Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 24 Oct 2007

Vol. 640 No. 2

European Council Meetings: Statements.

I attended the Intergovernmental Conference, IGC, and the informal European Council meeting on 18 and 19 October in Lisbon. I was accompanied by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, and the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs with responsibility for European Affairs, Deputy Roche.

While the purpose of this statement is to inform the House of developments at the IGC, I will also comment briefly on the informal Council which took place in the same setting. The informal Council discussed the Union's response to globalisation, a discussion that will lead in due course to developed proposals at the December and Spring European Councils.

We received a presentation by the European Commission President, Mr. Barroso, on the European Commission's recent communication on globalisation which develops what is termed by some as the external dimension of the Lisbon strategy. How Europe reacts to and shapes the forces of globalisation will be an important element of the European Council's business in the coming years. Our discussions touched on the recent instability in the financial markets and the international response to climate change, an area of particular importance. We have a shared responsibility and an opportunity for Europe to give international leadership on climate change, and its inclusion at Ireland's behest in the new treaty is welcome.

The purpose of the IGC meeting was to agree the text of the new treaty. I am pleased to report that late on Thursday night the text of the treaty, which now seems set to be called the Lisbon treaty rather than the reform treaty, was agreed in accordance with the mandate given to the IGC in June. The outstanding issues going into last week's meeting were of a relatively minor nature. Italy had a particular concern relating to the number of European Parliament seats it would receive, as under the European Parliament proposal it would lose more seats than any other member state.

There were exchanges as regards the timing of the appointment of the new position of High Representative for Foreign Affairs, and we discussed how the detail of the so-called Ioannina compromise, which enables decisions to be delayed in certain circumstances and which formed part of the June agreement, would be reflected in the treaty. Given the overwhelming and widely shared desire to reach agreement on the treaty, these issues were resolved without undue difficulty.

When I addressed the Dáil following last June's Council, I paid tribute to the skill of Chancellor Merkel in forging a deal. On this occasion, I wish to acknowledge the good work of the Portuguese Presidency in bringing this process to fruition.

I wish to recall briefly Ireland's objectives in relation to the reform or Lisbon treaty. We had been extremely satisfied with the text of the EU constitutional treaty finalised under our Presidency in 2004. For reasons with which the House is familiar, that document was not destined to enter into force. Last June, we agreed a mandate for a reform treaty, to be based in large part on the constitutional treaty. Our key objective during the negotiation of both the IGC mandate last June and the IGC itself was to preserve the essential balance and substance of the constitutional treaty. To the degree that anything of significance has changed for Ireland, it was brought about by the decision of the UK to alter its position in terms of the Justice and Home Affairs, JHA, area and we have since taken our decisions in that regard. I will return to this shortly. Ireland secured its key goals in the negotiation process. We can be very satisfied with the new treaty agreed at the IGC last week.

Following the June European Council, Ireland had two outstanding issues. The first of these was in relation to the Charter on Fundamental Rights. The Irish Government had supported the charter since it was first included in the constitutional treaty and would have happily seen it retained in the body of the reform treaty. We see it as a statement of the Union's values and for that reason believe it is something the Union can be proud of. We were disappointed, but had to accept, that consensus on incorporation of the full text of the charter into the body of the revised treaty was not attainable. Furthermore, at the behest of the United Kingdom, a protocol to the charter was introduced at a very late stage in the negotiations in June, relating to its scope under UK law. I want to put it on the record of the House again that Ireland did not seek an opt-out from the charter. We simply indicated that we wished to study the implications of the UK position. We have considered the opt-out negotiated by the UK and have decided definitively not to seek the same provision for Ireland.

As regards the JHA provisions, the UK negotiated an opt-out in the judicial and police co-operation area. At the time, Ireland secured the right to exercise a similar opt-out, should we wish to do so. After indepth consideration of the various issues, the Government has decided to avail of this opt-out but to a limited extent only, and in a manner quite different to what the UK has done. We have declared our firm intention to join our European partners whenever possible in JHA areas. Ireland can participate in future developments in police and judicial co-operation but we have the right to opt out of a measure if we believe that to be absolutely necessary. In reality, we expect to participate to the maximum extent possible.

The decision to avail of the opt-out was taken on the basis that as a small common law country involved in EU negotiations, Ireland could have found itself at a disadvantage and isolated in voting terms. This could have left it unable to sufficiently shape proposals in an appropriate direction. The review, which we will conduct in three years time, may lead us to a different conclusion. It will be open to us to forego the opt-out should we determine that this course of action may be in our interests at some later stage.

The benefits accruing to Ireland from this reform treaty will come about through a better functioning Europe. This is not the creation of a new Europe, but rather a means of making the Europe we have built in past decades work better for all of us. A Europe of 27 member states cannot operate in the same way as a Europe of 12 or 15. This treaty gives the Union a new set of rules and a new clarity of purpose.

It is worthwhile setting down a number of the treaty's advantages. In so doing, I am pleased to note that they are, in the main, the same as those set out in the 2004 text, of which the vast majority of Dáil Members were strongly supportive. The introduction of the double majority voting system provides for a fairer and more efficient decision making system. The new system requires that decisions are supported both in terms of population and in terms of the number of member states of the Union. The treaty clarifies what Europe does and does not do. It gives the Charter of Fundamental Rights the full force of law and underpins the rights of citizens in today's Europe. It also sets down a statement of the Union's values. The treaty reduces the size of the European Parliament and slims down the Commission. At the same time, it strengthens the powers of both the European Parliament and of the Oireachtas in European decision making.

The treaty provides support for the Union in tackling climate change by introducing a competence in that area for the first time. I am pleased to report to the House that this competence was introduced as an Irish initiative.

The treaty provides that the social consequences are to be taken on board when assessing the likely impact of legislative proposals. It introduces the position, President of the Council, to give greater shape and purpose to high level meetings and to bring more continuity and coherence to the conduct of the Union's business in general.

