Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 8 Apr 2008

Vol. 651 No. 2

Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2008: 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."

In resuming the debate on Second Stage of the Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2008 I reiterate my support for the provisions in the Lisbon reform treaty aimed at reinforcing the national parliamentary dimension in the European Union. In recognition of the growing importance of EU legislation and the need to hold the Government accountable for the negotiation of this legislation, the Oireachtas established the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny, the central task of which is to act as a watchdog, scrutinising all proposed EU legislation which, on average, amounts to more than 500 documents annually. It can decide to scrutinise in depth proposed EU legislation which it believes holds significant implications for Ireland.

The need to bring citizens closer to the decision making process has also been recognised by the European Commission which decided in 2006 to send all proposed EU legislation directly to the national parliaments at the same time as it is sent to governments and the European Parliament. The intention is to invite comments from national parliaments on proposals for EU legislation. The joint committee, through its scrutiny process, can prepare opinions on draft EU legislation. It, therefore, seeks to play its part in bridging the perceived divide between the citizens and their capacity to influence the EU decision-making process.

The work of the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny comes at a critical time as the country prepares to vote in a referendum to decide on the ratification of the Lisbon reform treaty. It is important to demonstrate efforts are being made both at national and EU level to listen to the citizens and respond to their concerns regarding the perceived lack of democratic accountability within the EU.

The Lisbon reform treaty contains several provisions aimed at reinforcing the parliamentary dimension in the EU by extending democratic control over decisions at EU level and ensuring greater transparency in the decision-making process.

As chairman of the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny, I have noted how national parliaments are given expanded powers over proposed new legislation from the Commission. All EU legislative proposals are properly and thoroughly examined by public representatives before adoption and the interests of all sectors of society are taken into account as part of the scrutiny process.

When the Lisbon reform treaty is ratified, the role of the Oireachtas and, in turn, the committee on European scrutiny, will be greatly enhanced. Not only will the committee be able to influence Government decision-making on EU issues but, together with other EU national parliaments, it will be able to directly influence the decisions of the European Commission and the final decision-making process at EU level.

At present, national parliaments do not have the formal power to contribute their views on proposed EU law. The Lisbon reform treaty, for the first time, gives a formal role to national parliaments in the EU policy-making process. Article 8.C recognises that national parliaments contribute actively to the good functioning of the Union. When ratified, the treaty will allow for the first time national parliaments to be provided for in the main body of an EU treaty. Up to now, provisions relating to national parliaments existed only in protocols and political declarations.

The new article is complemented by two protocols annexed to the reform treaty, the protocol on the role of national parliaments and the protocol on the application of subsidiarity and proportionality. These protocols will allow national parliaments to be better informed and will facilitate them in contributing to EU policy at the earliest stage in the decision-making process. Most importantly, they lay down an early-warning system which enables national parliaments to review EU legislative proposals, judge whether they are in compliance with subsidiarity — the decision is being made as close to the citizen as possible — and forward an opinion to the relevant EU institutions.

All opinions received from national parliaments will be weighted and counted with each national parliament having two votes. The Oireachtas will have one vote for the Dáil and one for the Seanad. If the negative opinions were to represent one third of all votes allocated to national parliaments, the European Commission would have to review its proposal and, subsequently, maintain, amend or withdraw it, giving reasons for its decision.

If the Commission still wishes to maintain a legislative proposal against opposition of a simple majority of national parliaments, the opinions of the Commission and national parliaments will be referred to the European Parliament and the Council for a final decision on compatibility with subsidiarity. If they believe that it is not in compliance, the proposal can be rejected either by 55% majority in the Council or a simple majority in the European Parliament.

Any single national parliament will have the power to veto EU legislation in the field of family law. There is also a further safeguard whereby those national parliaments which submitted a negative opinion are free to bring an action against the Commission to the European Court of Justice on the grounds of an infringement of the subsidiarity principle. National parliaments would be represented by their governments in such proceedings.

This ingenious provision is designed to respond to the demand of EU citizens to make the EU more democratic. There is no better way to achieve this than by enabling the central institution of any democracy, its national parliament, to play an important role in the decision-making of the EU. The aim is to ensure decisions taken by the EU and its member governments are taken with the full knowledge and involvement of the citizen.

Decisions must be taken as close to the citizen as possible, otherwise the EU institutions will be in breach of the principle of subsidiarity. According to Article 5 of the reform treaty, the EU shall act in areas where it does not have exclusive competency only if a proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the member states but can rather, by reason of the scale or effect of the proposed action, be better achieved at EU level. This article also tasks national parliaments with ensuring that EU institutions comply with the principle of subsidiarity.

The committee on European scrutiny intends to take seriously this task of policing the actions of the EU institutions. It is working to ensure the full implementation of these new provisions by the Oireachtas when the reform treaty comes into force. The overall aim must be to ensure the EU continues to function as efficiently and democratically as possible for the benefit of all EU citizens.

The Lisbon reform treaty will contribute to greater democratic control and transparency of the EU decision-making process and help to ensure the EU is acting in the best interests of the citizen. This, coupled with the new provisions of the treaty on the enhanced role of national parliaments, will hopefully mean that in future eurobarometer surveys, a much larger proportion of us will feel that our opinion counts when the EU takes decisions.

Ireland's membership of the EU has brought positive and significant economic and social advance to all our citizens. It has delivered an unprecedented period of national advancement. Since 1973, policies developed under the EU treaties have helped to transform our country. Under the Common Agricultural Policy and the Structural Funds, up to €58 billion in funding has flowed into Ireland from the EU budget. This support has been vital in improving our infrastructure, greatly improving the competitive position of our economy.

It is no coincidence that Ireland's period of dramatically enhanced prosperity has coincided with the existence of the EU Single Market. The two great achievements of the EU, the euro and the Single Market, have provided a framework through which Irish business has thrived.

