Protocol 17 was put into the Maastricht Treaty at the request of the Irish side with the express intention of giving an added assurance to Irish voters that Europe could not impose legalised abortion in Ireland in contravention of Article 40.3.3º of our Constitution. Subsequent to the signing of the Treaty on 7 February this year, the events of the "X" case caused confusion in relation to Irish law on these matters and it remains the responsibility of this House to legislate for whatever changes in Irish law it deems necessary to deal with the situation. These measures could have been introduced prior to or subsequent on the holding of the Maastricht referendum. Because of the time required to agree on legislative proposals which would cover all the issues which had arisen in connection with the "X" case the Government decided to proceed with the Maastricht referendum first and to come forward with their legislative proposals to deal with the issues arising from the "X" case in the autumn, prior to the coming into force of the Treaty on 1 January 1993.
The Progressive Democrats Parliamentary Party fully support the decision made by the Government to proceed with the Maastricht Treaty referendum before dealing with the unsatisfactory situation that has arisen following the court's decision in the "X" case. Furthermore, we are firmly of the view that it is now imperative that the full attention be focused on the merits and implications of voting "Yes" for Maastricht on 18 June. The Government have made their decision in this matter and will have the support of a majority of the Members of this House for that decision if there is any division on the matter. Along with our Coalition partners we will diligently apply ourselves to establishing the best legislative means available to deal in a compassionate way with the issues that need to be resolved. The parties in Government are jointly committed to bringing forward agreed proposals for decision in the next Dáil session.
The agenda is set. Our people must decide on 18 June whether we continue to participate fully as a nation in the building of a stronger united European Community, whether we want to continue in a Europe which will be united in economic, social, political and monetary objectives and whether we want to continue in a Europe where we can be full partners with equal European citizenship rights. If we do, we vote "Yes". The alternative is to vote "No" to all this progress. If we vote "No" we will allow our economy to stagnate in isolation and our people to lose all hope of ever overcoming our major difficulty of unemployment, of improving their standard of living or of attaining greater equality and social justice and of living a more contented, satisfying and poverty-free life. A "Yes" vote will be a vote for optimism and progress. A "No" vote will be a vote for despondency and stagnation.
It is almost 20 years to the very day since the Irish people voted by referendum to join the European Economic Community. That referendum was held on 10 June 1972 and the "Yes" margin then was 80 per cent. I am confidently expecting a similar percentage to support the Maastricht Treaty on 18 June next.
Of course, critics of our Community membership can rightly claim that not all the expectations and advances proclaimed as flowing from Community entry have been fully realised. However, nobody can deny that this country has made enormous social and economic advances, which extend also to the welfare of those who are unemployed and disadvantaged in our society. Nor would this have been achieved without the boost in national wealth and income which we directly enjoy through our membership of the Community, and the various legislative changes brought into our own domestic code as a result of the adoption here of Community Law Directives.
The Progressive Democrats see the 18 June referendum on Maastricht Treaty as something that will deepen and intensify the union of the 12 member states. It will create from January next a single market facilitating the free movement of people, goods, capital and services, and will, I believe, be a more significant milestone development for this country than our initial decision to join the Community in 1972.
At this stage of our country's development we are inextricably wedded to the European integration process, compared with 1972. Any interruption or disruption of our Community role and participation would have very serious economic consequences for this country. For that, and indeed many other reasons, the Progressive Democrats are enthusiastic advocates of the Maastricht Treaty and deeper European integration. As my Cabinet colleague and our party leader, Deputy Des O'Malley, made clear at our national conference in Waterford last weekend, the Progressive Democrats are a European liberal party and we advocate an open, confident, even generous approach to Europe rather than a begrudging, book-keepers' approach. Moreover our annual conference placed particular emphasis on the vital importance of Maastricht, devoting a very great portion of our deliberations to Europe, and we were also very pleased and honoured that the European Commission Vice-President, Martin Bangemann, took the time to be with us and to address our conference. I believe that his contribution, facilitated by national television coverage, will have brought home very dramatically and positively how the European ideal is genuinely uniting the peoples of the various member states and overcoming cultural, racial and national boundaries. It is enabling us to fulfil the vision of a Community of peoples running from the Aran Islands to the Adriatic and further east.
Therefore, the amount of confusion, exaggeration and deliberately misleading comment, whether to do with issues like abortion or neutrality in relation to what Maastricht really means, is to be greatly deplored. It certainly is not helping the Irish public to come to a clear understanding of the issues involved in the proposed Treaty, or the objective economic and social merits attaching to it.
The Progressive Democrats do not claim that the Maastricht Union picture is all rosy. There are undoubted risks and challenges which will face this country after 1 January next, largely arising from our very peripherality, but we are absolutely convinced that the balance of advantage undoutedly lies with our continued and deepening integration as part of the European Community.
Our dependence as a small island economy on exports of goods and services is almost unique — 70 per cent of all our exports now go to the other Community member states. That underlines the outstanding significance to this country of monetary union and a single currency which is at the core of what the Maastricht Treaty is all about.
The removal of all trade barriers giving us direct access to the European market of 340 million, is of inestimable importance. European Monetary Union will eliminate the exchange risk in all our trade with the other EC countries and it will bring huge savings to Irish business. From an investment point of view it is also likely that Irish interest rates will fall towards the lower EC norm over time. This would be good for business, farming and personal borrowers. Put simply our trade with the rest of the Community is Ireland's bread and butter.