The treaty provides for a clearer EU voice in the international arena so that Europe's views, and the values we support, are more influential. This is particularly important in the humanitarian and development areas. We should not be under any illusions that this is some sort of big-bang or new beginning for Europe: this treaty is not transformational. Neither would we seek a transformation of a Union which, broadly speaking, works very well for Ireland. Rather, this is a further stage of development, a rational step to update the Union's rules and focus, and an essential step for the functioning of our enlarged Union in a vastly changed world. We have built a Union to suit our needs, to deliver for us as member states, and as citizens. This treaty is about equipping that Union to do the things we ask of it.

I turn now to the next steps. The text of the treaty will now be translated and prepared for signature. The Portuguese Prime Minister has invited his colleagues to sign the treaty in Lisbon on the first morning of the December European Council. The modalities of that are still being worked out.

Thereafter, it will fall to each member state to ratify the treaty in accordance with its own constitutional and legal requirements, in time for it to enter into force ahead of the European Parliament elections in 2009. While the Government has yet to receive formal legal advice which will lead to a decision on how Ireland is to ratify the reform treaty, I expect we will hold a referendum on the treaty in 2008. As things stand, Ireland is likely to be the only member state that will require a referendum to ratify the treaty. While the manner of ratification is a matter for each member state, this places a particular responsibility on Ireland. I am sure all eyes in Europe will turn, with increasing interest, to the debate and discussion that will take place in the lead up to the referendum. The Government is determined that there will be a comprehensive and inclusive debate. The Irish public must be given every opportunity to discuss and consider the changes that the reform treaty will bring.

The National Forum on Europe, which has been a model of impartial analysis and debate under the independent chairmanship of Dr. Maurice Hayes, will be central to facilitating a balanced and rounded debate on the reform treaty in the coming months. It is important that all parties continue to give their support to the work of the Forum. I welcome very much the statement in this House last week by the Leader of the Opposition that his party will give support to the reform treaty. I acknowledge the constructive engagement of the larger Opposition parties across the spectrum of EU issues over many years. The Government will be seeking to secure the widest possible support in both Houses for the passage of the referendum Bill in due course. With that in mind, we will consult with the Opposition parties at an early stage.

I look forward too to working with the Opposition to ensure the public understands the question they will be asked to determine. I am confident that they will identify Ireland's interests as supporting a treaty that has been negotiated in order to improve a Europe that has met Ireland's needs well in the past and that we want to continue to meet its needs into the future.

To conclude, what we agreed last week is a treaty which equips Europe with the tools to be more effective in the 21st century, having enlarged in a relatively short period from 15 to 27 members. When we speak of Europe, we are speaking of course of a Europe which was absolutely fundamental to Ireland's socio-economic development in the last 35 years and will be to our success or otherwise in this century.

It is the Europe that has, through the Common Market, allowed Ireland to leap forward economically with dramatic rises in the standard of living. It is the Europe that has provided us with leadership in areas such as labour law, environmental standards and gender equality. It has given us the euro, providing us with a common, stable currency and eliminating foreign exchange costs across Europe. It has provided us with the Common Agricultural Policy which has played such an important role in helping to manage transition in our farming sector, and it is the Europe that during the dark days of the 1980s contributed significant funding towards the development of our physical and social infrastructure which we have since deployed, and built upon, to great effect. It is the Europe that allows us to look beyond ourselves and our near neighbours and seek to influence a wider world with our fellow member states, with which we share our values. It is a Europe that gives us a framework to influence meaningfully the forces of globalisation that shape our world. It is a Europe founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights. It is a Europe that has delivered and pursues peace and prosperity for all its people.

I am unequivocal that the treaty is in the interest of both Ireland and Europe. Following a full and engaged debate, the people of Ireland will approve it. They will do so not only because it serves our national interest but also because it serves the interest of the entire European Union.

I wish to share time with Deputy Timmins.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I attended the meeting of the heads of the groups of the European People's Party in Lisbon prior to the meeting of the Heads of Government. I was happy that the support for the reform treaty was very strong. I will not harp any longer on my point that the European People's Party leaders were somewhat disappointed over the Government's decision on the opt-out position and that they perceived a weakening of the Irish stance that would have consequences for Europe and the reform process. I stated I agreed with the position of the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Roche, namely, that we should not have chosen that option, and I stick to my position. Bearing in mind the emergency break system, the suspension of any proposal that might infringe unduly upon the Irish legal system could be well catered for by the consensus required by the Council in resolving the issues associated with any such proposal.

In recent days, I said to ordinary people in my part of the country that one vote could decide the referendum and consequently the progress of up to 500 million people. Every single Irish voter will have an incredible opportunity and responsibility. Despite the differences between parties in the House, Fine Gael has always been very strongly in favour of the European Union and it will support the reform treaty publicly. On foot of the appointment of our spokesperson on European affairs, we will conduct our own public meetings around the country in addition to what I assume the National Forum on Europe and other parties will do. The treaty is of major significance to the future of this Continent, bearing in mind the challenges it will face from the Far East, south-east Asia, the United States and South America over the next 20 to 25 years.

A European Union of 16 members cannot function in the same way as one with 27. When one considers that every headbanger in Europe will probably be in Ireland when the referendum takes place, and that they will be well resourced in many cases, one will realise there may be some very exciting public meetings. I hope the Irish electorate will consider the fundamentals of the reform treaty and recognise that it is for their good and that of the other countries of the Union.

Europe, in its own way, faces a moment of truth in three particular areas, the first of which concerns the EU reform treaty, which I hope is passed. Second, it faces a moment of truth in respect of Kosovo, which is still legally part of Serbia. There are 2 million Kosovar Albanians and 90,000 Serbs living in a very uneasy relationship with each other. I visited the Irish troops south of Pristina two years ago with Deputy Timmins and we saw on many occasions the excellent work they were doing in very difficult circumstances. The Serbs rejected the Ahtisaari plan, which guaranteed the Kosovans supervised independence, and were backed by the Russian President. In the face of Russian opposition, and given that independence may well be declared in the region, which would probably be backed by the United States, Europe will have to make a decision. In view of the fact that Irish troops have been in the region for quite some time and have done a great job, we should certainly consider this matter seriously.

