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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 11 May 2022

Vol. 285 No. 2

Europe Day 2022: Statements

It is my pleasure to chair these statements to mark Europe Day, which was celebrated on Monday last. I had the pleasure of visiting Pelletstown Educate Together National School in Dublin West with the Tánaiste and the Danish ambassador. I very much look forward to hearing Senators' contributions.

It is very fitting that today's statements in the Seanad and yesterday's statements in the Dáil coincide with the 50th anniversary of the week in which we held a referendum in Ireland to join the European Economic Community, EEC, as it was known at that time. We voted by 83% in favour and why would we not do so? It was a huge opportunity for us. There was also the reality that our trade with Britain was very high at that time. We were very dependent on Britain so when it decided to join the EEC, we had no option but to do so too. The same held true for Denmark at that time. After we joined, our trade diversified massively and our opportunities also diversified massively.

That high level of support for the EU in the referendum 50 years ago, at 83%, has increased or at least been maintained over the years. A survey this week found that 88% of Irish people wish to remain in the European Union, one of the highest scores in any similar surveys done across the EU. I thank European Movement Ireland for carrying out that research through Red C. The findings are in line with views expressed by citizens who have taken part in events related to the Conference on the Future of Europe.

Over the coming year the Government, through the EU50 programme, will be providing opportunities to reflect on 50 years of Irish membership of the EU and what this means. Citizens will be engaged in discussions on Ireland's place in the world. I was very happy to launch this programme with the Taoiseach at the National Archives in January, where we saw a copy of the accession treaty signed in 1972 by the then Taoiseach, Mr. Jack Lynch, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Patrick Hillery. I also went to the archives in Brussels where I saw the originals. The original signed copies of the treaties are in Rome, where the repository of the Treaty of Rome is also located.

On Monday, along with many of my ministerial colleagues and several ambassadors, I visited schools to mark Europe Day. I also hosted the Danish ambassador in Ratoath and a representative of the European Commission in Dunshaughlin. We also went to Eurofound with a number of schools. The Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Senator Hackett, hosted the Croatian ambassador on Monday. All of these events showed the knowledge, interest and enthusiasm of young people for all things European. People really do feel that they are both Irish and European.

It was a courageous decision in 1972. Indeed, it was courageous to even look to join the EEC. We had only gained our independence 50 years earlier and in terms of political parties, only Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael supported accession. Everyone else was against it. We were called sell-outs and were told that the Irish language and rural Ireland would be destroyed but the truth is that our membership has led to transformative change. I heard a Deputy in the other House complaining that the EU did not get to the regions or to the rural areas. Perhaps the Deputy never heard of the Common Agriculture Policy, CAP, or rural development funding. Up to 80% of the EU budget for decades was spent on rural areas and the rural areas of Ireland benefited disproportionately and were transformed over that time. Ironically, the EU enabled us, by supporting agriculture, to diversify from it and from our trade with Britain. Membership has brought benefits such as freedom of movement. We can live, work, and holiday in countries across the EU and we use the same currency as those member states that are in the eurozone. Of course, we should never forget the simple things that were put through like the sanitisation of mobile phone roaming costs. It is not that long ago that Irish people came back from holidays, having watched a few YouTube videos, only to find themselves with a bill for hundreds of euro. The European Union got rid of that. It is starting to creep back into Britain and one is reminded of the song line, "You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone". That is the situation following Brexit, as the British will discover more and more.

The Erasmus+ programme has opened up huge opportunities as well. We can live and study anywhere in Europe, an option that past generations did not have. From a university point of view, Erasmus should be at the same level as the Horizon programme. Those opportunities are equally valuable to our universities and to society. The research is different, equally valuable, but different. Universities should be giving equal status, in terms of their administrative structures, to Horizon and Erasmus+ because education is key.

We also have career opportunities in the European institutions that I am always trying to remind people about. We started an EU career strategy last year and are constantly working on that to make sure that more Irish people go to work in the EU institutions. Unfortunately, about one third of our staff will be retiring in the next three years, which is incredible and in that context, we need more Irish people to go into the institutions. They need to be encouraged as well as made to realise that demand for language skills is very high. That is a national challenge facing us all. We want to see 100 additional Irish officials placed in permanent posts in the institutions by 2030. This is really crucial but is separate from the people who are in language jobs. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy McGrath, and I met Commissioner Hahn yesterday to discuss this.

The EU is not perfect. It is a democracy of 27 countries coming around the table so we should not expect easy or quick answers. What we can expect, and what we have seen over many years, and I have given some examples already, are solutions for citizens. Almost everything the EU does is in the interests, and for the benefit, of its citizens. Almost all of the allegations about the EU warmongering and so on are simply fake news. The founding declaration of the EU is the Schuman Declaration dating from 9 May 1950. What Schuman proposed was the joining up of the coal and steel industries of France and Germany for two purposes. One was economic development and the other was to ensure that they could not physically go to war against one another if coal and steel production was merged and brought together. Coal and steel are obviously crucial for fighting a war, for making weapons. The idea that there is a military-industrial complex within the EU, although I accept that there is within individual countries, is completely false. In fact, if the EU were involved in such, we would probably have far less spending on defence but that is a debate for another day. It is not something that Ireland is taking part in at this time.

On the big issues in recent years, including Brexit, Covid-19 vaccines and the Ukraine invasion, the EU has gathered together as one and spoken with one voice for the benefit of its citizens. On climate change, the EU is the only organisation in the world where everything it does feeds into its climate change agenda. The EU brings climate into absolutely everything it does and that must be acknowledged. On Brexit, the protection of the Good Friday Agreement has been the Government's priority. An election has just happened in Northern Ireland and approximately 60% of MLAs support the protocol. I acknowledge that there are unionist concerns about it but that is exactly what the EU is trying to address in its discussions with the British Government. We want to help but we need to see an Executive formed and the protocol applied. The UK Government needs to engage constructively because while a one-sided, unilateral approach has been mentioned and the waters have been tested for it over a number of years, they have always come to the conclusion that it cannot be done. I have no doubt that will be the conclusion in this instance too but unfortunately, in the meantime, a lot of time will be wasted. We need to get with the programme now, make sure the protocol is in place, deal with the genuine concerns that exist and let Northern Ireland flourish and its economy progress. That is what we all want.

I look forward to hearing the views of Members here today and thank them for their ongoing interest in what is our European Union.

It has been 72 years since the Schuman Declaration was presented by French foreign minister, Robert Schuman, on 9 May 1950. Celebrating Europe Day annually allows us to remember where we started and to reflect on how far we have come. Remembering our history and bringing it to new generations is important because there was a very good reason for the development of the then European Coal and Steel Community, what is today the European Union. The original aim and purpose of the Union was peace and to ensure that we never again witnessed the devastation brought about by the Second World War.

