An Bille um an gCeathrú Leasú is Fiche ar an mBunreacht, 2001: An Dara Céim (Atógáil). Twenty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 2001: Second Stage (Resumed).

Atairgeadh an cheist: "Go léifear an Bille an Dara hUair anois."
Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I was speaking about Irish neutrality and the grounds on which we should go beyond traditional neutrality and making the case that for us to lose our neutrality by stealth was wrong, that we should, on terms favourable to Ireland, decide the basis for our departure from neutrality. A key part of the debate on this treaty should have been about Europe's developing security architecture and how we see Ireland's role in that architecture.

The Nice Treaty, despite all the usual outlandish claims of its opponents, does not mark the end of Irish neutrality. The ultimate decision on whether Irish forces will be committed to any foreign mission remains with the representatives of the Irish people in this House. However, the treaty recognises the growing security and defence aspects of the Union. We should not deny that. It is time we embraced them and dealt with them openly and stopped allowing Paisleyite type closed-mind tactics to back this country into ending neutrality by stealth in the worst possible circumstances.

The Treaty of Maastricht assigned a role to the Western European Union carrying out EU decisions, which had defence implications. As the EU's capabilities in this area have increased so the role of the Western European Union has diminished. This reality will now be effected in changes to Article 17 of the treaty which delete references to the Western European Union. In addition a political and security committee based in Brussels will replace the existing political committee comprising representatives from capitals and this is reflected in an amendment to Article 25 of the EU Treaty.

The growing defence and security aspect of the EU is recognition of the reality that Europeans will, in the future, have to take the lead on security matters in Europe. Recent events in the Balkans have served to confirm the reality that the United States is no longer willing to do what Europeans should do for themselves.

The Union is intimately involved in the development of a new security architecture for the continent, based on core values and new models of conflict prevention and, when necessary, conflict resolution. That the Irish Government has participated in these discussions and acquiesced to these developments without adequate discussion at home shows that it has learned nothing from its mishandling of the partnership for peace and that security and defence policy is being made in an unplanned way. Furthermore, it is being done in a way which is likely to cause maximum suspicion among the electorate, and without any explanation to Dáil Éireann.

I welcome the suggestion of Deputy Quinn for a national forum on European policy bringing together the political parties, social partners and interested groups, pro and anti further integration. Fine Gael believes the way to pursue and develop foreign and security policy is to put the issues properly before the people, the pros and cons of possible Irish policy should be articulated and debated. As EU security and defence policy evolves this too should be articulated at home. Regrettably Ministers continue to run away from proactively developing policy in this area or even explaining proposals or developments to the public. This state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue. I invite the Minister of State opposite and other Ministers not to allow themselves to be cowed by Paisley-type politics. That has caused terrible ruin to the best interests of the people in Northern Ireland and it is causing terrible ruin to people in the Republic because others will make rules and we will join by stealth. Let us be one of the people who make the rules and let us do so on our terms.

The Fine Gael party has set out clearly its vision of Ireland's future in the policy document Beyond Neutrality – Ireland's role in European Defence and Security. Fine Gael believes the time has come to manage developments in this area and not simply to react to them. It is time for Ireland to become one of the architects in designing future European security and defence structures.

In its policy document, Fine Gael sets out the principles it believes should be the basis of a future EU common defence policy of which Ireland would be a part. These principles include adherence to the fundamental principles of the United Nations; a commitment to the vigorous pursuit of the goal of universal nuclear and biological disarmament and to a solemn undertaking by a European Defence Union acting as an entity not to use nuclear or biological weapons; a commitment to mutual defence and support among all EU member states but based on an Article V type protocol – Article V of the Western European Union Treaty – opt-in arrangements for those states which do not want to make this an automatic provision; a commitment, as a priority, to the provision of resources to UN-mandated peace-keeping and peace-making operations and to the Petersberg Tasks of the Western European Union – humanitarian aid, search and rescue, peace-keeping and peace enforcement including tasks of combat forces on a case by case basis and respect for the right of other member states, if they so wish, to be involved in other military alliances, such as NATO.

With these principles in place we could change our policy on neutrality in the most advantageous circumstances from Ireland's viewpoint. If Ireland's neutrality ends at some future date, based on evolving rules largely made by others, and with little pro-active input from our own Government, mainly based on fear of telling the electorate the truth and being caught out on previous lies, and based on failure of leadership, we will have the worst of all worlds. It is time for Ireland to advocate a European Defence entity on terms which meet our concerns.

Fine Gael believes that by advocating a European defence entity based on these five principles and with mutual defence obligations, as set out in Article V of the Western European Union Treaty, as a non-binding protocol on current EU neutrals we would win a measure of support across the Union which would have good prospects of implementation.

It is time to stop making security and defence policy by stealth. As the record of this Government shows, this is the surest way to build public opposition to such initiatives, and to the EU as a whole.

As mentioned by previous speakers the Treaty of Nice equips the Union with the machinery to enlarge from the current 15 to as many as 27 within the next decade or so. The opportunity exists to end the historic division of our continent which brought so much grief and destruction in the 20th century to so many of our fellow Europeans. We can build a better more stable more prosperous and more secure future for our children.

I call on the public to support the treaty and I call on the Government to learn the lesson of its failures over the past four years and to open an inclusive debate on Ireland's role, including our role in security and defence matters in the European Union of the 21st century.

I hope this House will show there are other Members, including some on the Government side, who are prepared to stand up and say it is time for us to take our share of responsibility in security and defence matters in Europe and to try to do it on the terms we want. It is time we became one of the architects and stopped allowing other people make the rules. It is beyond time we took on the Paisleyite people in this State who have taken on to themselves a righteousness which they have no right to do because they are doing it over the dead bodies of 60 million Europeans in the main who lost their lives in the first half of the last century. If we want security, stability and the prosperity that flows from that essential prerequisite then we have to put our shoulders to the mill and play our part in ensuring that that security, stability and prosperity continues.

The Progressive Democrats strongly advocate the ratification of the Nice Treaty. This legislation is to enable the people to express their support for the further enlargement of the European Union. Our party will campaign for a "yes" vote in the referendum.

The Nice Treaty is about the hope of a stable, peaceful and prosperous future for the nations of Europe. It is about creating an EU which is ready and able to welcome as many as 13 new member states and 180 million new people. This is a truly historic undertaking. The 12 applicant countries and Turkey stretch from the small maritime states of the Baltic to the small island states in the Mediterranean. They include the historic and venerable nations of central and eastern Europe.

The applicant countries include many people who have only briefly in their history enjoyed democracy, peace and stability. They suffered terribly in the 20th century from internal as well as external oppression. At the beginning of the 21st century we can offer them the chance to secure a peaceful and democratic future in rock solid democratic institutions.

We must not let this debate pass without bringing the real stories of these nations to the people of Ireland. What do we know about them? Do we understand their past, their present needs, their hopes and their hopes of us? After the traumas of the First World War and the break up of the old empires, the early seeds of parliamentary government were overwhelmed by fascism and totalitarianism in many central and eastern European countries. "Nor could they survive", one historian wrote, "in the face of bitter ethnic rivalries. By the end of the 1930s, right wing dictatorships had overwhelmed political liberalism in each eastern European nation, except Czechoslovakia". Country after country succumbed to authoritarian rule, internal oppression, political instability and economic stagnation. Bloodletting and the savage oppression of people continued throughout the 20th century and, in Balkan states, effectively up to now.

The scale of the achievement of ending that oppression once and for all, which becomes possible within European institutions, would be magnificent. I will not recount today the suffering of the European continent in the Second World War or the external and internal denial of freedom and human rights that followed across central and eastern Europe. However, we should never gloss over this part of European history, our shared history. These events are still within the living memory of many millions of people. It is only in the last decade or so that many of the applicant member states to the European Union have had any hope of a stable, liberal democracy based on respect for human rights, the rule of law and economic progress.

Sometimes Irish people take their democratic and parliamentary history too much for granted. In comparison with many European nations, we have had a high degree of peace and stability, notwithstanding the War of Independence, the Civil War and, most recently, paramilitary violence in the North. This must give us pause to reflect but should also lead us to actions and the right decisions. It is not too much to ask of Irish people that we share the foundations of our peace, stability and prosperity with other nations on our continent and elsewhere. As a people we have benefited greatly from European structural assistance and other acts of European solidarity. We, who are seen by many as a model of the strength of the European idea and integration, should be the loudest voice in support of further enlargement of the Union.

When we refer to the 180 million people of the applicant countries, we should consider the rich cultural and historic diversity of the nations from which they come. The EU is now actively engaged in enlargement negotiations with 12 countries and will expand during this decade from a membership of 15 to 27. For this to take place, we must adopt the changes agreed in the Nice Treaty.

The candidate countries engaged in enlargement negotiations with the EU represent, for the greater part, countries that historically belong in the European family of nations but who, because of the outcome of the Second World War, found themselves cut off from developments in Europe for 50 years. Enlargement offers the opportunity to welcome them back to their natural homeland. I am speaking of Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Slovakia, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Bulgaria and Romania. Cyprus and Malta are also actively involved in negotiations for membership of the EU and Turkey has been granted candidate status. The names of many of these countries resonate through European history and their people have greatly influenced the development of European culture.

The candidate countries from central and eastern Europe have made tremendous efforts in recent years to prepare their economies and structures for membership of the EU. Their leaders have invested their hopes for the future of their nations in EU membership. They are successfully moving their economies from a centrally planned, non-competitive basis to open market, free trading structures and they have engaged in major administrative and political reforms in order to restore full respect for human rights and to comply with international treaty objectives. These changes have not occurred easily or without considerable hardship. As a country which has benefited greatly from membership of the European Union, Ireland has been happy to lend assistance and advice to the candidate countries where possible.

Major progress has been made by all candidates in enlargement negotiations and the most advanced countries among them should be prepared to join the EU over the next few years. Their future rests with Europe as Europe's future rests with them. Their membership of the EU will also bring great benefits to the current member states. In Ireland's case, it will increase the size of the Single Market which is of major importance to the economy. Enlargement is also central to the future security and peace of Europe. An enlarged Europe will be better able to deal with transnational problems of drug trafficking, organised crime and trafficking in people.

Our sense of solidarity with the applicant states is a function of our wider solidarity with less fortunate nations. The evidence lies in our people's commitment to overseas aid and emergency relief. The European Community is the largest donor of multilateral development aid in the world. It is the fifth largest donor of development aid and the largest donor of humanitarian assistance. While the Community programme of development co-operation has been much criticised, it makes an important global contribution to the fight against poverty and has helped millions of people in the developing world.

The Community is also the major donor to the countries of eastern Europe and central Asia. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the economies of these countries were plunged into turmoil. Mismanaged transitions to market oriented economic systems have resulted in a huge increase in poverty. In 1988, the World Bank estimated that one million people in eastern Europe and central Asia lived in extreme poverty, which is defined as an income of less than $1 per day. By 1998, the number had increased to 24 million, a level of poverty which is normally associated with sub-Saharan Africa. Overall, more than 160 million people in the region live below the poverty line, of which at least 50 million are children. These are people living within driving distance of the countries of central Europe.

The flow of economic migrants from this region into western Europe, including Ireland, is a stark reminder of how the rapid increase in poverty has impelled many people to seek a better life in the more developed countries. We know there are people living in Dublin and elsewhere in Ireland who have fled appalling deprivation in their home countries to find a new life in our thriving economy.