Our past successes in Europe, however impressive, are not reason enough to vote "Yes" to the treaty. Past gains were not conjured out of thin air, they were built within a European economic environment shaped in large part by the EU treaties. The Lisbon treaty is for a 21st century Europe and deals with issues central to the future well-being of Ireland.

The issues at stake in the coming referendum are not abstract ones remote from everyday life. At heart, they concern the future of our country. Ireland needs an effective Union to protect our hard-won prosperity. By ratifying the treaty, we will put ourselves in a position to continue drawing maximum benefit from EU membership in the years ahead.

Ireland is the strongest economic success story of the European Union and this treaty will allow us to do even better. Our sense of enthusiasm and self-confidence to identify future opportunities have already taken us through several European referendums. In each past referendum there was a "Yes" and a "No" option and there were arguments and votes in favour of both. For every citizen, it must be clear that past confident and optimistic decisions to vote "Yes" have been proven to be correct, while the doom and gloom forecasts of those voices opposed to EU treaties have been clearly proved wrong. The reality is every time we have said yes, we have gained and taken a step forward.

I welcome the publication of this Bill and wish it speedy passage through the Oireachtas. The role of national parliaments and the critical role of subsidiarity are pertinent, as up to 500 pieces of legislation coming from the EU will be thoroughly debated through the Houses. The Government Whip will allow time for some of the issues to be discussed before the committees to be taken in the Parliament and I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, for agreeing to this. Many debates are held in committee but it is important to have them discussed within the Chambers. It is important we examine Bills being introduced and it is equally important that they be debated in this Chamber.

I look forward to an enthusiastic "Yes" vote in the Lisbon reform treaty referendum. While on my feet I acknowledge the Taoiseach and wish him well, as I may not get another opportunity to congratulate him on his outstanding achievements, particularly in Europe. I wish him good health and good luck in his future career. I have always found him courteous, whether in this Chamber or in the constituency. I wish him well and acknowledge his outstanding achievements.

I wish I could, as Chair, make a speech on this occasion. Tá fiche noíméid ag an Taoiseach.

When I signed the reform treaty in Lisbon last December together with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, it was in the full knowledge that it represented an essential part of the process of moving on for the European Union. The EU is moving on from a period of reflection and consultation and from a phase of talking about institutional reform to a phase where the Union can fully focus on the work at hand and prepare for the challenges ahead.

During my entire political career, I have held a strong commitment to the European Union. My core belief is that Ireland benefits hugely from our membership, not just in financial and economic terms, but in terms of our capacity to look outwards and engage with the world beyond our shores. As I said last week at the IMI, Europe has allowed the Irish people, as a nation, to define ourselves externally in terms of what we are, rather than what we are not.

I salute again the decision of our political forebears to apply for membership of the European Communities and to contribute over decades to the evolution of the European Union of today. I salute too the decisions of the Irish people when consulted from time to time over the past 35 years to say "yes" to Europe's development.

I am saddened that despite the evidence of five decades of Europe and 35 years of our own membership, there are still those who instinctively want our nation to withdraw into its shell; they continue to put forward the same arguments, evoking European monsters hiding under the covers of necessarily detailed treaty language. They were wrong when they initially opposed our membership in 1972 and they were wrong when they opposed the Single European Act and the Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice treaties. They are wrong still.

When opening the debate in this House last Wednesday, the Minister for Foreign Affairs said it could be argued that Ireland has benefited more dramatically than any other country from EU membership. I believe that to be correct. Since we joined the Union, we have made as much, if not more, of the opportunities that membership has afforded us than perhaps any other member state. This is no zero sum game, however, and we did not seize those opportunities at the expense of any other member state. That is one of the great attributes of the European Union.

Our increased prosperity and progress also helps those around us, just as it is in our own interest to have successful European neighbours. Just as with our past, our futures will be also shared. A future within an effective, dynamic European Union is in Ireland's best interests.

We have the privilege of living in one of the most peaceful and prosperous regions of the world. It was not always that way and there is nothing written in stone saying it will always be. We have to work continuously to maintain and improve what we have and nobody with any sense believes we could have achieved what we have for our region by acting as individual member states. It would be foolish to believe we can sustain our shared success by pursuing it individually.

The Union we have today is the fruit of working together for 50 years. It is also the living tree that will bear the fruit of the next 50 years for the generations coming. We can and do enjoy the fruit but we must also tend our tree. That is what the reform which this treaty brings about is designed to do.

The European Union, which we have developed over 50 years, affects many sectors of our society now. Its development reflects real changes in our world as the influence of borders wanes in the face of technological and social change. When I addressed the European Parliament in 2006, I spoke of globalisation, technological change, migration, energy security and terrorism. I commented that it was not the European Union that dreamed up these challenges but we know, logically and intuitively, that our best hopes of managing them lie with the Union.

People expect us to deliver on their aspirations and their needs and expect that we, as politicians, will develop and maintain the capacity to do just that. We are now asking the public to approve a treaty which will ensure the Union can keep pace with change, and in short, that it can continue to meet the needs of our public.

It is true this treaty does not contain a big ticket issue as others before it did. There is no Single European Act, no single currency to be launched on this occasion. Nor, in its structure, is it a thing of beauty. However, its focus on improving the functioning of the Union, rather than altering radically its area of competence, represents a level of maturity within a Union of 50 years standing. What we are doing now in Europe is getting our house in order; we are tending our tree.

I will briefly recap the key elements of the treaty. The reformed decision making methodology will see greater use of qualified majority voting within the Council, whereby a double majority of population and member states is required with appropriate safeguards. This is logical and approval of a decision requires the support of a clear majority of the member states representing a clear majority of the people. However, unanimity will continue to be required for decisions in sensitive policy areas.

In this regard, I see taxation features in the newspapers again today. Let me once again spell out the position: the treaty will change absolutely nothing here and decisions on taxation will continue to require the unanimous approval of all member states. Nothing could be clearer.