In the period following the war, the European Union has been transformed into a progressive, united and democratic Union based on the values of human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and human rights. We can be very proud of the fact that Ireland has been part of that since 1972 and 1973. The Irish people supported our membership overwhelmingly and were very happy to join the EU. It is 50 years since the then Taoiseach, Mr. Jack Lynch, signed the treaty of accession and the Irish people voted in a referendum to join. A poll back in 1972 showed 83% support.

A similar poll today shows it at 88%. Not only have we maintained that support in the past 50 years, which is no mean feat, we have increased support in this country.

The Schuman Declaration of 1950 states:

Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity.

That statement is as valid today as it was 72 years ago. We must always remind ourselves that what we have built in our European Union community is fragile and a work in progress. We must protect the European Union and all of its values and continue to work to ensure all citizens are served by our policies.

From its core economic beginnings, the European Union has grown to be an advocate and champion for workers' rights, equality, climate justice and social justice and it has ensured that across member states, standards of living have increased with better homes, cleaner water, fresher air and higher wages. When we think of the transformation Ireland has undergone since it joined the European Union 50 years ago, in some ways, our country is unrecognisable and for the better.

The founding members of the European Union spoke about the need for solidarity. They understood the absolute necessity for member states to be economically linked and to rise and prosper together. When one member state is hurting, we all hurt and there is an incentive to protect and support one another because of this interdependence. Brexit is a perfect example of the value of this solidarity. As a small member state, Ireland received full and overwhelming support from our European colleagues. The challenge to our small country was viewed as a challenge for the European Union and the guard came up right across member states. Despite an attempt to divide and conquer, there was no chink to be found in the European armour and Ireland found itself with the backing of the European Union and the United States. Not only did this protect our interests in what could have been a devastating event for our country and economy, it sent a clear message that we are a Union, united in our support for each other and the values that we as members have chosen to subscribe to. Smaller member states and citizens of smaller member states needed to hear this message and see the actions that flowed from it. We knew that after the Brexit vote our solidarity would be tested and the future as a bloc questioned. We have answered our critics and secured the EU's future.

The European Union is being tested yet again with the war in Ukraine. Our response to the Russian invasion of a sovereign democratic country in Europe at our borders will be crucial. Not only are we dealing with a large-scale humanitarian crisis and a level of migration not seen in Europe since the Second World War, we are also dealing with an energy crisis and impending food supply disruptions. Stronger together is still our message. The European Union will have to respond to protect our citizens, to uphold the values we ascribe to and to make sure that we do the right thing by the Ukrainian people.

Maintaining solidarity among member states and among citizens is as crucial today as it was in 1970.

I appreciate Senator Chambers giving me a little of her time in order that I can express on the record today my ongoing support for the European Union. Like the Minister of State and Senator Chambers, all of us, including those who have reservations about Europe, have to acknowledge that the development that has happened in this country over those years has been significant. I wonder if we were not in the European Union where we would be in terms of emigration, unemployment and our economy.

Back then, and since then, many of the people who were opposed to the European Union spoke about military alliance. The reality is 50 years on, Ireland is still neutral. I would not like to see Ireland join NATO but nobody in Europe has tried to force us into it. It is important to make that point because it has been falsely used over the years to frighten people off the European project. A great deal of money has been invested here in education, our towns and villages and agriculture. There have been problems along the route from time to time, but realistically our economy has benefited largely.

The European Union has opened up huge opportunities in regard to our exports. That is evidenced in the level of exports from this country. Irish people are brilliant when they get an opening. They will continue to grow that export market. I believe Europe has been the real reason we have had this progress. As stated by Senator Chambers, the Irish people are in favour of Europe. We all have reservations from time to time, but it has been a good project.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House for this very important debate in that it is a recognition of our maturity within the EU, a celebration of its success and a level of reflection on the future. It is a worthwhile exercise in that regard.

The sad backdrop to this debate is that we have war in Europe. That is outside of the control of the EU, but it is a tragedy. We must remain responsive to the displaced persons and, later, supportive of the reconstruction of Ukraine. We must respond to the economic impact of the war and be uncompromising in our sanctions and condemnation of it. It is an unfortunate backdrop to what has been the greatest peace project in the history of the world, namely, the European Union.

It is also an unfortunate backdrop to this debate that we have the Brexit question still looming. The point made by Senator Chambers in regard to European solidarity with us on that is well made. It is a tribute to our diplomatic service, the Irish Government and to all of us who in our own individual ways have managed to secure the solidarity of Europe with us on the Brexit question. That needs to hold up. It is a pity we still have the protocol issue. On this auspicious occasion, my message to the Minister of State is that we have to hold the line on the international agreement dimension but we should exercise every imaginable flexibility to get the protocol operational and, as a consequence, get the Assembly in Northern Ireland operational. I think I am pushing an open door in that regard, but, perhaps, when he is concluding the debate the Minister of State would reference where we stand on the protocol.

I am in an extraordinarily strong position to speak on this matter. I am happy to admit publicly - this might be apparent - that the very early years of my life were in a pre-EU Ireland and all of my adult life has been in a post-EU Ireland. As I said, I am in very good position to speak about this. It has been transformative for Ireland. To paraphrase the Minister of State, it has been totally transformative. In terms of the social reform that has arisen from the EU, women's rights have been advanced beyond recognition. We are talking of two different planets and two different times in terms of equality, gender equality, equal pay for equal work, the right to equal work, the right to quality employment and the barbaric strangulation of women in regard to issues such as jury service and bizarre antiquated legislation. All of that went by the wayside. Women's rights were propelled in this country by virtue of the EU. That in itself is enormous. It alone would justify our continued 88% loyalty to the EU.

It has been transformative in terms of infrastructure around this country on our roadways, canals and buildings and the many peace projects around the country by way of the provision of the money for the peace process and rural development. One has only to drive around Ireland to see the many developments that have been funded by the EU. They have enhanced our country greatly. That funding was provided by the EU through many bodies. I acknowledge that we have become a net contributor.

We are now a net contributor by virtue of the success of the funding exercises.

CAP has been extraordinarily transformative for the county from which I come, namely, Cavan. It has given farmers support and got them a proper price for their produce. There is still work to be done in that regard – there always is – but CAP has created a European market of 500 million people for our produce. It has delivered decent pricing, support and regulation.

