Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 9 Apr 2008

Vol. 651 No. 3

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."

I propose to share time with the Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Pat Carey. I am pleased to speak in favour of the Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill which provides for a referendum to permit ratification of the EU reform treaty. This treaty has evolved over the years in a very structured way through a most democratic process. The European Convention prepared the way for the draft constitutional treaty which was the forerunner to the reform treaty. That convention was an important democratic innovation: it brought the process of EU treaty reform closer to the citizen. It involved representatives of EU governments, but also national parliaments, both government and opposition, the EU institutions and a civil society pillar.

Despite such a diverse and wide-ranging group, there was a remarkable degree of consensus. All participants were animated by the same concerns — how to bring Europe closer to its citizens, how to increase democratic accountability and how to make the workings of the Union more understandable and more transparent. Many of the proposals from that convention survive in the reform treaty. The treaty represents important progress in all of these areas. In addition to the emphasis which it places on the rights of the individual EU citizen, the treaty also reinforces the Union's democratic legitimacy through the greatly enhanced role that is envisaged for national parliaments under its provisions. The treaty proposes to give Dáil Éireann, and the other national parliaments of the Union, a direct input into European legislation, through the protocol on the role of national parliaments attached to the treaty. The protocol on the application of subsidiarity and proportionality further develops these important new elements in the role of national parliaments and, for the first time, brings national parliaments directly into the EU decision-making process. The reform treaty enables national parliaments to ensure that the Union does not exceed its authority. The treaty provides for a yellow card procedure for national parliaments with regard to draft legislation. This allows for a period during which national parliaments can respond to a Commission proposal and requires the Commission to take on board the views of national parliaments. The treaty also gives national parliaments a right to veto any proposal to change voting rules from unanimity to qualified majority voting in the European Council or Council of Ministers. Special provisions have also been made for the role of national parliaments and the European Parliament in the sensitive areas of freedom, justice and security. For example, they are to be involved in the evaluation of the activities of Eurojust and Europol. These new powers will enable national parliaments to contribute more fully to the democratic life of the Union. Given that most European citizens still feel most connected to their national parliament, these measures will serve to advance the cause of democratic accountability within the Union in a practical and meaningful manner. The treaty will also strengthen democracy at the European level by increasing the number of areas in which the European Parliament will share law-making with the Council of Ministers and also by strengthening the Parliament's budgetary role. The citizens' initiative will give citizens of the Union a more direct say on European matters. The initiative has the potential to breathe new life into the democratic functioning of the Union. Under the reform treaty, a petition with at least 1 million signatures obtained from a number of member states can for the first time request the European Commission to propose new EU legislation. Taken together, this package of democratic reforms can have a real impact. It will make the Union more democratic, transparent and, by extension, effective. We have an interest in promoting democratic principles in Europe and the wider world. Without doubt, the treaty serves this interest in new and imaginative ways.

The treaty makes important steps forward in a number of areas, but is not a radical new departure for the Union. It represents the continuation of a project that originated 50 years ago. Ireland's direct involvement in the European project goes back 35 years. In those years, our world has changed greatly. However, the European Union remains as vital as ever to Ireland. It gives us a platform to develop our economy and improve the living standards of our citizens. It gives us a place at the table to put forward our opinions on the important global issues of the day. It gives us the confidence that goes with membership of a group of countries possessing shared aspirations and values and operating on the basis of mutual respect and the search for compromise and consensus.

Some in 1972 opposed membership of the then EEC, just as they continue to oppose the reform treaty today. The fears expressed at that time turned out to be unfounded. The expectations of those who favoured membership have, on the other hand, been well and truly exceeded. Any fair assessment of our experience of membership in the past 35 years would conclude that it has been overwhelmingly positive.

At its core, the Union was founded to overcome the legacy of conflict among European countries and to establish in its place a union of peace and prosperity. More than half a century later, Robert Schuman's European project, which has evolved into the European Union, has succeeded beyond all expectations. The quality of life enjoyed by EU citizens and the rights and freedoms central to our lives are testament to the power of Schuman's idea. Much of the credit for the positive changes that have occurred in Europe must go to the European Union and to the sense of solidarity it has engendered among the peoples of Europe and their political leaders. Today's Europe has been built step by step. The reform treaty represents the next necessary step in this European process. It has been a successful process and we have a vested interest in its successful continuation.

The Union is founded on a strong sense of solidarity among its membership. Over the years, Ireland has benefited from the application of this principle. It was a spirit of solidarity that saw the Union invest in Ireland's future, including our peace process. At European level, it was this spirit that provided support for the people of central and eastern Europe when the Iron Curtain finally came down. It is this spirit that will be essential for all Europeans as we seek to meet the challenges of the coming decades, challenges that go beyond the capacity of any one country to handle. It is vital to deal with difficult economic global situations and to give leadership at EU level.

Our early modest ambitions have been replaced by larger goals. Our economy has developed to a level unthinkable to even the most optimistic of the earlier generations who worked so hard to lay the foundations for a better Ireland and our social policies much better reflect the needs and aspirations of a vibrant 21st century society. Had we listened to the doubters in the mid-1980s and rejected the Single European Act, which created the Internal Market, we could easily have missed out on much of the economic advancement we have experienced in the past two decades. Similarly, the story of our economic success of recent years cannot be told without reference to the Maastricht treaty of 1992, which provided for economic and monetary union and the guaranteed trading environment it ushered in. The 1997 Amsterdam treaty, which increased the EU's responsibility in the area of justice and home affairs, has been crucial in the fight against the growing threat of cross-border crime. Each of these treaties has brought about change that has been in Ireland's best interests.

The latest treaty, which will settle the debate about the internal workings of the Union for the foreseeable future, will also serve our national interests. As a major exporting nation, Ireland has benefited enormously from our access to the European market. Our exports to it have more than doubled since we joined in 1973 and the Lisbon treaty will ensure that the Single Market continues to develop, giving Irish companies more opportunities to grow and expand. Ireland is rightly often described as a gateway to Europe and is seen as such by many foreign investors. The fact that Ireland will continue to decide its own tax policies under this treaty will ensure that we continue to be an attractive location for foreign investment. The treaty is good for investment, business and jobs.

The treaty will give the Union the flexibility and capability to face the major challenges ahead and there can be no doubt that there is a need for reform to take account of the much larger Union and of the challenging internal and external policy issues facing us. The sheer scale of the challenges — climate change, migration, the eradication of poverty and globalisation — means that no single country can contemplate addressing them alone. The decades ahead will see us all increasingly dependent on multilateral and regional organisations. The EU is the most effective such organisation in the world by a long way. It has an important role in helping to shape a better future and has a responsibility to play that role effectively, which the reform treaty recognises. In creating a president of the European Council and a high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, the treaty aims to give the Union a clearer and more coherent voice in international affairs that will reflect the shared interests and values of European people and have democracy and human rights at its core. It will be a consensus voice that will speak on behalf of and follow the mandate of all EU member states.

We have a strong interest in preventing and resolving regional and global conflicts and in creating a fairer international order. We have an interest in bringing our influence and principles to bear, the best way for us to do which is through active engagement within the Union, which bases its external action on the principles of the United Nations charter. This is not to say that our national voice or interests will be submerged — unanimity will continue to rule with regard to the common foreign and security policy. This applies to areas with military or defence implications. There is absolutely no threat to our traditional policy of military neutrality.

The treaty will ensure that the European Union will continue to develop its vital work in the area of security and defence co-operation. Ireland is making a major contribution to peace and stability in places like Kosovo and Chad. The European Union has a particular relationship with Africa and this role will expand and develop over the next decades in promoting greater co-operation on development, trade and stability. Hopefully, high on our agenda will be helping to restore Zimbabwe to its former status as the bread basket of Africa and assisting it to grow and develop as it deserves after a decade of stagnation.

The Minister of State's time has expired.

I am sharing time with my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Carey. I will conclude in one minute.

The referendum presents us with an important decision about our future. Two different paths are available to us. The opponents of the reform treaty argue that we should turn our backs on six years of painstaking negotiations, which have produced a remarkable consensus among the 27 EU member states. They suggest that some better outcome could be arrived at on the back of an Irish "No" vote, but they decline to spell out what kind of Europe they want. They are wrong. This is not a path that will bring any advantage to our country. The other path, which requires a "Yes" vote, is that we should retain our national position as a positive and active EU member state moving forward within a reformed union to tackle the many issues that face us. This is the path that makes sense for Ireland's future, for which reason I support ratification of the reform treaty strongly.

Like the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, I am a strong advocate of a "Yes" vote in this referendum not because everyone else wants it, but because it is the proper course of action for Ireland, Europe and the world.

With other Deputies and former Deputies, I had the pleasure of being involved in some small way in the formation of the treaty's precursor, that is, the draft constitutional treaty. I pay tribute to those people, including the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, the former Taoiseach, John Bruton, former Deputy, Proinsias de Rossa, MEP, and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley. A number of others were involved. It was an opportunity for all of us to gain further insight into how Europe has evolved. I want to pay tribute to the enormous contribution of the Taoiseach during that document's formulation and to the Lisbon reform treaty.

I will advert to three areas, the first being the area of freedom, security and justice. We would all agree that many of the challenges facing societies are transnational in nature, particularly in respect of crime. Co-operation across Europe is clearly vital and unavoidable. As everyone is aware, there has been considerable debate on Ireland's position on these matters. Some in the legal profession take the view that we should be more adventurous whereas others have expressed caution.

I refer to Ireland's position when negotiating the treaty. The Government decided that on balance, it would be appropriate for Ireland to avail of both opt-out and opt-in arrangements with regard to judicial co-operation in criminal matters and police co-operation.

This means that measures concerning freedom, security and justice will not apply automatically to Ireland, which can participate in proposals on a case by case basis. At the same time the Government decided that in keeping with our strong commitment to the Union, Ireland should make a political declaration stating its firm intention to participate, to the maximum extent possible, in proposals concerning judicial co-operation in matters of police co-operation and so on. The declaration, which was published with the new treaty, further states that this undertaking on the part of Ireland will apply in particular to the area of police co-operation.

In that respect and arising from my involvement in helping to co-ordinate the national drugs strategy, I wish to draw the attention of Members to an initiative that is important in its own right and which will be strengthened further on adoption of the Lisbon reform treaty. In 2007, in what constituted a significant move to foster better co-operation among the law enforcement communities, Revenue and other joint task force partners, including the Garda Síochána and the Naval Service, supported the initiative led by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform regarding the development of the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre for Narcotics, MAOC-N, in Lisbon, Portugal. My colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan, signed the relevant international agreement in Lisbon on 30 September last.

Six other EU states, as well as the US authorities, are involved in this important initiative. The parties working at the centre will pool intelligence and ascertain the availability of air and naval resources in a concerted effort to prevent the trafficking of drugs and cocaine in particular, into Europe from South America. Most recently, western Africa has figured as a staging post for this illicit product. The MAOC-N will assist law enforcement in such developing countries to prevent their territories from being used as transit routes by the organised criminal gangs involved in this nefarious trade. The centre now is in operation and already has registered some significant successes. I am pleased to note that an Irish customs liaison officer will be assigned to work there and I am highly confident the centre will play a significant role in protecting the citizens of the EU against the scourge of drug trafficking.

Ireland has been one of the most active participants in Eurojust activity and in the field of judicial co-operation and a strong "Yes" vote will make Ireland's position even stronger. Another good reason, among many, for Ireland to adopt a "Yes" position and for me to support a "Yes" vote arises from the treaty's inclusion of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The charter probably is the first democratic document to be drawn up since the foundation of the European Union. It was drawn up by the precursor to the convention that drew up the draft constitutional treaty and many Members from both sides of the House were involved in its formulation. I listened to Deputy Michael D. Higgins last night when he spoke of everyone promoting the cause of competitiveness and of an insufficient emphasis being devoted to the area of cohesion. I believe the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which is embedded in the Lisbon reform treaty, in conjunction with the Lisbon Agenda, which emphasises cohesion in addition to competitiveness, will be a key instrument in ensuring the protection and enhancement of citizens' rights.

The charter, which was originally adopted as a political declaration by the European Union institutions on 7 December 2000 was recognised as having the same legal value as the other treaties. While many member states had supported giving the original charter legal status, others, including Ireland, believed that some further definition and explanation of its provisions was needed. I believe this refinement, which has been open to criticism in certain quarters, has strengthened the provision of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The adapted text of the charter was formally agreed by the European Union's institutions in Strasbourg on 12 December 2007 and this text will be given legally binding status by the treaty. The treaty makes the Charter of Fundamental Rights binding on the Union's institutions and on the member states when they are implementing EU law. The charter makes clear that its provisions are addressed to the institutions, bodies, offices and agencies of the Union with due regard for the principle of subsidiarity and to the member states only when they are implementing Union law.

