, the legal guarantees will form part of the fundamental law of the Union.

The Government is of the view that we should put the Lisbon treaty, and the package of measures provided for in the proposed constitutional amendment, to the people again for their approval. The fact that a "Yes" vote will enable us to retain our Commissioner and secure a solemn declaration on workers' rights and watertight legal guarantees on three key issues, means that the Lisbon treaty will be a different proposition for Ireland this year. All the main concerns raised last year have been dealt with and the way is clear for a serious debate on the merits of the Lisbon treaty and Ireland's future in Europe. The onus is on every Member of this House who believes in our European future to take this treaty to the people and to explain its importance for Ireland. Our future in Europe depends on being able to join with our 26 EU partners in ratifying this treaty.

The Bill before the House is relatively short, containing only two sections. Section 2 of the Bill provides the citation of the proposed amendment and the Title of the Bill itself. The substance of the Bill is contained in section 1 which proposes that Articles 29.4.3° to 29.4.11° of the Constitution be amended and I am happy to explain to the House how we propose to do so.

Article 29 of the Constitution covers Ireland's international relations and the provisions I have just mentioned deal with our membership of the EU. It is more than 35 years since Ireland joined the European Union. Over that period the Union has been at the centre of our engagement with our fellow EU members and with the rest of the world. The Lisbon treaty sets out for the first time a clear and succinct statement of the Union's values. The Union's values are our values.

The new provisions of Article 29.4 set out in a streamlined and more user-friendly form how our engagement with the EU is to be governed. It is proposed that part of subsection 29.4.3° dealing with the European Coal and Steel Community, the European Economic Community and the Single European Act be deleted since the references are redundant. The other subsections dealing with our membership of the EU, subsections 29.4.4° to 29.4.11°, will be replaced with new subsections 29.4.4° to 29.4.9°, which are set out in a Schedule to the Bill. Part 1 of the Schedule contains these new texts in the Irish language and Part 2 contains the text in English.

A proposed new subsection 29.4.4° would contain a short statement of our commitment to the Union "within which the member together to promote peace, shared values and the well-being of their peoples". This reflects our highly positive experience of membership going back to 1973. It is in keeping with the values set out in Article 29.1, which affirms Ireland's devotion to peace and friendly co-operation among nations founded on international justice and morality.

The proposed new subsection 29.4.5° provides that the State may ratify the Lisbon treaty and be a member of the Union established by that treaty. Since the treaty establishes a new Union with legal personality, it is proposed that the current subsections 29.4.4°, 29.4.5° and 29.4.7° providing for the ratification of the treaties of Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice be deleted as they will be made redundant by the Lisbon treaty. The proposed new subsection 29.4.5° would take effect after a successful referendum whereas the rest of the amendments provided for in the Bill would have effect only when and if the treaty enters into force, following its ratification by all 27 member states.

The proposed new subsection 29.4.6° ensures legal compatibility between the Lisbon treaty and the Constitution. It carries forward constitutional cover for laws, Acts and measures "necessitated" by the obligations of our EU membership. This provision is not new. It is as old as our EU membership. Every time we ratify a European treaty — the Single European Act, Maastricht, Amsterdam, Nice and now Lisbon — we make the same point. Every time, the same claim is made that, suddenly, EU law will be superior to Irish law and the treaty will put the Irish Constitution out of business. Each time, the opponents have been wrong and they are wrong again this time.

The idea of primacy reflects a general principle of international law, recognised since 1937 by Article 29.3 of the Constitution of Ireland. This provides that states must comply with international legal obligations freely undertaken by them in the exercise of their sovereignty. The practical effect of the principle of primacy is that it offers certainty and clarity regarding the relationship between the Union's laws and those of the member states. It applies only in those specific areas where the member states have conferred powers on the Union.

This principle of conferral is an important feature of the Lisbon treaty. It makes it clear that the Union does not have any powers of its own. Its powers derive from sovereign decisions by the member states to give the Union certain powers. These powers are carefully set out in the European Union treaties. This is why European Union treaties tend to be somewhat complex. They need to regulate relations between 27 sovereign states and their unique partnership within the Union.

Let me make it absolutely clear that the Constitution of Ireland will continue to be the basic legal document of the State and will continue to determine, in the final instance, the precise relationship between Irish and European Union law. The ultimate locus of sovereignty will continue to reside with the member states rather than the Union.

The proposed new subsection 7° replaces the current subsections 6° and 8°. It allows the State to exercise certain options and discretions provided for in the European Union treaties. These include special arrangements Ireland has negotiated with respect to the area of justice and home affairs. The Government may only exercise these options and discretions after obtaining the approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas.

These arrangements provide for the participation of Ireland and the UK on a case-by-case basis in the following policy areas: general provisions for co-operation in the area of freedom, security and justice; policies on border checks, asylum and immigration; judicial co-operation in civil matters; judicial co-operation in criminal matters; and police co-operation.

We made a declaration at the Intergovernmental Conference in 2007 that makes clear our intention to participate to the maximum extent possible in the relevant proposals in these areas. Furthermore, we have made a commitment that we review our opt-out within three years. Ending the opt-out, in whole or in part, is one of the options covered in the proposed new subsection 7°.

The options and discretions also include the possibility of participating in a process known as "enhanced co-operation". Enhanced co-operation allows a group of nine or more member states to choose to co-operate on a specific matter in areas in which the Union has non-exclusive competence. Enhanced co-operation cannot expand the Union's competence.

The proposed new subsection 8° relates to the so-called passerelle clause under which the European Council can decide on a unanimous basis to extend the scope of qualified majority voting in the Council of Ministers or to extend the scope of co-decision arrangements between the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. The mechanism may be applied in the following areas: the adoption of qualified majority voting or co-decision, subject to a right of veto by each national parliament; the common foreign and security policy, but not decisions having military or defence implications; judicial co-operation in regard to family law, in respect of which Ireland has an opt-out clause with the right to opt in on a case-by-case basis; social policy; fiscal measures relating to the environment; the adoption of the multi-annual financial framework; and within the ambit of an enhanced co-operation process.

The subsection also gives specific cover for certain measures taken in the area of freedom, security and justice. These are the extension of the scope of judicial co-operation on aspects of criminal procedure with a cross-border dimension, the identification of other areas of serious crime with a cross-border dimension, and the establishment of a European public prosecutor or the expansion of the EPP's role.

Areas relating to freedom, security and justice covered in subsection 7° are mentioned again in subsection 8°. This is being done to retain control by the Houses of the Oireachtas over these measures, if we should decide at some point to end our opt-out in the area of freedom, security and justice. The treaty will give the national parliaments of the member states a direct input for the first time into European Union legislation. These new provisions are contained in two additional protocols, one on the role of national parliaments and the other on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality.

Under the protocol on the role of national parliaments, all Commission Green and White Papers, the Commission's annual legislative programme and all draft legislation will be sent directly to national parliaments. This requirement for direct and simultaneous transmission is intended to give national parliaments more time to consider Commission proposals. The same procedure will apply to the annual report of the European Court of Auditors.

The agendas for and outcomes of meetings of the Council of Ministers must also go directly to national parliaments. Except in cases of urgency, at least eight weeks must elapse between the forwarding to national parliaments of draft EU legislation and its being placed on a Council agenda for decision. In addition, the treaty provides that national parliaments must have at least six months' notice of any intention on the part of the European Council to use the provisions of the treaty relating to voting in the Council of Ministers and extension of the co-decision procedure between the Council and the European Parliament. Unanimity is also required in the European Council for any such move. Any national parliament can veto such a move. In Ireland's case, under the terms of the new subsection 8° of this amendment, the prior approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas would be required to change the voting rules in the Council. This means that, under the treaty, Ireland has a double veto, exercisable by either the Government or the Houses of the Oireachtas.

The Protocol on the Application of the Principles of Subsidiarity and Proportionality further develops the role of national parliaments regarding the implementation of these important principles. The principle of subsidiarity is designed to ensure that the European Union takes action only when this is necessary and appropriate.

Within eight weeks of the transmission to it of a draft legislative Act, any national parliament, or any chamber of a parliament, may send to all European Union institutions a "reasoned opinion" stating why it considers that the draft does not comply with the principle of subsidiarity. Account must be taken of these reasoned opinions. If, within eight weeks, at least one third of national parliaments, or chambers of national parliaments, issue such reasoned opinions, the draft proposal must be reviewed. It may thereafter be maintained, amended or withdrawn. In the case of proposals in the areas of judicial co-operation in criminal matters and police co-operation, the threshold is one quarter. This so-called "yellow card" system is a major development which will bring national parliaments directly into the EU decision-making process.

In recognition of the particular sensitivity of freedom, security and justice matters, the Lisbon treaty contains a number of specific provisions associating national parliaments more closely with the Union's activities in this area.

The various provisions I have just mentioned will expand very significantly the role of the Oireachtas in European Union affairs. In order to meet these responsibilities and reforms, it is essential that every Minister appears before the Oireachtas committee relevant to his or her portfolio prior to and after Council meetings to brief Members. That is an important change that needs to be made.

I am aware of proposals from Fine Gael and the Labour Party on scrutiny and how directives are transposed in Ireland. I look forward to further discussions in the Oireachtas in the months ahead on the arrangements for discharging these new responsibilities.

The proposed new subsection 9° repeats the prohibition on Irish participation in any European Union common defence. This provision was originally inserted in the Constitution at the second referendum on the Treaty of Nice. A change in Ireland's position can come about only if the people decide so in a referendum. As I have already explained to the House, the Government has now secured an additional legal guarantee which makes clear that the Lisbon treaty "does not affect or prejudice Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality". The same guarantee makes clear that the treaty "does not provide for the creation of a European army or for conscription to any military formation."

The proposed amendment would delete Article 29.4.11°, which allows the State to ratify the agreement relating to Community patents. This agreement never came into force.

The text of this constitutional amendment is relatively accessible. It is available on our website together with the texts of the treaties and our White Paper which tries to explain as clearly as possible the provisions of the treaty and Ireland’s legal guarantees. We have a duty to inform voters of the treaty’s contents and implications. We will spare no effort over the coming months in helping voters make their own assessment of the Lisbon treaty and the important legal guarantees that now accompany it.

I hope the electorate will go beyond the detail and look at the big picture. Who can dispute the enormous positive influence that membership of the European Union has had on our country? Our farming community has benefited to the tune of €41 billion from the Common Agricultural Policy. A further €20 billion has come to Ireland in structural funding. European Union membership has helped transform our country. We would not be what we are today without our tradition of active and constructive European engagement. This is something we need to continue. IBEC put it well yesterday when it said:

The last year has taught us that our future success is inextricably linked to the ambitions and interests of our partners in Europe, and to the success of Europe in the wider world. The Lisbon treaty streamlines decision-making, gives Europe a stronger voice on the world stage and gives European citizens a greater say. It is a good deal for Ireland, and a good deal for Europe.

Looking back at our experience, we can safely say that the European Union has been faithful to the commitment it shares with the member states to work together to promote peace, shared values and the well-being of their peoples.

The Lisbon treaty is the culmination of almost ten years of discussion about institutional issues. These issues are important. Europe needs a properly functioning Union if it is to cope with the challenges of the future. Now that we have 27 member states, we need to make adjustments in the way the Union operates. Getting the balance right means making sure the Union can deliver better for us in the years ahead. I look forward to the day when we can turn away from debates about European Union structures and concentrate on its actions. There is much to be done in dealing with the economic and financial crisis, with the challenges of climate change and with the risks we face in the area of energy security.

Europe said "Yes" to us last month. Our European partners met all of our concerns with understanding. They agreed to accommodate us by agreeing to the retention of a commissioner and by giving us a series of legal guarantees. They showed themselves to be true partners, truly committed to Europe in which the needs of all member states are catered for and our interests reconciled. I hope that, when the time comes, our people will decide to say "Yes" to Lisbon and to Europe. A positive outcome on 2 October will be vital for Ireland and for our future within the Europe Union.

I welcome the Minister to the House for this important debate, which has occupied much of the psyche of the Irish nation in the recent months. Today is not the day to focus on the past campaign, but I have no doubt that theses and many studies will be done on the dynamics of that campaign and what exactly happened. There is quite a story to be told about it, about the dynamics and funding of it and the scaremongering that took place. There is much to examine in the months and years ahead. However, now is the time to focus on the future and it is extremely important that we do so. If and when the Lisbon treaty is passed, we should speak about the areas that can be positively influenced by its passage, the progress that can be achieved on climate change and on tackling crime. Crime knows no borders. Therefore, we must act together within Europe. That would be made possible and feasible with the greater efficiencies that would be achieved with that the passing of the Lisbon treaty in terms of members states working better together.

On the area of foreign policy, it would not mean that we would agree on everything but on those areas where we do agree and where it is in the interest of the world that Europe speaks with one voice, we would now have one strong voice. That is an important consideration. We know Irish people's interest in development issues. Our Army personnel participate on peace-keeping duties and have built up a great reputation for the work they do over many years. We know the wonderful work that is being done all over the world. That, too, can be done even more effectively and efficiently when this treaty is passed.

We know the problems we face in energy security. When the Lisbon treaty is passed, energy security can also be dealt with more effectively, and the list goes on. At a time when unemployment is rising and our country is in such a crisis, there is no doubt that if we work more effectively as a Union, we would be in a better position to deal economically with the economic threats we currently face. The passing of the treaty would mean that it would be better for individuals because they would have more opportunity to work and to regain employment, as more initiatives would be introduced at European level. Looking to the future rather than to the past, these are the kinds of areas that will be strengthened as we work together on this treaty. Fine Gael is committed to ensuring this treaty is passed. We believe it is in the interests of this country, our individual citizens, our unemployed and the world.