Social policies, rural development policies, social cohesion exercises and CAP have been very important. As a consequence of our economic success thanks to Europe, we are now the technology capital of the world, with companies like Google and Facebook headquartering here. This is extraordinary. The Minister of State mentioned the important Erasmus+ programme. I occasionally have the privilege of meeting some of its participants informally when I attend Council of Europe events in Strasbourg. How much they enjoy it is wonderful to see. Importantly, European values are permeating our country. We are a wonderful catalyst or agent for the rule of law, democracy and the rights of human beings because we insist on those in accession treaties with new countries.

We could discuss this subject for a long time, but I have to conclude. I would like the Minister of State to speak about the accession of Ukraine and Georgia, which should be accelerated in every way possible. He might also reference the military question and the fact that there is no military obligation on Ireland. It is the wish of the people that there not be.

This is a wonderful day. We are celebrating something that has changed people's lives, which is something that I know that from both sides.

I welcome the Minister of State. Sometimes, we forget that the primary success of the EU has been peace. Monday was Europe Day, when we celebrated the Schuman Declaration. The Schuman plan was to establish long-term peace in post-war Europe. It has been a considerable success, as Senator O'Reilly stated.

Europe has grown in strength at a time of crisis, with what Bono called "one man's war" bringing Europe together like never before. Although it has been the Continent's darkest hour since the Second World War, it has also been one of its proudest hours, with European countries working together. Since the Second World War, the Continent has been an entirely more positive landscape than it was beforehand.

On Europe Day, it was poignant to welcome dozens of displaced Ukrainians to Barretstown Castle in Ballymore Eustace, where they had a wonderful engagement with the Ukrainian ambassador and the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman. The irony was not lost on us that, while we were celebrating Europe Day, we had as our special guests Ukrainians who, although we had made them welcome in this country, would have loved to have been able to return to their own country. Imagine being moved out of your home and told that you were heading to Ukraine. It would turn your life upside down.

Ironically, we have to thank Putin for bringing Europe closer together. He has also indirectly had a positive impact on the world and Europe's view on fossil fuels. Sales of fossil fuels to Europe supply Putin with tanks and bombs.

Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the people of Ireland voting by referendum to take their place among the nations of Europe. It was a lifetime ago. I commend "The Late Late Show" of the time, which put on a mock trial, although I am not old enough to remember it. In recent weeks, Mr. Justice John D. Cooke passed away. He had served in the High Court and in Europe. He was one of the actors in the mock trial, as were Mr. Justice Donal Barrington, Mr. Justice Thomas Finlay and other judges. That trial extrapolated the issues. The broadcast was ahead of its time and drilled down into what accession would mean for Ireland. Thankfully, Ireland gave Europe the thumbs up.

We look to Europe for workers' rights and a lead on climate change. We must do more, though. Some of the issues that my colleagues, Ms Grace O'Sullivan MEP and Mr. Ciarán Cuffe MEP, have raised in the European Parliament are important, for example, limiting toxic industrial chemicals in our products, given that such chemicals pose a threat to the environment. Ms O'Sullivan was rapporteur on the Environment Action Programme, which will phase out fossil fuel subsidies in ten years' time. Mr. Cuffe has been leading the way on the issue of embodied carbon in buildings and measuring it over a building's lifespan.

Europe Day provides us the opportunity, not only to reflect on the successes of the past, but to look to the future. I was intrigued to read President Emmanuel Macron's vision – I congratulate him on his recent electoral success – for the EU. In a speech he delivered recently in Strasbourg, he argued for a multi-speed Union. This idea can be controversial, but the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Certain member states could go further than others in certain policy areas. President Macron also argued for a broader European neighbourhood community, which would be available to those that were considering joining the EU, like Ukraine, and those that had left but would like to co-operate in a greater way, for example, the UK. In the latter respect, I am also thinking of a special dispensation for Northern Ireland to have its voice heard in a more formal way. This idea would have the advantage of granting some level of co-operation to countries that may require years or decades to meet the strict criteria for joining the EU.

Today is about embracing and celebrating the EU. It is wonderful to be here today and to have all of these parliamentarians speaking positively about a growing, living project that changes by the week and year. It is important that Ireland be at the forefront of that project.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit atá anseo fá choinne na ráiteas tábhachtach seo.

Sinn Féin believes in the EU. We believe that Ireland's future is at the heart of a just and equal EU and we will continue to engage with its institutions actively and critically. While there is much good in the EU, there are areas where we should continue being critical. We are concerned about the continuing and increasing militarisation within the EU. We believe it is important that Ireland maintain the freedom to develop its own independent foreign policy. It is also important that there be a core space for militarily non-aligned neutral states within the EU.

Sinn Féin believes that, although Ireland remains committed and invested in the EU, we should preserve the capacity to maintain areas of sovereignty, particularly over fiscal policy. To that end, we support the maintenance of unanimity in voting on EU policy, which protects the rights of smaller states like Ireland.

We believe in the further expansion of the EU, and, as colleagues have mentioned, we support the current applications for membership of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. Sinn Féin has condemned the invasion of Ukraine by Russia and we continue to do so. We stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine. We also believe the EU and this State should be doing more to help countries, especially Moldova, which is one of the poorest countries in Europe. Moldova is shouldering the majority of the effort of dealing with refugees from the conflict.

The impact of the war in Ukraine is being felt right across the world, as the Minister of State knows. The global south, which must also contend with the impact of climate change, political instability and the failure of the developed world to provide adequate supplies of Covid-19 vaccines, will be faced with enormous food shortages. Some countries are 100% reliant on Ukraine and Russia for grain supplies and the supply interruption as a consequence of the conflict has the potential to contribute to famine in the year ahead if measures are not taken and taken now. The EU responded rapidly and robustly to the Russian invasion, and Sinn Féin supported that. However, it is important that the values central to the EU ideal, which has been used to guide its response to Russian aggression, are also used to guide the EU's response to the abuse of human rights in other countries and regions. The EU has repeatedly failed to act in any significant way on human rights abuses in Palestine. Amnesty International and the UN have produced reports that clearly show Israel's policies towards Palestinians amount to apartheid.

The EU has, as the Minister of State acknowledged, played a significant role to date in defending the protocol. This will remain important in the time ahead as the British Government tries to undermine and subvert the protocol, which it signed up to, negotiated and agreed. Many participants at events in Ireland and the Conference on the Future of Europe felt that people in the North should receive continued support from the EU. The assembly election results represent a historic milestone, with Sinn Féin holding the position of First Minister and being the largest party in the assembly. The election demonstrated again the majority support for pro-EU and anti-Brexit parties. We welcome the conclusion of the Conference on the Future of Europe and many of the recommendations that were brought forward. We believe the EU should become more autonomous in energy production and Ireland is strategically placed to become a major producer of wind energy from offshore wind farms.