The idea of a common consolidated corporation tax base, or CCCTB, can of course be discussed but I see no prospect of it coming into effect this year, next year or in 30 years. The reform treaty does nothing to change that. The CCCTB is something to which I have been consistently opposed. I have done so since 1992 and it gets easier to do so. It is a daft idea put forward by people who do not really know what they are talking about. In my view the idea is unhelpful, unnecessary and unworkable. Many other member states are coming to the same conclusion, although the topic has not been discussed yet by EU finance ministers.

Returning to the treaty, the increased role for the European Parliament, particularly as co-legislator, is welcome and brings greater democracy to the Union. The European Parliament is a key institution and one to which our media ought to pay greater attention. Yesterday evening I had the pleasure of welcoming the President of the Parliament, Hans-Gert Pöttering, on his visit to Ireland, and I very much appreciate that he addressed the Seanad this morning. I thank him for his time and commitment.

The new role for national parliaments, particularly with regard to the protocol on proportionality and subsidiarity, represents a key measure to move decision-making closer to the citizens. The operation of the protocol presents both a challenge and an opportunity for the Oireachtas. It is an important and welcome development, and I am confident the Oireachtas will fulfil its new responsibilities extremely well.

In addition, this involvement of national parliaments opens the possibility of increasing the public's understanding and awareness of the work of the European Union. The new posts of President of the European Council and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy are sensible, indeed necessary, responses to the need for greater coherence in the Union's business and its external representation.

The rotating six-month Presidency has served the Union well and Ireland has a proud record of delivering excellent presidencies. The privilege afforded to me to serve as President of the European Council in 2004, particularly the honour to welcome what were then called the new member states to full membership in May 2004, is one I will always treasure. The six-month rotating Presidency continues in a changed form.

The role of the European Council has grown over the more than ten years that I have been a member. We now need even better preparation of, and follow up to, meetings to ensure the work of the Council is translated into real benefits for all of our citizens. Suggestions that the post of European Council President will give its occupant excessive powers are well wide of the mark. The new President will be appointed by the European Council and be responsible to its members. The President's powers will derive from decisions of the European Council, which the President will chair. Decisions will, as always, continue to be taken by the member states.

On the external relations side, it is clear that a single representative of both the Council and Commission is required if the European Union is to be able to punch its weight internationally. This has led to the creation of the high representative position and the new President of the European Council being given a role with regard to external relations. However, they can only articulate agreed EU positions.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights, which reflects the European Union's values and underpins the rights of individuals across the Union, is brought into effect by the treaty. It is right that the Union has this clear expression of the fundamental rights that are central to the development of so many areas of its work.

The explicit inclusion within the European Union's competences of climate change, at my initiative, means that confronting one of the world's greatest challenges is now hardwired into the machinery of Europe. Few issues capture as neatly what we need in Europe or illustrate so compellingly why the Union is looked to the world over as an unparalleled model of international sharing of sovereignty. As for climate change, there is no doubt that changes are necessary if we are to confront the challenge. Those changes may not be easy. However, as we enter a new energy era, there will be a moment of immense opportunity.

It is difficult to believe that more than six years have passed since we adopted the Laeken Declaration which could be thought of as the origins of the treaty we are debating. It committed the European Union to strive to be more democratic, transparent and effective. The Lisbon treaty delivers on all of this for the Union. It will be more democratic thanks to increased roles for both the European and national parliaments and the introduction of the citizens' initiative. It will be more transparent on foot of the changes in the way the Council will conduct its business and because the role of national parliaments in scrutinising proposed legislative measures will ensure a greater awareness of them. The Union will be more efficient as a result of the revised decision-making procedures, the reduction in the number of Commission members — but with full equality for member states — and the introduction of the new posts of President of the Council and high representative.

When I signed the treaty on behalf of Ireland, I did so knowing that, as with the earlier constitutional treaty, we had achieved all our key goals during the negotiations. No country gets everything it wants in negotiations of this nature but we are extremely satisfied with a treaty which enables Europe to function much more effectively and efficiently and which does not adversely affect any of Ireland's key interests.

We know the world is changing fast and many are intimidated by the feeling of the future rushing towards them. Globalisation is so real that many are already tiring of it. Ireland is often referred to as being among the most globalised countries in the world, probably because that is the case. For hundreds of years — sadly not for the happiest of reasons — we have been a highly globalised people. This has served us well in recent times in ways we could never have anticipated in the light of the unhappy circumstances that gave rise to it. One salient point to be made about our progress is that our people are no longer obliged to leave the country. Our membership of the European Union has played a central role in achieving that change, not least by encouraging foreign investment and giving companies assured access to lucrative markets across the Continent.

The European Union has also been an immense support to the peace process on this island. It is difficult to imagine that the many positive changes we have witnessed in the past ten years could have come about without the support and encouragement of so many from beyond our shores, as well as those within Ireland, North and South.

The wisdom of previous generations that resolved to face outwards has its reward in the peace, stability and prosperity we enjoy. The responsibility to future generations is now ours. There can be no doubt but that the best way to preserve the progress we have made is to remain actively and positively engaged with Europe and the wider world. We must continue to go abroad and seek to influence the world which influences us. We must resist passivity or any sense of fatality about global change. Instead, we must seek to shape and embrace that change. We must never turn in on ourselves and become blind to the challenges and opportunities that are evolving all the time.

For the European Union, the same arguments apply. As the largest integrated market in the world, with a leading currency, home to many of the world's most successful economies, host to societies with among the best living standards on the planet and as a democratic, stable area of peace and prosperity, Europe simply must play its role in the world. The European Union is a force for good. Our values are clear: respect for human dignity; freedom; democracy; equality; the rule of law; and human rights. If our values do not shape our world and our future, then others will.

For many years I have represented Ireland and pursued its interests in Europe. My party and the Governments I have been privileged to lead have worked tirelessly to ensure Ireland reaps the benefits of EU membership, that its voice is heard on the European stage and that the Union is attuned to its interests and needs. This reflects the desire of the vast majority of Members of the House for a constructive engagement with the Union.