It is undeniable, therefore that our continued full and equal access to the Single Market that will be created from 1 January next, on the adoption of the Maastricht Treaty, is an essential precondition for the continued economic success which we have achieved in this country, and the greater economic growth so essential to tackling the unemployment crisis and the other social problems in our society. There is simply no argument about it. No matter what reservations we might have about Ireland's future within the new European Union, our future within the Community will be undoubtedly much better than any conceivable alternative arrangement if we were left behind in a second division of the Community, or forced to withdraw from it entirely.
It is also worth noting that Europe has been the stimulus for very important advances in many social and economic fields here, other than trade and commerce. Greater equality of rights in the workplace and the home between men and women extending to areas like welfare entitlements, equal pay and social security, has come as a direct result of the adoption here of various EC directives. This process will get greater impetus still from the adoption of the proposed Social Charter which forms part of the Maastricht Union Treaty.
The absolute importance of Community membership for the development of Irish farming is irrefutable, not-withstanding the painful process of adjustment to, and the uncertainty of, the Common Agricultural Policy changes. Whereas 20 years ago, prior to our entry, Ireland depended on Britain for over half our exports, and suffered directly from that country's cheap food policy — by contrast only 17 per cent of our exports at that time went to the other Community states — now our exports to Britain constitute just 27 per cent of our total exports, and the other Community countries are taking 42 per cent of our total exports, and that figure is growing every year.
The Progressive Democrats regard the enhanced sovereignty which Ireland has achieved since our membership in 1973 as being just as important as the social and economic benefits of our membership. Formerly we were too dominated by Britain and our inevitable colonial links with that country. Changes in the British sterling rate automatically affected prices in Ireland and our very economic welfare, but we were not consulted about these changes. We had no such right. We were simply aggrieved bystanders. That is why I simply cannot accept the argument of those critics of European Community membership who claim that Irish sovereignty has been diminished as a consequence of our membership. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Since our entry to the Community in 1973, and more importantly our break with sterling in 1979, allied to the fact that Ireland sits as a co-equal around the table of the 12 member states, Ireland's role, its economic security, and its influence is of immeasurable and enhanced value compared to our position in Europe prior to 1973.
So what are the economic downsides of Maastricht? The danger that economic power, wealth and industrialisation will concentrate more and more in the Community's richer mainland regions is a matter of serious concern. That is why the development of top-class speedy and efficient transport networks within our own country, and between Ireland and the major European marketplaces is so important. That, of course, too is where the proposed doubled Structural Funds and the new Cohesion Fund are of enormous significance. The current phase of Structural Funding, likely to total £3 billion by the end of next year, is of enormous importance in helping to improve vital infrastructural links and services in this country. Naturally we look forward to seeing those funds doubled along with the extra assistance of the Cohesion Fund.
The Progressive Democrats are also deeply concerned about the necessity to ensure greater popular accountability within the Community. To that end we want to see greater powers accorded to the Community's only directly elected institution, the European Parliament. We believe that is essential, as more and more powers come to be centered in the Community's executive, namely the Commission, in Brussels, and as the Community deepens in integration terms, that it becomes more democratic and accountable. The European Parliament must be the vehicle for achieving those standards and qualities of accoutability.
I realise too that many people are concerned about the implications for Ireland's traditional policy of neutrality of any possible role we might be called on to play in any pan-European defence arrangements. As I said earlier, the Progressive Democrats' attitude is not a take-all-and-give-nothing approach. That would grossly undervalue the enormous contribution we can make in virtually every field of Community activity, not least security and defence arrangements for the new Europe.
Ireland is already playing an outstanding role in peace-keeping in some of the world's most notorious trouble spots, like Lebanon and Yugoslavia. We believe, therefore, that it is essential that Ireland be willing to play its part, in time, in the formulation of and any eventual common security and defence arrangements for the new Europe of 1993 and thereafter. But those developments are a long way off, if they happen at all.
It is deplorable, therefore, that there is so much misleading propaganda, undoubtedly aimed at inciting fear among the electorate, that adoption of the European Union will lead to the creation of a European army and possible conscription in Ireland. This is simply untrue, and there are no such proposals in the Maastricht Treaty. There is no European army and there are no plans to create one within the Treaty. Nor does the Treaty set up a common European defence treaty.
All decisions on foreign and security policy must be unanimous so Ireland cannot be out-voted. It is intended to hold a further Intergovernmental Conference in 1996 to consider any developments that might arise in the meantime in the area of common defence arrangements, and that will, in turn, require a further referendum here. So there is no question of Ireland now tying its hands in relation to the European security and foreign policy question. It is quite obvious, therefore, in seeking to draw up the inevitable balance sheet on membership, and deepening our integration within Europe from next January, that Ireland's future social and economic welfare is inextricably bound up with Europe.
The case for our involvement in the new European Union is simply overwhelming, and that is why the Progressive Democrats regret the extent to which the focus on the real economic and social issues underpinning Maastricht has become clouded by what is essentially a domestic controversy about abortion which we must settle ourselves.
The Progressive Democrats have already launched a very vigorous pro-Maastricht and pro-Europe campaign. Not only did we make it a major focus of our annual conference in Waterford last weekend, but we have already appointed our MEP Mr. Pat Cox, to direct a national campaign. He has already held a series of public meetings to explain Maastricht in major locations around the country, including my own city of Galway. Further meetings are being arranged by the party all over the country, and we will also be conducting an intensive door-to-door leaflet campaign to get across to the people the vital importance of voting "yes" to Maastricht on 18 June.