One should consider the manner in which the charter reflects the existing jurisprudence of the Court of Justice. This means the court only will review the actions of member states that fall within the scope of Union law, including fundamental rights standards. Examples of this might be in cases in which Irish Government officials enforce equal pay rules or impose restrictions on free movement of foodstuffs on public health grounds, or in which the Oireachtas enacts legislation to give effect to European directives in the field of environmental protection.

The final area to which I wish to advert briefly is in respect of the enhanced role of national parliaments. I spent two years on the Sub-Committee on European Scrutiny when it was first established in these Houses and Members often read documents which recorded that decisions already had been made by the European Council. The powers that have been conferred in this treaty to national parliaments and to the European Parliament will be stronger and more important for democracy. It is essential for Ireland that Members should promote a "Yes" vote to ensure that our position is enhanced within the European Union and the wider world.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak at some length on the new European Union reform treaty, or the Lisbon treaty as it is called. It is unusual to find all the larger parties in this House supporting one another on an issue. Although Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil disagree on one or two issues in respect of this treaty, both are backing strongly the call for a "Yes" vote, and for good reason. While trying to explain to people the reasons this treaty is needed, the manner of its construction and what it will mean for Ireland and the European Union, it is important to place the debate in context.

The European Union and its reason for being change continually. It began as a desperately-needed peace project after two world wars. It was a social and political experiment, as well as being an economic experiment, after the signing of the Treaty of Rome. However, it quickly developed into something else. It began to build trust and faith between politicians and between countries that, less than a decade earlier, had been at war. Moreover, it began to build momentum and to attract interest in other parts of Europe and elsewhere in the world as other countries considered being part of it. Essentially, people then began to see the positive by-products of the guarantee of peace and stability, which were economic opportunity, trade opportunity and the potential for wealth and economic growth. In a relatively short space of time, the entire driving force behind the European project, which was the guarantee of peace and the absence of war, became more about economics, trade and solving political problems in a new form and through new structures on the Continent of Europe. As the project evolved, the institutions which made it possible for the European Union to function also needed to be reformed. Thus, while we initially started with a peace project, we had to introduce the reforms to guarantee a single market for trade and the consequential treaty which made that a reality. We then began a new project of monetary union, which also needed a treaty on institutional reform. After gradually enlarging the European Union over a period of time, the proposition of substantial enlargement by ten new member states required further changes in rules and structures, which were facilitated by the Nice treaty.

The current reform treaty is no different in principle. It prepares the European Union for the challenges that lie ahead and provides political and economic solutions to new problems that did not exist in the past, such as climate change, cross-border crime and the role of the EU in alleviating world hunger and responding to natural disasters that occur elsewhere in the world, and the developing world in particular. It will ensure the European Union prepares itself for energy security. That is why new areas of competency are being proposed so that we can agree, where countries on their own cannot provide solutions, to work together and allow the European institutions increased competency so they can take more influential positions within these areas. At the same time, we will ensure the necessary safeguards are in place so that we do not move towards the super state federalised structure that the scaremongers would have us believe is the future. That is essentially the purpose of this treaty. It is important that people understand there is no hidden agenda to militarise the EU, to offer a political counterbalance to the power of the United States or to give more power to the faceless bureaucrats in Brussels and Strasbourg. I have worked in Brussels and Strasbourg as an MEP for three years and that agenda may be held by a tiny minority of people but it is not what drives this treaty.

The Lisbon treaty is a successor to the failed constitutional treaty, the creation of which took five or six years and involved the input of every EU member state. People have asked me whether the treaty is being foisted upon us by people we do not know and have not elected but nothing could be further from the truth. The treaty has been put together in a more democratic way then any other treaty in the history of the EU. My party has had a say on it, as has Fianna Fáil, the Green Party and the Labour Party. Influential and bright people from these parties have been at the heart of agreeing this treaty through the Convention on Europe. We are at the end of a process.

When the constitutional treaty was rejected by France and the Netherlands, the institutions, governments and people of the EU had to rethink how the Union could progress. I see that as a positive example of democracy. We have had to repackage the constitutional treaty and make changes. The Irish people will now have their say on the repackaged version, which contains some changes and certainly lacks the imagery contained in the constitutional treaty. Many people had genuinely held concerns that if we put in place a European constitution it might override our Constitution, which is emotionally as well as legally important to us. We have, therefore, returned to the standard practice of amending previous treaties, which is why this is a complex document.

The constitutional treaty could be used as — admittedly dull — bedtime reading because it was a manual or business plan for how the EU should function. This treaty requires a legal draftsperson to translate it because it is in essence a series of amendments. That has given rise to a certain degree of confusion and genuine concerns, but it has also allowed people to deliberately mislead its intent.

I will now address how the treaty will affect institutional provisions, in other words, the changes we will make to the politics of the institutions within the European Union. One of the proposals in the treaty is to establish a full-time president of the European Council. Instead of the current practice whereby every six months a different country takes its turn in the Presidency and offers leadership to the Council, we are proposing a new system which allows for a seamless transition between Presidencies, thereby allowing greater consistency within the Council. That will be the primary function of the full-time president, who will be in place for an initial two and half years and will have the option of being reinstalled for the remainder of the five year term of a European Parliament. That is a positive development in my view. The position will not turn into the president of Europe in the same way that George Bush is the President of the United States. The president of the Council will be a figurehead who represents the EU on the world stage and a co-ordinator who works with member states, the European Parliament and the Commission to ensure coherence on European policy.

In the past, many non-EU countries have rightly noted in respect of major foreign policy issues the importance of having a point of contact within the EU who can set out a co-ordinated position on emerging crises or economic challenges. In many cases, the new full-time president will not be able to achieve a coherent EU policy response because he or she will have only a limited role in the development of foreign policy. In most cases, individual countries will decide on their own respective responses but in the areas where the EU has competency the president will improve co-ordination on international responses on behalf of the EU. The Presidency of the Council of Ministers will also change in structure, as proposed in this treaty. At present, individual member states take on this role for a six-month period but there are always problems when one Presidency hands over to the next in terms of continuity of policy, shared information and so on, although that co-ordination has improved in recent years. Instead, however, we will now give the Presidency to three member states at one time for an 18-month period. Essentially, individual countries will still offer leadership in terms of policy development in the European Union but there will be co-ordination for a longer period and countries will work together to put together a policy agenda. This is a positive, sensible and practical solution to some of the problems of the past ten years or so.

There has been much comment on the size of the Commission and the proposal that Ireland would not have a Commissioner for five out of every ten years. There is much confusion on this issue because the people who spell out this issue as a negative point are in many cases giving half the facts. The following are the facts. The European Union is likely to continue to grow and the Commission, if it were to continue to represent each member state by having a Commissioner from each, would potentially become unwieldy and too big. It would be like having 35 Ministers in a Cabinet and one would essentially be creating jobs so that Commissioners could be appointed to the Commission. Therefore, the institutions and governments have agreed to try to reduce bureaucracy in the Union and slim down the Commission to make it a more efficient body that can make decisions more easily. They have stated that however many states there are in the EU in 2014, two thirds of that number will make up the Commission.

The most important point is that all states will be treated equally. Malta will get the same treatment as Germany, Britain or France, and Ireland will get the same treatment as Spain or Italy. Small states will get the exact same treatment as the larger states. This is because the EU at times deliberately slants policy in favour of small countries to ensure we do not allow a situation to develop in the Union, as developed before the European project began, where might is right and might is dominant on the Continent of Europe.

It is important to recognise how the Commission works. The Commission does not finalise policy decisions for the European Union. It brings forward proposals and it enforces and polices existing legislation and decisions that have been made. The primary decision-making capacity in the EU is a process of co-decision in the most part between the European Parliament and the European Council, with the Council representing Governments and the Parliament representing directly elected politicians from each member state. The Commission is a bit like the civil service of the EU. It makes decisions in a college system, which is why when a Commissioner goes to Brussels from Ireland, such as Mr. Charlie McCreevy, the Commissioner for the Internal Market and Services, his job is primarily to make decisions in the interests of the common market across the Union. His job is not to go to Brussels to defend and protect Irish interests as such.

It is in that context that the European Commission needs to slim down and continue to work together in the interests of the EU. Individual member states' interests will be well protected and defended either in the European Parliament or in the European Council, or through the mechanisms in national parliaments, to which I will refer shortly and which ensure there is oversight of what the European Union is doing.

The reform treaty also proposes that we would have a high representative of the Union for foreign affairs and security policy. Currently, there is a disjoint problem with foreign policy creation within the EU — I have some experience of this as I was a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee within the European Parliament. On the one hand, there is a High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy and, on the other, there is also a Commissioner for External Relations. One controls the budget and the other dominates in terms of political influence. This is a problem. With the same sort of thinking that has resulted in a new full-time president of the Council, we are proposing that we would have a foreign policy figurehead within the EU who would try to co-ordinate with member states a common approach towards international relations and international issues. This is a positive development which does not sacrifice Ireland's foreign policy or Irish neutrality. It only deals with issues that countries have agreed to work on together and those within the competence of the EU.

With regard to institutional provisions, there is the European Parliament. People have said that Ireland is losing an MEP as well as a Commissioner. The reality is as follows. If a club gets bigger, one's representation gets smaller in percentage terms. It is not possible for Ireland to keep as many MEPs as we had in the past as we move from 15 to 27 EU member states, and potentially 30 within the next five years. There was a choice. Either we could keep making the European Parliament bigger or we could have a cut-off point, which is what has been decided to ensure that the European Parliament does not get too big and unwieldy, which would make it impossible for decision-making to happen.

There is no hidden agenda with the reform treaty. Fine Gael has taken the political decision to support this treaty because it is right for Ireland and for the European Union in terms of dealing with problems that Ireland simply cannot deal with on its own. It would have been politically convenient for us to oppose Fianna Fáil in particular on this issue and try to embarrass it into a failed referendum campaign. We have decided not to do this because it would be wrong from the perspective of Irish interests. I am glad to see all of the main business bodies in Ireland, such as IBEC, strongly come out in support of the treaty in recent days, as I believe other representative organisations will do in the coming weeks. As people understand the facts with regard to what is in this treaty, they will begin to be far more positive about it as opposed to the position that has been held by many people until now, due to the absence of knowledge and understanding of what the treaty seeks to achieve.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to join colleagues in debating the EU reform treaty. It is very much in Ireland's interests that the EU perform efficiently and it is clearly in Europe's interests that it do so. It is clear the institutions which undoubtedly served the Union and its people well over a long period are not suitable in the new Union with 27 member states. It is frankly impossible for the EU to perform efficiently and effectively with the current arrangements and this treaty is extremely necessary at this point. It is true to say that the treaty in its current form was largely negotiated during Ireland's Presidency in 2004. That should give people in Ireland considerable comfort because there is no doubt but the state which holds the Presidency at a particular time has a greater opportunity than other member states to ensure the considerations that are important to its own people are to the fore and are taken into account because of the level of involvement it has. That is an important consideration in the context of the current debate in the run-up to the vote on the EU reform treaty.

In the Council of Ministers the new majority voting system will considerably enhance the position not just of Ireland but of all the smaller member states. That is to be welcomed. It is very important and gives the lie to the case which is made by some of those who oppose the treaty.

If we look at the history of our involvement in Europe and the benefits it has brought us we should keep at the forefront of our minds the fact that EU membership has been good for Ireland and it can only continue to be good for us and the other citizens of Europe if we have institutions that have the capacity to deal with the challenges of the day. Undoubtedly, Ireland's enormous success in attracting foreign direct investment has been significantly enhanced by our membership of the European Union with the Single Market and the availability of 500 million customers. That is something which we frequently take for granted and we certainly ought not to because it would have been impossible in any other circumstances to have attracted US$83 billion worth of foreign direct investment into a country of this size with its population and location were it not for it being a member of the EU and a part of the Single Market.

We sometimes take for granted that we have come into the eurozone which gives considerable trade advantages in terms of convenience, access and the capacity of the euro to avoid currency fluctuations which previously bedevilled the currencies of several of the smaller countries and currently some of the bigger ones.

We also take for granted the enormous advantage of peace and stability in the European Union. Despite the fact that we hear on a daily basis on news bulletins and see television coverage of the ravages of war-torn areas around the world, we take much for granted in terms of the peace and stability the European Union has brought to all of its citizens.

One issue many people fail to take into account is the considerable increase in Irish per capita GDP since we joined the European Union. At that time our GDP was approximately 60% of the EU average, while the current situation is that we are at 144% of the European average. That is an enormous leap forward and it manifests itself in a much better quality of life for people and a much wealthier society here. We have gone from having a workforce of just over 1 million people to considerably more than 2 million people in a very short time — a lot less than the length of time we have been members of the European Union. That is a wonderful achievement.