Ba mhaith liom a aithint agus a mholadh go bhfuil an Ghaeilge anois aitheanta mar theanga oifigiúil de chuid an Aontais Eorpaigh. Cruthaíonn sé seo sealanna faoi choinne post agus tuilleadh idirghníomhaithe idir Ghaeilgeoirí anseo in Éirinn agus institiúidí de chuid an Aontais Eorpaigh.

While we celebrate the EU on Europe Day many of us sadly must look on as rights, entitlements and representation we once had as result of a Brexit we voted against. I think, in particular, of the DiscoverEU programme, which I have raised a number of times in the House. The programme in question gave 35,000 18-year-olds across the EU a one-month free Interrail pass. What a fantastic, valuable and positive initiative. It gives young people the opportunity to explore, learn, develop and grow. Sadly, this scheme is denied to EU citizens in the North. That opportunity has been shut down to them. Is mór an trua é sin. I hope this can be reflected upon and that similar welcome schemes are open to all EU citizens throughout all of Ireland. Ireland's place in the EU is safe and secure and Sinn Féin will continue to play a positive role in developing its future in an egalitarian, just and progressive direction.

I welcome the Minister of State to the Chamber a couple of days after Europe Day to speak about the value Europe has brought to us, as a country. This year more than ever we realise Europe was set up as a peace project. That was the main driver of it. Ireland has specifically benefited from that peace project, economically, infrastructurally and culturally. This year we are having these statements in the shadow of the invasion of one neighbouring state by another. For the second time since the Second World War, we are seeing crimes against humanity brought to our Continent. This underlines why Europe has been and continues to be so important. We have not been under threat in the way we are now since the Second World War. We are entering a phase where the countries that have traditionally been the powerhouses of Europe, such as France, have a growing number of people who are questioning the European project. This is a critical time for us to prove the value of Europe as an ethical, democratic counterweight in world affairs to other more nefarious countries. If we do not hold Europe together we potentially have the threat of a much more powerful Russia and a powerful China. Europe needs to be the leader in taking a democratic, ethical and human rights-based approach. It needs to be human rights-based player in diplomatic and world affairs.

We have the challenges of Brexit on this island. Every Senator regrets that the UK decided to leave the EU and saw itself as having a stronger place in world affairs outside it. It is very much the last gasp of a dying empire. Over the last number of years, given what is happening with living standards falling, food not being available on shelves and the UK's petrol crisis, we see the value being a member of a co-ordinated EU can bring. I hope the UK revisits its decision, but it is important for us, in the context of that decision, to reiterate our commitment to the EU and that we are strong Europeans and very much part of the Continent.

As a final point, I raise the climate response and the potential for the EU to address the climate challenges facing us by means of a co-ordinated effort. Part of the political discourse that has become popular is that small, individual actions do not matter, that it is all about the top number of companies that are emitting and that, somehow, it will be somebody else's actions that solve the climate problem. The latter will only be solved by co-ordinated action by everybody at individual, national, global, institutional and corporate level. The EU, as one of the big economic powerhouses, has the opportunity to force companies to take proper, sustained and viable climate action. As Senator Ó Donnghaile said, Ireland is strategically placed as far as wind energy is concerned. We have wind in the north of the country and we have solar in the south. Central Europe is reliant on that energy. It creates a great opportunity for Ireland, but also Europe, to move to net zero by 2050. We will be able to realise that only by sustained and co-ordinated action on the part of all member states. A global challenge requires a global response, and a strong EU will be able to deliver that.

I thank the Senator. Before we hear from Senator Flynn for the Civil Engagement Group, I welcome the school students who are in the Public Gallery. I hope they enjoy their visit to Leinster House.

I thank the Cathaoirleach Gníomach. I also welcome the students from St. Joseph's College, Lucan. It is always brilliant to see young people in the House.

I am going to put a different spin on marking Europe Day. I would like all of us to look at this as a day of reflection, as Senator Chambers has already said. Ireland, as a small nation, has made our voice heard at the highest level during our 50 years in the EU. We have benefited from membership of the EU in many ways. The EU and the Council of Europe have been strong allies in keeping pressure on the State in respect of issues affecting the Traveller Community. The EU has highlighted in its reporting violations in Ireland around accommodation, education, health and other issues impacting on the Traveller Community. The EU has played a key role in Travellers being recognised as an ethnic minority group in Ireland. If Europe had not played such a key role, we still would not be recognised as an ethnic minority group. I wish to be clear about that.

Europe has also provided Traveller organisations with valuable tools in some of our campaigns for equality. We still find ourselves waiting on the Irish State to deliver in many areas. I wonder whether there may be a further role for Europe in ensuring follow-up and accountability in areas of equality. When we think of the solidarity and unity the EU represents, we must make sure no one is left behind – not here, and not anywhere in Europe.

We have seen how quickly the EU can respond to a refugee crisis and I would like to see it extend that same welcome to all refugees and people seeking asylum who are fleeing war and violence. However, Roma women and children fleeing Russian aggression in Ukraine are still struggling to find homes. I read in The Guardian of a Roma woman who fled to Poland with her son’s wife and her adult daughter. They had seven children between them. She said: "I just wish landlords would meet with us before they reject us". The women have been able to find work but not homes. Roma refugees face not just a lack of support; they also face discrimination. That is not fake news. From talking to Pavee Point, we know violence against Roma communities is rising across Europe. The Roma community in Ireland also reports high levels of discrimination. We cannot allow this. When we talk about European unity we must mean everybody, including Roma and Traveller people.

On Europe Day this year, it is important to reflect on the Conference on the Future of Europe, which has just ended. My colleague Senator Higgins was proud to be one of four representatives of the Oireachtas at the conference. The Civil Engagement Group recommends that we have a debate on the outcomes of the conference in the Seanad over the next few coming weeks, while it is hot on the agenda, to discuss the recommendations on how to live together as Europeans in the future. We need to look at the implementation of the recommendations from the conference etc. We talk about being proud members of Europe but we also have a responsibility to make sure this includes all people of Europe. No person from the Roma community should be treated wrongly or in an ill manner at borders.

The Minister of State is very welcome to the House. I wish him a belated happy Europe Day. Today is important for reflecting on what 9 May means. It is important that we celebrate our membership of the European Union as citizens of Ireland and of the European Union, and as a nation with a proud tradition of being in the European Union. We should look at the European project in its entirety and always look objectively, as Senator Flynn said, at how we can improve the lives of people who may have been left behind, who might not have benefited as they should have from the European project and our economic and social development as a nation.

I am a very proud European person. I am also a proud Irishwoman, a proud Louth woman and a proud Cooley Peninsula woman. All those identifications do not dilute our reject other identities. We should all stand tall in our identities and embrace and be proud of each one of them.

