Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 10 May 2006

Vol. 619 No. 2

Europe Day: Statement of Introduction.

The House passed an order last Thursday to the effect that at 11 a.m. this morning, the Chairman of the Joint Committee on European Affairs, Deputy Deasy, would make a statement introducing Europe Day.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle. Today in the Dáil we are celebrating Europe Day. If people were to ask me the main reason for the celebration, I suppose I would say all they have to do is look around their constituencies. There have been massive changes in all our constituencies over recent years.

We need to consider the relevance of this Chamber to the development of towns and villages throughout the country and to the European institutions which make our laws. The Chamber is not as relevant as it should be. We have neglected to underline the fact that European affairs are increasingly domestic affairs. The wider public is not engaged in debates on EU affairs. I accept that the Joint Committee on European Affairs deals with such matters. I heard the Taoiseach and the other party leaders making statements on a recent European Council meeting. The public is not connected with such debates, however. The levels of change being experienced in our society are not reflected in debate in this Chamber. People get a little sleepy when they start to hear European issues being debated. Regardless of the extent to which this Chamber is removed from people's day-to-day lives, the fact is that Brussels is a million miles away from most people's lives.

For that reason, it has been decided, on a cross-party basis, to change the Dáil proceedings for a day. The objective of the changes is to liven up the Chamber. In many cases, this place is used for set-piece, formalised debates with very little spontaneity. On a cross-party basis, as I have said, it has been decided to try to change this by introducing some additional measures.

For the first time, a European Commissioner will be in attendance during a debate in the Dáil Chamber. Deputies and Senators will be allowed to question the European Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel, for an hour. The public will have a direct input into today's debates. A number of weeks ago, the joint committee placed an advertisement on its website asking the public to forward to it some questions to be put directly to the Commissioner and to various Ministers throughout the day.

The length of today's speeches is to be curtailed. An emphasis will be placed on questions, interaction and intervention. There will be a liberal interpretation of intervention. It is obvious that the Ceann Comhairle will use his discretion, but Members will be allowed to stand up, stop people from speaking and ask them questions. It is hoped that this will allow for interactive debate between Members and liven things up to some extent. Scripts are not being encouraged, although Ministers and the Commissioner will be allowed to read from prepared statements. Generally speaking, we hope that Members will not rely on scripts in the House. I hope we will learn something from today's proceedings about how we do our business in the Chamber on a regular basis. Perhaps we will learn something from the proceedings that can be used on a day-to-day basis during normal Dáil business.

The first item on today's agenda is a debate on the joint committee's report on migration to be introduced by Deputy Andrews. I will outline some of the report's main findings. The committee is of the view that the decision to allow free movement of workers from the ten 2004 accession countries was a good one. In fact, it was an excellent decision. There are gaps between Departments when dealing with issues relating to immigrants, however. There are problems with the collection of data, for example. Social issues such as workers' rights, integration and isolation also need to be addressed. The contribution to our society being made by immigrants cannot be overestimated. A massive proportion of Ireland's growth rate of 5.1% can be directly attributed to the immigrants who have come here, especially in recent years.

The joint committee is concerned that there is so little co-ordination between the various Departments. It is neither surprising nor earth-shattering that the committee's main finding is that one Department and one Minister should be given responsibility for immigrant affairs in their entirety. When we asked Departments to state which is the lead Department dealing with a particular issue, they could not tell us in some cases. That is a problem.

The numbers involved are staggering. It is possible that 1 million immigrants will come to this country over the next ten years. The social aspect of such arrivals has been stressed repeatedly. It has been suggested that the figure of 1 million is an exaggeration. Some people have cited the example of France's problems with its immigrant population. The members of the joint committee have stressed that if we do not deal with the social issues which are faced by immigrants, we will encounter major problems down the road. We need to recognise that society is changing profoundly and to deal with those changes within our Executive and our Legislature.

The second issue to be debated today is agriculture. There is a great deal of concern in the agricultural industry about issues such as the nitrates directive, animal welfare, animal medicines, the sugar beet industry and regulations. Today's debate represents a very good opportunity for those representatives who have interests in the farming sector to question the European Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner directly on the decisions being made by the European Commission which affect Irish farming. They now have a chance, over 60 minutes, to directly question the EU Commissioner on Agriculture on the decisions being made that in some cases are having very serious consequences for Irish farming. The European Communities (Amendment) Bill affects the accession of Romania and Bulgaria. Outside the issue of when Romania and Bulgaria will be joining the EU, some of us will be interested to find out whether Ireland allows free movement from these countries. I have my reservations in this regard. The figures I have seen suggest we may have enough workers coming from the ten new accession countries and it may be a mistake to allow the free movement of workers from Romania. However, it will be interesting to hear what other Members feel about that.

The scrutiny process will be talked about. That sounds pretty boring, but it is very relevant to everything we do here. The regulatory impact analysis we carry out on every directive from the EU will be looked at as well. To give an example, we were very concerned in the committee that there was no regulatory impact analysis carried out on the nitrates directive. The Office of the Taoiseach has written to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to inquire why that was the case. It is important we deal with the directives properly. In some cases the consequences for a particular industry may be potentially dire. The last topic we will be dealing with is Europe and the developing world and this will be taken by the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Conor Lenihan.

I want to thank a few people. I thank the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach and the Government Chief Whip, Deputy Kitt, for his help throughout this process and his officials, particularly Ms Alice Kearney. I thank the members of the Joint Committee on European Affairs, particularly Deputy Andrews and Deputy Quinn, the rapporteur today, who has put a great deal of effort into hopefully making this an interesting day. I thank Ms Anne-Marie Fahy and Mr. Myles Geiran from the committee's secretariat and the Clerk of the Dáil, Mr. Kieran Coughlan. More than anyone else, however, I thank the Ceann Comhairle for pushing forward this initiative from the start. His ideas and efforts at the Conference of Speakers of EU Parliaments allowed this to happen. Again I stress, that if it is considered successful, the hope is that all national parliaments will use today as a model for dealing with European affairs within their respective chambers. I look forward to today's proceedings.