We should also acknowledge the value we have received from European funds, especially the Social Fund, but also the Common Agricultural Policy and the contribution to our infrastructure.

Many of those who oppose the treaty refer to their concerns in the areas of defence-neutrality and taxation. It is most important that all of us who speak on this EU reform treaty make it clear that there are no neutrality, defence or taxation implications. No matter how often that is said there are people who choose to say the opposite is the case. Anyone who makes an attempt to study the treaty will find there is no impact in each of these areas.

I reject the charge against the treaty that it is difficult to understand. As Deputy Coveney stated, it is not exactly entertaining, but it is perfectly understandable to anybody who takes the trouble to look at it.

Despite the obvious challenges posed by having 27 members in a Union that previously was much smaller, we have to examine the kind of challenges that each member state faces as a nation state and accept that we will all tackle these more effectively as members of the European Union. I refer to globalisation, which sometimes seems constant but in fact changes very quickly and in a sense that creates a much more competitive market, one in which it is only possible to deal effectively if one has the institutions which have the capacity to do so.

The treaty allows the European Union to deal on a legal basis with the challenges of climate change. It is acknowledged internationally that the EU has been to the forefront in trying to get agreement and to raise the standards in terms of our response to climate change. We need to do this because of the impact it will have on our own countries but in the immediate and short term we have to be concerned about countries in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere that experience famine currently as a result of the changes that have already occurred. Ireland has illustrated that it is prepared to play a proactive and leading role in Europe to address climate change. That is one of the challenges that Europe can only effectively face if it has the institutions capable of doing so.

Another difficulty that is faced internationally, no less in Ireland or Europe than elsewhere, relates to the challenge of energy costs and energy security. It would be very difficult for us to address these issues if we were operating independently, especially as we import virtually all of our fossil fuels and have a significant dependence on having access to them. We also have issues of cost. All of this is conveniently tied in to the debate on climate change. Even if we did not have to face issues in this regard, undoubtedly we would have to face issues in the areas of energy costs and security.

Another area that is of significant concern to all of us and that can be best addressed with institutions capable of doing so is that of cross-border crime. I very much welcome the provisions in the treaty that will enable our police force to work much more effectively in co-operation with police forces across Europe to address the enormous difficulties right across the western world in the areas of crime, especially cross-border crime.

We also have to face up to the fact that the international economic environment is much more difficult than it was two or three years ago. While some of our international partners did not enjoy the growth rates we had in recent years, everybody is affected by the economic downturn that is inevitable from sub-prime lending on one level and the huge increase in the cost of oil on the other. They are all challenges that Europe has to be in a position to address and certainly would have huge additional difficulty in the context of the current arrangements.

A certain amount of concern has also been expressed about the idea of having a full-time President of the Council of Europe. The role of a full-time President is effectively that of chairman of the Council of Ministers. The term is for two and a half years, renewable once for up to five years. The current system is for a rotating Presidency on a six-month basis. The ideas promoted by one country in its Presidency were frequently allowed to fall into the background by the next Presidency. That is not an ideal way to do business. The level of continuity and co-ordination that will be possible with a chairman of the Council is hugely desirable. I also think it will be enhanced by the fact that rather than six month Presidencies in the future we will have 18 month Presidencies jointly with two other countries. Our partners in the Presidency will be Greece and Lithuania, both of which are some distance away and both quite different interests and concerns. This will make for an interesting 18 month Presidency with Ireland undoubtedly having an opportunity to put its concerns to the forefront. I am very pleased to have an opportunity to support the treaty and to urge people to support it in the referendum.

I appreciate the opportunity to say a few words in this important debate and to make it clear that I will of course vote yes on 12 June or whatever day it will be. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, for giving me the opportunity to say a few words. I wish him well today and for the next four weeks and beyond. As it is my birthday — please do not tell anyone — I am reminded that I am of a generation which was born when Europe was a different place.

Happy birthday.

As a young child, I remember listening to people in the inner city who had been affected by the events of the Second World War and, in the case of my granddad's generation, the First World War. While the development of Europe in the past half century has been important economically and socially, its most important feature has been the transition from a dangerous place in the late 1940s and 1950s to a safe place, albeit one which still faces challenges.

I remember when Ireland joined the European Economic Community in 1972. Many communities can see the progress achieved through European membership. Without meaning to be parochial, my constituency of Dublin South-West has benefited in that regard. Deputies who know Tallaght will be aware of the significant European investment in the area, the third largest population centre in the State. In this respect, I refer specifically to European Union part-funding for Tallaght hospital, which opened in June 1998, and the institute of technology in Tallaght, now known as ITT Dublin, which has developed a strong relationship with the rest of Europe through the Erasmus programme and other projects. We, in Tallaght, are proud of this connection. The Luas, on which Deputy Brian Hayes and I frequently travel to the House, is a further example of European Union investment. Other communities in the Dublin region have also benefited from EU funding and Deputies from other counties and regions will no doubt refer to the benefits which have accrued to their areas.

I had the honour of assuming the Chair last night when the Taoiseach spoke on the Bill and noted the success of Irish membership of the European Union. I have listened to the contributions of colleagues from all sides. With some slight variations, all the main parties are singing from the same hymn book, which is good for the debate.

Questions were asked about what would have happened if the leadership of the Fianna Fáil Party had not changed. We are all committed to campaigning strongly to achieve a positive outcome to the referendum on the Lisbon reform treaty. I heard some party leaders state they are leading the campaign. The referendum is a challenge for all the main political parties.

We have all heard the arguments made by treaty opponents and seen their posters. I am sorry my face has not appeared on any of the posters around Dublin.

We are all sorry.

It is not easy to get constituents to vote in referendums but this is a vital referendum for the country and our communities. It is important, therefore, that the political parties take a unified approach to meeting this challenge.

Deputy Simon Coveney referred to MEPs. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Cowen, was elected the seventh leader of the Fianna Fáil Party this morning. I am pleased Fianna Fáil Members had an opportunity to meet our party's MEPs, Mr. Seán Ó Neachtain, Mr. Liam Aylward, Mr. Brian Crowley and Mr. Eoin Ryan, at the meeting. They probably regretted having to rush back to the European Parliament because they clearly would like to have made a contribution to this important debate.

I note my good friend, Mr. Gay Mitchell MEP, has placed posters all over my constituency promoting a meeting in Terenure next week. While I will probably be too busy to attend, I wish him well.

The Deputy is welcome to attend.

It is kind of the Deputy to invite me. It is important that supporters of the treaty from all parties are seen to work together for the sake of the country once the date of the referendum is confirmed. This is especially the case in constituencies where determined opponents of the reform treaty are calling for a "no" vote.

The Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Tony Killeen, referred to jobs and the economy. News is emerging that jobs will be lost in a plant on the Ballymount Road in Tallaght. These and other regrettable job losses announced in my constituency in recent months put us under pressure. I was sorry to learn of these job losses from a call from Tesco this afternoon. In the context of this debate, such announcements serve as a reminder of the importance of investment and the job creation needs of our communities. I am never afraid to talk up Tallaght in that regard. I extend my best wishes to the workers who will be affected by the announcement, which is being made as I speak.

The economy continues to benefit from the success of the Internal Market, which established a system of free movement of goods and services in the European Union. This development suited Ireland as an exporting country. The statistics bear out how well Ireland, as an active and strong member of the Internal Market, has fared. In 1998, we exported goods and services worth €39 billion to other EU member states. By 2006, this figure had jumped to €56.6 billion. In a recent survey, 82% of Irish respondents stated they had total confidence in the workings of the Internal Market. Companies around the world use Ireland as a gateway to the European Union, a marketplace of 500 million people. The economy has developed and prospered on account of rather than despite our participation in the Internal Market. Ireland's economic success will continue if we vote "yes" in the referendum on the Lisbon reform treaty.

Several speakers referred to the need to counter the negative stories emanating from the "no" campaign. There has been a strong response to stories concerning the impact of the Lisbon reform treaty on our abortion laws. Nothing in the treaty empowers the European Union to overrule the Irish Constitution in matters such as the right to life of the unborn. Ireland has secured a specific safeguard on the issue of abortion. We must be brave and challenge stories of this nature as they emerge in the coming weeks.

I appreciate the opportunity to say a few words on the referendum and wish all sides well as we tackle this challenge. I look forward to voting "yes".

I wish to share time with Deputy Deirdre Clune.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the opportunity, at last, to speak on this Bill which will, I hope, allow us to ratify the Lisbon treaty following a referendum. I regret the delay and hesitancy about setting a date for the referendum and welcome the fact that it will, it seems, be held on 12 June. Uncertainty about the date and a lack of information allowed the "no" campaign to get a head-start. A number of people to whom I spoke recently expressed annoyance that the campaign was not under way, information was not available and a date for the referendum had not yet been announced. We must be careful there is not the same laissez-faire approach to this campaign. Instead it must be very vigorous.

The Lisbon reform treaty is not as far-reaching as other European treaties in the past. It does not create the changes one would equate with the Maastricht treaty which established the EMU and subsequently the euro. Neither is it like the Single European Act which provided for a single market or the Nice treaty which admitted ten member states. However, like the continuum of other treaties, it deals with the evolving nature of the Union and its response to changing circumstances. Hopefully, it will equip the Union to cope with new objectives and circumstances.

The treaty is not the be-all and end-all. Just as any other legislation or changes in government or the Constitution do not give us utopia, the Lisbon reform treaty will not bring us perfection nor will it be the last treaty we enter into with the rest of the European nations. Instead, it is all part of an evolving process. It will, however, make the work of the Union more efficient and relevant. It is hard to understand how this can be seen as a bad development by anyone. Even the most vigorous opponents of the EU, of which there are many, must want it to be efficient. Surely, they must see the benefits of increased democratisation and citizenship as a good development.

Having attended some meetings about the EU and the treaty, I was amazed at what people believe the treaty is about. It does not bring abortion to Ireland. It does not affect our neutrality. It does not increase privatisation. Neither will it introduce tax harmonisation. The recent comments by the French finance Minister on a common system to compute corporation tax in the EU were not a welcome intervention in this regard. However, no number of calls by anyone will bring about tax harmonisation or a single corporation tax.

It is not just Ireland that does not want this. Other member states recognise tax harmonisation could be seen as a step towards a federal Union which is not what the EU is about. The EU is a voluntary Union of independent states to which all member states aspire. The unanimity principle still applies to the tax harmonisation proposals. Every single member state can exercise its veto to prevent other member states coming together to change the EU tax regime.

The reform treaty will enhance the role of national parliaments by requiring all draft EU laws to be discussed first in member states' parliaments, a little known measure not being promulgated enough. This will allow us to give our opinions on the nature of EU proposals and state if they should go through the formal legislative process. The relevant Ministers and MEPs will know the parliaments' views and the citizens' views on legislative proposals which will inform their decisions. It will also mean better legislation. Those making the overall decisions will know of the different national circumstances and concerns about proposals.

One criticism of the EU, and a reason given by opponents of the treaty, is that decisions are imposed on us and we never hear what is coming down the line until it is a fait accompli. Decisions, of course, are not imposed on us but are agreed by our elected Ministers whose job it is to make them. We, as well as other parliaments, are guilty of sometimes not paying attention to what EU legislative proposals are coming down the line. The treaty will provide us with the opportunity to discuss that at parliamentary level. This change alone is a reason to support the treaty. It will change the direction of Europe’s approach, development and dissemination of legislative proposals. It will involve us as national politicians and through us all citizens in a way that has not happened before. We will all have an influence on the type of legislation that goes ahead and its outcome.

Another measure that will enhance citizenship is the co-decision-making between the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. In tandem with this increased democratisation, increased competences are given to the EU by each of the 27 member states. These competences will allow the EU to act effectively in vital areas in which our interests can be better served by acting together as a Union rather than as individual states.

Decisions in this area will be speeded up by the implementation of QMV, qualified majority voting. This will ensure efficiency and will prevent an individual member state putting a stop to a particular measure to gain leverage in another area. The quid pro quo for this will be a change to the numbers for QMV. It will require not just a majority of states but of population, which is just about as reflective of the views of the people of Europe as one could possibly get. The new policy areas of competence which will be subject to QMV include the environment, energy, security, justice, urgent humanitarian need and peacemaking and peacekeeping.

Anyone with a grip on reality cannot deny the enormous benefits to Ireland of open borders in Europe. They have brought personal mobility and access to an enormous market for goods. The enhanced trading terms Ireland enjoys with the rest of the world are as a result of increased bargaining power from our membership of a larger Union. This will become more important as the axis of world trade shifts to Asia.