Such a profound income and development gap on the continent of Europe is a cause of serious concern. It poses huge challenges to the European Union which is greatly increasing its development assistance to the region. The people of eastern Europe and central Asia look to the European Union for their future economic development. The Community is seen as their most important strategic partner in their efforts to deal with the collapse of their economies and the rise in poverty. It is, of course, also in the Community's interests to ensure that these countries develop into stable and prosperous democracies.

Rather than losing their people through economic migration and relying on large levels of Community assistance, the people in this region need to attract the trade and investment which, as Ireland has seen, is fundamental to economic development. Nobody in Ireland would deny the poor of the region the opportunity to make a better life for themselves through the development of their political, economic and trade relations with the European Union.

It is not possible to achieve this great goal of enlargement in a reasonable time without changing the EU decision making processes. Critics say that the Nice Treaty changes the original nature of the Union or the Community by allowing countries to engage in "enhanced co-operation". The EU is changing. It has changed a lot since it was a Community of just six member states which Ireland joined nearly 30 years ago. Ireland's relations within the EU will change too. Our pattern of trade and diplomacy will be altered by enlargement. Surely we must recognise that we have not built our peace and prosperity on our own, that we received critical help from our friends abroad, both on the economic and political fronts, in the public and private sectors? Our friends in Europe, in the United States, in Australia and beyond have helped us become what we are today on the island of Ireland.

It was never a matter of "ourselves alone" in Ireland. The whole European Union project since the 1950s has itself been the very antithesis of "ourselves alone". It has been "we together", we, the people, nations and states of Europe, pooling sovereignty for the great goal of mutual prosperity and stability. It is grimly consistent of Sinn Féin, a party of narrow nationalism, to oppose the Nice Treaty and the enlargement of the European Union. The party of narrow nationalism cannot rise beyond its own name to embrace a shared future for all the peoples of Europe and it is also a black irony to hear the party of the paramilitary republican movement falsely accusing the legitimate governments of the European Union of increased militarism, an irony that will not be lost on the Irish people. Here we have Sinn Féin looking for the demilitarisation of the whole European continent, while the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons is painfully slow in one small part of Europe.

Those of us who favour the Nice Treaty must appeal to the strong strain of generosity in the Irish people. This will contrast with the appeal to fear and insular approval of many of those who are opposing the Treaty. During the Amsterdam Treaty referendum, the slogan was put out: "If you don't know, vote no." That was an appeal to ignorance and suspicion, saying: "If you feel ignorant, stay ignorant" and it showed a very poor view of the intelligence and attitudes of the Irish people.

Like it or not, many people do feel ill-informed about EU decisions. As politicians, we should say this is a problem to be solved, not one in which to wallow. The Government has indicated that it is actively considering new arrangements to provide for an extended national debate on EU issues in this jurisdiction in parallel with the debate on the future development of the Union which, as agreed at Nice, is getting under way across the member states.

Other opponents of the Nice Treaty say it is not about enlargement but about the larger states getting more power, and small countries like Ireland losing power. The fall in Ireland's voting weight at the Council of Ministers from 3.4% of the total now, to 2.95% in a Union of 15 members in 2005 and 2% in a Union of 27 member states is the cause for their wild alarm. A fall of 0.45% in our voting weight at the same time as larger countries have lost their second Commissioner is a minor change and seems to me to be a fair balance.

The wider point, however, is that opponents of the treaty have no positive suggestions to offer as to how enlargement can practically be achieved. Do they really think a European Union of 27 member states can operate as it did when there were six, nine or 15 members? Have they put forward any practical suggestions? Did they recommend an alternative and viable negotiating strategy for the Nice summit, recognising the legitimate needs and positions of all member states? No, they never did because the politics of the Greens, of Sinn Féin and of single issue pressure groups are the lazy politics of opposition, of constant, unconstructive and grievance-laden opposition. What are they saying to the peoples of the applicant countries? Their bottom line is that they simply do not recommend that any country should join us in the EU if we ratify Nice. We in Ireland have a lot more than that to offer the applicant countries. We can offer a positive, constructive approach in a Union that will operate effectively for all its member states.

What are the opponents saying to the people of Ireland? They claim that Nice will mean Ireland will be absorbed in an EU federal superstate. We are against a European federal superstate too and I would not recommend the Irish people to vote for one, no matter who puts forward the idea. However, that is decidedly not what the Nice Treaty does.

These opponents claim the Nice Treaty removes our national sovereignty. We have maintained in the Nice Treaty a crucial national veto on tax policy, the core of economic democracy. As far as I am concerned, Ireland should continue to hold this position. and for that reason the Progressive Democrats can recommend a "yes" vote on Nice.

The opponents claim Ireland is getting caught up in a military commitment in the EU. That is nonsense. The Treaty of Nice in no way expands or alters the scope of the Petersberg task provisions as contained in the Amsterdam Treaty and as already approved by the Irish people. It contains no security and defence provisions beyond very limited changes to the existing provisions for the common foreign and security policy which are intended to make it more coherent, more effective and more visible. The Treaty of Nice does not introduce a mutual defence commitment into the EU. The EU is not a military alliance and is not about to become one. Otherwise, why would countries which want to be in a military alliance want to join NATO as well as the EU?

In Ireland the Government will decide on a case-by-case basis which EU peace-keeping and crisis management actions we will take part in. These will be only with UN sanction and Oireachtas approval will also be needed in accordance with the terms of relevant Irish legislation. The Irish people are proud of the peace-keeping record of the Irish military forces and of the gardaí and I am confident that they will continue to back our positive engagement in the creation of EU crisis management capabilities. Our firm attachment to our policy of military neutrality has been expressed clearly and unambiguously on numerous occasions, including to our EU partners, and we are not interested in joining military alliances.

What we are interested in is playing our part in contributing to international efforts to respond to events such as those we have all witnessed in the Balkans over the past decade. Europe needs to be able to move quickly and effectively in response to such humanitarian crises. We will play our part in a manner which reflects the values which have always been at the heart of Irish foreign policy.

I wish to broaden the debate about the developing European Union in this context. My party believes it is also important that Ireland should engage fully in the content of the policies of the Union, across all policy areas, as well as the structures for decision-making. Europe must have the right policies, as well as the right structures.

If we are going to achieve an enterprise economy and fair society across the whole Union, that will be the result of the right type of policies the Union and member states pursue. Our policies together in the Union and as individual member states do influence whether we achieve the quality, sustained employment we want, whether businesses create jobs and replenish the supply of jobs when old jobs are lost, and whether risk-taking, research and development find a supportive environment.

The European Union is not all about structures, procedures and rules. It must be and is about shared policies that deliver real progress. As a party in the European liberal democratic political tradition, the Progressive Democrats believe the best policies are ones which involve a light burden of Government intervention in the economy, across all areas. We believe we should clear the way for all forms of enterprise-business, community and individual enterprise. Our policies are based on human rights, the rule of law and respect for individual freedom. We seek peace, prosperity and security in a liberal, fair, democratic order.

I am glad this viewpoint has proponents among member states, in the Commission and the Parliament. It is normal that there should be a healthy contest of ideas in all political institutions, the EU institutions included, and that points to the strength of the institutions themselves.

Getting the policies right for Ireland and for the European Union is the most urgent task. Structure needs content. My party rejects attempts by the left, in Ireland and elsewhere, to paint the entire European Union into one political corner, a soft left corner that they themselves seek to own.

Too many Irish commentators and politicians have fallen into the trap of debating European policy in terms which are almost exclusive to Britain: eurosceptic versus federalist, social democrat versus Tory conservative. The reality is that the European Union, our Union, holds within it a great diversity of political views. There is a strong grounding of support for the liberal, democratic position that the Progressive Democrats share. We are rooted in that long and proud European tradition which has been developed and influenced across Europe – in Britain, Germany, France, the Netherlands and the Nordic countries – and in the United States. Many of the challenges for policymakers are the same in Europe and in the United States. We do not accept the false dichotomy posed by some people between our belonging to Europe and our affinity with America. Why should Irish people be forced to choose between our European home and our American friends? The world is not divided into Europe and the United States. In making policy for Ireland and for the EU, we are making policy in an interconnected world. We cannot forget this or become inward looking, either in Ireland or in the EU.

The fundamental challenge is how to secure sustained, high value employment, peace, stability and human rights in a global economy. That means we have to be forward-looking, we have to understand the trends and forces in the global economy, we have to position Ireland and build clear comparative advantage for Ireland in the EU and in the global economy. At the Nice Summit, the leaders of the European Union decided to open a more fundamental debate on the shape and direction of the European Union. Another conference will take place in 2004. The issues are profound for Ireland and for the European Union, and the German Chancellor has made one contribution to that debate in recent days. Other European leaders have made important interventions in this ongoing debate, as has the Government. As a Government, as political parties, as members of Dáil Éireann and as citizens, we should and will continue to make our views clear, so there is no democratic deficit in the debate or its outcome. There are no foregone conclusions as the debate has yet to happen. The Nice Treaty enables the Union, as it is now, to welcome more members. Enlargement of the European Union is an opportunity, not a threat. It will be seen as the major act of greatness by the EU at the start of the 21st century. The Nice Treaty changes are reasonable compromises between member states to make enlargement possible. I believe the Irish people will see it this way and vote for the Nice Treaty.

I welcome the opportunity to say a few brief words on this debate and I understand I am to share time with Deputy Neville.

Many opponents of the Nice Treaty have used a stick to beat those in favour of it and have said the debate on its implementation has been rushed. It is unfortunate that we are having this referendum at the same time as three others, given that EU Heads of State have said there is no need to ratify the treaty before the end of 2002. The allegation that the debate has been rushed, allied to the confusion that may arise as a result of parties advocating "yes" or "no" votes in the four different referenda will fuel a campaign of "if you don't know, vote no", which would be extremely undesirable. The Government has made itself a hostage to fortune by its management of the organisation of the referenda.

In considering the Nice Treaty, it is important to look at the overall development of Europe since the Second World War. The Treaty of Rome established the European Coal and Steel Community, initiated by the Benelux countries. The Union developed as the EEC which Ireland joined in the early 1970s, through the Single European Act in 1986, the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 and the Amsterdam Treaty in 1997 to the Nice Treaty which we are now ratifying. It is obvious, therefore, that there is a growing pooling of sovereignty with our European partners across a wide range of issues. It is important from a selfish economic perspective that we vote "yes" on polling day, but there are other fabulous reasons for doing so.

It is often said that the public does not engage greatly with grand debate of this nature. If this topic was on the front page of The Star every day until polling day, the public would skip over that page and move on, as by its nature this is not an issue that greatly excites. I am always amazed, nonetheless, when those who feel aggrieved about a certain issue say “I will take this all the way to Europe”. It is important to remember that much of the economic and social progress we have made, as well as the cultural guarantees for minority groups and the rights that have been won by consumer groups and by human rights activists, are often underpinned by initiatives that have their genesis at EU level. While much may not be known about the detail of the treaty, the overall understanding of what Europe has done for us is significantly higher than is believed, as it should be.