The third issue concerns the fact that Europe must address the growing concern over Iran. Iran is seeking to establish a nuclear programme and this is being resisted by many other countries. I do not know whether this will be dealt with through a resolution of the UN Security Council. However, when I heard the French President, Mr. Sarkozy, talking in August about it being a question of the Iranian bomb or the bombing of Iran, and in September he stated he did not use the word "war", I realised it is of extreme importance to the entire European Continent that this matter be addressed. The Council needs to get its act together in terms of adopting a view thereon.

I had assumed that the Joanina compromise, a protocol added by the Poles, was no longer relevant after the Nice treaty, but it still pertains in one form or another. I suppose the Poles wanted to make their point clear in this regard.

Reference was made to the Taoiseach as a prospective President of the Council of the European Union. I do not know whether he is interested or not, but regardless of his view, it will probably be said that he is.

I am glad that the treaty contains a competence regarding climate change and I am happy that the Government has agreed to the appointment of a new committee dealing with energy security and climate change requirements. This problem is coming down the tracks whether we like it or not. The committee will play its part, not only in terms of doing what must be done in Ireland but also in terms of participating fully in a European effort to meet the Kyoto targets or other new targets that might be set.

Fine Gael will support the reform treaty and campaign publicly in respect thereof. I hope the electorate will be given the opportunity to understand clearly the implications of the treaty for the future of Ireland and the European Union as a whole because it is for the future of the next generation of citizens from all member states that we are now laying the foundations.

I assume the draft declaration of 5 October is the same as the final one to which the Taoiseach will be signing up. Having listened to his comments in this debate, I would be of the view that the Government was very reluctant to take the step it took in this regard. It is important to put the issue to bed once and for all today.

I said last week that it took member states more than four years to agree on the evidence warrant. Several countries, particularly Germany, sought several opt-out clauses. On foot of the need for changes to the arrest warrant system in the wake of the events of 11 September 2001, the countries concerned came together very quickly and the average extradition time was decreased from several months to 40 plus days.

I imagine from looking at the declaration that Ireland may opt for all measures and seldom, if ever, opt out. If so, will the Minister for Foreign Affairs state during questions to the Minister (at the end of the debate) whether we may opt in before the three-year review period?

Deputy Kenny stated that every headbanger in the European Union will be present for the referendum campaign in Ireland. We have many of them at home, many of whom believe they are quite justified in what they are saying or doing. However, it is very important to learn from the first referendum on the Nice Treaty and recognise the reality that exists rather than the one we want. It is not enough to state the Union is good for Ireland and that one should vote for the treaty as a consequence. We must outline the content of the treaty and state how it will benefit the electorate. Ultimately, self-interest is very motivating. While one must be aware of the common good, it is easier to appeal to self-interest. We have to ensure many of the side issues such as the Common Agricultural Policy which was mentioned by the Taoiseach are seen as important. The agricultural community was assured a couple of years ago that the CAP budget would be maintained at current levels until 2013. There have been mutterings recently that this approach may be reviewed in the near future. It is important for us to deal with such side issues. We need to tie down certain EU trade issues, for example. We should deal with them in a way that leaves no room for ambiguity.

While we are trying to inform the public about the treaty, many will be concentrating on what it is not about. We have to be aware of this. I understand the treaty will have to be ratified by the end of 2008. As Ireland is the only country that will hold a referendum on it, there is a huge responsibility on us to ensure all the issues are debated. It is hoped the treaty will come into effect on 1 January 2009, before the European Parliament elections later that year.

The treaty provides for the reform of the institutions that is needed as a result of the increase in numbers. I refer to the changes which will be made to the European Commission, for example. Representation on the Commission will rotate equally between all member states. Just two thirds of member states will have a Commissioner at any given time. One of the first effects of the new treaty on the State will be that it will not have a Commissioner all the time, as it has at present. In that context, it is important to point out that the Commissioner from any given member state is independent of his or her home state. In the overall scheme we will have a greater percentage of Commissionerships than we have at present. It is important for us to point that out. As matters stand, some countries have two Commissioners but Ireland has just one. In the overall scheme we will actually have a greater share of the cake, even if we will not have a Commissioner for one third of the time.

The proposed position of President of the European Council will be an important one. Difficulties have arisen when each Presidency has set its own short-term agenda. I understand the Presidency of the Council will be shared between teams of three member states for periods of 18 months. That system will give rise to greater continuity of agenda. The proposed new position of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy also has an important role. We are always asking the Minister for Foreign Affairs to use his influence at EU level to send various messages to countries such as Sudan and Burma. It is good that the European Union will have a recognised figure who will be able to contact governments in countries such as China and India that have some power in trouble spots.

I would like to talk about the changes being made to the system of voting at Council level. I welcome the new system, under which a qualified majority will be reached when 55% of member states, representing 65% of the population of the Union, reach agreement on any given issue. Many find it hard to understand the current weighting system, but the new system is very clear. If the Council is deciding on a proposal that did not come from the Commission, 72% of member states will have to agree on it before a qualified majority is reached. In such circumstances, the population requirement will stay the same. While there will officially continue to be 750 Members of the European Parliament, that represents a nice play on figures to disguise the fact that the President of the European Parliament will bring the membership of the Parliament to 751.

Protocol 2, included in the treaty at the behest of the Dutch Government, provides that national parliaments can submit their reasoned opinions within eight weeks of legislative proposals being made by the Commission. The House should examine the possibility of availing of this worthwhile mechanism. Perhaps someone can advise me whether it has been used previously. I am pleased that domestic parliaments will be able to make an input into the decisions of the European Union. EU policy areas are classified under three headings in the treaty. Exclusive competence policy areas include areas such as competition rules and the Internal Market. Shared competence policy areas include the area of freedom, security and justice. Supporting competence policy areas include areas such as tourism and education.

While I do not want to conclude on a bad note, I would like to mention the provision in the treaty whereby member states will be able to legally and officially terminate their membership of the European Union. Many have wondered what member states should do if they really want to get out of the Union. There will now be a mechanism in place to allow them to do this. As the leader of my party, Deputy Kenny, said, Fine Gael is prepared, as it has been, to participate fully in informing the people about the treaty, how it will benefit them and how it will add to the common good. If Ireland was not a member of the European Union, it would not be long before we would have to try to reach a number of bilateral agreements.