The negotiation of the reform treaty is the latest chapter of that work and Ireland's national interests were well protected therein. We must now ensure the European Union is equipped for the future. We need the Union to continue to play its role, both within its borders and on the global stage. That is what the treaty sets out to do and what it does very well. That is why it is vital that the House adopt the Bill which gives effect to the referendum on the reform treaty. Above all, that is why it is vital not just that there be a "Yes" vote on 12 June but that it be a resounding and confident "Yes".

I wish colleagues on all sides who are involved in the campaign well. The only advice I can give is that nothing should be taken for granted. It is in the interests of the country and the coming generations that we work hard to ensure there will be a resounding "Yes" vote. The latter will strengthen our position in Europe and at the European Council and various Ministerial Councils. The fact that, unlike all other member states, Ireland will have a democratic mandate, will strengthen our position immeasurably.

I add my congratulations and good wishes to the Taoiseach. He could still stand for election in Tallaght.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Lisbon treaty, the origins of which lie in the Convention on the Future of Europe. Recommendations were made in respect of introducing the treaty following wide consultation by the convention. The treaty consolidates existing treaties and streamlines decision making, makes Europe more efficient and ensures the development of the Union will continue in as efficient a manner as possible.

We support the treaty but cannot be complacent with regard to its being passed by the people, particularly in the light of the fact that it is complex and detailed. Great effort must be invested in explaining the various sections of the treaty and the issues that arise to as many as possible. We must use the media as widely as possible in order to ensure the contents of the treaty and its objectives and benefits will be fully understood.

Ireland continues to support the European Union. A recent study shows that 74% of Irish people continue to support the Union and that 87% accept that we have benefited from our membership of it. However, 60% are of the opinion that Ireland's voice is not heard in Europe. There is a deficit in communicating the issues and developments involved and also in highlighting the role and opportunity Ireland will have in shaping the development of the treaty and the decisions taken in all areas. We face a challenge, therefore, in ensuring the people are made aware of what is involved.

Ten or perhaps 20 years ago there were those who began to comment that there was a need to communicate with the people on what happened in the European Union and the benefits of membership thereof. Both the national parliament and the political system in general have failed to communicate this message to the public. However, some of the blame for this failure must be placed on the Union and its systems. In the next two months we will have an opportunity to debate the various issues involved. We have a duty to inform the people with regard to that in respect of which they are being asked to vote. We must ensure the treaty is passed in order to bring about a more effective and efficient Union and to allow it to develop in order that it might benefit all its citizens. We have had various communications with regard to criticisms of the treaty and the campaign to defeat it. Although we fully accept the right of people to campaign and express their views on the matter, some have introduced red herrings into the debate, which often cause confusion. I also experienced this in debates on the Maastricht treaty referendum. I want to deal with some of these red herrings on which we have received information. Oireachtas Members have received documentation from several groups and individuals on the reasons we should vote "No".

As the Taoiseach said, the treaty does not bring tax policy within the powers of the European Union. The treaty clarifies the areas in which the Union can legislate and tax is not one of them. The suggestion that Ireland will not retain control of its own tax policy and tax rates under the treaty is a red herring. Under the new treaty, we will retain our veto on an EU-wide tax. There is no reference in the treaty to a common tax policy. Those who campaign based on the prospect of our losing taxation powers are misleading the public by alleging that the reform treaty will undermine our corporate tax rate of 12.5%. We will retain all our powers and discretion in taxation policy.

The treaty will not create a super-state, as has been claimed. It safeguards the sovereignty of Ireland and other EU countries. The "No" campaigners claim that the treaty is a grab for power by Brussels at the expense of the individual member states, including Ireland. In fact, the opposite is the case. The treaty sets out for the first time the European Union's exact responsibilities and its limits in these areas. It outlines the parameters of the Union's influence and decision making powers. There will be a clear division of powers in decision making and the influence of the Union over its members.

Ireland is being consulted on the referendum and will continue to be consulted on changes in EU treaties. Those who say the treaty is self-amending and that this may be the last opportunity for the people to vote on an EU treaty are misleading. Ireland must, by virtue of the Constitution, consult the people by means of a referendum when ratifying any future treaty. The reform treaty does not fetter this obligation in any way. It provides for a simplified amending process for future treaties but no major changes can take place without a referendum such as the one being debated.

Some have said the treaty may lead to additional immigration. Ireland, when signing up to the Treaty of Rome in 1973, agreed to the free movement of workers, a principle which is a cornerstone of the European Union. It has allowed Irish people to live and work all over Europe and provided us with Latvian, German, Polish, French and other workers. This has been good for Irish people and the economy. The growth we have experienced in the past ten years would not have taken place without the contribution of the wider European family. The reform treaty adds absolutely nothing new with regard to the ability of Europeans to emigrate to Ireland. Not one additional immigrant will enter this country if we accept the treaty.

If the treaty is passed, will it cost Ireland money? We have received billions of euro from Brussels during the years and have enjoyed an astonishing rate of economic development thanks to our membership. We will in future receive less in EU Cohesion Funds than we have previously, simply because the aid we received has been successfully used by Irish people to expand the economy. Membership of the European Union continues to provide us with huge financial benefits. It is not just about direct payments or the contribution to the national development plan. The biggest financial gains have been indirect. For example, the opportunities provided by the internal market have given us and will continue to give us more than we have ever received in direct funds. With the extension of the Union, growth in the economies of the new member states will provide further opportunities for Irish companies to access these markets and sell our goods.

The previously rejected extension of the EU constitution has been discussed. We are told that the Lisbon treaty is the European constitution in another name and that a con-job is being perpetrated on the people by calling it the Lisbon treaty rather than the European constitution. The treaty is similar to the European constitution, but the elements that made that document a constitution rather than a treaty, including elements with which certain member states were uncomfortable, such as giving status to the EU flag, have been removed. We should vote on the substantive issues, not on the basis of words such as "treaty" and "constitution". The European Union as a project is unprecedented and labels such as these do not do justice to the unique institutional arrangements put in place by the current 27 countries.