It is not just people and goods that cross borders. Drugs, criminals, terrorists, illegal arms and pollution do too. Whatever chance we have of tackling these issues as a Union, we have none as an individual state. To vote "no" to the reform treaty would copperfasten the inefficiencies and deficiencies already in place. That does not make sense to any right-thinking person.

I will vote "yes". The Fine Gael Party believes the treaty will be good for Ireland and for Europe. Ireland must remain an integral part of Europe. I do not believe in threatening people that it would be bad not to be at the heart of Europe and that the rest of the EU would react badly to a "no" vote. The arguments can stand on their own. The Lisbon reform treaty is good for all of us.

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak in this debate as in two months the country will vote on this issue. It is very important for us and our future and I am certainly supporting the treaty and will be campaigning positively in support of it. I am very proud of Ireland's membership of the EU and the contribution we have made.

It is not all about how good the EU has been to us. Although it has helped us, we have played a very strong role in Europe. We have had very successful Presidencies and we have always played our part. We are playing our part this time as the eyes of Europe will be on us because we are the only country giving citizens the opportunity to vote on the treaty by referendum. That is good as I welcome discussion, which is important. Issues may be raised that are not relevant to the treaty and do not arise because of it, but it is very important that they are raised.

We had a public meeting in Cork last week where members of the public could hear Fine Gael's opinion on the question and raise questions, or just come along to inform themselves. A former Deputy in this House, Alan Dukes, spoke at the meeting, as did former MEP John Cushnahan, who is now a member of the National Forum on Europe. It was heartening to see the turnout that night and that people came with concerns and questions.

Some of the issues raised had nothing whatever to do with the treaty, but they were concerns nonetheless about Europe. A number of the matters classed by some people as scaremongering were raised, thrashed out and debated on the night. A part of an opening statement that night struck me, which indicated that the two world wars focused in Europe in the first half of the last century led to 67 million people losing their lives in Europe. That is a striking statistic because over the 51 years of European integration since then there has been no such widespread war in Europe. We have turned the corner as a group of countries and we are now contributing to peacemaking and facilitating others in developing democratic structures. That is a long way from recent history.

There were originally six states grouped together, which expanded to nine to accommodate Ireland, Denmark and the United Kingdom. This group expanded to 12, taking in Greece, Portugal and Spain. Those three countries had relatively large populations and were quite poor, so there was an opportunity for them to benefit from EU Cohesion Funds. They could also establish their fledgling democracies as they were coming from military rule.

There was a contrast when Austria, Finland and Sweden joined, bringing the number to 15. They were relatively independent states financially that had access to Europe. They saw it to be in their interest to join and wanted to contribute to a united Europe and be part of a single market. More importantly, they wanted to be part of a European bloc which was playing its role on the international stage.

There was an addition of ten eastern and central European states, bringing the number to 25. Cyprus and Malta have also been added. We had the Amsterdam and Maastricht treaties, the latter having developed the European monetary union. We had the Nice treaty and now we have the Lisbon reform treaty.

The reform treaty has been a long time in its formation as it has been under discussion for the past six years. Much detail has gone into it and it is simply about reforming the institutions of the EU to accommodate what is now 27 states and likely to grow. I hope the EU will expand.

We currently have 500 million people in the EU. We should not forget this treaty is replacing the constitution rejected by the Netherlands and France. We should respect any country's opinion and the vote of their people. It is nonetheless important to acknowledge that eight countries ratified the constitution and Spain, Luxembourg and Romania did so by referendum. At this time we are the only country voting on the reform treaty, so it is important we have a debate. Red herrings can be raised and addressed so we can debate the issues of concern to people.

There are many such concerns. One example is whether this is part of developing a European army. It is not, as Ireland is a neutral country and its stated position as a neutral country is recognised. This is so with other countries in the EU as well. We are contributing to forces in Chad and we have done so in Kosovo. Any mission which Ireland chooses to be involved in, be it peacekeeping or crisis intervention, is subject to the triple lock and must have the approval of the Government and the Oireachtas, as well as an EU mandate. We may hear that again and again but it is important to repeat it. We look at peacekeeping missions on a case by case basis, getting involved when and if we see fit.

Social issues, including abortion and stem cell research, have been mentioned and it has been argued this treaty is opening the doors so our ability to make law and decisions in this area will be taken from us. That is absolutely untrue. This treaty sets out areas in which the EU can have a say and social issues are not mentioned. Competition regulations, commercial policy, transport, agriculture and others are included but social and moral issues are not. As a result, it could be argued that the treaty affords us greater protection on social and moral issues.

We have heard much about agriculture but this treaty will not affect the Common Agricultural Policy. It could be argued that the European Parliament and Council of Agriculture Ministers will now have a greater say, so this could be a better position for Irish agriculture and Irish farmers.

The Deputy has one minute left.

That was a quick ten minutes.

I wanted to cover many other positive areas of the treaty and where the EU has been positive for Ireland. For example, in the protection of the environment we have seen much investment in waste water treatment, water treatment and air quality. We have seen investment in our roads and transportation. The social policy has been very good for Ireland. We have been net beneficiaries for a number of years of financial contributions.

Our own language is official within the EU. We have seen the resurgence of Irish through young people and the learning of language within the country. Young people are proud of their identity, heritage and culture, which is Irish, and they bring it forward to the European stage. We have a new generation which is proud to be Irish, and more importantly, very proud to be European.

I will advocate a "Yes" vote on 12 June. I hope it will be accepted and Ireland will continue to play a strong role within the European Union. It is very important for this small island country on the periphery of Europe, particularly as the centre of gravity of the population shifts to the east, to be involved in the institutions of the European Union.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Twenty-Eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill. As Deputies are aware, the Bill authorises the holding of a referendum which, if approved, will permit the State to ratify the reform treaty signed in Lisbon by EU leaders last December.

The House has already heard many detailed speeches explaining both the content of the treaty and the myriad reasons we should approve its ratification. Together with my Government colleagues, I particularly welcome the constructive and thoughtful contributions from members of the principal Opposition parties. Both Fine Gael and Labour have been long-standing supporters of the European project and Ireland's position at the heart of the Union. The overwhelming support for the reform treaty in the House reflects a simple reality, namely, membership of the Union has been of immense benefit to this country. The reform treaty further strengthens the Union in important ways.

A number of outlandish claims have been made by opponents of the treaty. They have portrayed it as being inimical to our interests, of heralding the end of democracy as we know it and of transferring our sovereignty to unelected elites. These claims are false and reveal far more about those who make the arguments than they do about the content of the treaty. My Government colleagues have already explained in some detail exactly how our interests are protected and what the reform treaty's changes will mean in practice. I will not repeat all of these points. Instead, I wish to address one particular aspect of the reform treaty and of the Union's activities generally.

The area of development assistance encapsulates in many ways why Ireland is a member of the European Union and why, periodically, the Union must reform its working methods. No one country can solve the problems of the developing world. A multilateral and multifaceted approach is required. This is why we work very closely with our EU partners in assessing the best ways to disburse our aid budget. It is also the reason the Union must, from time to time, consider how best to organise its work as new challenges present themselves. I am very confident that the reform treaty will be a positive step for overseas aid and will enhance the policy environment in which we carry out our development activities.

Before proceeding further, I wish to provide some background information. The European Union has an impressive record in overseas aid. It and its member states are the largest development assistance donors in the world. In 2007, total European Union overseas development assistance amounted to €47 billion. This is approximately €95 per head in respect of the Union's 500 million citizens. Not only is the EU the world's biggest donor, it is also leading the global effort to increase aid flows to developing countries and to reach the millennium development goals. No other country or international organisation has shown the commitment required to mobilise the enormous resources needed to lift the world's poorest citizens out of poverty and no other body has the practical experience gained from its own process of enlargement and social cohesion to understand the true nature of the development challenge facing the world.

The EU is delivering more money, better aid and more coherent policies in order to support the efforts of partner countries to achieve the millennium development goals. A strong EU voice is required on the international stage in order to sustain the momentum towards achieving the millennium development goals.

The European consensus on development, agreed by the European Council, the European Parliament and the European Commission, underpins EU development policy. The primary and overarching objective of EU development co-operation is the eradication of poverty. The consensus affirms this primary objective and also underlines the principles of good governance, human rights, partnership, peace and democracy.

With specific reference to Africa, which is the main focus of Ireland's development programme, at the EU-Africa Summit in Lisbon in December 2007, an EU-Africa joint strategy was adopted. This will forge a closer, more strategic partnership between Europe and Africa. Last night, I had the pleasure to host a reception marking 40 years work by Concern in developing countries. It was significant that the chief executive of that organisation spoke highly of the work of Europe in Africa. The European Commission can reach parts of Africa that are beyond the reach of small member states such as Ireland. We must work with our partners in order to be effective and I am convinced that Europe's role has been exemplary in partner countries.

The European Union is also a committed advocate of helping the world's poorest countries to take full benefit from the world trading system and is committed to spending €2 billion per annum on aid for trade by 2010. Equally, it has incorporated into its programmes measures to support developing countries as they face the challenges of climate change, food security and sustainable development.

The European Union is at the forefront of the aid effectiveness agenda. The EU code of conduct on complementarity and division of labour in development policy approved last year will ensure that the aid efforts of member states and the European Commission are more in harmony and do not duplicate one another. EU development co-operation is increasingly targeted at areas where the Union offers the most efficient delivery of aid in the most cost-effective way.

It is important to reiterate that the primary objective of European Union development policy remains the eradication of poverty. It is good to see this explicitly brought out in the reform treaty. Ireland has consistently played an important part in supporting the European Union's development co-operation efforts, through both its contributions to the policy debate and its financial contributions to the European Development Fund. The tenth European Development Fund will cover the period 2008 to 2013 and will amount to almost €23 billion.

Ireland plays a constructive role at European level, using its place at the EU table to push for action and to encourage its partners to focus on sub-Saharan Africa, where 41% of people still live on less than $1 a day. Working together with Africa to advance its development is a cornerstone of EU development policy and complements our own efforts through our bilateral aid programme.

At a national level, Ireland's development assistance programme is going from strength to strength. Last week, it was announced that overseas aid from Ireland reached its highest ever level at €869 million in 2007. This exceeded the Government's interim target of 0.5% of gross national product, GNP. Ireland remains committed to spending 0.7% of GNP on overseas aid by 2012. Ireland is the sixth largest donor of development assistance in the world in per capita terms. While always striving to continue with improvements, this is something of which we are rightly proud. These figures demonstrate, in a practical way, Ireland’s solidarity with the world’s poorest and also show our ongoing, steadfast commitment to the fight against poverty. Ireland continues to focus its development assistance on the least developed countries, particularly those in sub-Saharan Africa, and we have also given a special priority to the fight against HIV-AIDS.

Ireland must continue to work with other EU member states to ensure that all efforts are made to achieve the millennium development goals. I am convinced that the ratification of the reform treaty will allow the EU to work more efficiently and effectively in this regard. The treaty provisions will help the EU to act with greater unity and coherence on the world stage because the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy will also be vice-president of the European Commission with responsibility for external relations. This will ensure that development co-operation is taken into account across all of the EU's external actions and will also lead to greater coherence towards countries in situations of conflict and fragility. The proposed new external action service will also present opportunities for member states and the Commission to work more closely together, with the shared objective of poverty reduction.

Overall, the reform treaty will allow the European Union to act more coherently in the area of development co-operation. The importance of an effective joining up of policies cannot be overstated. The treaty will simplify decision-making processes and strengthen democratic accountability. It will not bring about radical changes but it will allow the European Union to act more effectively on the world stage.

I briefly adverted earlier to the periodic need for reforms of the EU's structures. There is no great mystery to this. The European Union began some 50 years ago with six member states. The founding members were, as it turns out, immensely far-sighted in creating structures and working methods that facilitated the development of a hugely successful intergovernmental and supranational organisation that has grown to encompass 27 member states and has deepened and extended the areas of co-operation. However, they could not anticipate exactly how Europe might develop over the succeeding half century.

It is entirely logical that the member states should, from time to time, examine whether our working methods and structures can be improved. The institutional issues addressed in the reform treaty were in fact the subject of debate since before the Amsterdam treaty in 1997. It took some considerable time to reach final agreement, given that they touch on areas which are sensitive for all member states. Now that we have reached agreement, there is a wide consensus that there will be no further change in the institutional area for many years to come.