We need to acknowledge the importance of our elevation into the European Union. The Irish nation was not always welcomed at a European level. After the First World War, we went to Paris to ask for recognition of this Irish nation and we were denied that. We were denied support for our right to self-determination as a small nation but now our place is in Europe and our voices are heard. That did not happen by accident. It came from decades of strong diplomatic performances by our diplomats, civil servants and successive Irish Governments. Modern Ireland did not happen by accident. It began when Seán Lemass took over as a Fianna Fáil Taoiseach. He looked to the future and changed how we looked beyond Ireland, to make Ireland a modern nation. In 1961 he first applied to Europe under a Fianna Fáil Government and it took us 11 years to become members.

People always ask what Europe has done for us. It has done an awful lot. Peace has been mentioned - peace on the Continent but also in Ireland. People often do not give the European Union recognition for the Good Friday Agreement and the important role it played in its success, the signing of it and how it came about. Without that, we would not have the strong Good Friday Agreement we have. The European Union gives us a voice on an international stage. It gave us legitimacy on an international stage when Ireland was seen as a small nation on the outskirts of Europe. Now we are a small nation at the heart of Europe. It has also given us funding. Nobody can deny the impact of the regional and structural funds we have received over the past 50 years of our membership, the infrastructure it has created and supported or the peace funds it has supported. There is also the Common Agricultural Policy and the impact it has had on education and communities. We learn from other countries and create links with other nations and our friends all across Europe.

The European Union has shown us how we can work collectively together on climate change. Now we see how we need to work and stand tall against the Russian aggressor. The Russian war has drastically exposed issues around energy security. I would criticise Germany's position over the past couple of years as we have slept on this and walked ourselves into this reliance. We allowed the bigger nations of Europe to not listen to experts and move towards greater reliance on gas and coal from Russia. Thankfully, the war has exposed that but we need to be stronger in moving collectively as a European Union, looking inward and outside the European Union as well. The European Union also needs to stand far taller on human rights abuses. There are countries both in Europe and outside it where it has not been strong enough. We need to be stronger and we need to call out people who are talking out both sides of their mouths on an awful lot of issues, in the European Parliament and other places of authority. They are not standing tall or proud and are not being progressive in looking after all the citizens of Europe. I could go on. It is a good day to stand tall as European citizens and celebrate Europe Day.

I welcome the Minister of State. The European Union was a vision of bringing our countries together after the horrors of the Second World War for peace, understanding that all nations have to work together for success. Some 50 years ago, Ireland voted to join the European Union and seek peace and prosperity. That was in the 1970s, at a time when there was so much poverty. There was so much poverty in the 1940s and 1950s. When I was doing my Irish oral and aural exams for the leaving certificate, they were all about emigration and people leaving our country. In the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, hundreds of thousands of people were leaving our shores.

We were told the best and brightest were leaving. While we have an important diaspora, we now have something to offer at home. That is what the European Union has brought about for us here in Ireland. We have world-class people in Ireland. These are people who shine in every walk of life. Whether it is in arts and culture, enterprise, research or agriculture, our people are there at the top. Ireland has taken its place among the nations but that is thanks to some of the incredible representatives we have had in Ireland over the decades. We have Mairead McGuinness, previously a Vice President of the European Parliament and now in a highly influential role as European Commissioner for Financial Stability, Financial Services and the Capital Markets Union.

This Union is also about peace. We have seen that in what we have achieved in Northern Ireland. A quote from John Hume was highlighted for Europe Day. He stated, "the European Union is the best example in the history of the world of conflict resolution". It has shown how countries can come together and work together for peace but it also shows how countries can stand up and protect what we have here, a democracy. We are fighting for democracy on all levels. Here in Ireland, we know what we have but we look to the likes of Ukraine and see how its people are suffering. We see that it is for everyone to fight for democracy today and every day and that it should not be taken for granted.

It is always about someone with a vision. We have seen strong leadership, particularly in the case of President Zelenskyy, but it is always the visionaries who bring us our future. Robert Schuman had a vision when the European Union was being developed. It was about looking at the ruins of Europe coming out of the Second World War and seeing how we could develop an economy that would bring prosperity to all nations and peoples across Europe.

As a woman, I am aware that the European Union has also had a great impact in respect of women's rights. If it was not for the European Union, where would the women of Ireland be? There was a school group in here earlier with young women. When I was a young woman in school, it was incredible to me that women did not get equal pay. Why would we not get equal pay for doing the same job? We are still fighting for that today. We are still looking at gender equality and gender balance. We are looking at our universities. For the first time in Ireland, three of our university presidents are female. That has only happened in the last year or two. We are looking at the 30% Club and its aim of ensuring that 30% of the members of all boards are women.

We have come a hell of a long way, and not by basing ourselves on the Ireland of the 1940s and 1950s. The men and women of Ireland stand proud of what we have now in 2022, which comes from what we started in the 1970s. Prosperity is key, as is our economy and our enterprise. Coming from the west of Ireland, I know that the regions are very important. We are a region in transition. As a result of membership of the European Union, over €40 billion has been invested since the 1970s. Over 40% of our exports are to the European Union. If we did not have that investment in our road infrastructure to open up our regions, to allow vehicles and trucks to come to these areas and to allow people to export from the likes of Galway, Mayo and Roscommon, there would be no way for the economy in the regions to survive. I am thinking of the outer areas and even the islands. That investment has been crucial.

As a European Union citizen, the European Union has meant everything to me growing up. I had the opportunity to take part in the Erasmus programme when I was in college. I was doing history and learning French and I had the opportunity to study for a year in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium. It was my first time ever leaving the country. That was through what was University College Galway, is now the National University of Ireland, Galway, and will soon be the University of Galway. I got to stand tall as a woman from the west, coming from a small town, going abroad and learning before bringing that learning back to Ireland. Over the last two years, there have been lockdowns and people have not been able to travel. One of the most important things for our young people is being able to travel and to go abroad. One can travel freely within the European Union. One can live, work or take time out in any country of the EU. We have such a wonderful region. People working can create a Europass CV and travel and work. It is incredible to think what that can bring to a country. It opens up the mind.

I spoke about fighting for democracy. One of the other key things about the European Union relates to how we are open to accepting all types of people, all types of backgrounds, all the new nationalities coming to live in Ireland and the new communities, to making sure that we are welcoming and open to new thoughts and perspectives, and that our country will be better and stronger as part of the European Union.