As other countries are not holding a referendum, it has been suggested we should use the opportunity to vote "No" to give these other countries a chance to have their say. That is one of the theories being peddled. We have our own Constitution that dictates that we must hold a referendum. No other European country has dictated to us that we should not hold a referendum or told us how to manage our affairs; therefore, why should we tell other sovereign nations how they should go about ratifying a treaty, whether it be an EU treaty or any other international treaty? How other countries decide whether they should sign up for the treaty cannot be dictated by Brussels or any other member state, including Ireland. This is basic international law and also common sense. It would be a dangerous precedent for us to try to dictate to other countries by insisting that they hold referendums. In fact, referendums are unconstitutional in some EU countries such as Germany where they were banned after being abused by Hitler in the 1930s.

It has also been suggested the treaty presents a threat to the future of the Common Agricultural Policy. However, it will have little impact on it except in one way, which is positive. For the first time the directly elected European Parliament as well as the Agriculture and Fisheries Council will vote on issues relating to agriculture. This will be of major benefit to our farmers as their MEPs will have a direct say. For the first time farmers will be in a position to lobby and influence MEPs, rather than just the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, on matters of agricultural policy. Under the treaty, Fine Gael will be in a position to have five MEPs influencing the direction of EU agricultural policy.

We are told that the treaty could be a back door to the introduction of abortion and stem cell research, but the opposite is the case. For the first time the competences of the European Union are set out in the treaty. Health policy is strictly deemed to be a competence of each member state, not a responsibility of the Union. Therefore, abortion and such issues are clearly recognised as not being within the scope of the Union. Our own social and moral beliefs are afforded greater protection by the treaty than by any previous one.

We have seen posters of Deputy Creighton throughout the city implying that the treaty will force Ireland to join a European army, but this is absolutely not the case. The new arrangements for co-operation in the areas of security and defence fully respect the neutral position of Ireland and other member states. Ireland will not be subject to a mutual defence clause. European military activity is directed at peacekeeping and crisis intervention. Participation is the option of each member state and not obligatory. Since the 1950s we have been lauded throughout the world for our work with the United Nations. While we have and will continue to participate in peacekeeping missions, it will be on a case by case basis, subject to the triple lock principle, requiring the support of the Government, the Oireachtas and a United Nations mandate. Without these three criteria, the Army will not participate in any peacekeeping or crisis intervention duties.

The "No" campaigners have been forecasting the end of Irish neutrality for 36 years but they have always been wrong and still are on this occasion. There is a view that we should vote "No" to punish the Government's poor level of performance. We agree that the Government has not performed well but we disagree with using a "No" vote to punish it in this respect. We are extremely concerned by the performance of the health service, about our inadequate education system, the mismanagement of the economy and crime. Coming from Limerick, I am very concerned about that issue, as are people from the mid-west and elsewhere. However, the people must not use these matters as excuses to vote "No" and punish the Government. That chance will come at the local and European elections next year. At that time they will be able to judge the Government's policies, but to do so now would damage the country's future role and influence in Europe. It would be the wrong thing to do. I will campaign actively in my area to ensure a "Yes" vote. We are having the first public meeting on this matter in Adare, in my constituency, on 21 April. The leader of Fine Gael, Deputy Kenny, will address the meeting.

Membership of the European Union has been good for Ireland and played a role in creating 1 million extra jobs since 1973. In addition, Ireland has received €58 billion in transfer payments since joining the Union. All Irish citizens enjoy the right to move, work and reside freely in other member states. The introduction of the euro has made travel within the Union much more convenient and cost effective. I could never understand why people said its introduction would entail giving up some of our sovereignty. The punt was based on the pound sterling and, although exchange rates changed, we have more economic and psychological independence within the eurozone than we would have had by remaining with the punt.

Some 960 foreign companies employing 138,000 workers have set up in Ireland since 1973. We enjoy free health cover when we travel to any other EU country and Irish is now an official language of the European Union. Average wages have increased from 60% of the EU average in 1973 to 138% of the average today. That figure can be questioned, however, because it is calculated by including the new member states.

Investment by US companies in Ireland exceeds combined US investment in China, India, Russia and Brazil. Part of the attraction for US companies to locate here is the fact that we are in the European Union. Since joining, over 500 km of motorway have been constructed.

I wish to share time with the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Michael Ahern.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

It is a personal pleasure to be present in the Chamber with the Acting Chairman, a constituency colleague of mine. Although his role is a non-speaking one, I am sure he will soon be back in full voice again.

This referendum is ample testament to the courage and dignity of the Taoiseach in his leadership of the country and Fianna Fáil. It is a benchmark of the singular importance of the referendum that he chose to put aside his own position and sacrifice himself politically in order that the referendum might be passed and that our national interests would be correctly served by a "Yes" vote. It is also a testament to the importance of the referendum and the treaty that the "Yes" vote for which I am calling is being echoed by the three major parties — Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party. These three major parties command the hearts, minds and loyalties of the people when they go to the ballot box. It is important to note that these three major parties, which the electorate supported demonstrably in the recent election, are behind the treaty.

It is important to present the facts about the treaty in a balanced way. It is an innocuous but necessary administrative response to a number of issues affecting the European Union. The public should put aside any lingering scepticism it might entertain with regard to the treaty. Some might feel it is an opportunity to knock the Government and I am glad that Deputy Neville dealt with this point in such a direct manner. The public should carefully calculate our national interests which have been well served by being part of the European Union within which we have enjoyed the most spectacular transition. It is no exaggeration to say Ireland is the model concerning EU membership. Many of the applicant states which are anxious to join the Union and share in that prosperity self-consciously try to steer themselves along the Irish model.