Our membership of the European Union over nearly 30 years has played a significant role in our economic development, and has brought about changes in areas like human rights, consumer rights, economic rights and cultural rights. The Irish language is an example of the latter, as those who rightly try to safeguard its position often look to the EU as a saviour as it makes certain commitments to minority languages. Despite its growth from the original six countries to the 15, the EU has not become a homogenous cultural blot on the landscape and is unlikely to do so as it grows to 27 or 30 member states. The EU has fostered diversity, which is important.

We should vote "yes" because we owe much of our economic success to funds from Europe which have allowed us to build our own economy. As we move from being a net beneficiary to a net contributor, we have to be aware that we are an exporting economy. A significant economic opportunity is provided by a market that will grow inexorably during the next ten to 20 years, from 15 countries to 27 and from 370 million inhabitants to more than 500 million. That is the quid pro quo in terms of what we will lose, whether one wishes to call it the begging bowl, the handout or the transfer of funds. We will make up the shortfall by grasping the market opportunities that will arise as the community grows.

This treaty's facilitating of enlargement is more abstract and difficult to grasp for those who are not clued-in politically. Most people are familiar with the list of countries that want to join – Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and others. Member states need to be extremely conscious that there is a rim of countries outside those immediately interested in joining where political and economic stability needs to be fostered. This can be done only through economic assistance, as it is not sufficient to say we will increase to only 27 member states and that those outside the 27 can forget about being involved in the great European plan of enlargement for the next 20 years.

As a small exporting economy, we know the truth of the phrase "it is a small world". This is borne out by our agricultural industry, including our exports of beef to Russia, which is not one of the countries interested in joining the EU. It is in the best interests of this country and those of the EU as a whole, however, that the eastern flank of the Union is politically and economically stable. As we extend a welcoming hand to new member states, we must be willing to offer assistance to those outside the first rank of applicant countries to ensure the borders of the enlarged EU are politically and economically stable.

It is important we do not present Nice as something that it is not between now and polling day. The treaty is not exactly as we would have liked if we were drawing it up ourselves. The public will not allow itself to be short-changed by anyone who claims this treaty is a bed of roses. Certain aspects of the treaty would be different if we had our own way, although I do not mean to implicitly criticise the Government. When 15 countries come together to make decisions there must be give and take. We might believe that the Government gave too much in certain areas but I say that with the wisdom of hindsight and without being immediately au fait with the white heat of the negotiation table. The Government's political fig leaf is to say we did not concede on taxation policy and as a result it is acceptable to have greater qualified majority voting or to lose our Commissioner. That was never an issue but it has been a useful ploy to hide the Government's embarrassment on these issues. In accordance with the nature of political dialogue and debate, we have yielded certain concessions to facilitate enlargement of the European Union.

The one issue which will stick out as offensive to most people is the fact that when the European Union is enlarged to the extent envisaged in the Nice Treaty to include 27 member states, we will lose our right to membership of the Commission at all times. Many would consider that a step too far. It is important to realise the danger of presenting this as a bed of roses and the optimum outcome for Ireland. We should not underestimate the intelligence of the Irish public. There are some bitter pills in the Treaty but overall it is worthy of our support. It is primarily designed to facilitate enlargement and improve decision making. Some of the compromises are more palatable than others but the danger is that it would be presented as the optimum solution to the negotiations. That would run the risk of insulting the intelligence of the Irish people.

Those who oppose this Treaty have been opposing every step – the original decision to join, the Single European Act, the Maastricht Treaty and the Amsterdam Treaty. I am referring in particular to Independent Deputies, Sinn Féin and the Green Party. In particular they constantly raise the red herring about Irish neutrality and NATO, and use scare tactics. How many times have Irish citizens sat in their living rooms and wrung their hands in despair when they watched television broadcasts of what is happening in former Yugoslavia, Bosnia or Rwanda. The instinctive human outcry is: "Somebody should do something." The reality is that we, as a State, cannot always say that somebody should do something. We have created a political entity which is worthy of defence but equally we have obligations to others in terms of our participation in PfP on a case by case basis in accordance with the Petersberg Tasks. We need to meet this debate head on because there is considerable public support for getting involved on a humanitarian basis. It is not as if we are striking out to create an empire for the sake of it. It is primarily based on political and fundamental human rights and that is what should be informing us on our involvement on a case by case basis.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. It is important, as Deputy Creed stated, that the voting public is made aware of what is at issue because at present they do not fully comprehend the issues involved. The issue is very simply about the enlargement of the European Union and the Treaty of Nice will give effect to institutional changes to facilitate increasing the membership to 27.

We must endeavour to involve ourselves as far as possible in the national debate because if we do not do so, there is a danger that the electorate will not respond to our call to come out and vote. There is always a danger then that the people who have been vocal down through the years in opposing the development of the European Union will have their way and win the vote. Therefore we, as responsible politicians, must be vigilant and bring the debate to the people and endeavour to explain what is involved and what is at stake at every opportunity.

It is important that we would have a reasoned debate and that all the issues related to the treaty are fully understood. There should be adequate preparation of the facts and the implications in order to assist people in making a decision to accept or reject the Nice Treaty. Previous speakers have pointed out the concern about the short period of time allowed for the public debate. The All-Party Committee on the Constitution recommended a period of three months and I feel that such a period is required in order to develop an in-depth debate and allow people time to fully understand the issues. We do not want the slogan, "If you do not know, vote no", to take hold.

The fact that four referenda will be put to the people on the same day will create confusion. It would be interesting to ask people the meaning of the four amendments to the Constitution. It would be interesting to know the percentage of the population who understood the debates on the referenda which have taken place here over recent weeks. Do they know that one of the referenda will remove references in the Constitution to the death penalty and the possibility of ever restoring the death penalty? Do they know that one of the referenda has to do with the international criminal court? Perhaps they have some idea that one of the referenda has to do with orderly disciplinary procedures regarding the Judiciary because of the debate surrounding the Judicial Council, the contentious nature of this issue and the previous debates and discussions on the disciplinary procedures for, and the actions of, the Judiciary.

We need to introduce momentum and reasoned dialogue to the debate on the Nice Treaty. The treaty is an indication of work in progress in the European Union. The construction of post-war Europe and now the post-Cold War Europe was never going to be achieved by one treaty or agreement. This treaty represents a stepping stone to the historical imperative of a European Union for the entire Continent to include the Baltic states, the Balkans and the islands of Cyprus and Malta. Twelve candidate countries are to be admitted over the next ten years. The Union will grind to a halt if the structures and institutions, created by the Treaty of Rome in 1957 and left largely intact since then, are not replaced by a modern and efficient set of institutions.

The Treaty of Nice represents a decisive step in fashioning a new Europe. When we hear the popular rhetoric about the treaty, we should remember that this treaty neither sets up a European army nor introduces a common scale of moral values to the European Union. Its sole aim is to reform the institutions and structures of the Union to make them flexible and adaptable to a union comprising 25 or 30 member states.

Ireland's success in recent years is due in no small way to our membership of the European Union and access to European markets. One must remember that the enlargement of the European Union will provide the Ireland with access to a European Union market of up to 550 million people as compared with the market of 370 million people which exists at present. Therefore, there are market opportunities for Ireland in an enlarged Europe.

Many of the applicant states are as poor, if not poorer, than Ireland was when we joined the EEC in 1972. Many have only won freedom within the last decade. Their membership of the Union is essential for their own secure development. The representatives of those countries make it clear that their first priority in foreign policy is to secure membership of the European Union. While our days as net beneficiaries of EU funding are ending, the benefits of EU membership are not to be gauged merely by the financial flows. As an exporting country, the prospect of a European Union with a population of more than 550 million must be considered attractive.

Endorsement of the Nice Treaty does not mean that Fine Gael endorses Government policy on Europe and its institutions. We look forward to the next intergovernmental conference due to get under way soon, which may be held when Ireland next holds the EU Presidency. It is important to have more debate in this House and outside on what Ireland should seek at that conference.

If I have a reservation about taking part in this debate, it is that the ongoing evolution of Europe should have been a matter of continuing debate in this Chamber for some considerable time. I regret we have used and abused our time in this House so constantly by spending an hour and a half on the Order of Business every day on personality focused nonsense before taking on responsibility for continuing to inform our people who are being asked to make a decision on this important issue. Every other parliament in Europe has been engaging in continuing discussion and debate on the evolution of Europe, and properly so.

The holding of a referendum on the Nice Treaty gives us the first opportunity to endorse it. As Europe continues to evolve, I hope we will act responsibly as a Parliament and have regular debate and discussion on issues before being forced to debate, in a short timeframe, a matter that will be decided by the Irish people, with all the possible consequences of distortion in any such debate.

I regard this opportunity as a special privilege and obligation. My privileges and obligations derive from my being a member of the Council of Ministers in early 1973, after we joined the European Union. I may be the only surviving Member of this House who was a member of the Council of Ministers at that time. Deputy O'Malley may have been, but as far as I know there was no Council for industry for which he had responsibility at that time. I had the privilege of representing Ireland at the Council of Ministers for energy in 1973 and I have had a continuing association, as the Chair and the House will be aware, with European evolution since then.

It is important to record the changes resulting from our membership of the Union and its impact on our people, especially our young people, and on our international reputation, particularly among our European partners. The late Seán Lemass was a very far-seeing progressive person. Since his time as Taoiseach, the policy has been to prepare our people for our involvement, in a vigorous and positive way, in Europe. Even the third level institutions, particularly that in Limerick, set up in my early days as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education in the 1960s, had one central focus. The theme was "Ireland in Europe" and our young people playing a full and vigorous part in that Europe. It is wonderful to look back and realise how that policy has been vindicated.

Prior to our joining the European Economic Community in 1972, the average income per head here was 60% of the average income per head in the EEC while now it has almost doubled. That simple fact cannot be denied. Lawyers will say it is res ipsa loquitur, the facts speak for themselves. Let those who want to challenge that fact produce the evidence to the contrary. Those who would challenge it would say we had a much higher proportion of income back then and we have a much lower one now, but that is not the case.

The history of the European Community started with the Benelux countries, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg getting together to ensure they could protect themselves against the possibility of another terrible war in which they were likely to be the victims. From that Benelux concept of co-operation at the centre of Europe came the European Coal and Steel Community and, subsequently, the Treaty of Rome in 1957. When we joined their Community in 1972 it had six members and that number increased to nine with the accession of the United Kingdom, Denmark and ourselves. We wanted to be part of that Union of nine. Subsequently, the membership increased to 12 with the accession of Greece, Portugal and Spain. I was a member of the Council of Ministers for each of those periods and I remember the sense of impatience, expectation and, in the end, satisfaction on the part of our Portuguese, Spanish and Greek colleagues that at last they could join the European Community, as it was then. Subsequently that membership increased to 15 members.

We would have resented the attitude of any one of those member states, much less a small element or small party in any one of them, preventing us playing a full and vigorous role in the European Community, preventing us reaping the rewards and enhancing our status and our confidence as a nation. We would have resented beyond anything, if a small rump in Holland, or another member state, brought down a barrier to our joining the Community, but none of those member states did that. Nonetheless, some in this House, and elsewhere, feel they have the right or entitlement to exclude from membership nations who have emerged from the dark night of communist oppression, and that is as about as gently as I can put it. Some suggest we should prevent those countries seeking accession to the Union benefiting from democratic partnership in Europe.