It is quite momentous to mark Ireland's 50-year membership of the European Union. From a Fianna Fáil perspective, this is something of which we have always been very proud. It is something that Seán Lemass and Jack Lynch led on. It is interesting that the only two parties sitting here are the only two parties that have consistently supported our membership of the European Union over those 50 years and campaigned for its enlargement and for enhanced co-operation. As colleagues have said, it is very much a union based on principles of peace and prosperity. Those were the driving forces behind its establishment and remain its guiding principles today.

I will make a number of suggestions as regards things we can do to enhance understanding of the EU and encourage greater co-operation in areas where that can work. I will also address some concerns that have been raised.

I know the Minister of State is passionate about greater teaching of languages and a greater uptake of modern European languages, which are important. We need to invest in a European languages initiative from primary school onward to a far greater extent. While I know that efforts are being made, we should seek to ensure that every Irish citizen will, in the future, be fluent in Irish, English and at least one modern European language. We should set and pursue that objective for ourselves for the medium to long term.

Many colleagues have spoken about the Erasmus programme. We need to continue to broaden the appeal of the Erasmus programme. One of the challenges has always been that Ireland takes in twice as many Erasmus students as we send out. We have to encourage far more Irish students to avail of the programme. The DiscoverEU programme, which has been very successful, is limited to 35,000 18-year-olds. I believe we should set a goal of every 18-year-old within the European Union being able to avail of that programme.

Robert Schuman famously talked about how a lot of the European Union would be forged through crisis. We have seen a number of crises over recent years, from Brexit to Covid and the war in Ukraine. The European Union has moved and addressed issues in a way that many of us thought it would not do. It did so in response to those crises, particularly that in Ukraine. We should be proud of the leadership shown by Ireland, the Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs with regard to Ukraine. Like my colleagues, I strongly support the rapid accession of Ukraine, Georgia and, indeed, other countries in the Balkans.

There has been a useful initiative whereby the Cathaoirleach has invited Members of the European Parliament to the Chamber to exchange views. I would certainly like to see that continue. However, we need to look at the broader question of enhanced co-operation at EU level. Co-operation on issues such as the war in Ukraine and Covid has shown that solutions that benefit all citizens of the European Union can be found and that such co-operation is advantageous. I am thinking of areas that have already been referred to including the areas of food security, energy security, the climate and biodiversity crisis, and cybersecurity. It is absolutely essential that member states co-operate very closely.

Every so often, we hear this nonsense that comes up about an EU army. In every single European referendum campaign since the start, Sinn Féin has raised this nonsense fear about an EU army. Let us be very clear; every country and member state will maintain control over its own defence forces but there has to be co-operation between member states. I particularly encourage greater co-operation with the non-aligned member states such as Finland, Sweden and Austria on some of the issues that are really important to this country.

We have to collectively be able to address food and energy security and particularly now. We have discussed the idea that it is better Irish wind than Russian oil and gas.

Ireland has always played a very constructive role at the European table. However, we need to address some of the voices at European level which are bringing shame on Ireland's reputation, particularly where we stood up for the rule of law and for human rights. I am talking in particular about some of our MEPs. While we can criticise them inside this House, action also must be taken by the hard left GUE/NGL group in the European Parliament. In the same way that some of us criticised the EPP for its tolerance of Viktor Orbán for a long time, so Sinn Féin and the other hard left parties need to be called out for continuing to tolerate the membership of Mick Wallace and Clare Daly in that group within the European Parliament. They are bringing embarrassment on Ireland. They are not adhering to the European spirit of co-operation and respect for the rule of law and human rights. In our vision for where we see Europe going those remain fundamental to Ireland's role at the heart of Europe.

It is 50 years since Ireland gained European membership. I will refer to a couple of lines from two speeches. In this very Chamber on 14 July 1966, the late Dr. Garret FitzGerald, then a Senator, said:

If the Government fail to pursue this aim as thoroughly and as efficiently as we think is desirable, we will be pressing them from behind … It will do no harm to our position in Brussels and in this country if it is seen that this House is concerned about this matter.

That was in 1966 before 21 March 1972 when the then Taoiseach, Deputy Jack Lynch said, "Surely it is self-evident that if we were to remain outside the Community we would be conferring on the Border the status of a frontier, both economic and political, between ourselves and the rest of Europe". Those are very important words from two great leaders from this country.

I know many have acknowledged the role that both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil played in their representation in Europe. We have had some very fine MEPs who have represented us in the past. We have very fine MEPs who represent the majority of us and the majority of the MEPs are very honourable.

The role of Sinn Féin in Europe was mentioned. I served on the Committee of the Regions for some years. While there was a representative from Sinn Féin there at that time, they would abstain on all the votes because they were not part of a group. They actually never voted in that time. That is a terrible indictment. When one is there one is wearing the Irish jersey. Ireland has benefited so much from Europe over the years. Even going back to the local authorities we can think of the amount of European projects that have taken place. There is money that comes for greenways and blueways. There are so many really important things like many of our roads. Ireland had very poor roads for many years. Only for funding from Europe we have connectivity and other projects. There is education. Then connectivity between Ireland and Europe. There is actually a GAA club in Brussels. People from Croatia play alongside people from other European countries. That shows the very strong role that Ireland plays over there.

Back when I was mayor of Limerick around 2010-11 it was the European city of sport, one of three such cities. The GAA international convention came. People from all across Europe came to Limerick to play GAA over a weekend. It was a really positive event. It just shows the importance of sport in terms of uniting different countries.

Others have mentioned the applications of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia to join the EU. I support the acceleration of their applications. I met the Moldovan ambassador last night. Moldova wants to become part of Europe and thinks it has a strong role to play. The ambassador made some very valid points. It is something that I would like to strongly support. Peace and harmony is very much part of the ethos and theme of Europe Day 2022. With the war which has been ongoing for the last two months it is really important that peace is there. Peace was there on the agenda 50 years ago and it is still there today. It is something that does unite a lot of our countries.

Becoming a member of a party in the European Parliament is about working together collaboratively to support projects but also learning from each other. The experience of other countries is something that we in Ireland have benefited from. It is important that we mark the day. I congratulate the Minister of State for the job he is doing in representing us in Europe.

I will not keep the Minister of State long. I will be brief. I was born on the 50th anniversary of the 1916 rising. Fifty years on from that I was born into a republic that could have been characterised as one of a pitchfork and candlestick. Ireland was quite a poor country in European terms. In the 1970s after we joined the European Economic Community, as it was then, it transformed Ireland on a number of fronts in everything from environmental protections to equal status and equality legislation. It really brought Ireland into the 20th century. As we enter the 21st century in the wake of Brexit we are the only English-speaking country in the European Union so we are a vital part of the transatlantic link between the United States and Europe which was traditionally there and in which Britain was traditionally the linchpin. There is a great opportunity for us there.