I welcome this debate. It is important that the Government should liaise with Deputies on all sides of the House on the issue.

The finalisation at long last of an agreed text for the reform treaty, an important statement of policies and principles for the future of the European Union and the operation of its institutions, is welcome. The Labour Party intends to support the treaty and campaign for a "Yes" vote in the referendum which must be held before Ireland can ratify the treaty. I welcome the Taoiseach's commitment earlier today that the Government will consult the Opposition parties on the manner in which the referendum campaign will be organised and presented to the people. I agree with Deputy Kenny that it is not desirable that Ireland should become the focus for over-anxious people from outside the State during the referendum campaign. I refer to persons who support the treaty and those opposed to it. Irish people will want to decide on the treaty and the referendum without outside interference. We should try to take up a minimum number of the offers of assistance we will undoubtedly receive during the campaign, even if they are welcome and well intended. We do not want the referendum campaign to become a battleground for people who do not have an opportunity to vote on the treaty in their own countries.

While the reform treaty has some deficiencies in terms of its accessibility to the ordinary citizen, it has clear and worthy objectives. It seeks to give legal status to the Charter of Fundamental Rights and to overhaul the European Union's institutions in a manner that will provide effective operating mechanisms for the enlarged Union. It is aimed at enhancing the capacity of the Union to counter cross-border crime, particularly crime relating to drugs, money laundering, trafficking in people and terrorism. It seeks to strengthen the Union's capacity to promote employment, innovation and social cohesion and looks specifically to future challenges and opportunities. It provides for joint policies to end global warming and establishes broadly based policies aimed at ending global poverty. It seeks to strengthen the Union's contribution to international peace, stability and crisis management. It restates the core values and objectives of the Union, including the commitment to peace and universal human rights, the Charter of the United Nations, full employment, the social market economy and public services.

The role of national parliaments in the application of subsidiarity is reinforced and a new citizens' initiative on participation is proposed to enhance transparency and citizen participation. The reform treaty does not transfer new swathes of power from the member states to the European Union, but sets out to make the Union more democratic and simplify its procedures. The powers of the European Union remain limited to those conferred on it by member states to attain objectives which they have in common. The change in balance and focus which is in prospect for the Union is enormous and underpins the various institutional changes being made by the treaty. The enlarged Union will have a new centre of gravity in geographical, cultural and economic terms. As disparities of income and development will be sharper, the concept of cohesion will need to be defined afresh. Community policy and the budget will have to be reshaped and there are likely to be new issues which have not yet been foreseen.

The history of the European Union stretching back to the old EEC is one of a succession of changing circumstances and coping with enormous challenges. I refer to the challenges of making structural changes to the shape of agriculture and heavy industries such as coal and steel in the original European Economic Community. Development and regional issues arose with the accession of states such as Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Greece. The Union has developed projects such as Social Europe and the Single Market. There was the enormous ambition of establishing a single currency. The Community did not flinch from such huge projects and succeeded. Such successes, however, should not blind us to the enormity of the next project, even if they raise expectations in the new member states. The sheer scale of enlargement that has been accomplished, combined with the level of integration established within the existing Union, makes for a far more complex agenda. There are likely to be new issues as yet unforeseen. There will of course be new opportunities, whether in trade and commerce, social intercourse and cultural exchange, in this vast expansion. There is the gain of stabilisation and peace which is the point of it all in the end.

However, if Europe is to place more emphasis in its future deliberations on the management of situations in the foreign, security and defence areas, it is vital that those deliberations be founded on some level of principle as well as strategic interests. In my view, there is a simple and inviolable principle in respect of the war in Iraq. The war is wrong and Ireland was wrong to support it through the use of Shannon Airport. The war was wrong on grounds of international law, wrong on grounds of morality and wrong because it degenerated into an assault against the most basic principles of our common humanity.

If the massive economic entity which is the new Europe is to face the future with confidence, this entity must be able to develop relationships with the rest of the world which are based on principles of justice and respect. Europe stands between the neo-conservative impulses of some leading American policymakers, on the one hand, and the blind hatred of some in the Muslim world on the other. This is a potentially lethal mix, some of whose consequences we have already seen. Unless there are the beginnings of a new dialogue, unless strong security is accompanied by a commitment to justice and solidarity, unless the alienation of the Muslim world is recognised and understood, far worse consequences may lie ahead of us.

I wish to draw attention to one welcome and positive development, namely, that the charter of fundamental European rights will be legally binding. The European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights sets out in a single text, for the first time in the European Union's history, the whole range of civil, political, economic and social rights of European citizens and all persons resident in the EU. These rights are divided into six sections: dignity, freedoms, equality, solidarity, citizens' rights and justice. The rights of all to human dignity, to the integrity of the person, to protection from discrimination, to fair and just working conditions, these and many others are set out in the charter in clear and accessible language. Giving the charter legal effect in terms of principle is a fundamental step. Putting flesh on the bones of those principles and turning idealistic commitments into legislative and political action will take time and political will. Debate on the reform treaty, such as there has been over the past few weeks, has centred on the Irish opt-out in the so-called area of freedom, security and justice. However, this ignores the fact that the reform treaty, as we all know and recognise, is very much a repackaged version of the constitutional treaty of a couple of years ago.

The Government has long since published the form of wording it had proposed for a referendum on the constitutional treaty. That form of words allowed for no fewer than 17 areas where an Irish Government would have discretion to opt in or opt out of proposals for European laws, with the exercise of the discretion in every case being subject to the prior approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas.

Issues to be covered by the discretionary procedure at that time were to include: permanent structured co-operation in the area of defence; enhanced co-operation, including, in particular, enhanced co-operation in the criminal law area following the application of the emergency brake; the Schengen protocol and the UK-Ireland common travel area; the extension of qualified majority voting to common foreign and security policy, to the multi-annual financial framework, to areas of social policy, to areas of environment policy, to aspects of family law and to matters subject to enhanced co-operation which normally require unanimity; the extension of those areas of criminal law which can be the subject of EU legislation, including specifically the possible creation of a European public prosecutor; the general passerelle clause — the treaty provision that allows for matters at present subject to unanimity at the Council of Ministers to be in future governed by QMV; and the ratification of any simplified revision of the treaties.