Those who oppose this treaty should come clean and say they know the consequence of our rejecting the Nice Treaty in a referendum will be that Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and others such as Latvia, Lithuania, Cyprus, Croatia and Slovenia will be blocked from gaining accession to the Union because we, in our selfish, little cosy nest, would say "no, you may have struggled to gain your independence, freedom and dignity as individuals and as a people, but now that you are hoping to join in a democratic sharing of power and sovereignty in Europe, we will stop you." Those who oppose this process should say precisely how they can justify that. Where were their voices and what did they say during the period of the Soviet oppression, the brutal oppression of Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland and many other countries?

I do not remember those voices in those days when the Prague spring was a very short lived one and during the brutal Soviet repression of Hungary. I have met parliamentarians from Hungary, Poland, Slovenia and other countries, who look to Ireland, in particular – they are aware we will hold a referendum on the treaty – to open up a new avenue to enable them become equal partners in a European adventure from which, hopefully, they will reap the positive benefits we achieved from our membership of the Union. That is a basic reality. Elements from the disparate left to the right wing of the Tory party, particularly those who oppose this treaty, and some elements from the extreme right wing in America see this as an opportunity of getting involved in funding and supporting the debate against our "take-over" by Europe, as some would like to put it. What a disparate group they are. They would each do well to reflect on the companions with whom they are involved.

I recall a European Council meeting in Dublin, when Margaret Thatcher, who took a very negative view towards Europe, reduced the whole issue of European involvement to a nonsense by "demanding her money back". She wanted to rule supreme in her own country and isolate herself from the influence of others in Europe. Unfortunately for the British people, that legacy is still too obvious. A number of right-wing Tories are still pursuing the same old chant. They wish the European idea had never emerged. They want to be masters of their own great destiny, as if they were still a world imperial power and they have some allies from the most unlikely sources in this country and in this House. That is a matter which needs to be addressed.

Ireland has done well in Europe because our people, our Government, our political parties generally, our business people and our workers have all taken a vigorous attitude towards it. They are out there gaining new markets and employment opportunities. On the other hand, the British enterprise sector and workers have been getting negative signals for some time. Consequently, they have not had a comparable level of achievement, considering all their advantages in international financial services, technology, trade and so on. They were ahead in all those areas, but not now, and this can be attributed to their lack of commitment. Every member state has some reservations but all can benefit by pooling resources and sharing a more significant sovereignty. The voices of Sinn Féin and others who have views on this issue were not heard when the countries concerned were being oppressed. Now, they are claiming Ireland will be overwhelmed unless they stand in the bearna baoil.

I realise I am addressing a House which is relatively depopulated at the moment. There is also a notable absence of press commentators, who would all be there if we were having some nonsense on the Order of Business or engaging in the kind of personality issues which have become an unfortunate feature of discussions in this Chamber. That would provide headlines, but where are they now, when the real issues affecting the Irish people are being debated?

I have met parliamentarians from Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovenia and other countries, who look to Ireland as an example of what they want to achieve. They see that the political and economic consequences for us have been enormous. The Irish people had been sheltered for so long and caught up in the Anglo- American mainstream, with little real contact with our European blood brothers. Since we joined again in Europe, our young people, our business people and our workers are all benefiting from that renewed involvement and being enhanced in their attitudes. Of all countries, it is unthinkable that Ireland should block the entry into that common European democratic partnership of those countries recently released from oppression, brutality and dictatorship. Between 1994 and 1999, Irish exports to these applicant countries have increased by almost 350% to £586 million. Irish investment in Poland alone is now in excess of $1 billion. The Poles see that as a joint partnership with a country which they respect and whose example they can follow. The focus is very much on Ireland right now.

The treaty, of course, also concerns the internal reorganisation of the institutions to accommodate the larger membership and ensure the institutions will be workable. I may be one of a small minority who doubt the need to refer such a treaty to the people, since it does not transfer any competence from the member states to the Union. Ireland is the only EU country to hold a referendum on this treaty. I have no reservations about the Irish people being asked to give their view, but the internal reorganisation of the Commission, Parliament and Council of Ministers is not a matter which in any way impinges on our sovereignty. That is my view, but now that it has been decided, we need a ringing endorsement.

Reference has been made to security and defence. Those matters have no connection whatsoever with the Nice Treaty. However, I have very strong reservations about the armaments exports of some of our European partners, euphemistically called Partners for Peace. The victims of that scandalous trade in weaponry and death are innocent people in Africa, South America or wherever. As members of the European Union, we owe it to those innocent victims to raise our voice against that amoral trade in which our partner countries are engaged. That is not an issue in the Nice Treaty but it is a matter on which our voice should be heard.

I also have a reservation about the attitude of the EU in regard to animal health. I recall as Minister for Agriculture going to that same European Community when we did not have an outbreak of BSE with individual instances as distinct from Britain. I suggested to our European partners that we needed to have a proper regime to control animal disease in the interest of the market and that we needed to protect countries like Ireland with a disease free status. Unfortunately they did not respond in the way one would want them to and now we see the consequences. Sometimes the impression is conveyed that Ireland has a foot and mouth problem because we took vigorous effective action when others did not.

Incidentally, the farming community has had a major change of experience since we joined the European Community. Before we joined the Community we had to subsidise our exports to the British market. How many times did we find our emigrants returning to tell us they could get Irish produce a lot cheaper in Liverpool or Birmingham? They thought that was a tribute to England. The reason it was cheaper in England was that before we joined the European Community our taxpayers had to subsidise our produce in England in order to keep some niche in the market against New Zealand, Danish and Australian produce in relation to which some countries had very privileged arrangements. That cannot be forgotten, whatever reservations we might have about the Common Agricultural Policy and its operation.

I was the Minister for Agriculture who negotiated 100% premium payments from Brussels in respect of all sheep, ewe, beef or other premia on the basis that if we had to match what they were paying by 30% contributions it would bring impossible inflationary pressures on us. That was agreed. Despite discrepancies and unnecessary technicalities and regulations in premia payment the fact is that the payments are fully funded by our European partners and they have been of considerable benefit to us.

It is a privilege and obligation to make this contribution and I hope that we will have opportunities over the next few years to make similar contributions on the evolution of Europe. We have shamefully wasted parliamentary time on personalities and issues that allow the lads in the gallery to have a headline instead of engaging in important issues such as this. That is not real politics.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Higgins (Dublin West).

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome yet another opportunity for the Irish people to vote through referendum on a European issue. Since 1972 there have been many opportunities where they, uniquely in this instance, have an opportunity through referenda to vote for the evolution and developments that must be enshrined in our Constitution through the Treaty of Accession, the Single European Act, the Treaty of Maastricht, Amsterdam and now the Treaty of Nice. It is an opportunity for the people to grasp enthusiastically what we are trying to achieve in the Treaty of Nice. The people will vote in favour of the Treaty of Nice if they reflect on the important issues in the treaty and reflect on how the evolution of Europe through the various treaties over the years has been of benefit to the people and the economy.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, mentioned some of the figures in relation to developments in the EU and what they have meant to the Irish. The most important development for us is the confidence it has given our country in the family of nations of the European Union. It is important that we approve the Treaty of Nice. What we are trying to achieve through the referendum is to allow other applicant states become members through the process of enlargement and to streamline some of the institutional arrangements in order to make the Union less bureaucratic.

I welcome the enlargement proposal enshrined in the treaty. It gives stability on the European continent through joining former eastern bloc countries with the family of nations from western Europe into a major economic bloc. It is a source of pride to existing member countries that so many applicant countries seek to join this very successful European Union. These applicant countries have gone through enormous political difficulties. They are young in terms of democratic freedom and are fledgling economies that need the support of all the member states to bring them through the initial years of membership and through the process that will arise from the ratification of this treaty to full membership of the European Union.

We have nothing to fear from an enlarged European Union. It is a great opportunity for the Irish economy and people to embrace countries in a similar position to the Ireland of 1972 where we had a low level of economic activity largely dependent on one industry, agriculture. Through the advances in education, and technological education and training in particular, we have one of the brightest, youngest populations in Europe ever to take its place and compete internationally in business, marketing and in various other opportunities that have opened up through our membership. The expansion in language training and in the number of languages that our young people have is a clear testimony of the European attitude to which the Irish have become accustomed. We are an outward looking people. We have always been a small open economy with an outward looking population and have great confidence and pride in our place in the European Community.

It is in the Irish national interest to have a peaceful, prosperous and stable Europe. Some of these applicant countries have been involved in conflict and the fact that they are now prepared to join a stable, peaceful economic and cultural political bloc like the European Union will surely make it more difficult for atrocities to take place or political difficulties to arise. They will be part of the union and have its support. In a small open economy such as ours stability and peace must be important if we are to enhance our reputation. It enhances our international prospects of greater market share. It increases the market by 150 million to 550 million. Many Irish companies are already established in Poland and Hungary. Glanbia from my own Kilkenny constituency established a very important facility in Hungary many years ago and is enlarging that facility to establish greater market share for the agricultural produce that it produces and exports.

The ratification of Nice will enhance business employment for the Irish. I will exhort my constituents to give a yes vote to the treaty. The Fine Gael Party has always been pro-Europe and I will be exhorting my constituents to give a yes vote to the Treaty of Nice. Fine Gael is pro-Europe, but not blindly so, and the European People's Party, of which we are a member, is at the heart of European parliamentary policy. A vote for peace and stability, Fine Gael believes, is in the best interests of the development of the European Union.

We are a young country with well trained young people, who can compete with anyone on the European stage, and we have the confidence as a nation to go forward and compete with the countries emerging in the EU. Our economy will get an unprecedented opportunity to show that we can stand shoulder to shoulder with the best in the EU. I wholeheartedly welcome the new economies and countries that will be part of the Union.

(Dublin West): It is outrageous that the Bill for a referendum over the Nice Treaty is being rushed through the Dáil as it is, not allowing for a proper discussion, and rushed through to a referendum, probably on 7 June, without allowing for a proper debate by the people. I am not convinced by Fianna Fáil Members who complain about a lack of time but were not there this morning to vote for more time when I protested about the short length available today.

I will talk about what the heart of the Nice Treaty is and is not about. It is not about uplifting the working people, the poor people and the small farming community of Eastern Europe. They need uplifting after emerging from the dark years of the Stalinist dictatorships. The real agenda behind Nice is not the welfare of the majority of the central and eastern peoples but the creation of a massive economic bloc incorporating 500 million people within which the most powerful multi-national corporations can substantially increase their reach into central and eastern Europe, further massively increasing their profits. It is also the creation of a military wing for this bloc which can rival other trading blocs in the economic sphere and carry as much military weight as the United States in particular, which is both the EU's trading partner and serious rival.

Fronted by EU governments and politicians, such as the Fine Gael and Labour parties, the process of enlargement and militarisation is driven, not by concern for the working people or poor of central and eastern Europe, as is claimed, but by the greed of corporate entities which contain in their ranks the major producers of mass destruction and the purveyors of misery and death throughout the world; the armaments conglomerates of Europe.