In the 1980s Europe really opened up. The Berlin Wall came down followed by the reunification of Germany. Ireland played a particular role in that process and helped to accelerate it and bring it together. I will return to the unification of the GDR and West Germany in a moment.

We had a major problem on the island. There was an internal security problem that many of us may have forgotten about in the aftermath of the Good Friday Agreement and the peace dividend that we have all enjoyed so far. It was one of the reasons I joined the Defence Forces back in the 1980s. It was because Ireland was a basket case economically but also from a security and defence perspective. Happily due to the Good Friday Agreement, the peace process and everything that has gone on we have enjoyed a peace dividend but we really need to look to Europe for the lessons of its peace processes and conflicts to predict what might happen next on this island because I believe we are on the precipice of great change on the island, particularly after the events in Northern Ireland over the weekend with the changing demographics and the change in voting patterns.

As an Army officer I was proud to serve Ireland in the Middle East in the mid-1990s. Part of the culture shock for me was the experience of conflict for the first time. During my tour of duty there was a very violent deployment of the Israelis into Lebanon, Operation Grapes of Wrath, which resulted in the mass murder of hundreds and hundreds of innocent Lebanese men, women and children in much the same way as is happening in Ukraine at the moment. There was indiscriminate shelling, air strikes, missile attacks and so on.

It made me appreciate, as a young man, the value of the peace we enjoy in Europe. That was the raison d'être of the European Union or the European Economic Community, as it was in the beginning. Its original architects wanted an ongoing peace process for Europe. We must be very careful not to take that peace for granted.

After Lebanon I went to Bosnia just at the end of that conflict as an election supervisor. I was based in a Serbian-held area in a town called Prijedor, which I believe holds the record for the highest number of crimes against humanity and war crimes anywhere in Europe. Again, it was quite clear to me the Serbs, the Croats and those now referred to as Bosniaks or Bosnian Muslims were all wonderful communities made up of great people but conflict arose around historical reasons, going right back to the Ottoman Empire. There were issues around identity, difference and othering that brought them first into public disorder and civil disturbance and then to killing. Once the cycle of killing starts, it is very difficult to stop it. Those groups now have a power-sharing agreement.

This brings me back to my first point. I have recently heard some politicians, journalists and commentators say that what happens next on this island will be akin to the reunification of West Germany and East Germany. I do not agree with that assessment, based on my life experience and what I have experienced in Europe and elsewhere. The position on this island is more akin to what I would have encountered in the former Yugoslavia and Bosnia. We must be very careful, as Europeans, about how we proceed. In 15 or 20 years, for example, I do not believe An Garda Síochána or Óglaigh na hÉireann will exist. They will have been replaced by something like "police service Ireland" or "land forces Ireland". Who knows? We must plan for this as Europeans.

Who is preparing for and thinking about all the architecture and infrastructure around the administration of justice, policing, security and defence, as well as public expenditure and reform, social protection, education and health? If we do not plan for those on this island, if we do not speak about them or have a citizens' assembly, we may fail our children and grandchildren, if precedents in Europe tell us anything. If we prepare and plan, Ireland and what happens on this island could be a major international success. We need to think hard about that.

Based on events in Ukraine, it is great that Ireland is providing political and material support. I echo Senator Maria Byrne's comments about supporting the accelerated entry of Moldova and Ukraine into the European Union. Now is not the time for Ireland to join a military alliance. Our unique influence, including our diplomatic and diaspora's influence, would immediately disappear on our joining any military alliance. As a fan of Europe, I wish the European project well in the coming years. For the first time since the Second World War it must stand together for its values and its principles.

I am thankful for the opportunity to speak in the debate. It is good that we are able to celebrate Europe Day and make statements on it. Ireland as a country is the perfect example of why the European Union is a success and we have benefitted on the back of that. It is important to acknowledge that if it were not for Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil supporting this country in joining the European Union, it would not have happened and all the benefits on the back of that would not have happened either, or at least not until later.

We must remember that there are people, including children, dying today simply because they want to be part of the European Union. There are thousands of people in Ukraine and all they are seeking is freedom for their country and to be part of the European Union. They have simple requests, which have been mentioned by a number of people. They want more weapons but clearly Ireland does not play a role in that. We can play a role when it comes to equipment etc. Ukrainians want more sanctions on Russia, and the European Union has been very supportive on that matter. Ukraine is seeking more sanctions to defeat loopholes or other countries facilitating Russia or giving it opportunities through such loopholes.

Ukraine also wants sanctions against Russian media. One of the main points Ukraine wants to make is that this is a war by Russia and not just Mr. Putin. It is supported by the Russian people, although the information they are getting is one-sided. It is being supported by the Russian nation and until there are sanctions on television stations and people who work in media in Russia and the narrative is changed, the support for Putin will not change. Until that happens he will not be overthrown.

One of the key roles we can play in the next number of weeks is to support Ukraine with its candidate status in joining the European Union. It is a massive deal for the Ukrainian Government to ensure that goes through in June and is not delayed. The public perception is that European countries have been very supportive of Ukraine joining the European Union - Ireland has been more supportive than anybody else. People said this last week when I spoke with them. However, the Minister of State knows better than anyone that a number of countries are, at best, sceptical about Ukraine joining the Union. It is imperative that Ukraine receives candidate status for joining the European Union at the end of June.

The Minister of State knows that in war, propaganda and perception are just as important as anything else. If Ukraine does not receive that status in June, the propaganda put out by Russia will be that Europe does not want Ukraine. The argument from the start by the Russians is that Ukraine should come back to Russia and many Ukrainians want to be part of Russia. It is utter rubbish but the argument will be strengthened if, as sometimes happens in Europe, we say we need a bit more time to think about it and the issue is complex. All the matters can be resolved and this is just about giving candidate status to Ukraine.

We are a small country in Europe but we are very influential in our role. The Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, have done phenomenal work over the past number of months in flexing their muscles from a diplomatic perspective and ensuring the people of Ukraine are supported. It is imperative that they receive that status at the end of June. I spoke with Ukrainians last week and I know that would re-energise the Ukrainian Government and justify the fight being put in by its army. They will be able to see a future for themselves and their people. If the European Union can do that, the Ukrainians are utterly convinced they will win the war. On the back of that, they are utterly convinced that after that, Ukraine will be able to join the European Union.

I am drifting away from the topic of Europe Day but this is a critical point for the European Union. I understand the scepticism from some countries around taking in Ukraine but it will not survive unless it joins the European Union. That is the simple fact as Russia will always see it as an area it can occupy. Once it joins the European Union, that option will be gone. There is scepticism from what are predominantly larger countries - although they are not all large - but there is no other option than to take in Ukraine. We can play a massive role in persuading those countries to do that. I am thankful for the opportunity to speak.