Although the cross-references will be different because we are now dealing with a different text, I would presume that all these matters will remain for decision at national level as to whether we are to opt in or opt out and that the decision in each case will require the prior approval of the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Against that background, a general opt-out in the field of judicial co-operation, criminal matters and police co-operation, with a discretion to opt in to any specific proposal, to be decided on a case-by-case basis, is not a radical departure from what has gone before. The reality is that options and discretions have been part of our constitutional framework in dealing the European Union, its institutions and its laws since 1998. These options and discretions are important. The general rule is that nothing in our Constitution invalidates laws or measures originating in Brussels if they are necessitated by membership of the Union. However, the exercise of an option in an EU treaty is not necessitated by EU membership and, therefore, options and discretions would not be immune from constitutional review in our domestic courts.

A new procedure was therefore adopted for the Amsterdam and Nice treaties which provides that the State may decide to exercise an option available to it under the specific listed treaty articles. However, prior Oireachtas approval is required. The intention of the provision is that once an option is exercised, then laws and measures adopted in pursuance of that option are immune from review on domestic constitutional grounds. Oireachtas approval for the exercise of an option has the effect therefore of removing a particular subject matter from review by the courts on the grounds of unconstitutionality. Hence the importance that should attach to prior Oireachtas scrutiny. Hence also the importance we should attach to examining the effectiveness of our present scrutiny mechanism.

I recognise there has been a radical improvement in the range and quality of the research facilities available to Members of the House. These resources should be harnessed effectively to assist all Oireachtas committees in the matter of EU scrutiny. I intend to ask the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission to conduct or commission an audit of the resources available to Oireachtas Members and committees to assist in an informed, timely and substantial way in the process of scrutinising EU legislative proposals. It would be useful to conduct a comparative analysis by reference to the parliaments of some other member states, including the neighbouring jurisdiction with which we share a common parliamentary and legal tradition.

We would be dishonest if we claimed that our scrutiny procedures have been a resounding success. There is a serious need on the part of the Dáil and Seanad to ramp up our ability to scrutinise the EU, its institutions, its laws and the Government's position on these matters, including the cases in which the Government decides to opt in or opt out of proposals for EU laws in the area of justice and home affairs. It is the case that the Government has itself become a sort of mini-legislature and, subject to the passing of what it expects to be a cursory and very late in the day resolution by both Houses, has the ability to make changes in the law which are of major practical and constitutional significance.

The reform treaty proposes a major new role for national parliaments but I am not at all convinced we adequately discharge our existing role. We need to revisit and substantially improve our European scrutiny functions before taking on board the new agenda proposed by the reform treaty.

The area of criminal law is subject to opt-outs by both the Irish and British Governments for what seem to be understandable reasons. This does not mean that we will not co-operate in this area but rather that we have the choice of deciding, on a case-by-case basis, whether to opt in.

Title IV of the treaty contains a powerful statement of the EU's commitment to deal with cross-border crime. However, the measures proposed in the treaty must be judged within the context of the different criminal legal systems operating in Europe and the different constitutional traditions of the member states. All of us place great importance on our national Constitution. It is a comprehensive document and is the one law of the land that cannot be changed by legislators or by the Oireachtas; only the people may amend it.

The legal and constitutional principles of member states belong either to the common law tradition or to the civil or Roman law tradition. Among the key differences between the two traditions is the general availability in common law jurisdictions of jury trial and the absence of such general availability in civil law jurisdictions. Furthermore, evidence can be given in written form in most continental systems and this is not possible, in general, in Ireland. Continental systems often allow for lengthy detention of persons for investigation and questioning and the principle of habeas corpus is not recognised. Many of the procedures that characterise continental systems would not be possible here without a major change to our Constitution.

All these practices of civil or Roman law are acceptable under the European Convention on Human Rights but are unconstitutional in Ireland. Ireland and the UK insist on adversarial procedures, on the separation of the functions of investigating, on the prosecuting and adjudicating of offences and on the principle that one can only be extradited to face a charge rather than for questioning in custody. This does not mean there is no room for co-operation, harmonisation and even operational initiatives under the aegis of the EU but it does mean we have a right to be cautious.

Given that the jurisdiction of the European Union and its institutions in the area of criminal law is both ambitious and potentially expandable, it seems prudent to retain a discretion, as we have at present, to opt into or out of proposals in this area following decisions taken at national level.

This treaty was preceded by a draft constitutional treaty which was a more easily understood document. I echo the call made by my colleague, Deputy Joe Costello, that the Government should produce a user-friendly version of the treaty so people have a clear understanding of what is in it and are equipped for the debate which will take place rather than relying on the turgid textual reform treaty we have.

Tá sé go hiontach go bhfuil deis againn arís an seachtain seo déileáil leis an cheist rí-thábhachtach seo. Measaim go ndéanfaimid athrú suntasach ar todhchaí na hÉireann má ghlacfaimid le conradh Lisbon. Is iad na hathruithe atá i gceist sa chonradh na hathruithe céanna a luadh nuair a rabhamar ag déileáil leis an conradh bunreachtúil — nó bunreacht na hEorpa — cúpla bliain ó shin. Bhíomar ag ullmhú chun reafrainn a eagrú maidir leis an bunreacht sin, ach ní raibh gá don reafrainn de bharr toradh na vótaí a tharla sa bhFrainc agus san Ísiltír. Measaim go dtabharfadh muintir na hÉireann vóta "Níl" sa reafrainn toisc go dtuigeann said cé chomh bunúsach is a mbeadh an athrú a ndéanfaí ar an ngaol idir an tír seo agus tíortha eile na hEoraip. Tuigeann siad freisin an méid d'ár rathúnas a bheadh caillte de thairbhe an chonradh. Is é seo ceann de na conarthaí deireanacha a rachfaidh chun reafrainn. Ina dhiadh seo, beidh Airí nó Taoisigh na tíre seo in ann an cinneadh a dhéanamh.