I have heard people who would argue against the treaty say that nothing has changed, but everything has changed. We are in a different situation. Life has moved on. The Minister outlined a series of changes which mean that the package is different. There is a different context now and the world is a different place. The economics of the world are different. The position Ireland finds itself in regard to the understanding of the treaty is different because there are many explanations. There are new protocols and new agreements. The Government has worked with the other member states and got a response. We will have a Commissioner, the loss of our Commissioner being one of the key issues that featured on the posters of the "No" side of the campaign. That position has changed and I could go on. There are many things that are different. We are in a new situation with new understandings, carefully garnered from work with the other countries and carefully put into place, as the Minister outlined. He said:

Europe said "Yes" to us last month. Our European partners met all of our concerns with understanding. They agreed to accommodate us by agreeing to the retention of a commissioner and by giving us a series of legal guarantees. They showed themselves to be true partners.

That is a changed situation and it is one that we have an obligation to impart to the Irish people.

It is important during the course of this debate that we get the tone of the debate right. Much scaremongering took place on one side of the campaign on the last occasion. It is equally important that there is not scaremongering of those of us who want to see a "Yes" vote on this occasion. The people have a right to hear what is being negotiated, to hear about the new declarations and protocols and to understand them. They have a right to make up their mind whether they will vote "Yes" or "No". We cannot take for granted that there will be a "Yes" vote on this occasion. The tone of the debate and the information that will be given to the people will be extremely important in terms of how they vote. The course of the campaign will be important.

The Minister needs to give attention to the proposals we suggested, for example, on directives. I would not underestimate the concerns people throughout the country have about many micro issues relating to the implementation of directives. That needs to be given more attention. Many interest groups have valid and serious concerns about the way Ireland implements directives. There is a belief that we do it differently from other countries. We must examine these concerns, provide reassurances and do the work on that area. That is important.

It is essential that every Cabinet Minister should appear before an Oireachtas committee prior to and post Council meetings. Ever since I was chairperson of the National Women's Council many years ago, I believed that there was a huge democratic deficit in terms of Council meetings and reporting back to the Oireachtas system. That, in turn, means that people are not well informed. We are not making the seamless linkage, which there should be, between Europe and the Irish citizen. That is one of the reasons we failed to secure a "Yes" vote for the Lisbon treaty on the last occasion. People felt there was a democratic deficit and disengagement. This is an ideal opportunity to work constructively on these issues to change the ways we have dealt with Europe, to bring in new procedures and to give the feedback to the people, which will let them see what work is being done in Europe. All my experience of working with European institutions, with the non-governmental sector at a European level and working on issues such as equality and poverty has been completely positive. Many of those who voted "No" on the last occasion said that they were pro Europe but they did not like X, Y or Z aspects of the treaty. I genuinely believe that many of those issues have been dealt with by the work that has been done during the past number of months.

We face an economic crisis and how people vote on this occasion will shape our relationship with the European Union for years to come. We should not risk damaging that relationship by voting "No". There is no doubt about that. If people genuinely believe that the treaty is bad for Ireland, let them prove it. Where is the evidence and what are the reasons for voting "No"? People should put that information on the table so we can discuss it. The treaty is good for this country, our fellow member states and the world. One cannot say often enough that Europe has brought peace and prosperity to its member states. It has also spread those values around the world wherever it can and it has reached out to developing countries. All that becomes more possible with the passage of the Lisbon treaty.

Some say that it is undemocratic to reopen the debate and to have a second referendum on the Lisbon treaty, but that is nonsense. Our constitutional law is based on the principle that issues can be reopened at any stage. If the people have changed their minds they have the right to express that. Equally, they have the right to not change their minds. That is democracy. We voted twice on proportional representation, divorce, the Nice referendum, abortion and many other issues. That is what democracy is about. There is nothing wrong with putting an issue to the people again. The notion that it is undemocratic to ask people to express their views again is nonsensical.

There was a great deal of misinformation during the previous referendum campaign on the Lisbon treaty. We must accept that communication by the pro-treaty side was not good. We did not communicate the facts clearly enough about the treaty and we did not deal with the concerns that existed. When the people did not understand, they did not vote in support of the treaty. I met many women in particular who were concerned about conscription. Right or wrong, that was their belief. As the Minister outlined, that concern has been dealt with in detail. Likewise, the guarantees on workers' rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights are reassuring in their support for so many rights. Again, that has to be sold in order to be understood and much work has to be done on it.

Conscription is a matter for each member state as it involves the army of each state. Most states do not have conscription and many of those which do are abandoning it. There is absolutely no possibility whatsoever of conscription being introduced into this country on foot of the treaty's acceptance. How can Europe introduce something it does not have the power to introduce, and conscript people into an army that does not exist?

This is our chance to shape the future for ourselves and the millions of people who are in the Union. The question is whether we are fearful of change or whether we embrace it, and through embracing it help to shape it. There are many areas that we can influence for the better and many critical world issues on which we as part of Europe can have a stronger voice.

There is much evidence that people are positive about Europe and that the European experience for this country has been positive. We should not let the fear that was created by some groups that trade in misinformation damage the real story about Europe. The referendum should be a campaign of truth, based not on myths about what is supposed to be in the Lisbon treaty but a true discussion by all of us about what is contained in the treaty.

We need to send out the message clearly that the Lisbon treaty does not present a danger to this country and that Europe is not a threat because that is how it was perceived during the previous referendum campaign. That is far from the truth. The Lisbon treaty is about shaping Europe's and this country's future. It is about defining our role in the 21st century as a proud nation and as a shaper of the future of the European Union to which we have contributed. This referendum will shape or destroy the work, hopes and dreams of millions of others in the Union. We want to do the right thing.

The context, package, understanding and economic situation are all different. I look forward to the campaign, which will be different from the previous campaign. However, there is a job of work to be done and we cannot be complacent. We cannot take things for granted. We must genuinely engage with people in the coming months. I have heard people say that the way to get the Government out of office is to defeat the Lisbon treaty. It would be a dreadful mistake to sacrifice this country's leadership role in Europe and our future prosperity and development by taking that approach.

The Minister is most welcome. I wish him well in spearheading this campaign for the referendum, which will be held on 2 October. Today's debate on the Lisbon treaty is the result of months of work by the Government and some of the most senior officials in the country to ensure the concerns of Irish people about Europe are addressed. We have had ample opportunities to understand the reasons the first referendum on the Lisbon treaty failed.

There have been tireless negotiations involving Ireland and its European partners to deal with the issues which arose during the previous referendum campaign. My colleagues, the Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Martin, spearheaded an all-out effort by the Government and our diplomats to ensure we received the most robust guarantees. What has been achieved is significant. I place on the record of the House my congratulations not only to the Minister and the Taoiseach but to all those who worked behind the scenes to ensure we achieved an acceptable package for Ireland.

One of the concerns was that we would lose a Commissioner. We have secured our Commissioner. We will stay in control of our tax policy. Irish neutrality will be unaffected. We will remain in control of sensitive social issues. Workers' rights will be protected in this country and throughout Europe. Part of that package will include the protection of the right to life, family and education, which will become legally binding once the treaty comes into effect.

It is important that we communicate and engage with the public. I welcome recent initiatives by the Government to ensure that people can easily access information about the treaty, the guarantees and European Union policy. I am delighted to hear the Minister has launched two websites, and, and it is important that they are up and running. The first site explains the workings of the European Union. It is important that the language we use is free from the jargon and bureaucracy that cut us off from Europe during the campaign on the previous referendum. However, while the sites exist on the Internet we should remember that not everyone has a computer.

I also hear that the Minister has launched an information postcard that will be sent to every house in the country. I look forward to seeing that. It should be the first step in opening people's minds to the discussion. The postcard can be seen as the launch of the debate. I also look forward to the distribution of the White Paper on the Lisbon treaty in libraries and other locations throughout the country. I have only scanned through it. We should encourage people to put it on their shelves. The debate has begun and people should be discussing the treaty around the lunch table and the dinner table. We should immediately begin to knock on doors. The debate starts today and the Minister has asked us to get on with things from here.

I have scanned the Lisbon treaty and the White Paper which deal with a whole range of issues, including how Union membership has affected Ireland, the legal guarantees, community values, the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality and fundamental rights, issues I would not want to have to discuss in detail with the public. Of particular importance is, I believe, how the EU maintains its links with citizens. There has been a perception heretofore that Europe was out there and that it made decisions in which we had no say. For this reason, I welcome the concept of subsidiarity and that we will decide what is right for Ireland.

There have been many directives from the EU in regard to water control, farming, heritage and so on. Many people with whom I have spoken are concerned that we had no say in such matters and that they were decided by the EU. I am glad I will be in a position to tell them that will not happen now. It is important we re-engage with the people on these issues. We want a democratic Europe where the institutions are made simpler in terms of how they work and the language they use and which will be more accessible to everybody who wants to know what is going on in Europe.

During the previous referendum campaign Ireland did not have the problems it has today such as the economic crisis and failure of the banking system. There are huge challenges ahead. The shape of Europe is changing and we must consider whether we want to be marginalised or part of the new thinking. While I agree we must address issues of security, cross border security and crime I hope that much of what we do, in terms of how we do our own business, will be done at home. People are concerned that because we are small we are being absorbed by Europe. While they accept this is acceptable when it comes to addressing bigger issues they believe in terms of day to day issues that we have lost our identity to Europe.

I look forward to working with the Minister and Government on this campaign and to debating the future role of Ireland in Europe. This legislation is a first step in that regard. We must be at the heart of Europe and we must have a platform for our prosperity. We have had our period of reflection and obtained our guarantees on the key issues. We must now look at how we can connect with the public in this regard. There is a responsibility on all of us, including Members of this House, to look at how this can be done. Many issues being debated in Europe could be brought to the floor of this House as a way of connecting with the public. I see nothing wrong with Members of the European Parliament regularly attending this House to debate whatever is the issue of the day. We could make more use of this Chamber in this way.

We have the basis for a success story but we must go out and sell it. There will be many divergent views on this subject and we must ensure we are good at our job. We must assimilate the information, understand it and explain it to people in simple language. We will need to know how to explain every detail in a simple manner to ensure the public supports us in wanting to be at the heart of Europe. I wish the Minister well. I hope the media will give more balanced coverage in this regard from here on. All political parties need to go out and sell this treaty to the people; it is the only way forward for our success story in Ireland.

Le cead an Tí, ba mhaith liom mo chuid ama a roinnt le Seanadóir Pearse Doherty, le do thoil.

I congratulate the Minister and his team on the work done in Europe during the past few months, which has been, as I stated previously when the Minister was not in the House, very impressive. The Minister has done difficult but important work. I extend those words of congratulations to the Minister's team of advisors who I am sure also did a huge amount of work in this regard. It is very much appreciated.

There is an important point that needs to made in this debate. As Senator Fitzgerald correctly stated the world has changed since last year, as has people's understanding. It is important to point out that not one word of the treaty has been changed. That is crucially important in terms of our credibility having stated all last year and the previous year that we believed what was stated in the treaty. However, we failed to convince people on issues from conscription, neutrality, pro-life, taxation and in regard to Commissioners. It is important that the Minister when speaking about this stresses that point publicly. If one word of the treaty had been changed we would have been in the same mess we were in last year with people suggesting such wording meant something different than it did. What we have now is an interpretation by our European colleagues which confirms what we told the Irish people last year. We can now go to the people and say that while we may not have been convincing enough or did not put enough effort into explaining the treaty last time, our credibility is sound. What we said has been copperfastened, reinforced and underlined by our European colleagues.

In terms of my view, I am unapologetically pro-Europe. Almost everything for which I have fought in my public life, as an educationalist, a teacher representative, a politician, a trade unionist involved in the ICTU, is encompassed in this treaty. The Charter of Rights is probably the issue of most importance to me. I believe that the right to collective bargaining and the rights of workers is stitched into the treaty. I accept not everybody shares that view, which is as it should be. I believe that issues such as taxation and neutrality will be revisited many times in the future. I can foresee a time when the Irish people will be seeking a European-wide view on taxation when our position has been undercut by others. However, that is not a matter for now. It is crucially important that we retain our control, autonomy, independence and constitutional right to govern our people as we see fit.

Our neutrality is our independence, our autonomy, our power to take decisions on issues of importance to us. I ask the Minister, when this issue is out of the way, to ensure we have a proper debate on neutrality. I am not suggesting I have all the answers in this regard. My views in this regard have changed many times down through the years. It means different things to different people. I know what I want it to mean but I know it is not a passive state, that we cannot idly stand by when wrong is being done. I do not know what should be the exact line in this regard but I believe we must consider this.

As Senator Fitzgerald stated, the world has changed. There were times during the past six, seven, eight or nine months when we, having seen what happened to Iceland, welcomed our membership of Europe. I am not suggesting this has solved all our problems but it gives us a different perspective in terms of where we are as part of a larger body that had to take note of our problems and allow us to draw on its resources when we needed them. These were important. I am not saying that is a treaty issue but I want to look at the bigger picture.

In many ways, I am the wrong person to be talking about this. During my years in European trade unions, I made more advances in Europe than I did in Ireland. I remember fighting for employment equality legislation during the 1970s which the Government would not accept until we joined Europe. All the legislation which I spent 30 years campaigning for was delivered in that first ten years of membership.

The same happened with education. I asked for a reference to education in the Maastricht treaty because different establishment bodies from 1956 did not want education to be included. The charter of rights and recognition of workers rights was also crucial.

I wish the Minister well and I will do my bit in this campaign. I am a member of the group of trade unionists that supports the treaty. I hope the Government has a strategy for the campaign and that the Minister will outline it to us on a county by county basis so we can put our shoulders to the wheel.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Seanadóir O'Toole as ucht a chuid ama a roinnt liom.