Negotiations among 27 sovereign states are, of their nature, complex and difficult. When the subject is agreeing precise structures and procedures governing co-operation in complex areas, such as justice and home affairs or external relations, naturally the language of agreement can be difficult for the non-expert. Nevertheless, the reform treaty — true to its name — simplifies many aspects of the work of the Union. It also very helpfully clarifies the competences enjoyed respectively by the Union and member states, along with areas in respect of which there is a shared competence. In addition, it introduces language explaining, in crystal clear terms, that on which the Union's policies and activities are based. In the external relations sphere, for example, Article 1.24 states, "The Union's action on the international scene shall be guided by the principles which have inspired its own creation: democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for the principles of the United Nations Charter". The article continues:

The Union shall define and pursue common policies and actions, and shall work for a high degree of co-operation in all fields of international relations, in order to ... foster the sustainable economic, social and environmental development of developing countries, with the primary aim of eradicating poverty; assist populations, countries and regions confronting natural or man-made disasters; and, promote an international system based on stronger multilateral co-operation and good global governance.

These principles and objectives chime exactly with our national perspective on development and international relations generally. Clearly setting them out in the reform treaty will assist any citizen who is interested in understanding the basis for activity at European level.

As I mentioned, the reform treaty, as is the norm for such treaties, amends existing EU treaties. It is thus not always easy to read it in isolation. This is why the Government has produced a comprehensive White Paper explaining the contents of the treaty in a clear and accessible way. We have also produced a summary guide to the treaty which will be distributed to every household in the country over the coming weeks. Separately, the Referendum Commission will provide impartial information to the public explaining the subject matter of the referendum. This and a wealth of other material available in hard copy and on-line mean that the voting public will be as well informed as possible by the time the referendum takes place. I am fully confident that the Irish people, who have always embraced our future in Europe, will recognise that our interests lie in continuing to play a central role within the Union and will give a clear "yes" vote on 12 June.

It is with great enthusiasm that I rise to support this Bill, which will enable us to ratify the Lisbon treaty if this constitutional amendment is passed by the Irish people in the forthcoming referendum in June.

The arguments about Ireland's role and future in the European Union always come up for scrutiny when one of these treaties is presented to us. We have had five successive treaties since we became fully-fledged members of Europe in 1973 and I am glad that the wisdom of the Irish people has always prevailed when it comes to deciding whether Europe is good for Ireland. The ranting and raving of the sceptics and the naysayers has consistently been superseded by the will of the Irish people, who clearly recognise that the advantages of our full and committed membership of the EU simply cannot be denied. It is without question that EU membership has been extremely good for Ireland and all our citizens. What we need is a rational debate on the Lisbon treaty over the next few weeks. We do not want hysteria.

In the past, we have had to suffer the silly scaremongering tactics deployed by those who would wish to see us revert to the dark days when we were little more than a primitive, isolated backwater on the periphery of Europe. I need hardly point out that all the misinformation surrounding those debates turned out to be spurious and without foundation. However, the cynics will never let the facts get in the way of a good, sensational story. The days before our EU membership were bleak, inward-looking days when we had no prospects and were ravaged by unemployment and economic stagnation. We witnessed the awful haemorrhaging of Irish people from these shores because there were no opportunities of any description at home and the outlook was exceedingly grim. Those were sad days when we sat on the periphery. We endured unemployment, poor infrastructure, high borrowings, lack of foreign investment and high foreign debt. It is almost impossible to believe that those conditions were endemic here less than 35 years ago. These words, which were so commonly heard not long ago, have virtually disappeared from our national vocabulary and we should all be very grateful for that.

In just 35 years, we have completely reversed our position. Gone are the days of our insular existence. Ireland has embraced the European ideal with great gusto and our commitment to the great European project has transformed this island beyond measure. Nobody could have imagined that we would be transformed from a hopeless case to one of the most dynamic members of the EU. The figures in support of our membership speak for themselves. Our openness and connection to Europe have provided the foundation for the extraordinary prosperity we enjoy today. We have truly moved beyond being insular and introverted and have become a highly respected and active global player.

Our membership of the EU has had a reforming and progressive impact on this island. We are considerably more enlightened as a nation as we incorporate the principles of equal opportunity, consumer protection, environmental protection and sustainable development into our social policy objectives. Our transport and telecommunications have been liberalised and we have successfully introduced the concept of social partnership to very positive effect. We cannot overstate the enormous economic benefits that have accrued to this country as a direct result of our membership of the EU. In purely financial terms, the net receipts flowing into Ireland amounted to a staggering €40 billion between 1973 and 2006. Our unrestricted access to the large and lucrative Single Market has been successfully exploited and we have established ourselves as the gateway to Europe. We are enjoying unbridled export-led market success. Today, 90% of our gross domestic product is traded. We would do well to remember that as late as 1960 we were almost totally dependent on the UK but today, the UK accounts for just 17% of those exports. This is a remarkable achievement for this island.

We have had dramatic success in attracting foreign direct investment to Ireland and our EU membership has been a key factor in stimulating that valuable investment. More than 1,000 overseas companies are now located here in Ireland and almost two thirds of our exports originate in these multinational firms. These companies employ more than 135,000 people directly; their annual payrolls amount to €15 billion and they contribute corporation taxes of approximately €2.8 billion. Our membership of the European monetary union has provided us with monetary stability and the facility of the common currency, and the euro has become the second most important reserve currency in the world today.

The days of the brain drain have been consigned to history and we are now a country of net immigration. Our unemployment rate is among the lowest in Europe. These facts speak for themselves. They represent a graphic illustration of how Ireland has embraced the vision of Europe. Instead of being marginalised, Ireland is now an active and influential player on the wider European stage. We have been a net beneficiary of all that the European concept has to offer and continues to offer. The Irish proverb "Ní neart go cur le chéile" is apt here. Now that the EU has enlarged to accommodate 27 states, we have achieved real global capacity and weight. We are operating from a population base of approximately 493 million people, which is the third largest in the world after China and India and is almost twice the size of the US. It is the world's single richest market. Collectively, we are the largest trader in terms of the share of global trade and we carry substantial weight in global trade negotiations and setting global standards.

As we all know, we are in the throes of world trade talks at present. This round of talks has been going on in Geneva for the past six years and they are fraught with difficulty. Were we not known as a fully participating, constructive member of the EU, Ireland would not be at that negotiating table today. In the context of the Lisbon treaty, a resounding "yes" vote is critical if we are to continue to pursue our negotiations from a position of real strength and credibility. We must guarantee that our capacity to negotiate all our interests at EU level is enhanced and not undermined. We have a responsibility as good Europeans to assume that sense of shared destiny. We have a responsibility to work in unison and in a concerted manner to ensure that the interests of all our citizens are defended and truly copper-fastened.

Irish farmers are deeply concerned about this current round of WTO talks and the strategy which is being adopted by the Commissioner for External Trade, Peter Mandelson. Indeed, at the last meeting of EU Agriculture Ministers, 20 of the 27 Ministers spoke against Commissioner Mandelson and his particular strategy. We must bear in mind that the Irish beef industry is the fourth largest in the world and it must be protected with all the might we have at our disposal. I reiterate that Ireland must be fully committed to the European ideal and the vision of the EU if we are to have our voice heard clearly at the negotiating table. Any half-hearted or selective association with the EU will be perceived to be a selfish, à la carte-type attitude, and this would surely be detrimental to our interests.

As a farmer, I believe that anything other than a definite "yes" vote in this referendum would have devastating consequences for Irish farmers and rural communities. The Common Agricultural Policy and its extensive support of the agriculture sector must be acknowledged as being extremely generous. Receipts for agriculture and rural development have accounted for almost three quarters of the total flow of EU funds to Ireland. From 2007 to 2013, Irish farmers and rural communities will receive €12.2 billion in financial support from the EU for the operation of the annual single farm payment and various other programmes, including REPS, on-farm investment, reforestation initiatives and the disadvantaged area programme. However, CAP is due to be reviewed in the next six to eight months under the French Presidency of the EU and a number of serious issues will need to be addressed. It is only with our full and active commitment to Europe that we can continue to be taken seriously when this important review is undertaken. Ireland just cannot afford to send out any negative signals about our overall support for the principles of active EU membership.

These are the reasons I am foursquare behind the Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill. I want to see an Ireland that continues to play a meaningful part in European and global affairs, a mature nation that takes its responsibilities seriously as part of the greater European ideal, a country that can continue to benefit and be enhanced by full European membership, and a State that can continue to flourish in Europe while at the same time maintaining its own unique spirit and identity. I am confident that a "Yes" vote on the Lisbon treaty will secure our prosperity, improve the way we do business, and continue to elevate the quality of life on this island.

Sinn Féin is vigorously opposing the Lisbon treaty and will be campaigning across the State for a "No" vote. We are opposing the treaty because it is, from any reasonable assessment, not in Ireland's interests. We are disappointed that there are not more voices in this House courageous enough to admit that fact.

We can judge this treaty by asking the following questions. Does it bring a much needed improvement in democracy to European Union institutions? Does it facilitate nation states in protecting their own interests and making key socioeconomic decisions based on individual needs and circumstances in their own jurisdictions? Is our neutrality protected? The treaty fails on all these counts.

Deputies from other parties who speak in favour of the treaty are falling short in their duty to the Irish people. They are not being honest with the electorate about the contents of the treaty or its implications. In meekly signing up to a treaty that erodes our say in decision making at EU level, they are betraying the ideals of independence, autonomy and self government, which were fought for in the struggle for Irish freedom by many generations. We should have no fear of rejecting this treaty and sending it back for renegotiation and improvement. Doing this will ultimately be in the interests of all the peoples of Europe who deserve better than this flawed treaty.

Sinn Féin believes that co-operation with our European partners is valuable and must continue. We have a clear sense of what is needed to improve democracy in European Union institutions and are, as far as I am aware, the only party to bring forward proposals for real reform in this regard.

I want to focus on the treaty's implications for workers' rights. We have supported EU measures that are in Ireland's interests, particularly those which have advanced workers' rights in the past. However, not everything emanating from Europe has been good for workers in this State. A general shift to the right by the EU has seen the implementation of an agenda of privatisation, deregulation and attacks on workers' rights. This is a matter of great concern to trade unions in Ireland and across the EU. Recently, David Begg, the general secretary of ICTU, addressed a discussion on the Lisbon treaty at the Oireachtas Committee on European Affairs and summed this up by stating: "While business rights are being codified and strengthened, workers can only expect loose frameworks and vague approaches to enforcement".

Over the last number of years we have had the Services Directive, which sought to allow service providers to operate outside the laws of the country where the service is being provided, creating a race to the bottom in terms of workers' rights.

Trade unions and workers were shocked at the recent European Court of Justice judgment in the Laval case which, interpreting existing treaties, upheld the right of a Latvian company operating in Sweden to import Latvian workers to do the job at Latvian rates rather than compelling them to pay Swedish rates. Last week, a similar judgment was passed in favour of a Polish company operating in Germany. The court has also found against the Finnish seafarers' union for trying to prevent shipowners displacing Finnish shippers with lower paid workers from Estonia. This court clearly views trade unions and collective bargaining agreements as a barrier to what it would describe as the free movement of goods, services, capital and people — by which, of course, we mean labour.

Last year, we had the EU Green Paper on flexicurity which called for an end to "overtly protective terms and conditions" in workers' contracts on the basis that "stringent employment protection tends to reduce the dynamism of the labour market". We have also witnessed a failure to protect pay and conditions and to enforce labour law when our labour market was opened to workers from the accession states.

It is worth noting that when the Government makes enthusiastic speeches in favour of the Lisbon treaty, it is not so enthusiastic about everything Europe proposes, particularly when it comes to enshrining workers' rights in legislation. For the last five years, the Government has obstructed the EU directive on agency workers, together with Britain. The directive is one of the more positive moves by the EU. As a result of that and the failure to introduce domestic legislation, the exploitation of agency workers and the depression of sectors through cheap agency labour have become prolific in this State.

This treaty, which is being supported by the Government and the other Opposition parties is a further blow to workers' rights. The key argument of those seeking to convince trade unionists to vote yes in the Lisbon referendum is bogus. The Charter of Fundamental Rights does not guarantee the right to strike. Article 28 of the Charter appended to the Lisbon treaty, states that workers have the right to collective bargaining and to take strike action only "in accordance with national laws and practices". SIPTU general president, Jack O'Connor, has argued that "in the light of the Laval decision, the charter now only has validity in the context of what the Government does here".

The Charter of Fundamental Rights is being used at any and every occasion to push and support the treaty. Sinn Féin strongly supports any measures that enhance the protection and promotion of human rights and equality. We support the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in so far as it reflects pre-existing human rights standards, applies them to the EU institutions and member states when implementing EU law, and thus potentially provides greater legal certainty. However, the idea that the charter is somehow a major step forward in human rights is an illusion. Even its advocates acknowledge that it is little more than a restatement of existing human rights law. In its analysis of the charter, the Institute for European Affairs argues that it "does not create any new rights" and, moreover, that the social and economic rights in the charter "do not give rise to direct claims for positive action". Its potential positives are severely curtailed by a number of features, not least its numerous limitation clauses. We also question the EU's actual commitment to the charter. If it is of real value to the protection and promotion of human rights in the EU, its incorporation into law should not be contingent on acceptance of this treaty. It should be done immediately.