As much as possible, I want to have open and honest debate. I do not want head-bangers of any type, particularly those on the "Yes" side, including Commissioner Charlie McCreevy, interfering in this referendum. The EU Commissioner from Ireland, who was chosen by the Taoiseach supposedly to represent the State in a role akin to a civil servant, had the gall to state recently that if the State voted "No" to the treaty it would be turfed out or excluded. How does the Taoiseach view this intervention and scaremongering by Commissioner McCreevy, a former senior Cabinet Minister who is in a powerful and highly-paid position in the EU? I am thankful he stated he will not seek another term of office considering his attitudes and the policies he pursues while in the position.

The EU Commission is supposed to be the servant of the people of the European Union. This type of intervention in the run up to a referendum here is not justified. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs should repudiate it. The decision is for voters alone. As I did during the run-up to the constitutional treaty, I urge the Minister and the Taoiseach to give a commitment that the answer of the Irish electorate will be respected. It is obvious the decision of the French and Dutch electorates on the constitutional treaty was not respected. Neither was the result of the first referendum on the Nice treaty here.

The matter of referenda is interesting. Part of the propaganda about the Lisbon treaty is that it has substantially changed from the constitutional treaty of a number of years ago, so much so that everybody should be happy with it. On that basis it will be put to the country in a referendum. However, other EU countries such as Spain and Luxembourg state is has not substantially changed and will not be put to a referendum as a decision on it has already been taken. I note the Taoiseach stated ratification is a matter for each member state and this is true. However, it would be a pity to lose the opportunity to find out what the public in all EU countries has to say on such a major fundamental change in the European Union institutions and on the future direction of the European Union.

While the Council meeting was held in Lisbon, more than 200,000 people demonstrated on the streets. Perhaps it was not as many as 200,000. I have read a number of reports on it. This was democracy in action and people demanding the right to have a say on the treaty. They seek a social Europe and employment with rights and they oppose the liberal agenda contained within the treaty. It is interesting that Irish newspapers and national daily newspapers in many other member states did not cover the major demonstrations. This shows where many national newspapers stand. This can be addressed by those of us urging a "No" vote for the treaty.

Given that it is too late, I will not appeal as I did last week to the Minister to represent Ireland's views and demand and secure changes to the treaty. He agreed a document which will substantially undermine Irish sovereignty, our independence in foreign policy and the powers of this institution. It was a bad day's work. Once again, the erosion of the neutrality of this State continued apace. We signed up to further militarisation of the European Union albeit not with the same size of leap as in previous treaties. However, it is still a move in the same direction.

We did not manage to ensure the treaty would allow member states to promote public services and oppose privatisation. We did not ensure member states were given the freedom to develop their economies in the interest of their people. We are still slaves to the European Union's liberal agenda and the worldwide globalisation agenda. We had an opportunity to push the protection of the interests of small nations.

Nobody can deny Sinn Féin has modified its position on Europe since the time of the EEC because we are realists and it does exist. There have been tremendous benefits from our relationship with the European institutions, at different stages in terms of workers' rights, women's rights and, on occasions, environmental issues were to the fore. We have moved obviously and logically from a position of outright opposition to one of constructive engagement. There are not many in Europe at this stage who would ask that the EU be dismantled, but that it be refocused in the interests of its member states rather than in the interests of the major countries, such as France, Germany, Britain, Italy and Spain of late.

Our MEPs have engaged positively with the issues which can improve the lives of people on this island and we have advocated a positive role for the EU in overcoming the legacy of partition and the promotion of Irish reunification. There are people who will say that Sinn Féin is part of the naysayers and that what we have said in the past has not come to fruition in regard to the EU and Ireland's participation in it. Yes, we are a much more prosperous country than in 1972, we are a totally different economy than at that time but some of what was expected has come to fruition. One has only to look at the debacle of our fishing industry and how it has been destroyed time and again by the failures of the Government to protect it but also by interference from the EU. The same could be true in other areas. Not all our economic benefits are tied to our membership of the EU, many have to do with the different Government policies in regard to welcoming and encouraging multinationals into Ireland. Those benefits may be short lived — hopefully not — where in the event of a downturn they are the first to leave. We have suffered the consequences of major multinationals pulling out of Ireland. Instead of building up our industries and our economy based on our own ability, our own workforce and financial bases we have depended on outside help which is fickle and we might suffer the consequences of depending too much on multinationals in this globalised world.

In our debates over the years we have reached out to other parties and groups which have been interested in defending Ireland's national interests but others have remained awe-struck by the might of Brussels and have been continually eager to satisfy the demands from the EU and, in particular, the EU Commission but also those who seek to build an EU empire — their words, not mine. There are people in this House, in particular, the two largest parties and also the Labour Party, who appear eager to satisfy that diktat at every whim. They have supported without criticism every treaty proposed, every concession of power to the EU and every dilution of sovereignty demanded. They have even justified every move for the militarisation of the EU. It will be interesting to see how one of the parties in Government will square that with its members given what it said up to the last election.

These parties have accepted every step to undermine Ireland's capacity to determine its own fate in terms of our public services and they have defended recent attacks on workers' rights. There is an agenda that says we need to open our economy to all outside influences, which regrettably means a race to the bottom. Those parties are unable to recognise that the EU has lost its drive for social progress. It is interesting that the Lisbon treaty and the Lisbon strategy were put together in Lisbon. One key element of the Lisbon strategy was to try to tackle poverty and social deprivation but in that aspect it has failed because Ireland is more unequal than when the strategy was put together. The latest Lisbon treaty is going much the same way.

Tiocfaimid ar ais go dtí an ábhar seo. Mar a dúirt mé, ba chóir don Taoiseach a rá le Charlie McCreevy a srón a choimeád amach as ceisteanna na hÉireann mura bhfuil sé á dhéanamh mar saoránach, seachas coimisinéir mar a bhí sé á dhéanamh an lá faoi dheireadh.

We now move to questions to the Minister.