Bheinn i bhfad níos sásta mura mbeadh an díospóireacht seo ar siúl sa Seanad anocht. Níor éist an Rialtas, áfach, agus táimid ar ais anois ag an bpointe chéanna ag a rabhamar anuraidh, ag déileáil le reachtaíocht leis an reifreann chun an conradh céanna a chur os comhair an phobail agus ag iarraidh orthu vótáil ar an chaipéis chéanna nach bhfuil athrú ar bith déanta ann. Is mór an trua go bhfuilimid ag an bpointe seo ach nuair atá Rialtas i réim, is féidir leis rudaí mar sin a dhéanamh, ach cé go bhfuil an Rialtas in ann rud a dhéanamh, ní ionann sin agus a rá gur ceart é a dhéanamh. Sin í an cheist faoin ábhar seo atáimid a phlé anocht.

The Government has announced the referendum date for the second referendum and on 2 October the people will go to the polls for a second time to vote on the Lisbon treaty. On 12 June 2008 almost 1 million people gave the Government their verdict on the Lisbon treaty. By rejecting the treaty, they gave the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs a strong and unequivocal mandate upon which to negotiate a better deal for Ireland and the EU with their European counterparts.

The people wanted substantial change to the existing treaty. We wanted a better deal, a new treaty that contains the policy and political direction necessary to deliver a better Europe, a Europe that is democratic and accountable, that promotes workers' rights and protects public services, a Europe that is positive and progressive. As the global financial crisis began to unfold and the recession in Ireland deepened, we also wanted a new treaty that would challenge the failed policies of deregulation, centralisation and unfettered markets, the fingerprints of which are all over the text of the Lisbon treaty. We wanted a new treaty that reflected the new social and economic challenges facing member states.

The Government has failed to deliver. Not a single full stop, comma or word has been changed in the Lisbon treaty. The proposition that will go before the Irish people on 2 October will be the very same treaty they rejected on 12 June 2008.

When we brush aside all the meaningless rhetoric about "legally binding guarantees" we have nothing more than a series of clarifications on minor aspects of the Lisbon treaty. When we come to vote on the Lisbon treaty in October we will be voting on exactly the same treaty, with exactly the same consequences for Ireland and the EU, as we did on 12 June 2008.

The promise that we will retain our Commissioner must also be questioned. The agreement by the Council of Ministers tells us we will keep our Commissioner for an unspecified period of time. Unless this is written into an EU treaty, the likely outcome is that the reduction in size of the Commission envisioned in Lisbon will be delayed by five years until the next European parliamentary elections in 2014. The Minister said that is nonsense. He tells us and he will tell the Irish people that we have secured our Commissioner indefinitely but it is not written down in the guarantees. I challenge the Minister to show us where it is set down because it was not set down for a reason. This is an issue of trust. Would anyone trust this Government to deliver on any commitment, be it on a European or domestic issue? I certainly would not.

On neutrality, the clarifications tell us that Irish troops can only be sent abroad with the consent of the Irish Government in the Council of Ministers and the Oireachtas. This we already know but neutrality is not only what we do with our troops, it is also about the alliances we form, what we do with our resources and what other member states do in our name. Provisions for permanent structured co-operation in the Lisbon treaty create the real possibility that wars which we do not support will be fought in our name and with our resources while the mutual defence clause creates obligations incompatible with any internationally recognised definition of neutrality.

The Government could have secured opt-outs from these contentious areas of the treaty that deal with common foreign and security policy and common security and defence policy. After its people rejected the Maastricht treaty in 1992 the Danish Government secured a number of opt-outs before putting the treaty to a second vote.

With regards to taxation, the Government has completely missed the point. Under the Lisbon treaty, any move to a common corporation tax system across the EU would require a unanimous vote at the Council of Ministers, and anyone who read the treaty would know this. Sinn Féin's concern on taxation rests with Article 48 of the treaty, which allows the Council of Ministers, by unanimous decision, to alter the text of existing EU treaties.

Today if the EU wanted to agree a common corporation tax system it would have to do so as part of a broader treaty revision process. This would require both unanimity at Council and ratification in each member state, including a referendum in this state. Article 48, however, allows the Council of Ministers to make significant changes to the treaties by unanimity. EU leaders view national debate and referenda on issues of social and economic significance as "cumbersome"; we view such processes as fundamental tools of a functioning progressive democracy. Lisbon does not affect our tax sovereignty, but it makes it easier for the Council of Ministers to make the change in future, and without the inconvenience of a referendum. Again, this is an issue of trust. Fianna Fáil, despite its assurances, could not be trusted on this or indeed any other matter of importance.

We should remember the concerns the Government has not acknowledged in its clarifications. There is no mention of the reduced influence of smaller member states as a consequence of the new voting arrangements at Council, no mention of the 60 or so member state vetoes that will end, no mention of the controversial changes to international trade negotiations that were opposed by farmers and trade justice groups alike and no mention of the opening up of vital public services such as health and education to the vagaries of the market.

The Tánaiste said recently that saying "Yes" to Lisbon was necessary to secure Ireland's economic future. We should remember that her former party leader and Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, was one of the main authors of the Lisbon treaty, with input no doubt from his then Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Cowen. The Tánaiste has presided over the loss of more than 200,000 Irish jobs since becoming Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Their combined résumé on economic matters is not exactly inspiring.

Ireland's place is at the heart of Europe, and this is not in question. The challenge facing Ireland and Europe is building a Union that meets the needs of its peoples. We need a treaty that delivers a better Europe for all member state citizens and, in this context, Sinn Féin will continue to campaign for a better deal.

I welcome the Minister to the House and am glad to have the opportunity to discuss the Twenty-Eighth Amendment of the Constitution (Treaty of Lisbon) Bill. I hope the Minister will forgive me when I say there is a slight sense of déjà vu about this because we sat here before the last Lisbon referendum and discussed the treaty, the campaign and so on. Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, what we have realised is that no degree of complacency can be allowed in the Lisbon treaty campaign. The convictions and views on both sides are strongly held and expressed and the public tends to lack information about the European Union and can therefore be easily swayed by arguments that are persuasively put.

It is important we learn from the mistakes of the previous referendum campaign. An editorial in The Irish Times this morning states that the Government engaged in sleepwalking during the last campaign. Perhaps that is a bit strong but we must recognise that the campaign could have been much more proactive. In the Millward Brown survey carried out after the last campaign, 42% of those who voted “No” said they did so because they did not know enough. As governments provide political leadership and see the need for the European Union and for greater European integration in the challenging global environment in which we find ourselves, they have a responsibility, having negotiated and signed up to treaties and looked after the interests of their own member states, to sell them properly to the population at large.

In the forthcoming referendum campaign we have a second opportunity to provide clear and persuasive information to the public about the Lisbon treaty. The Minister has made a good start with the White Paper that has been published. We must provide clear and accessible information. Unfortunately, the wording of the amendment to the Constitution is quite technical and many members of the public will find it impossible to make sense of it. Thus, the campaign preceding the vote on that amendment will need to simplify the issues at stake so that people are in no doubt about what treaty contains, what its strengths are and so on.

At this morning's meeting of the Joint Committee on European Affairs we mentioned that the Department of Foreign Affairs should prepare rebuttals to the false arguments we know will be raised by those on the other side. It is important that where legally inaccurate points are made we are able to rebut them simply. It will be helpful for all of us who will be out campaigning in favour of the treaty that we have those simply worded rebuttals available to us.

People will say there is no difference between this treaty and the one they voted on last time around. Essentially, that is true; there is no difference to the treaty. However, a number of very solid legal guarantees secured by the Irish Government have been attached to the treaty. This shows that the issues of concern to Irish people which caused them to hesitate or vote against the treaty have been addressed in a clear and legally unambiguous fashion. In sensitive areas such as our traditional policy of military neutrality, the ability to set our own corporate taxes, the right to life, education and the family, Ireland's autonomy, independence and sovereignty have been protected. We have legally binding conclusions to that effect and the European Council decision that contains those guarantees will be registered with the UN once the treaty is ratified and will form part of a protocol in the future, which is positive.

Now that the Irish concerns have been addressed and we have solid legal guarantees, we need to consider what is good for Europe and not just what is good for Ireland. This is important in the global environment in which we find ourselves. When the Secretary General of the United Nations spoke to us yesterday, he talked about the multiple crises the world is facing at the moment. There are a number of serious challenges facing the international community. As a member of the Green Party I would say one of these major challenges is climate change and the threat of catastrophic consequences if we do not begin to address this issue urgently at a national level. In another ten or 20 years' time people will ask how there could have been such inaction. The European Union has provided important global leadership on this issue and it needs to provide further leadership, but we need to empower it to do this by signing up to international treaties on climate change that will set a high standard for us in terms of reducing our emissions and encouraging other major international players to do so as well.

We are all aware that the global economy is in a precarious state and we need a new system of international financial regulation. We need to empower the European Union to sit at the table with other major players and agree a fairer and better regulated international system than has existed to date. The United Nations must also be reformed. We are all aware it is badly in need of reform so that it more adequately represents the international community but also so that it promotes the progressive values the EU and other powers have tried to promote at an international level for many years.

We need a fairer international trade system. Given that it is the largest single trading area world, the EU is in a position to exercise major influence in terms of improving and reforming the international trading system. International terrorism is another major problem. To promote peace internationally, the European Union needs to be empowered to address those issues alongside other major international powers.

We need a strong Europe and we must recognise that collective decision making is no longer a matter of choice but one of necessity. We need, as Irish people, to empower the European Union to become a more effective player at an international level. That is what the treaty of Lisbon is all about. Now that our national and domestic concerns have been addressed through solid legal guarantees, we need to consider what is good for Europe and how we can build a stronger and better Europe. The Lisbon treaty is an important aspect of this.

I have one or two recommendations for the Minister. One aspect of the democratic deficit in the European Union is the lack of information. As politicians and elected representatives, we need to do something to avoid having a crash course in European affairs every time we have a referendum campaign on a European treaty. A permanent EU information service should be set up in every EU member state. This is something member state governments will need to agree to. It is not something the European institutions can do themselves. The Irish Government should promote this actively because we have had the experience of so many difficult popular referendums in which we come face to face with a lack of citizen engagement and lack of information about the European Union.

The other thing we should promote and which will not necessarily require a new treaty is a wider and deeper process of democratisation across the European Union. Put simply, it is about providing more information, consulting people more, and involving them more in decision making. Such challenges are not beyond the imagination of the brightest and the best within the European Union. We must find a way of promoting greater democracy within the EU because if we do not, we will find it increasingly difficult, even with some of the mechanisms within the Lisbon treaty, to get popular support and acceptance of some of the decisions and changes that may be made in the future, especially if people do not fully understand the reasons for them and the context in which they are made. As a country that has struggled with its own referendums in terms of trying to persuade the public of the advantages and merits of various European treaties, we should promote this.

Will the Minister consider again the recommendations of the Sub-Committee on Ireland's Future in the European Union, of which I was a member, and which sat last November and December? It came up with a series of important recommendations that would help give the Houses of the Oireachtas a much more proactive role in terms of the overall European decision-making process. It is through our national Parliament that we will engage the people of this country to a much greater extent in terms of what is happening, what is being decided and what is being debated at European level. The recommendations made were the subject of a lot of discussion, had cross-party support and were set out very clearly in the report. I would hate to see it sitting on a shelf as, unfortunately, tends to happen to the conclusions of many committees that are set up.

It was an important committee. Its recommendations, now that we are examining once again how to try to ratify the Lisbon treaty, are very timely. I ask the Minister to re-visit the recommendations, given that they have cross-party support, and ensure they are implemented as speedily as possible, because it is only through "Europeanising" the activities of the Parliament that we will help to address the very serious democratic deficit which confronts us every time we try to ratify a European treaty in this country.

I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy Seán Haughey. The Bill is undoubtedly one of the most important we will see in this or any other year. I welcome its publication and commend the Taoiseach and the Minister for the hard work they have done since the original referendum was rejected. I welcome the announcement that the next referendum will be held on 2 October.

As in the last referendum, the Labour Party will campaign vigorously for a "Yes" vote between now and October. We will try to convince people, particularly those who voted "No" last time, that it is in the interests of the country for a "Yes" vote to be returned. We will support the Government in its objective of passing the Lisbon treaty in October. That commitment is made easier by the series of legal guarantees that have been secured since the rejection of the original treaty, particularly the retention of Ireland's Commissioner and the declaration on workers' rights and social policy.

In 2008 I campaigned throughout the north east, particularly in the Meath East constituency, which was one of the very few that returned a "Yes" vote. I pay tribute to politicians from other parties who went out and campaigned for a "Yes" vote in that constituency, notably Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. I canvassed in a traditional way. I spoke to people on doorsteps, met people in supermarkets, attended public meetings and engaged with people about their concerns. It was very clear to me at that stage, as it was to anybody who bothered to go out and talk to people, that people were very perturbed and underwhelmed by the efforts of the "Yes" campaign in 2008.

From the outset it was clear that the Government had no coherent communications strategy and assumed wagging a finger at people would convince them to vote "Yes". The never-ending lap of honour by the then Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, did not help people to focus their minds or encourage a well-reasoned and well-thought out debate. The information vacuum that existed was very quickly and effectively filled by the other side, which was a disparate alliance of various groups campaigning in favour of a "No" vote.

I spoke with the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dick Roche, and Deputy Joe McHugh at an ICA event in Termonfeckin in County Louth a number of months before the date of the referendum. It was clear from the comments and questions from the floor that real concerns about defence, taxation, abortion and neutrality were expressed by many people. Many people had already made up their minds before the Government campaign got underway. It is something we need to learn a lesson from this time. The "Yes" side was on the defensive from the start and as we know the rest is history.