The think tanks and unofficial organisations, encompassing the biggest corporations in the EU exert decisive influence over its direction. Unelected and faceless to the EU peoples, big businesses' representatives dictate to governments as a matter of course. The European Round Table, which comprises leading industrialists, chairmen and chief executives of European multi-national companies, with membership by invitation only, is such a body. The combined turnover of the European Round Table companies in 1999 was stg£740 billion, employing millions. They carry huge weight. Their members in 1999 represented the most powerful corporations in the EU, for example, Imperial Chemical Industries from the United Kingdom, Royal Dutch Shell, BP Amoco, the Swiss Nestlé and Hoffman La Roche, as well as household names from other countries, like Carlsberg, Unilever, Siemens, Fiat and Pirelli. These corporations deploy their power and resources to lobby, push or bully EU governments as appropriate, which oblige. They also lavishly fund many political parties pushing for the Nice Treaty and all it entails.

That is not to speak about the murky world of corruption involving some major companies which emerged recently. Architects of EU enlargement, such as Herr Kohl and the German Christian Democrats, were funded corruptly by multi-national corporations which stand to gain massively from EU enlargement and the Nice Treaty. Bodies, like the European Round Table, push enlargement into central and eastern Europe, not to increase the well-being and happiness of these countries' peoples but to extend their markets and have a ready supply of low paid labour.

They are already heavily involved in these parts of Europe. Many have subsidiaries there, as have Irish based multinationals, such as one of our big banks and Jefferson Smurfit – Mr. Smurfit belongs to the European Round Table. They want to link with the elite of these countries who are enthusiastic about EU membership since they stand to gain hugely at the expense of their peoples. These elites are composed of former Stalinist apparatchiks, who presided over the totalitarian regimes which oppressed their peoples and brought their economies to their knees. They used the privatisation of industry to rob the states' assets from the people to whom they rightly belong. By linking up with the corporations in the EU, they will become wealthy beyond their dreams. Those in the Dáil, who denounced hypocritically the oppressors of these peoples in the Stalinist era, are prepared to do business with these same people, who have changed their clothes but not in exploiting the own people.

They were the Deputy's friends.

(Dublin West): What of the ordinary people, the poor and small farming communities? Poland's two million farmers, handed over to the tender mercies of the capitalist market in the enlarged EU, will be decimated. These countries are joining against a different background from that which obtained when Ireland did. The international economy will be uncertain. The cold winds of recession, beginning in the United States, signal the reassertion of the iron laws of capitalist development which ensure that bust, unfortunately, is as much a factor as boom. Recession, and even slump, appear and reappear as indebtedness, overproduction and other ills of the capitalist economy take their toll.

Bringing in the eastern European countries is tied up with the deregulation and privatisation, driven within the EU for several years by major corporations. Existing public services will be ruthlessly privatised and taken over by the EU conglomerates. Language is a major casualty of the EU, as it has been of recent war efforts, when things are not put in their real terms. For example, enhanced co-operation is, in reality, code for an inside track, an elite within the 15 current members of the EU who wish, or may wish at a certain stage, to leave behind weaker currencies, and it is a delusion for weaker countries, such as Portugal, and even this State, to believe that in the coming world recession, which is inevitable in the next years, they will be able to keep up with some of the major powers within Europe. They will be left behind, and even the euro currency itself, if implemented next year, will come under pressure, to say the least.

The Nice Treaty advances and consolidates the Common Foreign and Security Policy already embraced by the European Union. With the debasement of language, that is a weapon in the hands of the EU. The Common Foreign and Security Policy is said to be about peace and love, but it is about giving military muscle to the EU's economic weight to ensure that it has that military muscle to back up its economic power. We are indignantly told that there is no EU army in store, yet we have a Rapid Reaction Force of 60,000 which will involve a cohort of about 200,000 from which to draw, 400 combat planes, 100 warships. What would one call this? If an object looks like an elephant, walks like an elephant, feels like an elephant, in my book it certainly is an elephant. However, judging by what it has said so far in relation to the Rapid Reaction Force, our Government would say that the elephant is a turtle dove, and not only that but that it has an olive branch in its mouth.

Who is driving the militarisation of the EU? Let the facts speak for themselves. EU countries account for 36% of total arms sales by OECD countries. Of the 100 largest arms producing companies in the world, 39 belong to EU countries. I could list them, but I do not have the time. On a rough calculation, arms sales in 1998 by these EU-based companies were US$55 billion, with profits of US$13 billion. All that is envisaged in the Common Foreign and Security Policy is grist to the profit mills of these multinational armaments corporations. What does the advancement of peace have to do with the facilitation of these companies who engage in the dirtiest and most repulsive trade known to humanity?

I am opposed to the Nice Treaty and will call for a "No" vote, but not as a nationalist; the Socialist Party is an internationalist movement. It is linked with the Committee for a Workers' International which organises in virtually all the countries of the EU and some of the countries who are now becoming candidates for the EU. We are opposed to it on the basis of genuine internationalism, on the basis of the alternative that should be and could be built to the dominance of the greed of the multinationals, on the basis of the principles of democratic socialism and genuine internationalism. A Europe genuinely of the peoples of Europe and for the peoples of Europe could be established where we could use and exchange and develop resources, not driven by the predatory actions of the multinationals but in the interests of ordinary people and in consonance with protection of the environment and our ecosystems. It would be a Europe where the swords would be beaten into ploughshares—

That would be turning back the clock a bit.

(Dublin West):—where the resources and human genius criminally wasted on weapons of mass destruction would be diverted to the advancement of human happiness. That is the alternative to going along this road. I wish that the parties in the Dáil supporting this would tell the truth about what is really involved in this treaty so that our people, when they come to vote on 7 June, can make a decision on the facts as opposed to the cover-up that is being advanced in this Dáil by all the establishment political parties in this State.

I propose to share my time with Deputy Conor Lenihan.

The basic role of the European Union was to unite Europe after years of division. In 1973, when we first joined, it was known as the European Community or Common Market, and Ireland was one of the poorest members. The European Community did not turn its back on us then, just as we cannot turn our back on new entrants such as Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic which are poorer than we were then.

Ireland is the only member state that must have a referendum on this treaty. It is essential that the people of Ireland realise that a "yes" vote for the Nice Treaty is a vote for prosperity and progress, not only for the applicant countries but also for Ireland.

The 15 members of the European Union currently have a population of 370 million. As a member of the Single European Market, Ireland pays no taxes or hidden charges on exports to the other 14 member states. Since we export 85% of our produce, we benefit enormously from the Single Market. When enlargement is completed, our exports will have access to a Single Market of around 550 million. This is of enormous importance to an open trading economy like ours. Irish exports centred on European countries who are applying now have risen by well over 300% in the past five years. Enlargement will increase this trade, strengthen our economy and provide much-needed jobs in our community.

Ireland is an attractive location for foreign direct investment, partly because of its ability to export directly into the Single Market. This can only be enhanced by the increase in the Single Market which will result from enlargement. Joining the European Union in 1973, a major objective was to attract foreign investors and foreign industry to provide much needed jobs. Now, for the first time in a long time, this country has jobs at home. Young people are staying in Ireland. They are setting up home here and living here and we are no longer, as some cartoonists put it at times, exporting our children along with our cattle. We have jobs for them and we must thank the Single Market and the European Union for that.

The Treaty of Nice is good for Ireland. Those who disagree trot out the same arguments and scaremongering tactics. Debate on the treaty should be based on fact and not rehearsed revisions of old and not-so-reliable unfounded arguments. Sinn Féin and the Green Party have opposed every development of the European Union since the 1970s. Once again, they have not failed in formulating sometimes ridiculous arguments against the EU and the treaty.

Ireland's interests will be protected by the Nice Treaty. The treaty is about reforming the institutions for a larger 27 member EU so that it can operate effectively. It is not about creating a two-tier super state. We will maintain our voice in the European Commission. Ireland, like all other members, will have one Commissioner after 2005. After enlargement has taken place, the rotation system will ensure that Ireland will be represented no differently from the larger member states. We will maintain our voice in the European Parliament. Ireland has been allocated 12 seats in the Parliament. We will continue to have a better ratio of seats to population than any existing member state except Luxembourg – twice our entitlement on a population basis. We will maintain our voice on the Council of Ministers. With fewer than 1% of the population, we will have over 2% of the votes on the Council. This means that we will continue to have a voting weight more than twice our entitlement on the basis of population.

The Nice Treaty does not affect our neutrality, and despite the ridiculous claims with which the "no" campaign has tried to unnerve and scare the electorate, Ireland will retain its neutrality. There will be no European army. Irish soldiers will participate only in peace-keeping operations backed by the UN and Dáil Éireann. The neutrality threat card has always been a favourite scare tactic of the "no" campaign.

It did not work in 1992 when we voted on the Maastricht Treaty or in 1998 when we voted on the Amsterdam Treaty. It will not work this June because the electorate can see we have not lost our neutrality in the EU so far and there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that we will lose it in the future. The "no" campaign claim that the Nice Treaty will affect Irish neutrality is once again without basis and simply not true.

The treaty does not take away any of our rights to set our own taxes. Nothing in the Treaty of Nice will alter this Government's ability to continue our policy of low taxes for business and workers. It is clearly stated in the Nice Treaty that Ireland will retain this area of taxation. Any suggestion that we are losing democratic control over fiscal policy is clearly without any basis whatsoever.

The European Union has been very good for Ireland and the electorate knows this. Since 1973 it has continued to endorse various stages in the development of the EU through the referendum process. Many of the applicant countries will look towards Ireland when planning their future in the EU. It is undeniable that the EU has played a role in Ireland's outstanding economic success over the past decade and will continue to do so in the future. Enlargement means new markets for Irish food producers and exporters. It is also important to point out that direct grants to Irish farmers will continue and the Common Agricultural Policy will continue to play a crucial role in transforming living standards in rural Ireland.

The EU has played a large role in improving living standards for everyone in Ireland. Europe provided the framework for the introduction of the minimum wage. European legislation ensured equal pay for men and women workers. The European Social Fund plays an important role in the elimination of unemployment through the national development plan. The EU has also made a large contribution to the peace process in Ireland through the EU Peace Programme and through the International Fund for Ireland. We have gained from EU membership and we must now ensure that other countries get their chance to do the same.

A "yes" vote for the Nice Treaty is a vote for continued Irish success and prosperity in the EU. It is also a vote to share this success with countries which are less fortunate than we are. The Nice Treaty poses no threat whatsoever to Ireland's position in the European Union – on the contrary, we can only continue to prosper in a larger Union. Any claims made by the "no" campaign which state otherwise have been proved wrong in the past and will be proved wrong in the future. The Nice Treaty simply prepares the Union for enlargement through institutional reform so that millions more Europeans can enjoy its benefits. It is about sharing the Europe of the future for the benefit of Ireland and all Europeans.

I would like to nail on the head something that was said earlier about signing up to the Nice Treaty, living standards in rural Ireland and the applicant countries. There is no comparison in regard to living standards in rural Ireland today with those in the early 1970s. I have no doubt that the countries which will be joining over the coming years will benefit enormously both the rural and urban sectors.

I was going to say I regretted I was not in the Chamber when Deputy Joe Higgins was speaking—

Do not bother.

—but sadly on reflection, I am rather glad he is not here and that I was not here when he was speaking. He sometimes reminds me of a rather sad, screaming preaching Islamic mullah who seems to believe that by constant repetition of the same sad old story that one somehow eventually gets one's message across.