The public should recall that the treaty does not operate in isolation. There are compelling reasons for voting "Yes", particularly the uncertain financial backdrop to the vote. The world is a much more uncertain place than it was when the people cast their votes at the last general election. There has been a major crisis in the international financial system and the global economy, occasioned by a US problem — the sub-prime lending in which some American financial institutions were engaged. It is not a particularly European problem but a US one that has spread, not unnaturally, to the heart of the international financial system. This uncertainty demands that people be cautious with regard to issues affecting the European Union, particularly voting in referenda. I am not trying to scaremonger but I am merely pointing out that there are causes and consequences when people choose to reject treaties such as this. The world is far more globalised and interconnected today than it was ten years ago. Rejecting this treaty would send a message of uncertainty and instability to a world that is already unstable due to problems in sub-prime lending.

The problem of sub-prime lending originated predominately in the United States. It should not be forgotten that that nation accounts for 35% of the world's wealth: it is a 35% stakeholder in the world economy which means it has enormous influence. Europe must carefully watch what happens in the United States with regard to this issue. Thankfully, European and Irish banks have been substantially unaffected by the sub-prime crisis. We must be fair to Irish banks because, while it is often popular to criticise them, they have been responsible lenders at a time of unprecedented success for the economy. The sub-prime crisis has not revealed irresponsible lending practices at the heart of our banking system which is a tribute to those working in it.

There has been sluggish growth in the European economy in recent years but it is not teetering on the edge of recession, like the US economy. This is down to a set of reasons that relate to the dependence of the US economy on consumer confidence and domestic consumption. The US economy and US consumers depend heavily on investments in the stock markets and equities but that is not the case in the eurozone. For all of these reasons the euro currency offers a haven of stability in an unsettled global currency market that has seen sharp depreciation of the dollar. It is not an exaggeration to say that in its short existence the euro has established itself as a credible reserve currency. It does not rival the dollar yet but an interesting international academic study of the status of the euro as a reserve currency has concluded that in the next ten to 15 years it is possible that it could replace the dollar as a reserve currency. That is a significant destiny for the European Union and those who manage the euro in the European Central Bank. There is a huge responsibility on those who manage the affairs of Europe.

The European Union is the largest and richest economic bloc in the world. It is an economic powerhouse but diplomatically and politically does not rival the United States on the world stage. It is often depicted internationally as somewhat incoherent in terms of its diplomatic and political voice in world affairs. I passionately believe in world development and believe it would be catastrophic if we chose not to reform the institutions of the Union and how they are run in executive and administrative terms. If we do not reform the institutions and instead leave things as they are, there is enormous potential for bureaucratic and political inertia and, as it is said in the United States, gridlock in the political and executive system. If this gridlock and political inertia at the heart of Brussels, the administrative capital of the richest bloc in the world, were to coincide with a period of deep financial instability and speculation on international currency exchanges, there could be catastrophic effects. This would not only affect Irish prosperity and living standards but the entire European continent and the wider world. This is a serious responsibility for a bloc such as the European Union to hold in its hands and it behoves European leaders to put to the forefront the issue of the reform of institutions to make them more transparent and accountable. The treaty does this.

The treaty will provide a voting system and administrative arrangements that will enhance the decision making process. Simultaneously, it carries the necessary changes and adaptations that will allow for democratic accountability, which is important.

Our vital national interests are protected in the treaty and there is no question of our arrangements on abortion, defence and taxes being affected. It is a modest treaty, the substance of which was negotiated by the Taoiseach in 2004, when we held the Presidency of the European Union. I hope that, when it is passed in Ireland and ratified across the continent, European leaders will pause to consider who should chair the proceedings of the European Council. I hope they turn to the Taoiseach, as I believe he would be an ideal man to provide the leadership required in Europe. The meetings of the European Council which are sometimes boring, incoherent or indeterminate in their conclusions and recommendations must be chaired and steered. We need strength at that table, as the proceedings need to be steered well.

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on this important issue.

Europe, including Ireland, cannot stand still, nor can we act alone. The world is becoming ever more interconnected and we need to exploit that interconnectedness to address new and emerging challenges, including globalisation, demographic shifts, climate change, the need for new sustainable energy sources and labour mobility. These are the issues facing Europe in the 21st century. Borders are meaningless in the face of such challenges and EU member states cannot meet them alone but, acting together, Europe can deliver results and respond to the concerns of its people. The expansion of the European Union from 15 to 27 member states in a relatively short period of time means new and innovative methods for co-operating and acting more effectively are required to allow it respond to the rapid changes in the world. This means adjusting and modifying our policies and rethinking some of the ground rules for working together. The Lisbon reform treaty provides the proper framework to undertake these tasks. Ireland has been a huge beneficiary of EU integration and enlargement and the European Union continues to be crucial to our future well-being and prosperity. That is why a more effective Union is in Ireland's best interests and why ratification of the treaty is so important.

Across Europe there is a consensus on the need to create a market for innovation and innovative ideas. The challenge for Europe is that competition for human resources in science and technology is now global. Europe is in direct competition with other major trading blocs for the best research resources. Researchers, for example, are moving more rapidly. We need to find ways to address these challenges.

Access to EU Structural Funds and participation in the European Union's research and development programmes, for example, have done much to enable researchers in Ireland to access funds, collaborate with European partners in cutting-edge research, develop a national system of innovation and upgrade national science and technology infrastructure. EU supports have been used, alongside steadily increasing national supports, to lay the foundations for a knowledge-based economy. There is a high degree of complementarity between Ireland's objectives in science, technology and innovation and wider European objectives in this area. The renewed focus on the Lisbon agenda and the emphasis placed on strengthening the European research area coincide with the implementation of the most comprehensive plan for investment in science, technology and innovation that has ever taken place in Ireland. A key element of the strategy for science, technology and innovation, 2006-13, relates to Ireland's interaction with the rest of Europe and the world. The strategy provides us with a distinct opportunity to ensure maximum economic and social benefits are derived from the Government's commitment of €8.2 billion to this area under the national development plan. Activities at a European level will contribute directly to the achievement of the objectives set out in the strategy. Irish researchers and enterprises participate actively in the EU Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development, a large multi-annual research programme that complements national funding for research and development. The framework programme supports research across a range of subject areas, for example, ICT, life sciences, nanotechnology, food and agriculture, social sciences and humanities, all of which are important priority areas for Ireland in terms of economic and social development. The framework programme provides funding to academic researchers, large enterprises and SMEs in Ireland to engage in collaborative research partnerships with their peers throughout the EU and beyond. It also provides financial support through the "Marie Curie Actions" to encourage the mobility of researchers across Europe and to encourage researchers to move between the worlds of academia and industry.