I commend the work done by Senator Pascal Donohoe in his sub-committee in the aftermath of the Lisbon referendum. It threw up some very interesting and important information. I hope we will learn lessons from it. The Government needs to analyse the catastrophic communications failure that defined the last referendum campaign and I hope it is now ready to mount a very positive campaign. So far it seems the Government has learnt very little and is choosing to rely on economic fear rather than constructive debate. This seemed to be confirmed by reports that the Taoiseach is too scared to publish the report of an bord snip nua in case the people are incapable of processing more than one issue at any one time.

I want to quote from an article in this week's Irish Examiner in which Hugh Fraser, a former director of the Combat Poverty Agency, spelled out the Government’s commitment to the democratic process. He said:

There is much evidence of a systematic effort to close down, control or emasculate and control authoritative and independent voices on issues of social justice and thus to marginalise dissent. Community groups receiving Government funding have been instructed not to network with other community groups and thus build up a collective voice on issues.

Does the Government agree that strong and vibrant community groups, many of which receive matching funding and grants from the European Union, might have a role to play in generating a "Yes" vote this time and getting support for it? Community groups, voluntary associations and grassroots' networks should have been empowered with information, training and funding to help sell the benefits of the treaty to our people.

There was a real opportunity to achieve a "Yes" vote with a bottom-up ground swell of support from the grassroots and groups and organisations that people trust and engage with regularly. Instead, this Government is so hell-bent on destroying the community sector that a fantastic opportunity has been missed. Community groups where town hall meetings might have taken place now have to ask permission before they open their mouths. God forbid they might be allowed to network with one another in case they might say something that upsets the Government. The fact we did not try to build support for the referendum from the bottom up is a missed opportunity.

The Government has done a genuinely commendable and excellent job in securing the assurance and guarantees that will help to reassure many of those who voted against the treaty last time. However, the Government and all of us have to exhibit some degree of self-awareness at the outset of this process. Confidence in our institutions, Government and politicians in general is at an all-time low. Trust is an endangered emotion, and yet the most unpopular Government in a generation feels confident that it can sell the treaty from the top down. Anybody who believes a "Yes" vote is a sure thing or that fear alone will get a "Yes" vote is disillusioned.

I urge all Senators and Deputies from parties on the "Yes" side to engage in a positive campaign that is reflective and honest. If we do that and treat people with the respect they deserve on this issue, it is to be hoped that our national commitment to Europe will be re-affirmed on 2 October.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Haughey, and commend the Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution (Treaty of Lisbon) Bill to the House. It is an excellent Bill and the majority of the House is in agreement that there should be a second referendum on it. In the last referendum on 5 June 2008, 53.4% of the Irish electorate voted against the proposal to amend the Constitution, namely, the ratification of the Lisbon treaty, and 46.6% voted in favour of the proposal. The turnout for the referendum was 53.1%. An analysis of the referendum results was provided by the library and research service. It is important to analyse what has happened and the research carried out by the Sub-Committee on Ireland's Future in the European Union, of which I was a member and Senator Donohoe chaired, was extremely helpful and highlighted the issues involved.

During the campaign there were many unfortunate personal attacks and misinformation was given out by one group. Libertas played a vital role in this area and its leadership projected the most negative approach to the development and expansion of the European Union.

I commend the Taoiseach, Deputy Brian Cowen, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Micheál Martin, and the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Dick Roche, on the trojan work, stamina and tenacity they have shown in winning concessions from their European colleagues and bringing this matter to a conclusion. Visiting Ireland last week, British Foreign Secretary, David Milliband, admitted he had not expected the Irish Government to have negotiated such a deal. The outcome was a marvellous achievement for the Ministers in question, the Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government and our officials in Europe. As a former Minister of State in what has become the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, I received tremendous support from our officials in Europe. They are an extremely effective team whom I admired while in office and who have, with our Ministers, negotiated an effective solution to the issues raised by the electorate in the referendum June 2008.

The electorate may have done us a service in that we have sought clarification and secured reassurance. I was particularly concerned about the proposed temporary loss of a Commissioner for member states for five of every 15 years. Ireland has been well served by its Commissioners and few other countries have the same level of personal engagement with their Commissioner. While I accept that Commissioners take a pledge to the European Union, they must bear in mind the ethos of their home country and will be aware of the effect of many proposals on their country of origin. Although large and small member states were treated equally under the proposal on Commissioners, the smaller countries would have been affected more had it been implemented. The success of the Taoiseach and Ministers in negotiating a concession on this matter from the other 26 member states was a major breakthrough.

Holding a second referendum is not new to Ireland. In the first divorce referendum a majority of people opposed the introduction of divorce. When the second referendum went the other way those who had voted "No" in the first referendum accepted the outcome. The Constitution does not debar the holding of a second referendum on issues of concern, of which the Lisbon treaty is one. Those who voted against the treaty in June 2008 can feel vindicated. I have not criticised anyone who voted "No" in the first referendum for the good reason that opponents of the treaty had sincere concerns and worries which had not been clarified to their satisfaction. Full clarification has now been provided. For instance, Ireland's position on corporation tax has been confirmed and we have secured commitments on neutrality, abortion and other social issues of concern to people. These commitments, which have been copper-fastened in the annexes to the treaty, will be registered in the United Nations and will become part and parcel of the treaty on which we will vote on 2 October.

We cannot take a positive outcome for granted and must, therefore, rally support for the referendum. At this crucial crossroads in our history, Ireland needs Europe more than ever. Our membership of the European Union and eurozone have provided security not available to non-EU countries such as Iceland. Ireland would be in dire straits if it were not a member of the European Union. It is vital, therefore, that we reaffirm our clear commitment to the principles of the European Union and demonstrate our willingness to remain at the centre of decision-making in the EU.

I am the Fianna Fáil Party spokesperson on European affairs in the Seanad and a member of two committees with an important role to play, the joint committees on European affairs and European scrutiny. When I was appointed Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Mr. Des O'Malley gave me responsibility for international trade and negotiating the Single European Act. At that time, issues of concern to Ireland were always taken on board by our colleagues from other countries. Not once in the period in which I negotiated on behalf of this country, with the advice of senior civil servants, were we dissatisfied with the outcome of a meeting. We received co-operation and assistance from all member states and all the larger countries were extremely co-operative.

The tremendous support and respect we had built up in the European Union will be returned to us if we vote in favour of the Lisbon treaty on 2 October. On 2 October, the European Union's population of 500 million will observe the people of Ireland. The future of Europe is in our hands and I have no doubt that if we discuss and explain the issues people will respond positively. It is in everyone's interests that we vote "Yes" on 2 October. Rejection of the Lisbon treaty in a second referendum would have unthinkable consequences. We have all played a part in finding solutions to the issues raised on 12 June 2008. The White Paper should be circulated as widely as possible to enable people to read it prior to making a decision on 2 October. Ireland continues to have an important role to play in the European Union, from which we receive substantial investment.

On the Order of Business this morning, I expressed concern about REPS 4. It is regrettable that when REPS 3 concludes at the end of 2010 the membership of the scheme will not be in a position to roll over into REPS 4. The closing date for applications for the scheme was 15 May and assurances were given to many farmers that, on the termination of REPS 3, they would continue in REPS 4. I hope we will be able to resolve this issue tomorrow morning when members of the Fianna Fáil Party agriculture committee are due to meet the Minister.

If we are to secure future employment and stability, we must vote to be at the centre of the European Union. We must be inside looking out rather than outside looking in. For this reason, I commend the Bill to the House. We must work together. I recognise the responsible attitude being taken by the Fine Gael Party, Labour Party and Green Party, all of which support the Bill and will support the Lisbon reform treaty on 2 October.

The Fine Gael Party fully supports the Bill which has been well crafted and drafted by the officials. I expect that they, like us, have learned from the experience of the first Lisbon treaty referendum. This factor appears to have come into play in the drafting of the legislation. My party has no hesitation in supporting the formulation of the amendments, through the Constitution, which are required to implement the Lisbon treaty.

Following the ruling of the Constitutional Court of Germany that there is no impediment to ratifying the Lisbon treaty in Germany, except for some changes required in domestic legislation, the implementation of the treaty depends on ratification in Ireland. While Poland and the Czech Republic must sign the treaty, all depends on Ireland. Since the first referendum, apart from the constitutional implications and toing and froing on the detail and clarifications, Europe has once again saved us in economic terms. Being a member of the eurozone and a member state of the European Union, as well as having support from the European Central Bank, is of fundamental importance in safeguarding the country's financial viability and stability. This has to be borne in mind when we talk about Europe from now on.

There is a fundamental change in this treaty compared to the first Lisbon referendum, which concerns the commissionership. That was one of the main issues in the debate and on the doorsteps. There is no question but that it would be more efficient if the number of Commissioners were reduced. However, it has been accepted in Europe that there is a feeling of greater democracy in having a presence within the European Commission, which is seen as the central body in initiating legislation, protecting the continuity of European integration and ensuring that the rule of law is upheld at European level. It has been accepted that it is important to have a presence there and therefore there has been a fundamental change following the last referendum. There is also a fundamental change, however, in terms of the guarantees that have been received. Appearance and reality are both important in politics, but they got out of kilter in the first referendum. There were real concerns that manifested themselves in that "No" vote. Those concerns have since been professionally researched. All the issues that were raised and which seemed to have been of concern to the public have now been addressed in the guarantees that were provided by the Heads of State and Government at the last European Council meeting.

It is clear that European leaders took Irish citizens' concerns, as expressed in that referendum, very seriously. They meticulously engaged with the Irish Government to try to identify where the problem lay. The comprehensive decision which is set out in the agreement of the last European Council in June goes through every item. The abortion issue was already protected in the treaties, but this decision explicitly states that the Lisbon treaty will have no impact on the protection of the right to life. In addition, the rights of the family and education, as set out in our Constitution, are protected. We have therefore a merging of the appearance and reality as to what the Lisbon treaty means. We now have a European Council decision on this, which we are told is legally binding. I will come to that point in a moment.

All these issues, including taxation and the protection of the right to life, were raised by Senators in this House. The guarantees expressly state that the treaty will make no change of any kind for any member state to the extent or operation of the competence of the EU on taxation. One Senator was very vocal on the issues of security and defence. However, these guarantees express the assurance that it is for Ireland to take decisions on these issues. It says the treaty does not prejudice the security and defence policy of member states. It does not affect or prejudice Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality. An issue was raised during the campaign suggesting that in the context of a common defence, Ireland would have to come to the defence of another member state in the event of a terrorist attack. These guarantees make absolutely clear, however, that if there is such a terrorist attack it is for the member states to determine the nature of aid or assistance to be provided to a member state which is the subject of such an attack or the victim of armed aggression on its territory. It is crystal clear that these are decisions which we make in exercising our sovereignty.

As regards conscription, the guarantees also state that the Treaty of Lisbon does not provide for the creation of a European army or for conscription to any military formation. It does not affect the right of Ireland or any other member state to determine the nature and volume of its defence and security expenditure or the nature of its defence capabilities. It is a matter for Ireland whether to participate in any military operation which is, in all cases, of a peacekeeping kind.

There is also the declaration on workers' rights, social policy and other issues. That declaration deals with services of general economic interest and services of non-economic interest, which was an issue of concern in the last campaign. It is important to appreciate fully the significance of these guarantees. No sooner was this agreement announced than Vincent Browne rubbished the guarantees on his TV3 programme. He said they were not legally binding and he rubbished anyone who suggested otherwise. This type of unbalanced reporting must be addressed.

To state something as a matter of fact when it is self-evidently incorrect is not balanced or informed reporting. People in the media who are dealing with issues concerning the Lisbon treaty should at least do their homework.

The EU Heads of State and Government say that this international agreement is legally binding, which means that it is. In addition, it is an agreement under international law which will be registered in the United Nations. It is international law which becomes part of European law. These are not vague, general statements. In a series of cases, the European Court of Justice has already determined the principle that EU law is part of international law and that the principle of good faith, which is a rule of international law, is binding on the European Community. In one judgment, there is an unambiguous and unconditional prohibition of acts that are incompatible with the aims and objectives of international agreements. If we take this as an international agreement it means it is binding on the EU and on member states. If the European Commission comes forward with proposals which are incompatible with that agreement, it raises legal issues which can be addressed by the European Court. It is also for the latter court to deal with these types of issues under Article 292 of the treaty. If there are any disputes between member states or the European institutions on the interpretation of EU law, which is inevitably what would arise were this agreement to come into dispute, it is for the European Court to address them.

The obvious benefits of the EU have evidently manifested themselves over the past year whereby our economic and financial stability has been dependent on the assistance we have received from Europe. The values set out and reaffirmed in the Lisbon treaty, such as the Charter of Fundamental Rights, and all the improvements that have been made to the treaty mean that this is of huge benefit to Ireland. It is important that, as a small member state, we have a defined role in this structure and its institutions, which has self-evidently benefited this country since joining in 1973. There is a strong case for safeguarding and improving that system, and that is what the Lisbon treaty does. In light of the guarantees that have been provided on the number of Commissioners and the improvements the treaty brings to this country, I hope there will be consensus in this House and endorsement of the Lisbon treaty by many of the Senators who were reluctant to endorse it the last time.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Haughey. It is appropriate that he is here for this debate, because his father served as President of the European Council in a distinguished way in 1990. It was a pivotal part of the history, development and evolution of the European concept. His grandfather, the late Seán Lemass, pioneered Ireland's entry into the European Coal and Steel Community since the beginning of his term in office as Taoiseach in the early 1960s. When Charles de Gaulle objected to the English joining the Community, we were also constrained from joining at that stage. When we look at the history of Europe over the last century, there is probably nobody in the Chamber at present who is old enough to have lived through either of the great wars. I do not know why they are known as "great" wars, because they were absolutely horrendous, given the millions of people that were killed. It is only when one goes to the Continent and visits the war graves that one sees the devastation of human life and the destruction of a generation of young Europeans.