Having listened to Deputy Ó Snodaigh, he certainly narrowed the lines between outright opposition and constructive criticism and has managed to do that well. I have a couple of questions to put to the Minister. I would like to think the Government would look beyond neutrality and I would like to be able to agree with Deputy Ó Snodaigh that our neutrality has been eroded because we do not agree with the position of the Government on neutrality generally but, alas, that is not so.

The declaration signed on 5 October by Ireland states that Ireland intends to review the operation of these arrangements within three years. Can we take it that after a year they could be reviewed or do we have to wait until the end of the three years? I referred earlier to the team of three concept over the 18 month period. How will that be established? Will it consist of the same group of three at all times or will it rotate?

In regard to the review I thank all speakers for the points they have made. I will respond to some of them, particularly the request by the Labour Party for an easily read text. It is the Government's view that we should have a text that would be available to the general public which would explain it in as simple a language as possible. Obviously the reform treaty is a complex set of amendments to existing treaties. That is something we are conscious of and we have to explain it properly for the people and give them all the information as has been the case before.

In regard to what Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, I do not want to be confrontational about it but he said Irish foreign policy is slavish and that we lose our ability to have our own foreign policy. I believe passionately that being part of a group we have a much stronger voice in the world and we have been able to punch above our weight on the international scene, particularly at EU and UN level. We are not slavish when it comes to making our views known on issues. Recently there was an Egyptian resolution in regard to a nuclear free Middle East. Ireland went against the flow in the EU and voted for the Egyptian resolution. Similarly, in regard to the outlawing of cluster bombs, Ireland is leading the way at EU and UN level in order to, hopefully, bring about a complete ban on cluster weapons and next year we will sponsor a conference here with a view to getting some of our colleagues on board so are not slaves to the rest of EU on foreign policy.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh's party espouses the elimination of partition, as do most of the parties in the House, including mine. As someone who was born, bred and still lives in the Border area, I recognise that the influence of the European Union on the issue of the Border has been dramatic in recent years. The European Union has had a much bigger influence on eliminating the practical issues of partition than anything anybody in Sinn Féin has done during the years. Those of us who live in the Border area have seen clearly how the Single European Act——

That was acknowledged.

——in effect did away with the logistical customs and excise difficulties that those of us who live in the Border area — not Dublin — were required to put up with for years.

The review will take place in three years' time. However, the matter will be under constant review in the interim because we will be making decisions on a case by case basis as JHA issues arise. The other issue was——

Teams of three.

That issue was agreed. It is logical in that it provides for continuity in the Troika.

Do we know the countries with which Ireland will be grouped?

It has already been determined — Lithuania and Greece.

Are all the parties in government fully supportive of the reform treaty, as it would certainly represent a U-turn for one of the parties in government which has opposed all the treaties to date? I would be like to be given an assurance in that regard.

The Taoiseach stated legal advice was still being sought, presumably from the Attorney General, as to whether the treaty required a referendum to be ratified. I am still confused as to whether we will definitely have a referendum or if we are still awaiting legal advice. All of the other countries are proceeding on the basis of parliamentary ratification. They seem to intend to have such ratification completed by the end of this year. It would not be desirable to find ourselves, with all the other 26 countries having ratified the document, out on a limb in putting the treaty to the people in a referendum. It would be desirable to have spacing in the ratification process.

On the opt-outs, will prior approval be sought by both Houses of the Oireachtas, as has been the case before? Will the Oireachtas get to scrutinise any opt-out proposals made by the Government? We need to beef up the element of scrutiny by the Joint Committee on European Affairs. We need the personnel and other resources to operate that committee. While it is not yet in place, can we get a guarantee that we will be able to have a more meaningful committee which will have the powers, personnel and time to carry out the scrutiny that European directives and legislation emanating from the European Union deserve?

The Deputy asked whether all parties in government were in favour. All parties represented at the Cabinet table — the Green Party, the Progressive Democrats and ourselves — are in favour of the reform treaty as agreed last week. Obviously, the broader church of each individual party might have members with different views on the treaty from the view expressed by the Taoiseach or me in the case of my party. I am not saying everyone in my party holds exactly the same view as we do on the treaty.

The Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív.

As always is the case in my party, they would have the supreme intelligence to know that it is good for the country.

On legal advice, the Taoiseach is being careful in that the reform treaty was only finally agreed last week. From the point of view of tying up some loose ends, he needs final confirmation from the Attorney General that his legal advice that it needs to be put to a referendum stands.

Obviously, ratification cannot take place until the treaty is signed in December. National parliaments would probably not start the ratification process until some time in January or later. I heard a representative of one country say that the parliament of that country would not ratify it until November 2008. Obviously, we will look closely at where our process needs to fit into this.

I can confirm that the opt-out would be subject to Oireachtas scrutiny in each case. In fact, we had an opt-in in the JHA area under the Treaty of Amsterdam which was discussed by the Cabinet recently. In the not too distant future the line Minister will bring the matter before the House. It was a very interesting discussion and was similar to the practical discussion we had on the JHA area. It did not relate to the justice area but to another, where under the Treaty of Amsterdam we had sought an opt-out. It was on the basis of whether we should opt in before the discussions on the issue were finalised or wait until after the regulation had been adopted and then decide whether we should opt in or out. The United Kingdom was in a similar position and what it was doing was of interest in the debate. The matter will be subject ot Oireachtas scrutiny and debate.

I welcome the moves towards greater Oireachtas scrutiny of EU matters. Of all Ministers, the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, and I were the two who always attended Oireachtas committee meetings — in the Minister of State's case, meetings of the Joint Committee on Environment and Local Government — before attending the European Council. I always attended and was available for questioning before I attended European Council or GAERC meetings to have a discussion at Oireachtas level on the issues placed on the agenda.

In my earlier contribution I asked about the European Commissioner, Mr. McCreevy. Can the Minister confirm that the consequences of a rejection in the referendum would not include an exclusion of the State from the European Union as suggested by Commissioner McCreevy? Can he also confirm that we will have only one referendum and that in the event of the electorate rejecting the treaty it would not be put again and again until the "correct" decision was made?