In overall terms, researchers and enterprises in Ireland received approximately €210 million of research funding from the Sixth Framework Programme, FP6, the largest monetary sum received to date from the framework programme. Funding provided under previous rounds of the framework programme, going back to the early 1980s, was a key element in building up the research capacity that is in place in the country today. The programme is also directly linked with the emergence of some key Irish start-up enterprises that have progressed to become important global players in a number of industry sectors.

Our experience of participation in the framework programmes and the European Space Agency has been very useful in this regard in helping us to build communities of researchers across industry, in academia and internationally. The European framework programmes have always been an important element in the internationalisation of Irish research. They have enabled academic and industry research groups to work with peers across Europe and derive the benefits associated with collaborative research, for example, access to knowledge networks, access to specialist equipment, sharing of costs and risks and, in particular for industry, the possibility of opening commercial opportunities.

In 2007, the European Commission launched the Seventh EU Framework Programme, FP7, with a budget of €50 billion to cover the period 2007-13. In scale and scope, FP7 is the most ambitious of the framework programmes to date. Irish researchers and enterprises will continue to participate actively in the collaborative research and mobility sub-programmes of FP7. In addition, there are new elements in FP7 such as industry-led joint technology initiatives, JTIs, and the European Research Council, ERC, to reward excellence in frontier research.

FP7 will be a key element of the European research landscape that will help Irish researchers and enterprises to achieve the targets set out in the Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation. In funding terms alone, it is expected that FP7 will inject some €600 million of additional research funding into the national RTD system. The importance of science, research and development, innovation, skills and training policies and better regulation are paramount. The road to meeting the wider environmental challenges of climate change and energy as well as the trade and development issues have most chance of success if managed collaboratively with our EU partners.

Ireland supports openness and free trade. Our whole approach to globalisation is clearly linked to the improving competitiveness of the EU. This momentum must be maintained. The unambiguous connection between embracing globalisation and competitiveness, through national and EU programmes, must be maintained. The Lisbon reform treaty will provide the necessary cohesion to improve and drive our competitiveness.

Skills, human resources and creativity are the mainstay of our competitiveness. Increasingly, mobile investment is seeking skills as well as lower costs. We cannot always compete on cost but we can compete on the strength of our knowledge base, skills innovation, networking capabilities and flexibility. For Ireland in the 21st century, competitiveness will depend on merging these attributes with a flair and commitment to innovation that is unmatched in the markets in which we compete.

Collaboration — among employees, between firms and in the form of alliances with technology institutes and universities — increases our innovation performance. Mutual economic benefits can be derived from knowledge-sharing and mentoring programmes between successful large companies and SMEs. Increasingly, it will also involve coalitions that cross national boundaries, building on the transnational programmes promoted by the EU and our other international partners.

Implementing the Single European Market has opened all sorts of product and service markets to competition and provided a stimulus to innovation. It enables resources to flow more effectively to sectors, regions and these markets, to provide the best returns and improve Europe's competitiveness. For example the development of business clusters and networks and transnational co-operation can be a potent force in strengthening their growth. Transnational co-operation between clusters can act as bridge builders across Europe's regions. By connecting clusters through EU programmes and our other international partners, new business and research contacts are made and fostered, allowing cross-border knowledge flows and innovation. This cross-border activity can improve labour mobility and stimulate new opportunities for innovators and entrepreneurs and provide international expertise.

A number of recent initiatives by the EU Commission are to become drivers of the EU innovation strategy. We are particularly supportive of creating the proper conditions and framework for intensive collaboration, partnership and clustering among companies and sectors. We are actively seeking to develop this at national level, including through some relatively new programmes such as an industry-led research network scheme operated by Enterprise Ireland and the CSETs programme of Science Foundation Ireland.

As new models of economic activity emerge in a globalised market place, new thinking is also required on services innovation if policy and supports favouring services innovation are to be matched to the new models. In the light of the growing recognition of the need for more environmentally friendly products, processes and services, and the future importance of environmental conservation to the global economy, there also appears to be significant growth opportunities within the global market for indigenous industry in this sector and, potentially, for foreign direct investment. Innovation will be a key element in exploiting such opportunities.

The EU has played a critical role in the formation of our successful and vibrant economy. Yet, the benefits of EU membership go far beyond financial transfers. Almost no aspect of our public life has been untouched. The European Union has contributed to the modernisation of the Irish economy and society and the Union, under the Lisbon reform treaty, will continue to be a modernising influence in our move towards a knowledge economy.

One of the important aspects of this debate is that we respect different views and different perspectives. It is important to say at the outset that it is possible to disagree fundamentally with most of what the Minister of State has just said and still be in favour of ratification of the Lisbon reform treaty. I do so because I profoundly disagree with what he has said. The question put to a person like myself is what should a person of the left do. I believe the answer is that they should be in favour of a critical yes. I believe so, because what is needed, if one is to consider what we have just heard, is a plurality of discourses. What do I mean by that? The old ignorant view that the mere liberal model is the only model of economic transfer or economic change in global terms is just that, it is sometimes ignorance, it is sometimes an ideologically driven right wing view, but it is nonsense.

At present, all over the world, where people are debating their futures, be it in terms of security, food, access to water, rights to education, a balanced relationship between genders, men and women, between young children, between the rights of female children and male children, in every case where there has been political advance, there has been a debate about how these needs can be met and which path of development is to be chosen. In every continent at present there are massive movements that oppose what are regarded as the successors to the failure of the Doha round in regard to trade. Thus, there are popular movements in Sub-Saharan Africa opposing trade agreements that might be imposed by the European Union. There are movements against free trade agreements that have been developed all over Latin America. In Asia, there are different groups, for example, South Korean workers striking against imposed conditions.