I am delighted to be here in the Seanad, listening to the debate. As usual with these debates, there have been many facts aired but also some fake news.

Senator Flynn was giving us stark facts about the European Union and how ethnic minorities and the Traveller community have been protected by the Union. They continue to be and I pay tribute to the chief executive of the European Fundamental Rights Agency, Professor Michael O'Flaherty from Galway, who is based in Vienna and who has done so much work on Traveller and Roma protections in the European Union. Following from that we must acknowledge that pretty much all of Irish equality legislation is derived directly from the European Union and European directives. That is very important. On day one we were obliged to introduce equal pay rates for men and women. Before we joined, in Ireland and some other countries, women could get £2 per hour when men were getting £4 per hour for the same job.

It was a condition of our EU membership that we would change that. It was Dr. Patrick Hillery, then European Commissioner for Social Affairs, who drove that on within the European Union. It is not just that the European Union drove us on a path, Irish people within the European Union did that. As a Fianna Fáil Minister of State, I am very proud of my party's role in that path. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were the only two parties that supported European Union membership. In fact, we are the only two parties that continually supported European Union membership at every referendum that has taken place. Consider all of the scaremongering that has happened at every referendum: there would be a European army and we would all be conscripted, and that the Irish language would be dead. Is é a mhalairt atá i gceist anois leis an nGaeilge. Tá an Ghaeilge ag dul ó neart go neart san Eoraip.

While I have good respect for Senator Ó Donnghaile, this whole thing about the militarisation of the EU is wearing a bit thin, quite frankly, because they have been promising this for years and years and it is untrue. We only have to give the two most famous examples. The European Union was a peace project preventing war between France and Germany, and - to a party that is very strong in Northern Ireland and I congratulate it on that - absolutely essential to the Northern Ireland peace process is that every move the European Commission makes on the protocol in Northern Ireland has peace at the top of the agenda. I know this because I am dealing with them. So, let us move away from this militarisation thing.

The truth is that other EU countries spend more on their militaries than other parts of the world. Why is that? It is actually because every EU member state is doing it themselves. It is precisely because the EU is not doing it. I am not advocating for the EU to do it. Ireland is not part of a common defence and we will not be, unless we had a referendum. That is the truth of it. It is because there are no efficiencies. If we all got our military vehicles from one supplier we would be spending more money on schools and hospitals than on the military, but of course one cannot explain that. We must move away from that discussion. It is wearing thin. It is wearing thin with the Irish public also. The public do not believe it. Irish people really value their European identity, so when the Opposition and some other parties say "Oh we support Europe, but...", there is always a "but". Of course not everything is perfect but the benefits that European Union membership has given to Ireland over many years have been absolutely tremendous. Really, where would we be without it and where would Europe be without the European Union?

In this Seanad centenary year I pay tribute to Senators who have served us very well in Europe. I am thinking in particular of Senator David Norris who, while it was not through the European Union but through the Council of Europe, went to the European Court of Human Rights to change laws, which ultimately made us as a country change for the better, and ultimately making grá the law here in the State. This flowed on directly from Senator Norris's actions of decades ago. The President of Ireland talks about the EU being a street and I would say that it is a two-way street. The European Court of Human Rights, to which Ireland is associated through the European Union and through our Constitution, gave Senator Norris his case and Ireland had to change the law. Then, decades later, Ireland was the first country in the world to legalise marriage equality by referendum, and others followed us. While the EU pushes us along in a certain direction, we in Ireland have done that too.

I pay tribute also to some of our Senators who served in the EU. I refer in particular to the late Senator Michael Yeats, the son of W.B. Yeats. Senator Yeats was on Ireland's first parliamentary delegation to the European Union. I must also thank Senator Alice-Mary Higgins for her work with the Conference on the Future of Europe. I attended a meeting with colleagues on that and they were asking me who is this Senator Higgins. They said the Senator works very hard and is doing incredible work checking that every t is crossed and every i is dotted. This is a tribute to her work and the work that Senators typically do when they go to these institutions abroad and represent Ireland so well.

On membership applications, we do support Ukraine and Moldova very strongly in their aspirations to join the European Union. Ukraine has made huge progress. I had a video call this morning with my Moldovan counterpart and with the Moldovan ambassador at the office. During the meeting we gave very strong support. Moldova is a very poor country but they really need our support. They are very determined to go on the European Union path. We must help them go along with that and give their people hope. I pay tribute to all of the Moldovan people living in Ireland. They are a credit to their country and they have done tremendously well here. They are very welcome here. Georgia is certainly on that list but they must look very closely at issues around human rights and the rule of law there. I strongly urge our Georgian friends to continue on that path and I would ask Senators when they are dealing with Georgian representatives that they would remind them of the importance of what is required for candidature for membership of the European Union.

While the Conference on the Future of Europe has officially concluded, it is really only getting going now because the debate is starting. We must consider carefully all of the recommendations there. I do like to hear some, not all, from the Opposition here and in the other House welcoming the conclusions of the Conference on the Future of Europe. They obviously have not read them. Nobody could welcome them in general as there is always something one could pick out that one might not like. There will be issues for us in defence and unanimity. We should read and carefully consider them before we make any statements, which is exactly what the Government is going to do. It is very important that we do so in a constructive way. We very much want to be at the heart of Europe. The veto unanimity is very important for us, but I do not know if we will ever use it.

People say to us that we need an independent foreign policy, which I hear from Sinn Féin here and in the other House. What difference do they want in foreign policy that we do not have today? We go along with the foreign policy of the European Union. Yes, we have a right of veto on that and we can stop it, but what is it they want us to change from what we are doing at the moment? We are pursuing peace. We are pursuing reconciliation. We are being robust in defending human rights.

Reference was made to Israel and Palestine. We in Ireland have a very robust policy on that, which is not shared by all member states. The policy has not been forced upon us by Europe and we make our own decisions. When Members say we need an independent foreign policy, what policies do they want instead of the ones we have today? Our foreign policy today is neutrality and active engagement at the Security Council, at the UN, and at the Council of Europe. Our policy is about peace and helping to develop countries. What do they want to change? It is alright to throw out this lingo but what does it mean in practice? The European Union has been so important to us and is very important for young people. We must be very wary of those who come in and say, "We support it but...". Be wary of that. It does not mean we do not have critical engagement, but sometimes I believe it is code for "We really do not support it".

Cuireadh an Seanad ar fionraí ar 2.17 p.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 2.33 p.m.
Sitting suspended at 2.17 p.m and resumed at 2.33 p.m.
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