I commend Fine Gael and the Labour Party for their progressive support for the Nice Treaty.

That is unusual.

Fine Gael, the Labour Party and Fianna Fáil have in their outlook and ethos a genuine internationalist outlook which makes them, in effect, real parties of Government, parties that can participate in Government because they are mainstream and prepared to accept the international norms and the necessity of going with large and progressive projects such as the European Union.

I have been following the public statements and positions adopted by the opponents of the treaty with some considerable interest. The so-called Peace and Neutrality Alliance of Sinn Féin, the Greens, the Socialist Party and assorted others are an unholy and unwholesome modern alliance which has cobbled together a cranks' charter of objections to the treaty. They are completely out of touch with the deep veins of Irish republican and social thinking which are, at best, both internationalist and pluralist in their impulse. Wolfe Tone, James Connolly, Thomas Davis, even the Fenian dynamite men of the 1860s or O'Donovan Rossa would have little time for the narrow republicanism and the narrow socialism and negative tactics being adopted by those who claim to be the great inheritors of Tone and Connolly. It is important that is pointed out because everybody in this House has a republican root, even Deputy Gilmore coming as he does from the Workers' Party tradition.

As parties we all have republicanism in our veins and none of us have exclusive rights to that particular ideology. It is an ideology shared across all the parties; it is the great foundation root of our political system. It is time that people with those particular views and a highly developed sense of republicanism emphasised their republicanism in the context of a new and developing Europe and that they do so in a way that ensures that parties like the Greens and Sinn Féin in its current form do not claim monopoly rights over those ideas and that kind of thinking.

Those who cannot shake off the sectarian mindsets developed in the Six Counties have transmuted Anglophobia into Europhobia and downright xenophobia on this issue of European developments in relation to the Nice Treaty. True republicanism entails more than a simplistic commitment to a narrow historical struggle. Those opposing the treaty are sadly lacking any internationalist vision and were they to have their way they would reduce this country to the status of being peopled with "little Irelanders". I use the words "little Irelanders" advisedly. We have come a long way as a small country on the edges of the European Continent. We have come a great distance but we are no longer a nice little country or a small country. We are a very significant and wealthy country and with that wealth, we are ready to participate in the great international projects unfolding on the European Continent. We must play our part and to shy or run away from that would be downright immoral and wrong.

In recent years when we did not have money, we did not make the contribution we should have been making. We are still not making the contribution in relation to international aid, but this Government is committed to lifting that contribution, as I am sure Members opposite are, to match our wealth with the new responsibility that goes with it.

I suspect the opponents of Nice do not have the courage of their convictions to come out and say unequivocally that they are outright opponents of our membership of the European Union but, with weasel words, would have us adopt an à la carte approach to it. They want the benefits of membership without the burdens. They have no credible alternative to propose and their paranoid talk of conspiracies and hidden agendas serves only to reinforce their own faith in their self-contained and circular philosophies. The Greens, in particular, are coming from an extreme position compared even to their colleagues in the German Government whose balanced advocacy of the treaty shows what constructive Green policies can be like when they have the courage of their convictions and come into Government. It is a sad reflection on the state of development of the Green Party in this country that it still seems oblivious to the diktats, the demands and responsibilities that go with becoming a party that may be in Government. I know in recent times Deputy Gormley, obviously seething with a certain ambition, has indicated that they may be bankable and that it may be possible that they may become a partner in some coalition Government of the future. If they are going to do that, they will have to prepare the way and enter the real world.

I always think a great sign of a party moving away from the extremes, into the mainstream and the centre ground of politics is its attitude to Europe. It is no coincidence I suppose that in 1992 Sinn Féin at its conference in Ballyfermot, which I was privileged to attend as a journalist, finally acknowledged the reality of the European Union and, more or less, accepted its existence. I suppose the Greens and Sinn Féin still have a long way to go in that regard.

Sinn Féin refuses to admit that membership of the then EEC in 1973 entailed a fundamental cession of sovereignty. What they are proposing logically leads to secession from the Union but they lack the guts to say it. One cannot have it both ways by arguing against the EU and then trying to maximise the benefits.

Europe has never been a divisive issue here. We are mercifully free of the Euro scepticism and related strife so rampant in our nearest neighbour for decades. Ireland does not need that type of division or self-deluding or half-hearted membership and those promoting it are to be opposed and condemned.

EU membership has enabled us not only to diversify our trade and cultural contacts, but to develop a growing self-confidence and identity as a truly independent Republic and as a truly committed participant in this great European project. Membership has enabled us to shed the cultural cringe that held us back for so long but which still informs in a warped way the mind-sets of those such as Sinn Féin who oppose the treaty and who would prevent us playing our full part in this community of nations.

In recent days I notice Mr. Schröder has published his own vision and proposal for the future development of the EU. Some international commentators and others are saying this was slightly unwelcome in the context of Governments such as ours trying to advocate a "yes" vote, that he was somehow fast tracking the discussion regarding the future. I disagree and think the German Chancellor was correct to put these things on the table and open discussion about the future and how we will develop the political and, if necessary, military capability to defend a large economic bloc.

The Green Party is particularly expert in suggesting there is some sinister plan to create a European army. I am one of the minority in my party, but perhaps not in such a minority in the House, who agrees with the idea of a European army. Unfortunately, the reality is that it is not contained in this treaty. Therefore, there are not any implications for our neutrality in this treaty. I would prefer if we were full participants in European defence structures, including a European army if such was to develop. It is important we realise our international responsibilities. It is also important when we look at currency strengthening and the settling down which will occur when the currency is finally accepted and freely in circulation that we look at political and military issues in terms of how we defend the Union. It would be scandalous and wrong to leave such a large, powerful, strong and influen tial economic bloc open and defenceless against people such as Milosevic.

It is very interesting to see the opposition to this project from the hard left. In effect Deputy Joe Higgins opposes the admittance of new countries such as the Czech Republic to this great Union and would deny them the benefits we have enjoyed. This smacks of hypocrisy and immorality. I had the privilege of working in the Czech Republic in 1992 when it was opening up, and the reality is that these people are hungry for the same things we have attained. In time they will achieve the same wealth and success we have achieved through membership of the EU and through our own efforts. It would be shameful for us, even on the basis that agricultural subsidies were drying up, to deny those people the same right. New members open the possibility of further trade. We have everything to gain. The Germans gained a great deal from the EU. Although they are often presented as being benign, positive and sharing their money, in fact German industry gained a great deal from open access to the markets of Europe.

As a member of Fianna Fáil I find the misunderstanding both inside and outside the House of de Valera's position on neutrality both bizarre and worrying. De Valera was not neutral in the classic sense of the word. Neutrality only arose as a result of the failure of one of the great internationalist projects, namely, the League of Nations, under the jackboot of fascism in the 1930s. It was only for that reason that he opted progressively for a position of neutrality. It was also clearly as a result of the unresolved problem of the Border with Northern Ireland, and our relationship with Britain. De Valera was an internationalist and not a narrow ideological supporter of neutrality. He was an idealistic person, as I suspect are some of the people opposite who believe there is a responsibility in terms of internationalist action at various stages to defend human rights and to defend people from the kind of genocide we saw in the Second World War.

I wish to share time with Deputies Gerry Reynolds and Ulick Burke.

Unlike Deputy Conor Lenihan, I was in the House when Deputy Joe Higgins spoke. I agree with some of the comments and observations made by Deputy Higgins. As a socialist I share his opposition to international capitalism and the exploitation it brings for many in the world. I also share his disdain for the arms race and its promulgation. However, the consequence of a "no" vote would not be the picture painted by Deputy Higgins, namely, what he described as a genuine European Community rising like a phoenix, with swords beaten into ploughshares and the ending of exploitation. Rather the consequence of a "no" vote will be that the 12 applicant countries will continue to be excluded from membership for an even longer period and will continue to be exposed, without the protection of the collective framework of EU laws, to the very exploitation by international capital about which Deputy Higgins spoke. They will continue to be the source of cheap labour and cheap and easy markets. In some cases, in the context of regional or area conflicts, they may also be victims of the arms trade.

It is a pity this debate and the run in to the referendum will be very short. What we need is not a debate along the old style European referendum debates to which we are accustomed with, on the one hand, people talking about great prosperity and the benefit to farmers, businesses and others and on the other hand saying we will all be dragooned into a European army. We need a serious debate about our concept of the future of Europe and the place of Europe in the wider world. The Government is making a very serious mistake in rushing the referendum on the Nice Treaty, which does not have to be ratified until the end of 2002. We would have a much more rational and mature debate about Europe, our place in it and Europe's place in the rest of the world if the debate took place over a longer period.

The shortened, truncated debate allowed for will facilitate the type of sloganeering which has characterised many of the debates we have had about Europe. That is why the proposal made by the leader of my party for a forum on the future of Europe which would involve debate and discussion, not just among political parties but among the wider interest groups, should be taken up by the Government. I have a view on Europe which arises from the fact that if one looks at what is happening in relation to decision making support for this view can be found in many areas. For example, in the course of the referendum campaign much concern will be expressed about the removal of decision making from this country. Decisions affecting the public are not being made in this Parliament or by the Government but elsewhere. That has been happening for a long time, not only with regard to political institutions but in the way in which economics and communications have become globalised.

In recent days the frustrations of many young people with globalisation have been expressed in cities worldwide but the answer to globalisation and the evolution of global capitalism is not to throw stones through the windows of McDonalds' restaurants but to put in place global and regional political institutions that are capable of ensuring that the democratic will of the people predominate rather than the will of the market operating of its own volition. That is why it is important to construct a wide European Union involving all of the countries and peoples of Europe who wish to participate in it. An additional 12 European states wish to participate in the EU of which we are members. This referendum on the Nice Treaty will decide whether they are facilitated with membership.

There are aspects of the treaty that are not entirely satisfactory and the Labour Party has criticised some of them. We would all wish the Taoiseach and the Government had returned from Nice with a better treaty. The core political decision to be made in this referendum is concerned with the enlargement of the European Union and whether this country will delay or assent to the accession by the 12 applicant states whose peoples want to become members.

If the EU is to be enlarged it has implications for the size of the number of MEPs we send to Strasbourg, the European Commission, the way in which the Council of Ministers does its business and the way in which institutions are established in the Union. The Labour Party will urge a "yes" vote in the referendum. We again appeal to the Government not to rush it but to take up our proposal to establish a forum on the future of Europe and to have a longer and more balanced debate on this issue over a prolonged period.

I thank Deputy Gilmore for sharing his time. This has been an interesting debate. I was present for part of Deputy Joe Higgins' speech. A number of Deputies have said the issues he raises reflect concerns by the public. However, the view of those opposed to the treaty is misleading and not thought through.

I agree with Deputy Gilmore's comments and with the proposal by his party leader for an open debate on the future development of Europe. I am not sure if this referendum will be passed by the majority of the people if they are asked to vote on 7 June. There is a fear and misunderstanding about what is involved and according to my information those who are calling for a "no" vote are winning the public debate because of this. The Government should take this into consideration.

There is no need to hold this referendum on 7 June but if it is held I and my party will support it. The views advocated by the "no" campaign are being widely discussed among the public. There are fears about the establishment of a European army and the possibility that the country may lose powers over decision making within Europe. There is also a fear of the idea of a federal Europe.