It was out of all this that co-operation between the states of Europe was spawned. This was down to the vision of people like Robert Schumann, Jean Monnet and others, who saw that the tradition of war throughout Europe over the centuries was something we should try to avoid and who wanted to chart a new course for the peoples that live across this great Continent. Their vision has been evolving since the first treaty in 1957. We joined the EEC in 1973. At that time, our per capita income was around 50% of the EEC average, but last year it was around 130% of the European average. That is a very considerable increase in the wealth and well-being of our nation. We have seen the attraction economically of many multinational companies investing in Irish jobs and in manufacturing products that we sell to the rest of the European Union.

The whole concept of the European Union is something to which people who hold the interest of their nation states and society would fully subscribe. It is appropriate that we recommit ourselves to the ideal of the founding fathers, and in particular to the economic well being of the nation states. We are in the greatest recession since the Great Depression. There are those who think that it may be as bad and even worse than the 1929-33 era. Several countries are tackling this across the globe, and it will have to be conceded that our participation in the European Union and in the euro is of some considerable assistance in trying to weather the current economic storm.

We have gone from being strong advocates and supporters of the concept through various treaties to becoming somewhat lukewarm in some of the responses we are getting. Some of that negativity has arisen because of internal political issues, economic difficulties and also due to a certain disenchantment and a feeling that the European Court of Justice has intruded into domestic affairs on social and ethical issues. That was probably unnecessary and is something we should safeguard. In that respect, I compliment the Minister for Foreign Affairs and his officials for the manner in which they have approached the outcome of the last referendum.

I welcome the publication of the White Paper, which is very useful and informative and will assist people. Those who voted "No" for different reasons the last time might look to the role of the Minister and the Department of Foreign Affairs in the UN recently, where a strong pro-life stance was taken by the Minister and his officials in ensuring that abortion services were not part of a UN agreement. It goes back to a comment I made previously. The whole area of human rights has been hijacked by sectional interests to pursue their own agenda, whereas the overall intent of human rights is something to which we all subscribe and which need to be protected. Therefore, we need to be very conscious of what is happening.

It is important that the principle of subsidiarity applies across the European Union. We should at all times seeks to ensure that this underpins the thrust of various declarations and legislation that emanate from the European Union. I particularly welcome the declaration by all heads of state that protect the concerns that were expressed the last time, and the fact that these will be transposed into protocols when the next treaty occurs. Those protections, particularly in the area of personal rights, right to life, family, education and so on, include such items as the right to life of the unborn, compatible with the equal right to life of the mother, to which many of us in this House subscribe.

The State also pledges itself to guard with special care the institution of marriage, and Article 41.3.1° is also protected under these declarations and the protocols that will ensue. We will obviously have more discussion on that in the context of the Civil Partnership Bill 2009, which appears to put it under some threat. Article 44.2.5° provides for the right of every religious denomination to manage its own affairs and to make its own decisions regarding its own interests. We have ensured that those who are concerned can be reasonably satisfied that the Lisbon treaty will not affect those strong convictions that they have. The capacity of this State to set its own taxation rates has been fundamental to its economic well-being. Most people in commercial life, particularly those who are responsible for attracting foreign inward investment to this country, acknowledge that this country's low corporation tax rates have been the single biggest factor to have assisted them. The ability of this State to make decisions on such matters, rather than having them imposed from outside, is to be maintained.

In the area of security and defence, it is clear that the Lisbon treaty does not provide for conscription or for the creation of a European army. I am aware that incorrect, although strongly made, arguments about such factors influenced certain people during the last referendum campaign. Those arguments seemed to have a particular influence on mothers who were concerned that their sons would be conscripted. It is important that we maintain this country's right to decide whether to participate in military operations. Irish troops have served with distinction in many overseas operations. I have my own views on Ireland's decision to opt out of the EU's defence arrangements, particularly when it benefits from the Union to such a great extent., but those are personal views Nothing in this treaty will allow us to participate in military operations in any way without a decision to that effect being made within the State.

I do not have time to discuss the declarations on workers' rights etc. in any great detail. We can be proud of the constructive and valuable role Ireland has played in the development of the European project. It is imperative that we continue to play such a role. In that regard, we should work in the interests of everybody, including ourselves.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. I am glad to have an opportunity to address the House on this Bill, which deals with an important topic. I have always appreciated the importance of the European Union to and for Ireland. We must have a genuine sense of gratitude for how the Union has functioned on behalf of all of us. I refer, for example, to the protections of the Common Market, environmental protection measures and certain aspects of the Union's employment legislation. I believe that those who have represented Ireland at certain international fora, including EU negotiations, have always acted in the best interests of this country and in accordance with their own lights. They have made a genuine effort to seek to advance the good of this country, even if they might not always have been right, focused on the right things, sufficiently well equipped or had a sufficient breadth of knowledge of the social dimension of certain issues. There has been a tendency to focus unduly on economic issues, while forgetting that many other cultural issues are also important. By failing to address such issues in time, we may have led some people to form the opinion that Ireland's relationship with the EU had evolved in a manner that could not but be hostile to Ireland's right to determine certain sensitive issues for itself.

I have always strongly believed in the right of the Oireachtas to submit important questions to the judgment of the people and, if necessary, to resubmit certain questions to them. I emphasise, without prejudice to the question of whether the Lisbon treaty is good for Ireland at this time, that I have never seen the validity of the argument that there is something wrong with putting a referendum to the people for a second time. Our Constitution envisages and provides for a delicate balance in this regard. While certain matters have to be submitted to the people for their final determination, the right to submit such matters to them is clearly vested in the Oireachtas. There is a reason we do not provide for names or signatures to be collected so that a certain issue is put to the people. Democracy is more subtle than it is sometimes imagined to be. If it functions properly, it leaves certain decisions clearly in the hands of elected representatives. The question of what should be submitted to the people in a referendum is a good example of something that should continue to be decided on by elected representatives. If the people are unhappy with that, they can register their displeasure in an election context. Therefore, I have no problem with the Government's decision to refer this proposal to the people once more and I have no problem with the Bill before the House. Negotiations have taken place and certain issues have been clarified. Time will tell whether that has been done to the satisfaction of voters. The business of submitting this proposal to the people for their scrutiny and judgment must be done once more.

I have never had a problem with accepting that EU agreements or guarantees, such as those that were obtained at the December conclusions and again last month, enjoy a sufficient degree of solemnity and solidity. I do not doubt that they will acquire treaty status in due course. I have always felt that whatever is negotiated has a satisfactory legal grounding. I have always sought to contemplate the question of what exactly is negotiated by way of guarantees. As my colleagues will know, I have focused in particular on social and ethical matters in that context. When I opposed the Lisbon treaty during the last referendum campaign, I repeatedly made the point that, as a result of the evolution of the EU, Ireland is no longer in a position to make its own decisions on certain sensitive social and ethical issues and areas of law. That is a major problem for me and I know it was a major problem for many voters. In that regard, I am glad the Government has moved on from merely talking about abortion and now seems to recognise that certain other traditional values are at issue. A range of social and ethical matters, including the definition of marriage, laws impacting on family life, certain right to life issues, the question of who gets to run education in our society, the right of religious communities to provide education according to their ethos and values, and freedom of conscience issues in relation to religion, have come into play in this context. They have been brought into play to a greater extent since the Union's equality competence started to emerge around the time of the Amsterdam treaty.

The EU has clearly evolved from being a mere economic grouping and is now integrating in many more areas. If we are honest about it, the Union is moving towards something that, in all likelihood, will look like a federal state in the fullness of time. It is beyond dispute that there has been a growth in the EU's areas of competence. It now enjoys competence in areas that have the potential to be very socially sensitive in Ireland. It was in that context that I registered my disquiet and that of many people about the manner in which this country has sleepwalked into that situation. We never had a full debate on where exactly we stood in terms of an ever more united Europe. Members will recall that Albert Reynolds, who no doubt was doing his best for the country, used to speak about the billions of pounds he had obtained for Ireland in the form of Structural Funds. I do not deny that it was an important issue in itself. However, with perhaps one exception — the negotiation of the Maastricht protocol — there was always a failure of the imagination when it came to realising that situations might arise in the future in the light of Europe's growing areas of competence that could compromise Ireland's ability to go its own way on socially sensitive matters, particularly where it might have a more nuanced position or a different ethical outlook on certain issues from other member states.

The Government sought and obtained clarifications for us. I was honoured to be asked to take part in the work of the Joint Committee on Ireland's Future in Europe which was chaired so excellently by my colleague, Senator Paschal Donohoe. I took the opportunity as a member of the committee to give chapter and verse, as I saw it, on the issues of challenge pertaining to social and ethical matters.

These are the issues that will have to be examined in more detail in the run-up to 2 October to see to what extent sufficient guarantees have been obtained so that we may determine whether Ireland can determine its position on social and ethically sensitive issues. I pointed out the need for a constitutional filter that would basically establish quite clearly that Irish constitutional provisions would have primacy where there was conflict with European law in some of these areas I have described. We have certainly had guarantees in relation to certain issues, for example the Irish constitutional provisions as regards life, education and the family. That guarantee applies to the Lisbon treaty. What is less clear is how Irish constitutional provisions might fare in decisions or initiatives of the European institutions which could occur regardless of whether the Lisbon treaty is passed. For example, as we look at the civil partnership legislation coming down the tracks, there will be issues about the right of people in civil partnership situations to enjoy similar rights to those of married couples, as traditionally understood. If we were to seek to nuance that situation and provide that the same rights would not fully apply, would we be already exposed to a situation such as what arose in the Maruko case, where the European Court of Justice basically held that where a member state — in the case of Maruko it was Germany — had already provided for civil partnership in its legislation, then it had to provide the exact same pension rights as those enjoyed by married couples? The Maruko case is an example of how an area of EU competence could impact on an area of non-EU competence, namely, laws in relation to family, definition of marriage etc. That occurred despite the fact that relevant directive was supposed to provide that the financial rights and so on attaching to such partnerships would be matters for the member states.

Those are the types of issues on which people will continue to seek clarity. It can be said beyond dispute that there has been a very positive broadening of the situation so as to recognise that the Irish constitutional provisions in certain areas will be unaffected by the Lisbon treaty. A matter for further debate, however, will be the likelihood or otherwise of further possible interference from European institutions in court decisions deriving from treaties which we have already signed that might, nonetheless, impact on Irish laws in those very areas. I look forward to the debate on that.

Is that a "Yes" or a "No" from the Senator?

After all that, is the Senator climaxing to a "Yes" or a "No"?


I am sharing time with Senator Fiona O'Malley, with the permission of the House.

There is a great temptation to address my remarks to those Senators who remain uncommitted, but of course I have a duty to address the House.

The reality is that there is widespread belief among the general public that Europe has been very positive for Ireland. So it has, from the simple matter of allowing us to trade within a community of 500 million, providing €40 billion in direct agricultural aid, €50 billion in Structural Funds and so on. The amounts of funding, the supports and the benefits we have derived from European social policies such as the implementation of laws as regards pregnancy rights, time off at work, job sharing etc. all add up to a very positive experience. In fairness to many on the "No" side, they are also in agreement on Europe. The reality is that a grouping of 27 states needs to have a treaty in operation that is compatible with the work it is doing.

I remember the last campaign. Unfortunately there was an element of obfuscation on the "No" side to try to elude the real issues. They tended to ask a question without waiting for the answer and when they got it they asked another and then tried to muddy the waters further by suggesting that if the problem was not the question of the right to life, it had to do with taxation and if not that, then it was neutrality. If it was not neutrality, then there was some hidden codicil within the treaty which meant we would never have another treaty. That was the worst end of the "No" campaign.

The Irish electorate has spoken, however, and the indications are there were many different reasons why people voted "No". Perhaps some of those involved dissatisfaction with certain aspects of Government policy. People were dissatisfied over issues that were not clear and the way the Government and Opposition parties had presented Lisbon. We need now to win over a majority of those very people who voted "No" the last time. Do they not see that, deliberately or inadvertently, they have ensured that we have kept our Commissioner, that we have got from Europe a protocol in guarantees which will be registered as a legally binding treaty with the United Nations and that this protocol refers to the previous treaties, Amsterdam, Maastricht, Nice in succession? The protocol is there to protect our tax policy, the right to life and military neutrality. If I meet somebody who voted "No" the last time, there is a wonderful opportunity to tell him or her, that whether it was intentional or not we have now achieved something very significant. We have a written protocol that addresses all their anxieties and we have retained our Commissioner. There really can be no justifiable reason any longer that can logically indicate a person should not vote for the 28th Amendment of the Constitution (Treaty of Lisbon) Bill.

In the area of justice, co-operation and enhanced co-operation we must look to Europe more and more. With our international trade and the amount of cross-border traffic a good deal of international crime is going and coming through Ireland from abroad. In particular, even though we might focus on the crime families here in Ireland, at the end of the line these are expendable in deference to the real crime barons, many of whom reside on the "Costa del Crime" in Spain. We need better bilateral arrangements, probably through the Lisbon treaty. That would be the best arrangement by far, which all 27 member states of the EU will sign. If it is not the "Costa del Crime" it will be some other riviera on the Mediterranean where the crime lords will hang out. Should the Criminal Assets Bureau, which has done excellent work, or the Garda go to make inquiries it will not be available to them in these states. However, with enhanced co-operation through the Lisbon treaty there will be no safe place for criminals to hide. That, allied with all the other positive undertakings we are about to get from the protocol, indicates to me that those who vote "No" could be told, having outlined the main objections from the last occasion, that every question has been answered. My anxiety is that is no matter what question we answer for some people, it will not suffice because they have been against every European treaty and advance for the last 30 years and that will not change. Notwithstanding that there are a few people who think like that, the vast majority are very objective, rational and consider very carefully how they vote. It is to those people we must turn our attention and say we have achieved something very positive from the "No" vote but we now need a "Yes" vote for Lisbon.