Let us be clear that one should be for the Lisbon treaty because one is insisting on a space and a discourse that will give us a real debate about economics, a real debate about trade and a real debate about Europe in the world. It is not helped by those who suggest globalisation is a neutral process. That is nonsense. I do not deny globalisation but it depends on which process about which one is speaking. Is it the globalisation that takes responsibility for climate change, energy production, human dignity and human rights? One is entitled to call that a globalisation of concern. My party, of which I have the honour of being president, which was founded by James Connolly and which has always been an internationalist one, stresses solidarity and the need to protect the rights of workers wherever they are. One of my crucial decisions in recommending that my supporters and those of the Labour Party vote "Yes" is based on the Charter of Fundamental Rights which is immensely important.

Let us consider those opposing the treaty such as those in the Ganley camp. They believe we should not have regulation, that we should have deregulation. To some extent, in the tailspin of such people are those who make the case for competitiveness without cohesion. There was a degree of agreement on the Lisbon accord in debating the future of Europe. There were two pillars: cohesion and competitiveness. One was not to be advanced at the cost of the other. We have just heard the superficial version, that we must become a competitive trading block in order to enter the world marketplace and reduce our costs. No doubt, the next phrase which we did not hear would have been about labour market control and the liberalisation of labour flows.

I have been around a long time. Such matters should and will be opposed by the trade union movement all over the world. They should also be opposed here. I will cite an example in the medical area. If one imposes a business model, as the HSE is doing, that workers must be let go in order for it to function within the budget allocated, the question that immediately arises is whether there is no floor below which citizens enjoying medical rights will be allowed to fall. The argument from the HSE's business model and the 1% Progressive Democrats section of the Cabinet is that one must drive it on, irrespective. That is nonsense and can be debated in Europe and defeated after a "Yes" vote. It is important to do so. The Mandelson plan to effectively use Europe as a trading block, driven on through free trade agreements with different parts of the changing world, is just that — nonsense.

The other side of the coin which I do not find amusing, as an academic, is the sheer illiteracy of the economics. As a democrat, I am used to being in a minority. I believe in a particular kind of economy of the planet, the country in which I live and the people I represent. Others have a different view. Christian Democrats, for example, refer to competitiveness more than cohesion. Populists, like the Cabinet, talk about whatever is fashionable at the moment. We hear ideologically free phrases such as "the figures don't stack up" and "the fundamentals are sound". People used to say that about horses that had wind. The reality is that it is not economics and it is not serious. I do not present that as intellectual elitism, I say it is necessary to do the work.

It is wrong to construct an argument about aspects of previous treaties which are not contained in this one, as many opponents are doing. That is nonsense. It is equally important to ask a fundamental question: what are the consequences of voting "Yes" or "No"? If one votes "No", is a better treaty available? There is not. Will voting "No" reverse decisions and principles decided in previous treaties? It will not. One may vote "Yes" not because one loves the treaty but because one wishes to participate vigorously to create the Europe that all of us want. That Europe must have a debate on a social model of the economy that allows, for example, trade unions which have been talking recently. If the inflation rate moves beyond what has been agreed in respect of wage rises for ordinary workers, what non-wage benefits will the trade unions seek? Will there be more holidays, a shorter working day or year, changed working conditions or State child care services? That is the agenda for the trade unions here, in Europe and all over the world. The social model of the economy is different from the illiterate notions, some of which are similar to saying the moon is out, that there is a global market and a single model in which we will participate. I can go through these arguments on another occasion such as the idea that "innovation" is a word we use loosely. There is such a thing as creativity in society. Creative societies create knowledge economy spaces within which one has innovation but one does not get it from populist ignorance substituting for economics.

It is about time we had such serious debates about the kind of Europe the Labour Party decided to support at its conference when it decided to support the Lisbon treaty because of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the values we espouse of solidarity with working people and the right to enjoy a climate with sustainability. Many of the issues are genuinely global if we are to respond to them. We will do so but within a model that we will debate in Europe. That is why we chose these values, not just solidarity but equality, rights, justice, peace and recognition of the value of work in all its aspects.

I noticed something that was missing from many speeches. If one accepts the Charter of Fundamental Rights, it is possible to drive the rights perspective on into international bodies. Therefore, Europe could become a champion for rights. Contrast that prospect for the future of Europe with the Mandelson doctrine. We are not having a treaty that is about a market only. It is about changed administrative and institutional decision making arrangements in a larger European Union that includes social and political issues much more than it includes market issues.

It is interesting that Poul Nyrup Rasmussen in writing his report for the Party of European Socialists, "Europe and a New Global Order", states:

We need global progressive alliances for change. Such alliances will have to bring progressive political forces together around shared political aims. They will go beyond the borders of social democracy and include progressive civil society organisations, NGOs, trade unions and businesses devoted to building a sustainable world of democracy, peace, security and social justice.

Let us think about how positive this is, what an invitation to a new discourse this represents in conditions of global change, compared to the notion that we will have an immiserated extension of what we have and a good attempt at imposing it around the world, that we will not understand what we are doing but we are told that there is an opportunity to sell something. We will have a debate after the referendum. A "Yes" vote makes it possible for us to change the direction of Europe and defeat the Mandelson reductionist position and replace it with something that comes from the European tradition — a respect for intellectual life, values based on genuine humanity, respect for discourse, respect for diversity, respect for different models and hundreds of years of economic theory from Adam Smith through Marshall to Keynes that realised that the entire purpose of economic proposals was to serve a moral and social purpose. If we are living what I am saying, the case for a "Yes" vote need not be made in the context of illiteracy. It can be made from a standpoint of principle by social democrats and socialists who are anxious to develop a Europe that many future generations will respect as one that gave them a better prospect of intergenerational justice.

Cuireadh an díospóireacht ar athló.

Debate adjourned.