The Government must lead in this debate with the support of the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party. Much work remains to be done with little time at our disposal. Much greater information must be made available to the public to the effect that this is the best way to proceed with the development of the country. I support a federal Europe. We have moved significantly towards federalism. Economic and monetary union is one aspect.

I also support the Fine Gael policy in favour of a European army. We cannot expect to derive the economic and social benefits of membership of the EU without being called upon to defend the Union if necessary. My colleagues in the Fianna Fáil Party should express their support for a European army. They should not sit on the fence on the issue of neutrality.

Neutrality is not an issue in this treaty but it is a cause of concern among the public. It must be addressed. The wrong approach is to say it is not an aspect of the treaty because it will arise later when it can then be discussed. If we are to be members of a federal economic and social Europe we must support the concept of a European army. We must be able and willing to defend the Union.

The 12 applicant states should be accepted. That is why I have great difficulty accepting the bona fides of Deputy Joe Higgins, Sinn Féin and the Green Party who claim they represent the underprivileged. The applicant states are struggling. Many of them were under communist rule for many years and are new democracies. They need social and economic development. Our evolution in the Union is an important example for the applicant states of what can be achieved.

We could take a narrow focus and concentrate on the benefits that would accrue to this country if the applicant states became members. Their accession will create a larger market which this country needs. We are one of the largest exporters of hi-tech software in the world and our exports to this expanded market will create more jobs in the high value added industries. That positive aspect must be sold.

This country has a very strong role to play in the development and evolution of a larger Europe. We should ensure that this message is sold to the public. People are unsure if this is the right way to proceed because of the absence of proper debate and information. I am not sure if we can provide enough information to the public within the next six to eight weeks. It is very important we do so.

We will be lucky if the turnout for the vote on the referendum is greater than 30% and we will be lucky to win the referendum. However, such a turnout means that 70% of the public will not have participated in deciding a very important issue that will affect the lives of this and future generations. A "no" vote will have a huge and negative impact on the enlargement process and the movement towards a federal Europe and will have implication in terms of a loss for this country in the decision making process.

We must be careful. We have a lot of selling to do and the Government should be aware of that. I hope it will take into consideration the views expressed.

I support the idea of the Treaty of Nice as an important milestone in the development of a new, expanded Europe. There is an onus on everyone here to display a commitment to Europe, to be generous towards the principles of the European Union and to show the applicant states the benefits we have obtained from membership of the EU. We can often forget the fact that in 1973, when we applied to and became a member state of the EU, we were a poor country. We were crippled with borrowings and damned by emigration. We must take that picture of Ireland and place it against what we now are. Ireland is now a prosperous, modern, forward-looking country. We must acknowledge that it was our membership of the European Community which brought this change about.

We have heard many passionate expressions of support for each side of the debate during the past few days. The reality is that outside this House the same passion is not evident among the electorate. The onus is on the Government to liven up the debate and involve the people outside. It is no use saying that the people who are opposed to the Treaty of Nice are the eurosceptics and we do not have to take their views into account. I reject that. The opponents of the treaty are entitled to the expression of their views and they should not be dismissed by us. They may have legitimate fears.

Eurosceptics can be found on the Government side. Minister Síle de Valera has on occasions joined that bandwagon when she expressed serious concerns about the direction in which Europe is leading us. She did not express those views in this House but rather across the Atlantic. Minister Cowen may well remember that because it was not too long ago.

European legislation over the years has affected and influenced Ireland. Much of that legislation has had serious detrimental effects on the quality of life and the future viability of farming families in the west. I hope these issues will be addressed in the future. It is important that some of those EU directives, which we are bound by, would be examined.

Many people think that we are heading into a two-tier Europe. I know that Minister Cowen has rejected that opinion out of hand. However, when we examine the detail it seems that we will have reduced representation in the European Parliament as a result of this proposal. In 2005, we will lose our right to a permanent Commissioner and we will have a Commissioner on a rotational basis like everyone else. That will be a disadvantage to this country in the future. It is very important and necessary to have permanent representation at Commission level in order to protect our national interests.

One can see the benefits that the EU has brought to Ireland. We acknowledge the benefits of infrastructure and services that we would never have had without being a member state of the EU. We must explain to the electorate that we are all beneficiaries of EU membership.

Deputy Kenneally, I understand that you are sharing time with Deputies Kelleher and O'Keeffe. There are nine minutes remaining so may I suggest three minutes each?

I welcome the opportunity to speak in relation to the constitutional referendum on the Nice Treaty. Many speakers have been here today because the time is short and the importance of this amendment must be explained. There is a difficulty in getting the message to the electorate as to the importance of the Nice Treaty. I spoke to some people today and told them that I would be speaking in the House. I asked them if they had any views on the treaty, but, by and large, they knew very little about it. That worries me because the turnout for the referendum could be affected. The opponents to the treaty will make the effort to vote but I am worried that other people will not bother.

I am certain that the majority of people in this country are supportive of the amendment relating to the Treaty of Nice, but I am afraid that many people will sit at home and expect others to go out and vote. I urge everyone to support the constitutional amendment. Lack of support in Ireland for the Treaty of Nice would show us to be greedy. We have been beneficiaries of membership of the EU since 1973. At that time, the average Irish income was two thirds of the European norm. We are now nudging ahead of the European average. That is due to our membership of the EU.

Germany has been regarded as the main paymaster for Europe. We have benefited from the likes of Germany and other countries being net contributors to Europe. Are we now to turn around and say that we have what we want and have no sympathy for anyone else? That would be very wrong. I believe that while we are still net beneficiaries, we will soon be net contributors. We must play our part and provide funding to lift up other countries to the level we have achieved.

When we became a member of the European Community nearly 30 years ago, Russia was anathema to everything we believed in. Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, once part of the USSR, now want to join the EU. I hope that we will be prepared to play our part in ensuring that they and other countries will have the opportunity to become members in the future.

I welcome this timely debate and I reject the criticism by some parties that the referendum should be delayed to allow for further debate. I believe we need a nice, sharp and concise debate to stimulate passion and thought. We need again to invoke a belief in the electorate that Europe is good for Ireland and good for Europe. As we look at the positive aspects of the Nice Treaty negotiated very successfully by this Government and in particular by the Minister present, we must address the underlying factors as to why we are moving forward with enlargement in Europe.

For many years we benefited very much from being involved in Europe. It is now time to look forward and embrace other nations who are looking to Europe for economic, social and legal stability. They need to be given a sense of purpose within a new Europe. We do not have to go back too far to remember the dark days of the Second World War and the misery it visited on the people of Europe. The Irish people also suffered at that time. It is now time for Ireland to stand up and support this treaty in an overwhelming manner and ensure that we send out a strong message to those who would undermine the EU, both from within and outside the European Union. It is timely for those who oppose the treaty to explain exactly their reasons for doing do. Parliamentarians from the applicant countries will outline rapidly their support for the measures in the Nice Treaty and they are anxiously waiting to enter an enlarged Europe. It is wrong of various groups, the small parties and other outside interests to try to undermine support for an enlarged Europe. Some Members said capitalism undermines the structures of Europe. The fact of the matter is that the countries which suffer most from international capitalism are the applicant countries, the countries that do not have the protection of a large European market, access to the markets and the economic security that that affords. They should point out exactly the reasons for opposing it.

Another issue that will have to be addressed as we approach referenda in the future is the McKenna judgment. I genuinely believe it undermines the parliament, it stifles political debate and undermines the basic tenet of democracy which elects a Government. It should be in a position to support, with public funds, referenda recommended to the Irish people. It is disingenuous to say the Government is not supporting this measure when it has one arm tied behind its back because of the McKenna judgment. This judgment must be visited because-—

The Government supports—

—real debate is stifled. I wish all parties the best of luck in supporting this referendum.

A little knowledge of mathematics and common sense would indicate that one would have to support the Nice Treaty. It makes good economic sense for Ireland. One has to look at the experience of the past and ask oneself how Ireland has grown. We have demonstrated since joining the EU that we are capable of adapting and taking advantage of the benefits and the opportunities which full participation of the Union has offered. How can anyone say that having the market increased to 500 million people would disadvantage Ireland in any way, or inhibit our agricultural produce and our high tech projects in those emerging markets? The Irish people have consistently rejected those who have argued for an inward introverted vision based on a lack of confidence in the capacity of the Irish to advance their interests successfully in the European movement. Ireland is a model for many of those countries seeking accession. It is a country where membership of the Union has been seen to be invaluable in promoting economic growth, employment and social development.

When we joined the EU, the GDP average was 60.7%, now the European average is 113.9%. While economic growth was the result of many factors, we have benefited from Structural and Cohesion Funds. Membership of the euro has also brought benefits. The convergence criteria, carefully laid down at Maastricht, ensured that all the participating states kept deficits, inflation and interest rates tightly controlled. Given that farming in Ireland and abroad is facing one of its toughest tests, how could any farmer say in general that he has a guaranteed market for 90% of all consumer products? Membership of the EU has provided less tangible but nonetheless significant benefits. On the one hand we have been able to break out of a pattern of excessive economic dependence on our nearest neighbour and we have a choice in a far wider setting and on the other, as a member of a powerful international association, we have a chance to influence global developments, whether on the environment, co-operation with developing countries or the promotion of human rights. Enlargement will extend these benefits to a new group of members while offering opportunities to the current membership.

I am confident the Irish people want to help the new countries emerging and who can look to Ireland as a model and see what it has achieved. The people will not turn their backs on these candidates as they emerge. Generally speaking, as a nation we are regarded as generous and outward looking. We want the countries of central and eastern Europe to have the same opportunities that were given to us. This makes good sense for Europe but it also makes good sense for Ireland.

In concluding the Second Stage of the Twenty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, I begin by thanking those Deputies who have contributed to the debate. People in the "no" lobby, particularly the Sinn Féin Deputy, talked about guilloting the debate. Approximately 40 Members have contributed to the debate, probably as many as I have heard speak on any debate here in the past six months. If we are going to have a debate we will try to ensure language does not lose its meaning, otherwise we will end up with a total mix-up. Given that every Member who wanted to contribute did so I ask that there would not be references to guilloting the debate.

The Minister—

I am concluding the debate. The Deputy will have an opportunity to contribute on Committee Stage. There is no problem.

There is only an hour.

It will not take an hour to deal with the arguments being raised by the Deputy.

They clearly recognise that voting "yes" to ratification is of immense importance to Ireland, to our European partners, and, in particular, to those countries preparing to join the Union. To those who oppose the treaty, what is the alternative? Do they want enlargement to go ahead? Do the opponents of the treaty believe that those countries which have been patiently rebuilding their economies and embedding democratic structures for over a decade should now be asked to wait even longer to take their rightful place at the European table? I ask that those opponents of the treaty who claim to speak for the applicants listen to the democratically elected governments of eastern and central Europe. I noticed that many Members, some inside this House and some outside, were quick to listen to them when under the Soviet influence about their position but there seems to be an inconsistency in not being able to listen to democratically elected voices in emerging democracies of central and eastern Europe.

(Dublin West): The Minister is completely wrong.

I know the Deputy's track record in these areas. It is important that he gives the same credence to democratic governments as he seemed to give to those Socialist governments that heralded the Utopias that never came for those people in the past. They unanimously support its ratification at the earliest possible date. I am using their definitions.