I thank Senator Hanafin for sharing time. If one thing demonstrates the broad church there is on the "Yes" side for Lisbon it is that Senator Walsh and I find ourselves on the same side when we are diametrically opposed on particular issues. I will address that in a minute. The one thing we must do this time around with the Lisbon treaty is to sell a positive message. We neglected to do this previously. There was an air of complacency and it was to our detriment that we did not do that.

It is easy to sell a positive message about Europe, particularly to women. We got equality for women in legislation because of Europe. Europe has served women well. I shudder to think where we would be otherwise. One always looks back with rose-tinted glasses at how it was in Ireland previously. I would not like to have grown up in Ireland in the 1950s, and in many ways the Ryan report exposes much of what was wrong in Ireland at the time. We forget the reality while we romanticise about the past.

Separate from gender issues, much modern legislation about work and equality generally stemmed from Europe. That is one reason we need to express loud and clear to the people why Europe is good for Ireland and Ireland has been good for Europe. Europe has been good at protecting the rights of minorities. Coming from a small island where we have had such influence we should remember that.

I have reservations in one sense about the protocols that were arrived at. I listened with interest to Senator Doherty's comments on the three protocols the Government has acquired. As Senator O'Toole mentioned, not a word of the Lisbon treaty has changed. It is very important that this is restated. Every one of us who went out seeking a "Yes" vote said the Lisbon treaty had nothing to do with taxation, abortion or defence measures. Had the Lisbon treaty had a material effect on this it would have changed, but it did not, although this is a copper-fastened signed, sealed agreement to allay those fears as they were perceived to be reasons why people voted "No".

I have a particular problem with the abortion issue. It infuriated me when Mr. David Miliband came here last week and cited that as a reason the Irish people voted "No" to the Lisbon treaty. The main reason people voted "No" to Lisbon was because they felt they were ill-informed. That is the challenge to which we need to rise. The abortion issue was very slight. If we speak incessantly about how we have the traditional values as perceived in Ireland copper-fastened it is dangerous.

Approximately 10,000 people travel to procure abortion outside Ireland every year and over the past ten to 20 years that could amount to 200,000 people. Even if one cuts that in half it is a quiet constituency of 100,000 people who are quietly very annoyed with this constant reference to the fact that we will not allow abortion in the country. It is not for Europe to permit or deny this. We must deal with it here in our Constitution. This Oireachtas needs to grasp that nettle and have a debate about our position on the X case in particular. I do not like using it but I hear it constantly referred to and it is a dangerous issue that muddies the waters around the Lisbon treaty because it has nothing to do with it. I do not purport to represent people of a liberal agenda, but I know what I believe in. The Oireachtas needs to legislate around this area once and for all, independently and separate from any other issue and have an honest debate on it.

I am glad that many citizens of this country will galvanise on getting the Lisbon treaty through because it has nothing to do with Government or politics. All we can do is influence people and tell them we believe it to be in the interests of the country. A young girl, Maeve Jones-O'Connor, wrote in The Irish Times last Saturday about how she wants her future back. She has no vote as she is 16 years of age. We must remember such people who believe in Europe and do the duty of informing ourselves as we go out to vote as citizens.

I agree with Senator Regan's point about the role of the media. Last night the Minister was interviewed by a newscaster on the RTE news and she tried to drag in the question whether the report of the special group on public service numbers and expenditure programmes, SGPSNEP, will be published before the Lisbon treaty referendum. That is not fair and should not be allowed to happen. Senator Regan mentioned another journalist who spoke nonsense and untruths about what is or is not in the Lisbon treaty because he has a strong opinion one way or the other. There is a serious duty on the Irish media to be fair and honest and report only on the facts.

I was so disappointed with the RTE broadcaster last night who was trying to get the Minister to separate the issue of the Lisbon treaty. It is far too important for this country to have the political issues of the day kicked around like a football. She should not have been allowed to do that. The Minister resisted her attempts to do it but it will happen along the way. I hope RTE wakes up and recognises that people need the facts, not political football to be played with the issue. It is so important that the media takes an unbiased, non-political approach to this. We all pledge to inform ourselves and the people in an honest, forthright way. I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for his indulgence.

I agree with everything Senator O'Malley said but two points in particular are worth emphasising. The first is how virtually every issue that will be discussed in the Irish political world during the next number of months will be related back to the Lisbon treaty by some in our country. Today I heard the Vintners' Federation of Ireland has come out and said a proposal on the blood alcohol limit could influence the referendum and deliver a "No" vote. This morning a colleague of ours stood and talked about how a very important change taking place on farmers' payments could influence a "No" vote.

We have a responsibility as politicians in the contributions we make to be at pains to point out to people that if they feel strongly about what this Government is doing, there will be a general election to express their views against it. The Lisbon treaty referendum is not the place to do it; it stretches far beyond that.

The second point the Senator made that I agree with concerned the traditional issues, or socially sensitive issues as Senator Mullen would say, and assessing their role in why people voted "No" on the treaty. I accept they played a role in influencing how people voted. However, I believe they have been put into their place by the broader issues now facing the country and our future destiny. That was brought home to me by how I felt last June when the decision came through. I remember sitting in my front room watching on television the result being announced at Dublin Castle. As I said previously in this House, the physical geography and the starkness of where we are as a small island on the edge of Europe came home to me politically. We were on our own that day. We were shown for what we are geographically — a small country on the edge of Europe. On that day I had a strong feeling of being alone on the edge.

With the guarantees to be put to the people in the forthcoming referendum, Europe has reached out again and indicated it wants small open countries like Ireland to continue to play a role in the future of Europe. This was brought home to me by an experience I had after my colleagues and I published the report of the Sub-Committee on Ireland's Future in the European Union. I was invited to a private meeting of Christian Democratic foreign Ministers held before a European Council. Our report had been published and they wanted to quiz a politician, who was not in government, regarding what was happening in Ireland and how Ireland was going to move forward in regard to Europe. The one emotion that came through from all of them was utter exhaustion. They were exhausted by the entire process that got them to the Lisbon treaty. Their capacity for working on this any further was spent — it was gone. The night on which we were having this meeting the foreign Minister of Greece asked me many questions regarding what was happening. She was very forceful in the different points she made. When I returned from that meeting I turned on the television to discover riots were breaking out in her country because of how young Greeks were feeling about what was happening to their economy. Every European country is now managing the kind of challenge she was managing then with differing degrees of intensity.

One point needs to be made to those who will campaign for a "No" vote. Senator Doherty has made clear what he will do. I will be interested to see what Senator Mullen will do. If they are saying the Lisbon treaty is wrong with these guarantees, what do they propose in its place? Do the "No" campaigners honestly believe that we have the ability to go back to all the other countries in Europe with the gigantic problems each of them is facing and get a better deal? Does anybody really believe that at this stage the political capital or will exists in any European country to reopen the treaty and get a better deal? Anybody living through what we are at the moment will know that it is just not the case — it will not happen.

It is worth emphasising a number of points about where we stand with the treaty. I encourage everybody to read the guarantees because the one quality they have, which the Lisbon treaty itself does not have, is that they are completely legible; they are written in plain English. When I opened the White Paper to prepare for the debate, I thought I was reading the wrong chapter when I was reading the guarantees. They are clarifications — my God they really are clarifications — in language people can understand and we should ensure we draw people to them.

People who talk about a better deal often point to Denmark. The irony is that when the result of the first referendum on the Lisbon treaty was announced last June, the Government of Denmark was about to embark on its own process to undo most of the opt-outs it had secured. It was about to introduce legislation and embark on consultation with the Danish people to undo the opt-outs that those on the "No" side in Ireland praise. The Danish representatives, who appeared before the Sub-Committee on Ireland's Future in the European Union, were at pains to say that the situation in which they found themselves made it exceptionally difficult to progress their national interest with other European countries.

Regarding the question of whether the Lisbon treaty has changed, of course it has not changed. As Senator O'Toole rightly said, that would make nonsense of what we said in June 2008. We need to be careful with that argument because, while the treaty has not changed, the operation of it has changed significantly as Ireland will have a Commissioner. In the balance to be found between efficiency on the one hand and democracy on the other, the absence of a Commissioner, if not representing Ireland then with an awareness of Ireland, went too far down the efficiency end of the scale and away from the democracy end. Guaranteeing having a Commissioner is a significant change from where we were. Those of us who acknowledge that the Lisbon treaty has not changed should not lose sight of how important it is to have a Commissioner in place.

I listened with great interest to what Senator Doherty said about taxation. He pointed out that the Lisbon treaty does not affect our tax sovereignty. He then said that any decision taken in that regard would be a decision taken by the Council of Ministers. Does anyone honestly believe that any Irish Minister from any political party, including Senator Doherty's, would go into a Council of Ministers and hand over a decision on our corporation tax? It just would not happen. It is inconceivable that anybody who will ever represent us at any Council of Ministers would make such a statement and hand over our sovereignty on corporation tax and other taxation matters.

There is much in the report of the Sub-Committee on Ireland's Future in the European Union published a number of months ago that should be followed up on by all Members of the Oireachtas during the referendum campaign. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has responded, acknowledging that there are some really clear recommendations on how the role of the Oireachtas could be improved. The work we do regarding Europe could be simplified and made clearer to the people we are serving. We are kidding ourselves by saying there is a communications deficit regarding Europe; there is more than that, there is a result deficit. There is an absence of things happening from Europe with the clarity they need, given all that is going on. The Oireachtas could play a far stronger role in doing it.

In 1962 when Ireland made its first attempt to join the European Economic Community, Liam Cosgrave, who went on to become leader of my party, in giving a speech on our potential accession, said, "If Ireland and other countries become members of the European Economic Community, the best prospects, indeed, possibly, the only guarantee of political and economic stability lies in the idea enshrined in the Treaty of Rome." There is a time in our recent history when we would have looked down on economic and political stability and said that is a bit below us because we have so much more. Given where we stand now, we really appreciate the value and security it has to offer. That is why we all have such a vital role to play in participating forcefully in the approaching referendum campaign.

D'éist mé leis an chuid is mó den díospóireacht anocht agus caithfidh mé a rá go raibh sé an-chabhrach, mar bhí tuairimí á nochtadh ar an dá thaobh. Is trua nach bhfuil an díospóireacht á chraoladh ar an teilifís agus ar an raidió. Sin easpa mór a bhí ann le linn an reifrinn deireanach, nach ndearna na meáin cumarsáide iarracht níos mó míniú a thabhairt ar cad a bhí i gceist Le Conradh Liospóin. In ionad sin bhíodar ag caint faoi rudaí imeallacha agus uaireanta rudaí suaracha. Tá freagracht ar ghach éinne a bhfuil baint acu leis na meáin cumarsáide as bheith cothrom agus oscailte agus as iarracht a dhéanamh an t-eolas iomlán a thabhairt i dtaobh an reifrinn agus na díospóireachta seo. Ceapaim go ndearnadh sár jab anseo anocht, ach táim lán cinnte gur bheag den díospóireacht seo a bheidh le clos amuigh i measc an phobail.

It is a pity that the great debate we have had on this legislation has not been heard by the wider public. People have made a great effort to research what issues will be involved in the forthcoming referendum. They have listened to the people. Many Members present would have canvassed during the previous referendum and would have spoken one to one basis people about the issues. One of the reasons we did not succeed in passing the treaty in the previous referendum was owing to a lack of knowledge among the people. It was not that the knowledge did not exist but that it was not discernible or accessible to people. I am convinced that remains one the great challenges that faces us next autumn.

We have to start from the premise that the Irish people passionately value their sovereignty, of which there is no doubt. One can understand why they would because it was so hard won. That value is almost inherent in our genes. People may not express it in the context of a title such as sovereignty but they have a sense that they do not want to give away control of their destiny. There is unrest that much of the bureaucracy that has come from Europe is unnecessary, or perhaps it is so as a consequence of the way we have implemented some European directives. It is difficult to tell the person who keeps hens and is required to register them or the person who supplies apples tarts and scones to the local shops that he or she cannot continue to so unless he or she installs a stainless steel kitchen that they are not losing control when they are in those respects. Perhaps such loss of control goes with membership of the EU or perhaps the EU has to examine more closely whether a regulation requiring the production of a straight banana is what people need. Such bureaucracy is a nonsense in many ways. The requirement for regulations based on hygiene or traceable diseases I can understand, but people cannot understand the logic of many other EU requirements.

It is not only the Irish people who want to see their sovereignty protected. I cannot remember anyone who was more vocal on this issue than the former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. She was particularly focused on ensuring Britain's independent status would not be diluted in any way. If we studied other countries, perhaps we would find the same is the case. Sovereignty is a factor we must understand in this context.

When people raise issues we must be careful not to sideline the issues because we believe we have all the information and knowledge. People's emotions come into play in the issues involved and not all concern knowledge. We saw that specifically with the shopping list of objections people had on the previous occasion. We knew the arguments being made were not correct but that did not matter. When I canvassed on the previous occasion with the local doctor who was also involved in politics in a small town where I would be reasonably well known, I was taken aback by the reactions of the people I met. I started out very sure of myself but discovered it was not always a matter of dealing with the issues people raised with me intellectually. I had to deal with them emotionally and that was difficult.

We carried out surveys to find out why people voted a certain way. I believe Senator O'Malley was wrong in what she said. The abortion issue was high on people's list of issues, as were the questions of family life, right to life and so on. They were high on people's list of issues and the surveys showed that. It was also evident on the doorstop. The viewpoint of the people was that whatever decision we might make on these issues, they did not want someone else making that decision and imposing it on them. That is fair viewpoint. If we want to make a decision on pro-life issues, that is a matter for us as a sovereign State and nation. It is not a matter for another body to tell us how we should handle such issues.