There are other issues within the Lisbon treaty that will negatively impact on key economic issues such as competitiveness, growth and social inclusion. The privatisation agenda of the EU has served Ireland badly. Look at the debacle in Eircom, which has had six owners since 1999, with massive profit-taking only matched by the company's debt creation. Its current owners are desperately trying to separate the company structurally so as to sell off assets, while we are left with the worst broadband provision and the highest line rental costs in Europe. It is a sorry legacy for Eircom.

The liberalisation of the electricity market has led to artificially higher energy prices to encourage new entrants we are told, while we slip behind in investing in and developing renewable energy resources which are abundant on this island. EU surveys show that Irish consumers already pay a mighty 42% more than the EU average for housing, water, electricity, gas and other fuels, 25% more for education and 24% more for health. The Lisbon treaty will make this situation even worse. Of particular concern is the possibility of the education and health sectors being privatised.

The European Commission leads negotiations on trade in services, including health and education services, at the World Trade Organisation. The Council of Ministers appoints the negotiator, currently Commissioner Peter Mandelson, and a planning committee. We all know that Commissioner Mandelson comes with considerable history and baggage. Under the Lisbon treaty, not only is the Commission given greater scope in the negotiation of international trade agreements but Ireland also loses its veto in all but a small number of cases.

Under current arrangements, the Council approves all trade deals, with the exception of those relating to health, education and cultural and audio-visual services, by qualified majority voting. The Lisbon treaty removes the requirement for unanimity in these four areas other than in exceptional circumstances. In other words, the Government could not veto a deal, unless it could show in advance that it would risk seriously disturbing the national organisation of such services. As there is no definition of what this means, it is open to interpretation by anyone. This could have serious consequences for health and education services and, I might add, workers in these sectors.

The treaty tries to police further public spending. We are all aware of the need to manage inflation but Article 2 of the treaty makes price stability an aim of the European Union, rather than a function of the European Central Bank. This could be used by the Union to exert indirect pressure on member states to reduce public spending. At a time when our health and education services are crying out for investment this simply does not make sense.

There is much more in the treaty that will damage the ability of the economy to function. Article 48 which will remove the need for unanimity and replace it with qualified majority voting will have a wide reaching impact on the economy, particularly with regard to tax harmonisation and our ability to set taxes at a rate which will allow this state to compete for foreign direct investment.

As we enter a period of economic uncertainty, it is clear that the Lisbon treaty does not equip Ireland or the European Union with the tools necessary for sustainable economic development or social inclusion. In some senses the debate on the treaty is a debate about different visions for the future of the Irish and EU economy. Supporters of the treaty are offering a future of greater liberalisation, more competition and privatisation, for example, in postal services — more inequality and poverty, greater risk and vulnerability to global instability.

The European Union has done much during the years to promote a more social Europe. Unfortunately, in the past decade these gains have been undermined by successive treaties that have sought to sacrifice social Europe in favour of a narrowly defined focus on economic competitiveness. Those of us opposing the treaty are arguing for a more sustainable and egalitarian future in which economic development will be based on social inclusion and cohesion, environmental sustainability, high quality public services and real competitiveness, greater democratic control over the management of the economy and a more equitable global economic order.

I have one more point to make regarding the scurrilous and erroneous accusations made by proponents of the treaty against Sinn Féin's policy on neutrality. My party believes strongly in Ireland playing a positive role on the international stage. We believe in combating the causes of conflict and instability by addressing global inequalities, poverty and disease. Peace has been achieved on this island and we want to see peace in other countries. However, we are also strongly in favour of the State's policy of neutrality. We have opposed Government policies such as on the use of Shannon Airport for US military personnel and aircraft en route to Iraq and rendition flights. We are opposed to the European Union playing a distinct and separate role on the world stage.

The treaty's cheerleaders argue that the triple lock mechanism, whereby military interventions abroad require a UN mandate and the consent of the Government and Leinster House, defends our neutrality. However, the triple lock mechanism has already been weakened following the passage of legislation in 2007 opening the way for military interventions abroad based on UN authorisation, rather than a formal mandate. This requires a weaker form of UN assent. Other sections, including Article 28 (B) 1, which list and expand the military interventions deemed possible, move us further down the road towards a common defence. When Commissioner Romano Prodi asked in 2001, "Are we all clear that we want to build something that can aspire to be a world power?", this was the vision to which he was alluding.

We have earned our place in Europe and our position is not under threat. We cannot be held to ransom by demands that exceed what we as a people are willing to give. The Government said "No" to Europe when such a response was in its singular, narrow interests. I have already given examples of this and the five years spent obstructing an EU directive on agency workers is another. Now let the people say "No" without lies and threats because this treaty is not in their interests.

The EU constitution was rejected by the people of France and the Netherlands in democratic votes. Many admit that this treaty consists of around 95% of the EU constitution already rejected. However, no state other than Ireland is offering its people a referendum on it — I wonder why that is. Why are other states afraid to face the people with the treaty? Is it because they are concerned it will face the same verdict given to the EU constitution in France and the Netherlands? I believe that is the case.

Under the treaty, Ireland will lose out on having a Commissioner in five of every 15 years. We are told that there would not be work for 27 Commissioners from 27 states and that such a system would be too cumbersome and bureaucratic. In Ireland there are 15 senior Ministers and 20 Ministers of State; a total of 35 for a population of 4.5 million people, yet a figure of 27 Commissioners is deemed too many for a population in the region of 496 million. I do not see the logic in this and hope someone can point it out for me.

Earlier contributors suggested the treaty was not a complex document but I wish I had it with me in order that I could read some clauses from it to demonstrate its complexity. However, it is not so complex that it should not be debated and discussed. I welcome the debates taking place across the State, many organised by parties represented in the House. For example, Fine Gael is holding a series of meetings, which I welcome. Whether I agree with it, at least this offers public debate on an important issue.

An earlier contributor also told us that national parliaments would give an opinion on proposed EU legislation. That is just wonderful and reminds me of being a member of the Opposition in this House. We can give all the opinions we want but the Government, like the EU institutions, will pay no attention to us. I question whether any real influence can be exerted.

I look forward to continuing a campaign of opposition to what I believe to be a fundamentally flawed treaty. I intend to approach this campaign enthusiastically in the final weeks that remain, as I understand the date for the referendum is expected to be 12 June. I look forward to debating the treaty in the House and other fora.

No debate on the EU reform treaty would be possible without examining where we have come from, where we are now and where we are going. Most commentators would agree that Ireland has benefited from its engagement with the European Union but I am not sure the Irish electorate, or those campaigning for a "No" vote in the forthcoming referendum, are aware of how different the Ireland of 2008 is from the small, inward-looking country that joined the EEC in 1973.

The European Coal and Steel Community was first established in 1952 to help economic growth and cement peace between France and Germany, countries that were enemies historically. It worked extremely well and iron production increased fourfold in the 1950s. When coal production declined, the European Coal and Steel Community made provision to retain hundreds of thousands of miners affected. It was the systems of social management such as early retirement, mobility grants and training that greatly helped in times of economic crisis. At the same time in Ireland thousands of people were forced to leave their families, wives and children, to seek work across the water. I remember my father leaving Cork for England in the 1950s to seek work on the building line. Many fathers of Cork families and single men had to leave on the Inishfallen from the quays of the historic River Lee to seek work in London and other parts of the UK, Fords in particular. With a family of six young children he simply had no option but to go to England for work. There were mouths to feed and there was no work in this country. I recall growing up in poverty — not having enough to eat and having to wear second-hand or used clothes — for a major part of the 1950s. More than half of those who left school in the early 1950s had emigrated by 1961. In truth our economy had completely stagnated. It was clear by the end of the 1950s that Ireland was not sharing in the post-war economic boom in Europe.

The reorientation of our economy under Seán Lemass from that period onwards through the dismantling of tariffs to the creation of incentives for forward investment, were key in moving Ireland and our economy forward. The move away from agricultural dependence to a much more diverse modern economy paved the way for our membership of the European Economic Community.

Ireland's membership of the European Union ensured we kept our focus outwards. Prior to membership two thirds of our foreign trade was with the UK. This is no longer the case. We have moved out of Britain's shadow and found our own place on the world stage, alongside and equal to that of our European neighbours. The sense of achievement and confidence that has accompanied true economic independence cannot be underestimated. Ireland has moved from the periphery to the heart of the European Union.

How far we have come in the past 35 years is evident from the following statistics. In 1973 our GDP at current market prices per head of population equalled 60% of the average of our Community partners. In 2007 our GDP equalled 146% of the EU average. In 1973, Ireland had a trade deficit of £341.5 million. We had a huge trade surplus in 2007. Since 1973 our total trade in goods and services has increased from €1.7 billion to €88.8 billion in 2007. This has made Ireland one of the most open trading economies in the world relative to population and economic size.

Between 1973 and 2007, we paid €19.2 billion to the EU budget and received €60.17 billion from it. This means that on balance we have gained over €40 billion through our membership, equivalent to about €15,000 per person. These funds have been invested into every aspect of Irish life, from infrastructure projects, creating employment, supporting the peace process, cleaning up the environment to tourism.

The Single Market established in 1993 has played a key role in our economic transformation. It has provided a market of about 450 million consumers from which to trade goods and services. It has also made this country, with a young and educated population, an attractive location for foreign and direct investment. A Eurobarometer report highlighted that 82% of Irish consumers view the Single Market positively. Furthermore, Ireland tops the EU with 78% believing the Single Market has had a positive impact on the quality of goods and services. This, I believe, shows that people here are aware of the benefits of EU membership.

It is the job of those advocating a "Yes" vote in the forthcoming referendum this summer to ensure the Irish electorate continues to make this connection. The continued success of the economy is closely aligned with our membership of the EU. This is recognised by IBEC and the American Chamber of Commerce. Before the Single Market was introduced one can imagine the difficulties experienced with VAT at the point of entry etc. Since the introduction of the euro it is so much easier to do business in Europe where there are no tariffs on different goods and there is free movement of goods. I have experience of that in our own business.

As Paul Rellis, President of the American Chamber of Commerce, said in February 2008:

Our choice is between being a business friendly open economy at the heart of Europe and being a "semi detached" irrelevant outpost on the western seaboard. Our choice is between ongoing prosperity and slow decline. Our choice is of course between Yes and No on the EU Reform Treaty.

Continuing, he said, that "Our membership of the EU has been a key attraction for US multinational companies locating in Ireland". There are almost 600 US companies in Ireland, employing over 100,000 people directly. Ireland, as the only other English speaking country in the eurozone, continues to attract inward investment from leading multinationals despite challenging economic circumstances worldwide. If we are no longer seen as being at the heart of Europe then our attractiveness will undoubtedly diminish.

We must not forget when debating the future of Europe that it is this Union which has helped build an unbroken peace in Europe for 50 years. It has helped guide Greece, Portugal and Spain on the road from authoritarian to democratic rule. It is the Union which has contributed to the peaceful transition of ten central and eastern European countries from communism to democracy.

Our membership of the EU has not only been instrumental in our economic transformation it has also brought with it enormous social advantages. It is our engagement with Europe that has resulted in better environmental standards, equal pay for equal work for women across Europe and supported tourism and the regions.

The reform treaty is an important achievement for the Union. It responds to the needs of today's European Union with its increased membership now numbering 27 countries. It will equip the Union to meet the emerging challenges of the 21st century. It is concerned with delivering tangible benefits to the people of Ireland.

The reform treaty draws much of its content from the European constitution agreed in 2004 under Ireland's EU Presidency. While the essential substance and balance of the European constitution is preserved, the new treaty takes the form of a series of amendments to the existing EU treaties as opposed to the single consolidating text of the constitution.

The reform treaty contains a number of institutional provisions which will make the structure more effective and give it a stronger voice on the world stage. The creation of the new full-time President of the European Council to co-ordinate and spearhead the Council's work will facilitate a concerted European response to global issues, such as energy, security, climate change and immigration. The new system of double-majority voting will give proportionate weight to population while protecting the interests of small and medium sized member states. This is particularly good news for Ireland.

There has been scaremongering that ratification of the treaty would result in the introduction of tax harmonisation and threaten our favourable corporation tax rates. However, taxation and defence are sensitive national issues and as such, unanimity is preserved for all decisions in these areas.