I confirm we are having a referendum because we are legally required to do so. That is the firm advice from the Attorney General. I wish to respond to the spurious claims about militarisation of the Union. Nothing could be further from the truth and I suspect many of those peddling the line know as much, but are willing to scaremonger to hide their basic position, which is opposition to anything to do with the European Union.

The Treaty of Nice has made limited changes to the provisions relating to the common foreign and security policy, originally established under the Maastricht Treaty, through the deletion of references to the Western European Union and by providing a treaty basis for the political and security committee in Brussels. That is what is contained in this treaty. The only changes in the Treaty of Nice in relation to the common foreign and security policy—

On a point of order, will the Minister allow an intervention?

No. I have ten minutes to conclude the debate.

The Minister is afraid. He wants to hold his hand

I have no problem with a debate. If there is one man who loves debating with the Deputy it is me.

Answer my questions.

I will not allow the Deputy with two Members to prevent me from responding to 40 Members, including Deputy O'Keeffe's party and Deputy Quinn's party. Every time the Deputy comes into the House he is half hysterical. I ask the Deputy to listen to what is going on.

I am listening.

That is what democratic debate is about.

I will listen to the Minister if he listens to us.

When a Member seeks to intervene and I say "no" that is in order and I am entitled to proceed and not to have an argument about it. That is covered under Standing Orders.

The Minister is afraid of debate.

(Dublin West): The armaments industry.

If this is as good as the Opposition can get on this issue I will let it continue with the rant because that says far more—

Why will the Minister not answer the questions?

—about the sheer stupidity of its position. The Treaty of Nice has made limited changes in those two areas. During the debate on the Amsterdam Treaty we went through these arguments and the people made their decision. The Deputy is trying to rerun the arguments about the Amsterdam Treaty but they are not relevant to the Nice Treaty.

Ireland has a strong interest in maintaining a stable European environment and in shaping the future direction in which it wishes to see these policies taken. That is why we are involved. I want us to be involved, as do other mainstream parties. If Deputy Gormley and his colleagues wish to be isolationists, that is their opinion, which is fine.

No, it is not isolationist.

I am anxious to shape, within the parameters of the European defence and security policy, how we proceed on the basis of the Petersberg tasks. That is what I am prepared to do and I have enough confidence to do that. The Deputy, however, has a different position.

Why does the Minister keep saying we are neutral? The Swedes and the Finns do not do it.

It is unfortunate that when Deputy Gormley, a rational human being when one meets him outside the House, comes into the House to debate an issue, he thinks he has a right to speak at the same time others are speaking. That does not do the Deputy any justice.

Then let me intervene.

The Deputy can intervene on Committee Stage when he can speak for half an hour if he wishes.

Deputy Gormley's intervention indicates some confusion on his part. He opposes the Nice Treaty but many of the reasons mentioned have little or nothing to do with the treaty in question. Some of them concern previous treaties, on which the member states and the Irish people have already pronounced, while others appear to be based on premonitions about what might happen in the future, for which no basis can be found in the Nice Treaty.

Critics of the treaty talk about the so-called lack of democracy in the Union and at the same time resist the move to greater use of QMV, even where this makes sense. They want to keep the veto in areas such as the appointment of the President of the Commission when it is clearly not in the interests of Ireland or other small states that, as has happened, a single large state can veto the nominee agreed by the rest of the Union; so much for democracy, not to mention the kind of political gridlock this would bring to the taking of decisions at EU level. The call to retain the veto on articles relating to the Structural Funds shows a similarly out-of-date appreciation of our position in a situation where, in line with our economic performance, we are likely to become net contributors. Where it is in our interests, unanimity has been retained, particularly in relation to taxation.

The Deputy's comments on enlargement and what it means for the applicant states are, to say the least, unconvincing. He offers his assessment of where their interests lie while conveniently overlooking the fact that these countries now have democratically elected governments who can speak for themselves.

(Dublin West): Asset strippers.

I recently received the Foreign Minister of Hungary who emphasised his country's positive assessment of the treaty. The same is true of the Poles, the Czechs, the Cypriots and all applicants. These countries are in no doubt that the Treaty of Nice is about enlargement and reject the arguments of those who base their case on such inconsequential matters as the number of pages where the word "enlargement" appears.

Opponents of the treaty imply that they know better what is good for the candidate countries but do not state openly the logical inference that enlargement should not go ahead. By urging a "No" vote in the referendum that is what they espouse, that the Irish people should reject enlargement on the grounds that the applicant states do not know what is best for themselves. That kind of thinking makes one wonder about the path taken by the Green Party. We saw the dichotomy between the German Green Party's position and that of the Green Party in Ireland when the German Foreign Minister visited this week. The Treaty of Nice is of key importance for Europe and for Ireland in Europe. We have essential national interests and, like every other delegation, we ensured that these were protected in the negotiations.

Our position on the Commission was well known. Some Deputies attempted to suggest, with regard to the reweighting of Council votes, that there is a huge transfer of power from small to large states. Let us examine this suggestion on simple percentages. This position is based on a false reading of the treaty or, perhaps, a wilful misrepresentation of the agreement. Under the treaty, Ireland's share of the total vote will move from approximately 3% in a Union of 15 to 2% in a Union of 27. Germany's share will be reduced from 11% to 8% while it will also lose a Commissioner. The same applies to the UK, France and Italy. It is nonsensical to suggest that this represents a radical overthrow of established balances within the Union. Similarly, the requirement that any decisions taken have the support of at least 62% of the Union's population, given that the equivalent figure in the past has on occasions been over 70%, hardly marks a major shift of power, especially when there is a simultaneous requirement that all QMV votes have the support of at least a majority of states. The position of the smaller states is, therefore, fully protected.

Those who oppose the treaty and complain of a lack of democracy in Europe might also consider why they oppose the extension of the co-decision procedure which gives the directly elected European Parliament an increased role in the EU's legislative process. I can also refer to the fact that Ireland, under the new allocation of seats, will have the best seat to population ratio of all existing member states in the Parliament, with the exception of the special case of Luxembourg.

There were two other principal areas considered by the Intergovernmental Conference and agreed in the Treaty of Nice. These were the extension of QMV and the rules governing the use of enhanced co-operation. It is claimed in a recent publication by the "No" lobby that the summary of the White Paper seeks to hide the fact that decisions on the appointment of the President and Members of the Commission will be taken by QMV. I refer the lobby to paragraph 27 of the summary where this is explicitly stated. Moreover, it is suggested that this will somehow preclude the Government from putting forward its preferred nominee. That chooses to ignore the fact that the new treaty provides in Article 214 that the list of Commissioners is to be "drawn up in accordance with the proposals made by each member state". As mentioned already, QMV in this area means that a single large country, as happened in the not so distant past, will no longer be able to veto the choice of a President of the Commission supported by all other member states. Is this the right of veto which the "No" camp wishes to maintain?

As Deputies are aware, we successfully resisted proposals to introduce QMV for taxation, a position supported by all sides of the House. I wish to dispel the notion that this was never in doubt or that a satisfactory outcome was assured. We faced continuous pressure throughout the negotiations on that issue. At Nice, revised proposals, including a Presidency draft which envisaged moving to QMV for corporation and other taxes within five years, were in circulation. It was thanks to the strong position taken by the Taoiseach, working with a small group of like minded countries, that this threat was averted.

There have also been changes to the rules governing enhanced co-operation, a concept that already exists in the Amsterdam Treaty. Some have sought to portray these as creating a two tier Europe. Do the euro or Schengen create a two tier Europe? Of course not. As the Union enlarges it is likely that there will be other areas where closer co-operation by a group of countries makes sense. However, this will not be to the detriment of the overall coherence of the Union. On the contrary, in the negotiations we ensured that the treaty specifically states that such co-operation must be aimed at furthering the essential objectives of the Union, must only be considered as a last resort and must be open to all member states. Enhanced co-operation will not apply in the area of security and defence. These provisions pose no threat to the Union.

Some have expressed concern at the change from unanimity to QMV when setting up enhanced co-operation under the First and Third Pillars. The significance of this change should not be exaggerated given the safeguards I mentioned earlier. The existing provisions in the Amsterdam Treaty have never been invoked and many member states thought they were, in effect, unworkable. The new provisions do not provide for a two tier Europe. Nobody is obliged to join an enhanced co-operation group and nobody can be excluded. However, we must accept that for many member states there are genuine fears that with such a large number of members at varying levels of development, there is a need to avoid paralysis in decision making. The Union in the future will be richer and larger but also more complex and diverse. Ireland has nothing to fear in this new situation. No member state has shown itself to be more capable of adapting to new challenges, and benefiting from them, than Ireland over the years since its accession.

I wish to acknowledge the helpful comments of other Deputies, including Deputy Quinn, on the debate on the future of Europe beyond Intergovernmental Conference 2004. The Government recognises the importance of this debate for the ongoing development of the Union and is currently examining proposals for how the debate might most usefully be structured. We will keep the House apprised of progress in this area.

I have outlined on many occasions the benefits of the treaty for Ireland and for Europe. I ask those who urge the Irish people to vote against its ratification to reflect on their position. Does Ireland, the most open economy in Europe, wish to be isolated from the European mainstream? Do we wish to frustrate the legitimate ambitions of applicant countries to consolidate their often hard won freedom? As a model for many countries of how to use membership of the Community to develop economically, do we now wish to tell others they cannot follow in our path? Have we the vision to recognise the vital importance of ensuring peace, stability and democracy throughout the continent of Europe and being engaged and contributing to that in ways which are consistent with our foreign policy tradition or are we interested in shutting up shop and saying Europe's interests are not our interests? Are Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and others less deserving of membership than we were in 1973? I have no doubt that this is not the wish of the great majority of the Irish people.

I will conclude by underlining the responsibility of those who recognise the importance of the treaty to argue for it and to explain what it represents. Apathy can sometimes be as difficult to overcome as active opposition. The Government has published an informative, factual White Paper on the treaty and a summary is being delivered to every household in the State. I am confident that when people understand the content of the treaty they will have no hesitation in supporting its ratification.

I wish to indicate a technical drafting matter which appears on page 6 of the Bill which I request the Clerk of the Dáil to correct under the direction of the Ceann Comhairle pursuant to Standing Order 126. It is in line 19 where the reference to "subsection 7" should be to "subsection 7 of this section". The corresponding correction should also be made on page 7 and in respect of the Irish language version. I commend the Bill to the House.

There are people who sincerely believe they should vote "No" while others are clearly politically opportunistic as well. Many people said "no" but one cannot say "no" to those working families and young people in emerging democracies who want to rejoin Europe.

The Minister is stopping the workers—

The only time many of those in the "no" campaign did not say "no" before was when the Soviet influence in those countries denied basic freedoms to the very people who now want to join in common membership with us in the European project that is developing.

The Minister wants markets, not workers.

(Dublin West): For the multinationals.

That is the reality, Deputy Higgins.

Question put.

Will the Deputies who are claiming a division please rise?

Deputies Joe Higgins, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Gregory, Gormley and Sargent rose.

As fewer than ten Members have risen I declare the question carried. In accordance with Standing Order 68 the names of the Deputies dissenting will be recorded in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Dáil.

Question declared carried.

In accordance with an order of the Dáil of this day the Bill will be considered in Committee today.