The military issue was also a major one for people. Young mothers in particular were strong and definite in their view that they did not want to commit their sons and daughters to a future war. That issue was raised in previous referenda on treaties. It was a definite issue of concern for young couples with children. It was easy to say that cannot happen for reasons A, B and C. We still have a major job to show we are committed to neutrality and that there is not some dallamullóg operating behind the scenes organising some movement gradually into a military alliance that will put responsibilities back on ourselves. That is still an issue and we have to convince the people in that regard.

Most of the people who opposed the Lisbon treaty did it with good will. I am certain there were others who had hidden agendas. I am not sure we succeeded in outing or identifying those agendas. It would not have been ruthless to do that but it would have been the right thing to do. In the case of those who were genuine in opposing the treaty, it was left to us to know how to communicate with those people. There was an opportunity to communicate and we lost out in that respect. One of the reasons for that is we did not get the support of the media. They did not make the type of effort necessary to explain precisely what was in the Lisbon treaty.

We must acknowledge what the Government has achieved. It sincerely set out to identity the concerns. When the Taoiseach, Minister and officials went to debate this issue with the other 26 member states, most people would not have given them a 100% chance that they would be successful. There was a fair amount of wrong sniping from the media. The Government had hardly put down what precisely it wanted to address in Europe when people in the media were sniping at it. On the other hand, the Government kept a cool head, did not panic and worked away quietly. Up to the very end of the process, it was covered in two newspaper reports, one on the front page of the Irish Independent and the other on the front page of The Irish Times. The heading of the article in the Irish Independent was Brown-Cowen rift endangers Lisbon treaty. The heading of the article in The Irish Times was positive on that occasion to the effect that a breakthrough was likely. When the breakthrough came 24 hours later, the Irish Independent carried a tiny article in the right-hand corner of a page stating that a solution had been achieved and the process had been a success. Such coverage is not right. When the good of the country is at stake, we must all pull together. That must be done in regard the Lisbon treaty.

I do not care what surveys are being done or what figures have been thrown up. We should not be complacent about the passing of this treaty. In addition, we must respect everybody's opinion and we must try to communicate with people on the basis that they have a sincere position. Many speakers have made that point. If we do not pass the Lisbon treaty next autumn this country will be in a very serious situation. That is not just because of the state of the economy, it is because of the network and goodwill we have developed with other nations.

When I refer to people passionately defending our sovereignty, I do not think those who set about to achieve the independence of this country, at great sacrifice on that occasion, could in their wildest dreams have seen us holding the Presidency of Europe and then to be complimented on delivering it with panache and effectiveness. That surely shows our status and our standing. If we are prepared to endanger that then there is no doubt that we will become non-competitive in the future.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Kelleher, and the Bill that is before the House to provide for a new referendum on the Lisbon treaty. Like Senator Ó Murchú I have listened to the full debate. We have had some excellent contributions on the Bill. The Lisbon treaty is an important issue for Europe but it is vital for this country.

A maxim taught to medical students is sometimes translated in Latin as, Primum non nocere, first do no harm. That is a principle we should bear in mind when dealing with the Lisbon treaty and Ireland’s relationship with the European Union. In voting in the referendum on 2 October we should first and foremost aim to ensure we do not harm Ireland. It is my humble opinion that a “No” vote would do a great deal of harm to this country, its economy and future.

It is essential that all parties, political or otherwise, who advocate a "Yes" vote, must hit the road running and take the initiative in providing the electorate with clear, concise information on what is contained in the treaty. If that message is communicated properly I have no doubt the Irish people in their wisdom will deliver a resounding "Yes" vote in October. The "No" campaign cannot be allowed to muddy the waters again. The legal guarantees sought and granted by our European partners in response to the concerns and issues that were raised during the previous referendum campaign on the Lisbon treaty will ensure that the people will respond in a similar positive fashion.

From an economic perspective, we are living in a very different country now, 13 months on from the last referendum. Even more important than the legal clarifications and the legal guarantees is the dramatically changed economic circumstances in this country. We can no longer afford the luxury of saying "No" to our most important economic partner. That is not scaremongering or bullying but rather a reality check. I was struck by comments made by the Irish Exporters Association recently which stated that Ireland's export industry would die without Europe. Its CEO outlined that Ireland's participation in Europe was vital to our economic well-being and emphasised the importance of a "Yes" vote in the Lisbon treaty referendum in October. He stated,"It is not a question of a grey complicated argument, it is simply a question of our economic well-being and if we do not have a resounding "Yes" vote, this country is in deep trouble".

Exports are vital to our future prosperity and an essential ingredient in dragging this country out of recession. Irish exports have grown more than a hundred-fold since we first joined the EU in 1973. Since then the percentage of Irish exports being sold to European countries, other than the UK, has risen from 21% to 46% each year. Ireland exports 80% of all goods and services produced here and Europe is our biggest customer. It is vital to heed the words of the Irish Exporters Association, Chambers Ireland and other bodies and organisations that are concerned with job creation and investment in this country. A "Yes" vote is in the national interest and in the economic interest of this country.

Can one imagine how our country would have coped to date if we were not part of the eurozone? The European Central Bank has provided valuable liquidity to our banks during the financial crisis. Without the solidarity of our partners in Europe we faced economic meltdown. Remaining at the heart of Europe is essential to attract investment. Political uncertainty creates economic instability and now more than ever we need both political and economic stability. I am delighted to see the return of the Minister, Deputy Martin, to the Chamber. I welcome the fact that he has called on other Ministers to appear before Oireachtas committees, in the same way as he appears before them prior to GAERC meetings. I am a member of the Joint Committee on European Affairs and those meetings are very productive. We should consider putting them on a more formal basis.

Fine Gael looks forward to campaigning for a "Yes" vote in the forthcoming referendum. Heretofore, a great deal of emphasis was placed on the technical aspects of the treaty. It is important to outline the benefits of the treaty to this country. The treaty is all about being a player in Europe and being centre stage. The treaty also relates to participation. Ireland has benefited enormously as a result of its membership of the European Union. We cannot operate in isolation or deal alone with global matters such as energy security, climate change and possible health threats. We must work together, co-operate and show absolute commitment to ensure the ratification of the treaty which is fundamental to everybody in this country and the other member states of the European Union. It is crucial that we show commitment to the cause and put our differences aside. That is the only way we will persuade the people to support the treaty.

I am pleased to have an opportunity to say a few words in support of the legislation and, more importantly, in support of the Lisbon treaty, the vote on which will take place early in October. It is a significant time as it is the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall due to people power. It is the 20th anniversary of the fall of communism and the spread of freedom and democracy across the Continent, and the charting of a new march forward for the people of Europe.

If somebody had said to me in February or March 1987 when I was first elected to the Oireachtas that within little more than two and a half years the Soviet empire would have dissolved and the Iron Curtain would have melted down, I would have considered it an incredible dream. Such has been the pace of people power in politics in the past two decades that we now have a strong and dynamic Europe with most countries on that Continent now members of the European Union. The Lisbon treaty is the next step in ensuring a strong and peaceful Europe, a Europe that works and creates work. In this time of economic difficulty, doubt and uncertainty, it is, as stated by Senators Cummins and Ó Murchú, absolutely imperative for the future economic well-being of this country that we ratify this treaty at the earliest possible opportunity.

Ireland has changed, as has Europe, since June 2008. We must respect the decision of the Irish people a little more than 12 months ago when they rejected the Lisbon treaty. We must recognise that a significant number of people had genuine doubts, fears and concerns about it. While there are always people who will say "No" regardless of the question put before them, we must try to bring on board all people and ensure that the Lisbon treaty is carried. It is important, as honesty and transparency is important in politics, that we point out without fear or favour that the Lisbon treaty has been clarified and not changed and that the same question is being put before the people on 2 October as was put before them in June 2008. There was a need for clarification of the treaty and I congratulate the Government and the Taoiseach on clarifying some of the doubts and confusion that surrounded it on the last occasion, some of which was deliberately generated and some which was genuine. It is hoped we are now in a position to wave aside some of the issues which caused that doubt and concern which resulted in people voting "No" to the treaty.

We must all, between now and 2 October, seek to ensure that the clarified treaty is understood by the majority of people. There is an onus on political parties, in particular the two main parties, to actively canvass and campaign in a real and meaningful fashion. I hope we have all learned the lesson of April, May and June 2008 that playing silly politics with a referendum, with posters being displayed on billboards saying councillor A says "Yes" and councillor B supports Lisbon, is not what a campaign should be about. It must be about knocking on doors, holding public meetings and distributing literature that explains what the treaty is about, how important it is for Ireland and pointing out that our very future depends on the European Union and our active involvement therein. On this occasion, we need a real political campaign not of the type in which we all took part a little more than 12 months ago. It is time for political leadership. Members on the Government side of the House must show leadership as must those on this side of the House who hope to be a position of leadership of the country in a few years time. We must show the strength of our political parties by actively supporting the Government in this matter through encouraging our supporters to vote "Yes".

The state of our economy is perilous; we all know that. Thousands of jobs per week are being lost, causing huge doubt and uncertainty for families. The only certainty which we can offer our hard pressed constituents this summer and autumn is that in saying "Yes" to Lisbon, thus ensuring the European Union works more efficiently and effectively, we will be part of a strong team which can help turn the economic tide. That is the challenge before us. We face a big political task to convince our friends, neighbours and constituents that Ireland's future is at the core of Europe.

I have heard many people who were opposed the treaty in 2008 and are set to oppose it again preface their remarks by saying, "Yes Ireland must be at the heart of Europe and yes we support the EU ‘but', and that is nothing but a cop-out. One is either for the European Union or against it. To use the biblical phraseology, "He who is not for me is against me." The phraseology, "I am for Europe and I want Ireland to be in Europe but", is a load of codswallop. The voices of negativity and rejection are old enough that their song has been on disc since 1971 or 1972. We heard in 1987, 1992 and since then of the damage, peril and disaster that would face this country if we continued with the European Union project. We must reject those voices of doubt, cynicism and opportunism. Their only interest in campaigning for Lisbon or Europe relates to their own little pathetic political projects.

The majority of Members of this and the other House see the Lisbon treaty as being so central to the future economic well-being of this country that they are wiling to put their shoulders to the wheel on this occasion. Perhaps 12 months ago many of our local councillors were preparing for local elections and were looking elsewhere politically and, perhaps, there was such division in Leinster House on other political matters that we took our eye off the ball. However, on this occasion there can be no doubt in terms of the question before us: do we remain at the heart of Europe as a central player, being influential, or do we shut down the window of opportunity which Europe offers us? That is the question we must answer next October. The challenge for all of us is to actively engage with the public to gain their support for the referendum. The scale of the question before us next October is such that if we do not ratify the treaty the future of this country will be dark, dreary and bleak.

I acknowledge the onus and responsibility on the political establishment in this regard. However, there is a need for us to point out to the public that it is they who will make the decision and it is they who have a responsibility to engage and educate themselves in regard to what this debate is about. Politicians can lead and try to inform and drive opinion but, as in respect of rights and responsibilities, the electorate bears a responsibility to read about the treaty, to tune into debates on it and to make an informed decision in that regard. I have enough confidence in the intelligence of the Irish people to expect that they can understand the treaty and the choice they have to make. I hope they will say "Yes."

I thank Members for their contributions to this debate, which is hugely important in the context of our membership of the European Union and in terms of the future of this country during the next two decades. A number of diverse contributions were made. There appears to be a general sense among all Members of the importance of the role of national parliaments in terms of their relationship with the European Union legislative and decision-making process. I outlined in my opening remarks the significance of the Lisbon treaty for greater engagement by national parliaments, especially in terms of prior access to European Union legislative proposals and having the capacity to have an impact on them. Senator Fitzgerald made that point, as did Senator Ormonde in the context of the citizens' petition initiative where citizens can petition the institutions of concern to them.

I would like to rebut a number of points made. I was struck by Senator Doherty's contribution and the degree to which he sought to distort the facts. His remarks on the Lisbon treaty's voting rules show the difference in our world view. Senator Doherty sees the removal of vetoes as a having a negative effect on Ireland but I see it as a chance to prevent other countries from blocking our national interests. The Single Market was one of the most important things that happened to Ireland but for a long time it was stopped because of the need for unanimity. Invariably it is in our best interests when the veto is removed on many issues.

Would the Minister give away the veto on taxation?

The Minister is arguing it is important to give away vetoes so would he give way that veto?

The Senator should hear me out because I am responding to the point he made. As I asked in the Dáil last night, how many times has Ireland used the veto since we joined the European Union 35 years ago? Once.

The threat of the veto is enough.

Once. That speaks volumes about this issue. This has been run up and down but it is a non-issue. Ireland's place in Europe is not as the negative, suspicious blocker imagined by Sinn Féin. It is as an active consensus builder positively engaged in shaping negotiating outcomes to reflect our interests from the outside. Irish Ministers of various Governments and civil servants did not sit passively as proposals came through. We nuanced them, reformed and amended them by working with others. That is how the system works and we are good at it. We have been effective and we have played this role to our great advantage during our membership to date.

The points made about workers' rights are addressed by the solemn declaration on workers' rights and social policy where the European Council confirms the high importance the Union attaches to the responsibility of member states for the delivery of education and health services. Similarly, we have obtained assurances in respect of trade where the Council must act unanimously when negotiating and concluding international agreements in the field of trade in social, educational and health services where those agreements risk seriously disturbing the national organisation of such services and prejudicing the responsibility of member states to deliver them.

There is no threat to the capacity or competency of a member state to deliver health or education services. It is a myth to suggest otherwise. I know because I am a former Minister for Education and Science and for Health and Children. I know how limited the competences Europe enjoys in those areas are and I know how jealously member states guard the right to provide their own health services. Invariably on the health front, the debate has primarily developed in terms of public health issues when it comes to health care. That is a fact and it scaremongering to suggest our public services will be privatised as a result of the Lisbon treaty. It is an appalling myth.