It was under Jack Lynch's leadership that this country joined the European Union. Fianna Fáil has campaigned for a "Yes" vote in every European referendum since and we will be campaigning vigorously for a "Yes" vote in the next few months as the reform treaty referendum approaches. We believe the European Union is good for Ireland and Ireland is good for it. We have held this view for 35 years and will continue to do so.

Mr. Paul Rellis, president of the American Chamber of Commerce, Ireland articulated the situation better than I can when he stated: "An Ireland at the heart of an EU with reformed, strengthened and more accountable institutions is infinitely preferable to becoming a semi-detached obstacle to common progress across a continent". A "Yes" vote is for prosperity, a "No" vote is for decline. I regret that the party which has taken a "No" position is misguided in the issues it is raising.

Deputy Aylward referred to the farming community's concerns, including the World Trade Organisation talks. I fear that if a favourable solution is not found, the farming community vote could be affected. As a small open economy, Ireland has much to gain from the rule-based multilateral trading system provided by the WTO. The current round of negotiations presents both challenges and opportunities for all of the major economic sectors in Ireland, in particular the services, agriculture and manufacturing sectors. Agriculture continues to make an important contribution, economically and socially, to Irish society. The outcome of negotiations on the new WTO agreement on agriculture will be crucial for us. Agriculture will have a critical role in determining the final outcome of the round. The outcome will determine the maximum levels of protection and support that will apply to the agriculture sector in the future. Given that the process of liberalisation will be significantly more advanced, the negotiations represent a real challenge to the future of EU and Irish agriculture.

It is no secret that Ireland is not happy with the current direction of the WTO negotiations. There is concern about the potential impact on Irish and EU agriculture of various proposals in the discussions. It is crucial that the European agrifood sector is not sacrificed for the sake of a WTO deal. This is the position consistently taken by the Government and which has been and will continue to be strongly reflected at a variety of EU and WTO meetings. The Ministers for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and Enterprise, Trade and Employment have consistently pressed the Commission to strive for a balanced agreement that will not be at the expense of EU and Irish agriculture. The Government's intention is to continue this process. I was delighted to hear the new leader designate, Deputy Cowen, refer to this today. That the Taoiseach will discuss it with the President of the European Commission in the next few days is significant.

Intensive discussions are still taking place in Geneva on the most recent agriculture and non-agriculture texts. There are still many technical and political issues to be resolved, not alone on the agriculture dossier, but also on the related issues of non-agricultural market access, services, rules and trade facilitation. At this point we can only speculate on the content of a final WTO deal, or whether such a deal will be concluded. It would, therefore, be inappropriate and unwise from a negotiating standpoint to indicate what position the Government will take on any possible final deal, the terms of which we do not yet know.

There has seen significant reform of agriculture within the European Union in recent years. Agenda 2000 which continued the process of reform launched by the then Commissioner, Mr. MacSharry, in 1992, provided for further cuts in institutional price guarantees, with compensation for farmers through direct payments. Further progress was made in the radical reform in the mid-term review of the Common Agricultural Policy agreed in June 2003. The decision to decouple payments was a major step in fulfilling the target of substantially reducing trade distorting domestic supports. Decoupled payments which, by their nature, are not linked in any way to production are considered to be non-trade distorting by the WTO and qualify for the so-called green box category of payments. It is most important that this should remain the case.

The move away from coupled payments and the gradual reduction in the more conventional market support measures such as intervention have reduced substantially our levels of trade distorting supports, thereby enabling the European Union to face into the negotiations from a position of strength. The Hong Kong ministerial conference in December 2005 provided a further stepping stone towards the conclusion of the round, with agreement on a number of issues, in particular key development matters. Since then, however, the negotiations have stumbled along, with a series of missed deadlines and the full suspension of negotiations in the summer of 2006. Although they fully resumed in early 2007, further efforts to conclude the round have, to date, failed. It is no secret that since the Hong Kong ministerial conference there has been great concern at the direction of the world trade negotiations and the negotiating strategy adopted by the Commission and Commissioner Mandelson. It is also no secret that the farming community sees Mr. Mandelson as selling out agriculture in Europe. He must be stopped.

There has been an insistence by the negotiating partners that they will not engage in meaningful negotiations on other issues until substantive progress has been made in respect of agriculture. This is wrong; it is not acceptable that concessions in agriculture should be a precondition for movement elsewhere. Agriculture is vitally important to the livelihoods of millions of farm families in developed and developing countries and they should not be sacrificed for the sake of an overall WTO agreement. There is great concern that the Commission has been adopting an unnecessarily concessionary approach to the negotiations. It negotiates in the WTO talks on behalf of the member states on the basis of a mandate agreed by the Council of Ministers. The mandate is designed to defend the CAP as it has evolved under successive reform programmes, including Agenda 2000 and the mid-term review, both of which were agreed with a view to positioning the European Union in the WTO negotiations. Essentially, the Council mandate aims to protect the European model of agriculture as an economic sector and as a basis for sustainable development based on the multi-functional nature of agriculture and the part it plays in the economy, the environment and society in general.

The latest developments in the negotiations have not done anything to allay concerns. The suggestion is that the European Union should provide further concessions on a range of agricultural issues, particularly the level of tariff reductions, the treatment of sensitive products and the related tariff quota expansion, yet at the same time the text on market access for industrial goods does not provide the foreseen additional market opportunities for EU goods. However, no deal is better than the one currently on the table. I am concerned that people want a deal for the sake of a legacy. Legacies have no place in the deal and should not even be considered. A deal is about what is good economically for the countries which subscribe to the WTO. That is where the concentration of energy should occur and what the deal should be all about. I hope Mr. Mandelson's officials will read the contributions of this Deputy and others in respect of the Irish farming sector.

I wish to share time with Deputy Varadkar.

I am concerned the debate on the Lisbon treaty should be based on fact rather than fiction. I am even more concerned when I see fiction being peddled by magazines such as the Catholic monthly newspaper, Alive, which seems to be deliberately designed to stoke anti-European sentiment. In reading that newspaper, I see a particular focus on abortion and euthanasia with the claim that, if the Lisbon treaty referendum is passed, we will have lost the right to decide on such issues. This is utter poppycock and I question the approach of those in my church who are arranging or facilitating the dissemination of such misinformation. The evidence is in the current issue of Alive. On the back page under the “for God and for Ireland” heading, it is stated that, if the Lisbon treaty passes, we will have lost the right to decide on issues such as abortion, euthanasia, freedom to promote the Catholic faith and same sex marriage. This is rubbish. On another page of the newspaper is the headline, “Lisbon Treaty a big cause for concern”. The subsequent article states: “Irish Catholics who wish to keep our Constitution’s protection for unborn children and for the family based on marriage should be seriously worried about this treaty”.

It is important to debate this treaty on the basis of facts. The Lisbon reform treaty does not in any way threaten Ireland's policy on abortion. The 27 members of the European Union have different policies on the issue of abortion. Some states allow for the widespread availability of abortion. Some, such as Poland and Portugal, have a limited availability, while others, such as Ireland and Malta, do not allow abortion in their laws. Since there is no consensus on the issue, the European Union has chosen not to take any stance, but instead to leave it up to each member state to decide its own policy.

As an additional safeguard, Europe, at Ireland's request, added a protocol to the Maastricht treaty confirming that no European treaty can be used to override Ireland's recognition of "the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother" contained in Article 40.3.3° of the Constitution. That protocol remains in place and will not be changed by the contents of the Lisbon reform treaty.

There are those who will claim the Charter of Fundamental Rights will alter this position. The charter applies to the Union's institutions and to member states in their implementation of EU law and does not in any way replace their constitutions. It is important to clarify that the charter does not radically alter the protection of fundamental rights within the Union or extend the competences of the EU. Accordingly, the charter will not extend the capacity of EU citizens to bring cases before the European Court of Justice to force member states to reverse their positions in areas that fall within their competence, such as the domestic prohibition on euthanasia and abortion.

I would have believed that those disseminating such misinformation would have been the first to take note of what the Pope has to say about the treaty. He stated:

Last September, I made a visit to Austria, partly in order to underline the essential contribution that the Catholic Church is able and willing to give to European unification. On the subject of Europe, I would like to assure you that I am following attentively the new phase which began with the signing of the Treaty of Lisbon. This step gives a boost to the process of building the "European home".

It is important to mention this fact and to debate the treaty based on the facts of the situation rather than the fictions. It is also important to bear in mind Ireland's position in the European Community, now the European Union, since joining. The net benefit in pure cash terms has been €40 billion. This does not sound like much when spoken quickly, but it is 40 thousand million euro. Evidence given by the Secretary General of the Department of Finance to the Committee of Public Accounts in February confirmed that the total cash the State has received since joining the European Community in simple historic cash terms is €60 billion, while the total payments made to Europe in that period came to €20 billion. This means that European citizens have invested €40 billion in Ireland in the past 35 years. Even this year, when Ireland is among the wealthiest countries in terms of gross domestic product per head, we will still be net beneficiaries to the tune of €500 million.

The non-cash benefits have been even greater. We have gained significantly from the Common Market as an exporting country considerably dependent on free trade. Our membership of the European monetary system and the interest rates we have enjoyed have been positive. We have had a labour supply on our doorstep to meet demand during years of significant growth. Our wealth as a nation has been related to our membership of the EU and, in this regard, we are the envy of Europe. It cannot conceive how, in any situation, we would turn our back on it, as proposed by many anti-Europeans. Their proposal is dressed up in language suggesting that, while they are for Europe, they are not for this or that. I have heard it all before in respect of every European treaty that appeared before the House and went before the people by way of referendum.

The Lisbon treaty needs to be ratified by all 27 member states to come into effect. At this stage, it is clear that the other 26 member states have or will have ratified the treaty to enable it to come into force. It is difficult to believe that they, representing 99% of the population of the EU, are wrong in their assessments of the benefits of the treaty. It reminds me of the woman who, long ago, watched a troop of soldiers marching by. Looking for her son, who was not great when it came to marching, she said that everyone was out of step except for her Johnny. To a degree, this is the position of many of those opposing the treaty. Any rational examination of the treaty confirms that it is a progressive development in that it provides for greater democratic procedures and more effective decision making. It will enable Europe to have a greater influence on the world stage and a greater role in co-operating with developing countries.

It is particularly advantageous to the smaller member states, particularly in respect of the arrangement for the rotation of commissioners. When I travelled to European meetings as a Minister of State a long while ago, the large states — the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Italy — had two commissioners each. They have since each lost one and, under the new arrangements, will take their turn in the rotation alongside us and even smaller countries like Malta and Cyprus. Anyone who suggests this is unfair to a member state with 1% of the Union's community is not speaking in rational terms.

Nine minutes have expired.

I will allow my young colleague to contribute. As someone who has been involved in European affairs for many years and who was proud to represent Ireland at many European Council meetings while I was the Minister of State at the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Finance, when I dealt with the budget, I see Europe as being great for Ireland and we should not turn our backs on it. The treaty must be passed, not just by the Dáil, in respect of which there is no problem, but by the people. I want it to be passed resoundingly in the referendum.

Perhaps the Acting Chairman will advise me when I have one minute remaining.

On behalf of Fine Gael, I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important issue and to endorse the treaty and Bill before us. It would have been convenient and politically expedient for Fine Gael to oppose the treaty. From reading history, I know of the mission led by Mr. Brian Lenihan to the United States in 1986 when he was sent by Mr. Charles Haughey to oppose the Anglo-Irish Agreement on cynical grounds. Thankfully, when Fianna Fáil got into power one year later, it reversed its cynical position.

Fine Gael is not a cynical party. Its interests are those of Ireland, which is the reason it is happy to support this treaty. It probably does so with more gusto than the Government, judging from the campaigns it is carrying out nationwide, its public meetings, leaflet drops and so on. I will have four meetings in my constituency alone. It almost feels as though Fine Gael sometimes does the Government's job for it. However, if it is in the country's interests, so be it.

As someone who is passionately pro-European, I would have liked to have seen a proper constitution for a real united Europe. However, this is not available and the constitutional treaty, which was much more of a treaty than a constitution, was not such a constitution. The treaty before the House is not even a constitutional treaty and is less than that again. However, I support it in any case, because it represents progress and constitutes a step forward in a number of ways. It is a step forward in respect of democracy as it gives the European Parliament much more power. It will have powers of co-decision in 80 different areas and will force both the electorate and politicians to pay a little more attention to European issues at European elections, because unlike this Parliament, the European Parliament has real influence on legislation. It controls, alters and amends legislation proposed by the executive. The executive does not run the show in the European political structure in the manner of executives in nation states. The European Parliament's relationship much more closely resembles that of United States Congress to the Presidency in the United States than it does to this Parliament. This is the reason it is important for the European Parliament to get more power.