Does the treaty still contain the obligation to support military actions to preserve the interests and values of the European Union? Did the Taoiseach or any Minister question the meaning of this part of the treaty and its implications for Ireland's neutrality and sovereignty?

As the Deputy knows, the treaty is required to be ratified by all 27 countries. A total of 18 countries ratified the constitutional treaty and they must return to their respective parliaments with the reform treaty for ratification.

With regard to our process, as the Taoiseach stated, the strong advice of the Attorney General is that the issue must be put before the people, which I welcome. Most political parties know the mood of the people has always been pro-European and they recognise the benefits of being a strong member of the Union. Time and again, they have shown they do not agree with the view expressed by Sinn Féin that treaties would have an adverse effect on our military neutrality. The position on common defence is exactly as it was under the Nice treaty, which was ratified. All common defence issues must be determined by unanimity. That was one of Ireland's red lines going into these negotiations, along with the issue of taxation. We easily succeeded in ensuring the position on common defence would remain as it was.

I have mixed feelings on the agreement reached in Lisbon over the past number of days. While many of the institutional reforms that will be included in the treaty, predominantly the extension of QMV and the simplification of the voting process, are absolutely critical, I am disappointed not only with a number of the overall compromises but, in particular, with the opt out clause in the area of justice and home affairs. The Taoiseach said Ireland was opting out on the basis that, as a small common law country, it would find itself at a disadvantage and it would be unable to sufficiently shape proposals. That is a particularly misleading statement because as Fine Gael and the Government parties have stated repeatedly during the debates on all treaty referenda, it is absolutely vital for us as a small country in the Union to be at the heart of the decision making process, influencing the future direction of the Union. This is particularly critical in dealing with justice and home affairs issues because of the huge influx of drugs into the State and the immigration issues we face. I am very disappointed with this opt out clause.

In light of the Minister's comments on Oireachtas scrutiny, I understand Ireland has 90 days to opt in to any proposal. I assume that during this period both Houses will debate the proposal and the relevant agencies will be consulted before we choose to opt in. I am concerned about the time we will have to debate and influence a proposal we choose to opt into. This is a significant anomaly and the Government is biting off its nose to spite its face. What are the Minister's views on that?

The Taoiseach confirmed the State will not opt out of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. While I am pleased the charter will be legally binding under the Lisbon agreement, I am concerned it is not included in an annex to the reform treaty. How did that come about? Was that an attempt to pander to eurosceptic British members of the Union? Is the Government satisfied with this or is this a compromise with which it is not happy?

The charter has full legal effect. There is a cross reference from one to the other and the issue involved was presentational rather than anything else. I welcome that all parties are in favour of the charter's implementation.

With regard to the opt out clause, having examined it, we will be in a stronger position to determine these issues if we can opt out and then make decisions on a case by case basis. We will have much more control. The Deputy is shaking her head but I assure her that is a fact. That was the strong legal advice of the Attorney General regarding myriad issues, not least the way in which proceedings are carried out in court. Down the line decisions at European level could have implications and change the way in which court proceedings are held in Ireland. That was one of the major reasons. Another issue was common travel, to which reference was made in today's newspapers. One of the reasons we were cautious in this regard is changes might be made at European level that might affect our relationship with the British. In addition, future changes to the European arrest warrant by the Union could have an adverse effect on our citizens because the Union might not necessarily take into account the type of legal system we have.

One of the reasons the Government decided to include a strong declaration was to tell our colleagues it was our desire to opt in in every case if possible. As I explained in the last case, which is not a justice and home affairs issue, the Government can opt in before the negotiations begin and decide to be part of the discussion or wait until the regulation is finalised, see what it is like and make a decision, subject at all times to Oireachtas scrutiny. We will be in a much stronger position dealing with these issues as a result.

Does the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, share that view?

I wrote the declaration.

Ultimately, this could affect the constitutional rights of our citizens and we have a duty to protect those rights as much as possible. The strong legal advice of the Attorney General is we would be in a much stronger position to deal with issues on a case by case basis using an opt in, opt out clause while making clear our desire is to be part of European changes to deal with all the issues.

People should be careful about saying Ireland will be not be a party to police co-operation or anti-terrorism measures across Europe. We absolutely will be and people should not say that. We will do everything within our power, provided it fits within the framework set down in our Constitution, to protect the rights of our citizens. That is why our desire to be part of the European model on criminal law while retaining a level of protection under our Constitution is a much stronger position in terms of making decisions on a case by case basis than being on the inside and using the emergency brake on every occasion, as a number of people have suggested. Having attended various European Councils during my ten years as Minister, I assure the Deputy our ability to use the emergency brake, which, according to the legislation, can only be used regarding fundamental aspects, would not be possible on every issue and we would be one voice among 27 trying to use the emergency brake on many occasions. It was not a preferable scenario for any Government or Taoiseach. It would be much better to approach issues from the position we have adopted, that is, opt out in the initial phase and opt in on a case by case basis with the clear intention of opting in as much as possible.

Given the unilateral decision by Britain to eliminate the common travel area that has existed for many years and which was an important aspect of our relationship with that country, what is the Government's position in respect of the Schengen Agreement? I presume the decision taken by the British authorities was entirely contrary to our wishes. What is the thinking within the Department in terms of signing up to the Schengen Agreement?

It is not the case that Britain has made a unilateral decision to eliminate the common travel area. The British Government is considering introducing enhanced security in terms of people entering and leaving its jurisdiction. In the context of the common travel area that we have been lucky to enjoy for many decades, we are discussing these issues with the British Government in such a way that we ourselves can be absolutely certain we will not be used as a safe haven for undesirables.

We have put forward no proposals to become part of the Schengen Agreement. However, we have always participated in Schengen arrangements, so it is not the case that we are entirely out of the loop in this regard. We decide on these issues on a case by case basis to ensure we protect the types of advantages our people have had for many years in terms of the common travel area. This is a clear illustration of how opting out, but with the option of opting in, puts us in a strong position by affording us the ability to decide on a case by case basis whether proposals coming from the EU will have a positive or adverse effect.