It is important to acknowledge that a vote for Lisbon is a vote for the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. The provisions of the charter cover workers' rights to information and consultation within the undertaking, the right of collective bargaining and action, the right of access to placement services, protection in the event of unjustified dismissal, fair and just working conditions, the prohibition of child labour, protection of young people at work and family and professional life. It is incontrovertible that a "Yes" vote is better for workers' rights than a "No" vote because the status quo is less advantageous for workers than the Lisbon treaty and the Charter of Fundamental Rights. It defeats me how anyone can rationally argue otherwise. Even taking the Laval, Viking and Rüffert judgments, the bottom line is that those judgments were case and country specific. In the Laval case there was no statutory provision for the minimum wage but Laval could not happen in Ireland because we have a statutory minimum wage.

I wish people would stop deliberately sowing confusion on these issues. The charter fundamentally protects the right to collective bargaining and the right to strike. The judgments said there were circumstances where they had to be proportionate but all rights carry that qualification. The Lisbon treaty goes further than that. All those cases were heard prior to the charter achieving full treaty status. When the charter achieves full treaty status, it will significantly enhance workers' rights. There is no other construct one could put on this debate.

It was interesting that Senator O'Toole, who has been a prominent trade unionist for his entire life, is equally clear about the importance of the charter and the promotion of the social market, full employment, social progress, and social justice and protection. There is a significant degree of case law where the European Court of Justice has already noted the primacy attached to social progress and the constant improvement of the living and working conditions of people as emphasised by the preamble to the treaty.

The Viking and Laval judgments were decided before Lisbon and are an interpretation of the treaties as they stand today. A rejection of Lisbon will mean that the existing treaties remain in place. The judgments are not adverse to workers' rights because they turn on the peculiar facts. A rejection of Lisbon will thus not overrule the judgments or create any real or even perceived advancement of workers' rights. Voting against Lisbon because it will not overrule these judgments does not make any sense at all. Lisbon will not improve the performance of the Irish soccer team but that is not a reason to vote against it. Senator Doherty is saying that in his argument but people should vote for or against the treaty on the basis of what it does, not what it does not do. We will return to this because the Union with the charter is a significant advance for workers but if people vote "No", they are throwing away an opportunity to enhance workers rights without question.

In terms of security and defence, our legal guarantee in this area has been raised as an issue. The guarantee states the treaty of Lisbon does not effect or prejudice Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality. It will be for member states, including Ireland, acting in a spirit of solidarity and without prejudice to its traditional policy of military neutrality, to determine the nature of aid or assistance to be provided to a member state that is the object of a terrorist attack or the victim of armed aggression on its territory.

Senator Doherty spoke about that mutual assistance clause as if it were contrary to our policy of traditional military neutrality or somehow undermined our independence. It does nothing of the sort and the guarantee we have stitched in clearly deals with that to a degree that some people might have qualms about it for the totally opposite reason. There are those in this House who would think if a terrorist attack happened somewhere that we would provide assistance in terms of aid and support. I would like to think if a European country was attacked by al-Qaeda that we would provide whatever assistance we could. That is what the mutual assistance clause is about. Many people in Europe are scratching their heads about some people's opposition to this clause.

The Treaty of Lisbon does not provide for the creation of a European army or for conscription to any military formation. It does not affect the right of Ireland or any member state to determine the nature and volume of its defence and security expenditure and capabilities, which was a point of strong argument on the last occasion. Again, it will be a matter for Ireland or any other member state to decide in accordance with any domestic legal requirements whether to participate in any military operation. I repeat that we can decide about any military operation. I do not know how one could look for a more absolute guarantee than what we have achieved. There is nothing more we could look for on security and defence.

Senator Doherty said we could not trust the Government on taxation. The only party, with respect, that one could not have trusted on corporate taxation over the last ten years was Sinn Féin, which had clear views that the tax should be increased. This is a legitimate political position to have, but it is the reality. As the Senator said, unanimity is required on taxation. Ireland retains a veto. Article 48 of the Treaty on European Union, as amended by the Lisbon treaty, provides that any future move to confer additional powers on the European Union or alter the provisions of the treaties would continue to require an intergovernmental conference. This is known as the ordinary revision procedure. A proposal to amend EU internal policies in a way that does not increase the Union's competences would not require an intergovernmental conference. This procedure is referred to as a simplified revision procedure. Any such decision would still have to be ratified in accordance with the constitutional requirements of each member state, which means in Ireland's case that advice would be sought from the Attorney General on each occasion as to whether a referendum was required.

The Minister is not being up-front and honest. The referendum right would be withdrawn if we changed the Constitution by agreeing to the Lisbon treaty.

The Joint Committee on European Affairs has obtained a legal opinion clarifying that.

The Lisbon treaty also contains another simplified revision procedure, which provides that the European Council, acting unanimously, can decide that a policy should in the future be decided by QMV rather than unanimity. This is a point the Senator was making earlier. However, it would have to be decided unanimously; therefore, we retain the veto.

And lose the right to hold a referendum.

The Minister should just acknowledge it. We want to have an honest debate. He should acknowledge it and defend the position that he is giving away the right to a referendum.

"Unanimous" means we call it. This procedure is intended for a case in which all member states and parliaments are of the opinion that a certain issue can be decided by QMV. The need for complete unanimity means this procedure will, in all probability, be rarely used, but the key point is that even in these limited circumstances nothing can be done without the agreement of all governments and all parliaments. That is the point.

Our legal guarantee on taxation could not be clearer. The guarantee is clear in stating that nothing in the Lisbon treaty makes any change to the EU's competence with respect to taxation and, in particular, the right of member states to set their own corporate tax rates. Retention of unanimity in voting on taxation and policy matters was a key aim during our negotiations on the treaty. The aim was fully achieved and unanimity in voting on tax matters remains unchanged. The Senator should not try to cloud that reality as he did in his earlier remarks.

The Minister is the one clouding the issue.

Again, Sinn Féin is trying to create a fog around the issue of the Commissioner. The figure of five years has been introduced out of the blue. This happened yesterday in the other House and it has happened again this evening. The scriptwriters and researchers are busy trying to put a spin on things and distort the reality. We are not claiming anything more or less than the following, which is stated in the conclusions of the European Council "Provided the Treaty of Lisbon enters into force, a decision would be taken, in accordance with the necessary legal procedures, to the effect that the Commission shall continue to include one national of each Member State". That was unanimously decided in December 2008 and reaffirmed on 19 June of this year. It is unambiguous.

I challenge the Minister that he was deliberately misleading the Seanad earlier today in his statement that the Commissioner was secured indefinitely, because he cannot back it up. Either he deliberately misled the Seanad or he is trying to spin this issue out of control.

The Minister without interruption.

Backing Lisbon will result in our retaining our Commissioner indefinitely. Claims that this arrangement is somehow time-limited are entirely bogus. This is a considerable victory for Ireland because some member states, particularly the Benelux countries, wanted a smaller Commission. There was a legitimate argument in Europe about this. They were willing to accommodate us because they accepted this had been a real issue in the last referendum. I acknowledge that. People spoke about this when they voted. We have responded to that vote and made changes. We fought for and negotiated a Commissioner for each member state and we have achieved it.

What happens if the Lisbon treaty is not ratified? The Commission to be appointed in November 2009 will have to have fewer than 27 members, which is the legal position under the Nice treaty. This means that not all countries can be represented. The bottom line is this: the only way in which we can be guaranteed to keep our Commissioner is to ratify the treaty. It is the only way. The posters that went up saying "Vote No to keep your Commissioner" will now have to say "Vote Yes to keep your Commissioner". There is no other logical construct that one could put on it. That is an important point.

It is the wrong point.

I saw the attempt coming yesterday to cloud this and sow confusion. The people deserve better than clever political scripting to try to cause confusion around clear facts.

Oireachtas scrutiny, which many Members mentioned, is an issue that needs to be taken seriously. It is important that Ministers speak before every Oireachtas committee in advance of and after Council meetings. In addition, however, it is important to scrutinise legislation. Fine Gael has mentioned to us the idea of going back over previous directives and how they were interpreted, and we are agreeable to this. We need to examine, on an all-party basis, a way to develop proper Oireachtas scrutiny of EU legislation both past and present. I appreciate the efforts of the Opposition parties and all concerned to work with us to achieve these guarantees.

The issue of the Maruko case was raised by Senator Ross. Actually, it was Senator Mullen. It has been a long two days.

There is a big difference.

A significant difference. It might bring Senator Ross charging into the room.

I can hear him coming now.

A case was taken against the German Theatre Pension Institution for refusing to recognise his entitlement to a widow's pension as part of the survivor's benefits provided for under the compulsory occupational pension scheme of which his deceased same-sex partner had been a member. The court in Munich referred the case to the European Court of Justice in 2006 for an interpretation of Council Directive 2000/78/EC, which lays down a general framework for combating discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation as regards employment and occupation. The preamble of the directive states that it is "without prejudice to national laws on marital status and the benefits dependent thereon". The ECJ was asked to decide whether the directive precluded domestic legislation under which after the death of his life partner the surviving partner does not receive a survivor's benefit equivalent to that granted to a surviving spouse.

The court noted that Germany had legislated for same-sex unions and that while marriage was reserved for heterosexual unions, the conditions for same-sex unions in Germany were gradually made equivalent to those applicable to marriage. The court observed that the German regime for same-sex unions was harmonised gradually with that of marriage. In 2004, an amendment made by Germany to its own social security code made it clear that life partnership was to be treated as equivalent to marriage in the statutory old age pension scheme. The ECJ relied on the fact that the German court that referred the case to it was of the view that because of the gradual harmonisation of life partnership and marriage under German domestic law, a life partnership, while not identical to marriage, placed persons of the same sex in Germany in a situation comparable to that of spouses as far as survivor's benefit is concerned. It decided, therefore, that the directive precludes legislation such as that at issue in the case, under which after the death of a life partner the surviving partner does not receive a survivor's benefit equivalent to that granted to a surviving spouse.

This case turned on the provisions of German domestic law and their interpretation by the German courts. The ECJ did not say that Germany or any member state must introduce a scheme of registered life partnership for same-sex persons, nor that Germany, which has introduced such a scheme, must treat registered life partners in a manner equivalent to spouses for pension purposes. The ECJ simply stated that because German law equates spouses and registered life partners for pension purposes, German occupational pension schemes such as the one in question must treat spouses and registered life partners equally. The case is being made that this was interference by the ECJ in telling other countries what to do. That was not the case. The ECJ concluded it would be for the court in Munich to determine, on the facts, whether Maruko was a situation comparable to that of a spouse entitled to survivor's benefit.

I have gone into detail on these issues which were raised by Senators because the Chamber is the place to do so. It is important to deal with them on the record in a comprehensive and clear way. These issues do not take from the fundamental point. We have spent a lot of time over the past 12 months dealing with issues that were legitimately raised during the last campaign. The matter to be decided was ultimately Ireland’s vision as a society, our sense of where we want to be in ten years’ time and our value system, which we have shared for more than 35 years with the European Union.

We went to our partners in Europe, stated the issues the Irish people raised and asked if they could respond. The 26 other member states have responded in a generous way. There was a general desire across Europe to reform the European Union. The reforms contained in the Lisbon treaty are modest and will make Europe more effective on the world stage and enable it to deal with major issues, such as the global financial crisis, climate change and energy security.

Ireland's financial well-being and banking system is inextricably bound up with our membership of the eurozone. Our membership of it and the role of the European Central Bank have been critical in the underpinning of our financial and banking system. That underlines the importance of working with people, being proactive and being at the heart of Europe.

We should not hold up the reform of Europe. Others have come to us and have responded. Do we want to be on our own and hold back the advancement of Europe? Three major issues have arisen in the past 12 months. I have mentioned one, namely, the economic crisis. Another is the invasion of Georgia by Russia. President Sarkozy's strong leadership on that occasion accelerated the ceasefire and his intervention was important. He intervened as President of the European Union and had the full weight of the Union behind him. That shows the importance of what the Lisbon treaty is endeavouring to do. We saw a snapshot on that occasion of how Europe, as an important force, could make an impact in terms of peace and conflict resolution.

Another major issue, which could surface again, is the supply of gas to Ukraine. A number of smaller states were without energy for a number of weeks and their economies were severely impaired in the middle of winter. It was the European Union, under the Presidency of the Czech Republic, that intervened. It made a difference and helped to broker a resolution. Ireland, as a small country, needs that protection and needs a Europe that is effective and capable to provide for our energy security, because currently 80% to 90% of our energy consists of imported fossil fuels. We will develop, change and have alternative energies, but we want to be part of the European grid system and benefit from the major decisions Europe will take to guarantee future flows of energy supplies into the European Continent in the decades ahead. That is what the Lisbon treaty is really about.

The area of external policy and the appointment of a high representative is very much about having a positive role in world affairs. Senator Bradford made a very interesting point about the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I recently read a significant history on post-war Europe, and 37.5 million Europeans died in the Second World War. That is what the European Union is about. It is not about conflict or an arms race. If one looks at what happened in the Balkans and the role Europe plays, it is about values, universal human rights, democracy and conflict resolution. It is about being the largest donor in the world and, between the Commission and the European Union, €48 billion in aid is donated to the developing world.

That is what the European Union is about and, as Minister for Foreign Affairs, I have witnessed it on regular occasions, where Ministers exercise themselves in terms of setting criteria to which we want other countries to adhere. We have witnessed that in a number of locations across the globe and it is the push Europe makes and will continue to make. In essence, that is what the Lisbon treaty is about. I urge the House to pass the Bill and I hope the Irish people will look at the treaty in that context on 2 October. I thank the Senators for their contributions.

Cuireadh an cheist agus faisnéiseadh go rabhthas tar éis glacadh leis.

Question put and declared carried.

I wish to have my dissent recorded to that decision.