Moreover, the treaty entails a significant expansion of qualified majority voting. While people mention the loss of the veto and perhaps a Minister can advise on this issue, I do not recall an Irish Government ever using the veto. The veto has been used by other countries to prevent progress and changes that we sought. Consequently, it is largely to our advantage that the veto should be reduced as much as possible. The treaty also gives more power to national parliaments and gives them the opportunity to review European legislation in advance. It also allows national parliaments, working together, to call time on proposals about which they have concerns, which is greatly to be welcomed. This Parliament should rise to that challenge and not simply complain about legislation that Members did not bother to read when it came across their desks.

The treaty also gives more power to citizens. The proposed facility for citizens to put forward 1 million signatures to call on the Commission to introduce new legislation constitutes a real power. Deputy Morgan, who spoke earlier, is no longer present. If he has concerns about agency workers, perhaps he should team up with his friends across Europe to get 1 million agency workers to sign such a petition and to initiate a process in the Commission. The treaty also will mean that when the Presidency of the Council is being decided, the European leaders will be obliged to recognise the outcome of the European elections. This of course means that should the European People's Party, EPP, win the European elections, as it did last time and as I expect it will do in 2009, the President of the Council will be drawn from the EPP. I suggest the person most qualified to so do is John Bruton, the current EU Commission ambassador to the United States. I imagine that in return, the Party of European Socialists will be given the Presidency of the Commission. Unfortunately, that does not leave any role for the largest party in this State. However, it was its own decision to sideline itself from European politics.

The treaty also makes Europe more efficient and I welcome the fact that there only will be 18 commissioners. Deputy Morgan suggested earlier that as Ireland has 20 Ministers of State and 15 Cabinet Ministers, there should be 25 Commissioners. I take the opposite view, namely, there should not be 20 Ministers of State and the State has too many Ministers. Perhaps Ireland should follow the example of the European Union in slimming down the size of government. This argument is largely irrelevant because the change regarding the number of commissioners was included in the Nice treaty. This already has been decided as we already have voted on and agreed to it. It is somewhat bizarre that the "No" side should make such arguments about not having a Commissioner for five out of every 15 years. This provision was included in the Nice treaty and we already have voted on and agreed to it. The"No" campaign's lack of arguments is demonstrated by its requirement to make this argument again although it already has been lost.

The treaty also allows for greater integration in a number of areas. It allows for a little more integration of foreign policy, albeit not to the extent I seek. When the national governments decide that Europe wishes to work together as one, a Vice President of the Commission, who will be a foreign minister in effect although he or she will not have that title, will be able to speak for Europe as one. Henry Kissinger often used to ask, "Who do I call if I want to call Europe?". At least there will be a single person to ring when the Heads of Government agree on a particular issue. Unfortunately, because this will still be a matter on which unanimity will be required, an enormous number of issues will remain on which no agreement will be possible. Nevertheless, this still constitutes progress in some ways.

As for the integration of the structures pertaining to the euro into the Union, this is highly welcome. Deputy Morgan expressed the concern that keeping inflation low will henceforth be an objective of the Union and not simply of the ECB, as will keeping public borrowing under 3% of GDP. My response is "Thank God". I can only imagine the amount of borrowing in which the present Government would engage, were it not for the Stability and Growth Pact preventing it from so doing.

Many bizarre arguments have been thrown up in respect of the European Defence Agency and its inclusion in this treaty. However, the European Defence Treaty already exists and has been in existence for some time. One step it is attempting to take is to reduce expenditure on defence rather than increase it. Collectively, the 27 member states of the European Union spend almost as much on defence as the United States. However, together we certainly do not have the military capacity of the United States because our militaries are not interoperable and do not work together. We are obliged to call in the Americans to help us in Kosovo, Macedonia and so on. Consequently, were European defence to happen and were member states to come together, money would be saved and some military capacity that we do not have at present would be delivered.

As for the triple lock, I accept its presence and that it must remain for the present. However, I do not consider it to be wonderful or something about which we should be proud. Essentially, it states that for Ireland to participate in any mission overseas, a UN mandate is required. Therefore, it states that we are giving a veto on our foreign policy to China and Russia. This is not right as such a decision should be made in the Dáil or if not here, by an elected European government. Such decisions certainly should not be made in Beijing or Moscow. Nevertheless, I accept this will be the case at least for the purpose of this treaty and this Bill.

Undoubtedly, this treaty will be good for the economy. It will allow the completion of liberalisation of services across the European Union and will allow for more competition for public services. I welcome this, as more competition for bus and postal services is required. Other countries have much better bus and postal services than does Ireland and we should not fear competition. It constitutes one of the advantages of this Bill. Some previous speakers who opposed this Bill also mentioned Eircom and blamed its botched privatisation on the European Union. This is nonsense as the privatisation of Eircom was botched by Deputy Mary O'Rourke, not by the European Union. The best advocate for lower prices and better regulation in telecommunications has been Commissioner Viviane Reding. She has been the most powerful advocate for reforms in telecommunications services. Members also have been told that this treaty will allow for the liberalisation of the electricity market. I wish it would, because that is not what is happening. Members already have witnessed the U-turn regarding the separation of EirGrid from the ESB. Were this treaty to force the Government to do the right thing, it would be even more of a reason to vote for it.

Even eurosceptics should vote for this treaty because of two important elements. I refer to the withdrawal clause. Were the treaty to be adopted and ratified, for the first time there would be a mechanism for Ireland, or any other country, to leave the European Union. Those who are against the European Union surely should be voting "Yes". The treaty also includes the Copenhagen criteria, that is, the criteria for accession of new countries to the European Union. I am reassured the criteria are included because it will prevent politicians in the future from fudging them, potentially to allow entry to a country such as Turkey when it should not be allowed in. The inclusion of the Copenhagen criteria makes it much less likely that Turkish accession will ever happen and this is another reason eurosceptics should vote for this treaty.

The only people who should not vote for this treaty are the small number who believe we somehow should have a better treaty. If such people exist, I challenge them to produce their alternative treaty. They at least should have the decency to emulate Éamon de Valera by producing a Document No. 2 and by demonstrating how they intend to convince 26 other countries to agree to it instead. If they are unable to so do, they do not have a case at all.

One always should remember that fundamentally, the European Union is a peace project. Three great men, Monnet, de Gasperi and Schumann, came together and created a European Union after a century of war and the death of 100 million Europeans. Fundamentally, the European Union is a peace project and everything else is a bonus. It has been an extraordinary bonus in terms of the freedom to work, trade, travel or study anywhere one likes, the delivery of Structural Funds to Ireland and the other benefits of the European Union.

In terms of the emerging world of the next generation, it seems clear that by 2050 China and India will account for 50% of global GDP, only 7% of the world's population will live in Europe and 90% of people in the developing world will be born into poverty. If the world continues on that path, we will have mayhem. We do not need a United States which believes the solution is to occupy countries and bomb the world or a China which thinks what is needed is neo-imperialism and the invasion of countries to take away their resources. We need a strong Europe with strong values. Even though this is only a small and incremental treaty, it brings us some distance towards that goal. That is why I support the Bill and will campaign strongly for a "Yes" vote.

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

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I wish to rebut the myths which Sinn Féin has put out regarding the Lisbon reform treaty. To a great extent, that party's claims are either demonstrably false or total distortions.

The first claim is that the treaty erodes Ireland's neutrality, which is completely untrue. Effectively, the treaty strengthens our capacity to help out militarily in ways that make Ireland proud but it does not directly impact on Irish neutrality. The provisions contained within it associated with qualified majority voting specifically exclude all future European security, defence and foreign policy matters which will continue to require a unanimous vote at EU level. The triple lock mechanism, whereby Dáil, Government and UN approval is needed before the Defence Forces enter action outside this country, remains in place. In an article in The Irish Times Dr. Tom Clonan has written:

Ratification of the treaty would have two effects in relation to Ireland's neutral stance. A Yes vote would preserve our sovereign input into EU security and defence decisions at the level of Council of Ministers. The treaty would therefore ensure that any decision about future common defence — or indeed any future EU civilian mission or military operation — could only be taken by unanimous vote at the EU Council of Ministers. By preserving the intergovernmental nature, with all EU member states having equal status, with regard to CSFP and ESDP decisions, Ireland would remain capable of effectively expressing its neutral stance in a manner that would meaningfully impact on EU defence decisions. In other words, a Yes vote would guarantee Ireland's ability to veto any future common defence concept — or indeed any EU military mission or operation that Ireland deemed inappropriate.

I think the European Union is ashamed of what happened in the Balkans in the 1990s. We should have been in a position to prevent the massacres that took place. In terms of the old concept of noblesse oblige, the Union was the power adjacent to the Balkans and, therefore, had an obligation to act. We failed to meet that obligation because we did not have the necessary protocols in place. The treaty will expand joint disarmament operations, humanitarian and rescue tasks, military advice and assistance, conflict prevention and peacekeeping and tasks of combat forces in crisis management, including peacemaking and post-conflict stabilisation, thereby contributing to the fight against terrorism, including by supporting third countries in combating terrorism in their territories. It will also allow us to act where there is the potential to do so to prevent wars and massacres such as those that occurred in the Balkans. Neutrality is not affected in any way in so far as the triple lock mechanism remains, while our capacity to contribute to operations addressed by the Petersberg Tasks is strengthened. We will be more able to perform our duties on the international scene.

In regard to Sinn Féin's claim that the treaty is undemocratic, Deputy Varadkar referred to issues such as the expanded role of the European Parliament and national parliaments and the new citizen's initiative. These will greatly enhance democracy in the European Union.

Sinn Féin claims that the treaty gives a number of new competencies to the European Union and will mark a move in a number of areas from unanimity to majority voting. To a great extent, this claim is true but the change will allow for more effective operation of EU institutions. Decisions will be made in ways that have benefited Ireland in the past and will benefit us even more in the future. Unanimity has been preserved in the areas which are of particular interest to us. The issue of taxation, in particular, has recently come to the fore because of the red herring thrown out by the French in regard to the potential for a pan-European taxation system on the basis of charging tax where products are sold rather than where they are manufactured. Given the amount of Microsoft products sold in Ireland compared to the United Kingdom, France and Germany, we would lose out tremendously on that basis.

Sinn Féin also claims that the new voting system halves Ireland's voting strength but it has got its sums totally wrong in that regard. At least 55% of member states and 65% of EU citizens will have to show support in order to pass any proposal, which helps to protect smaller nations.

In regard to the claim that the treaty puts at risk our right to a referendum on future changes to existing treaties, it actually provides that any changes must be ratified in accordance with the constitutional requirements of each member state. In our case, therefore, a plebiscite would be required.

Ireland has benefited enormously from its membership of the European Union. The younger people in Ireland today do not see Berlin and Paris in the same way we used to see Cork and Galway. Travel has made the world a global village but within Europe, it is a smaller village still. The synergies that have developed, the benefit to the economy, the growth in GDP and the advent of the euro have all helped in such a way that it would be unthinkable for us not to follow through and vote "Yes" for the reform treaty and continue as a major player, though a small country, in the Europe of tomorrow.

I first reassure Deputy Varadkar that, unlike what he said in his contribution, Fianna Fáil is not just geared up but is out there campaigning heavily for this referendum, as much as Fine Gael. We are deeply committed to the treaty and have had many meetings, not just in my constituency but throughout the country, where members of our organisation——

Were they public meetings?

They were meetings of the organisation and public meetings, including the European Union information meeting in Kilkenny. They have been good, well-attended meetings. We are doing as much as anybody else to ensure there is a "Yes" vote. I congratulate our new leader, Deputy Cowen. I have no doubt that once that business is finished, we will focus completely on ensuring there is a huge public debate on this issue. We are being told that we need to simplify the message, and that if it were simplified and made easier to understand, we would be far better off.

A campaign of fear is under way with many of the other political parties. In most of the debates I have listened to, they have raised issues that are not part of this treaty. They are simply flying kites and trying to ensure that people misunderstand the message. I ask people to consider generally the past 35 years of our membership and to ask, with all the scary stories they have heard, how did this type of Europe emerge if all of those scary stories were true. In fact, they are largely untrue. The stories and the debate that are now circling around, which are non-issues with regard to the treaty, should be nailed down and put to one side. Then let those parties which are voting "No" come clean and vote on the real issues that are relevant to this treaty.

The real issue is administration. It is about moving from a system that administered six European states to administering 27. I accept there will be changes and reductions of membership, which is not a bad thing because it will direct everything towards a concise type of debate and ensure that bigger or medium-sized countries look after those of a smaller size. It means that what is good for the bigger countries is good for the smaller countries.

We need only consider the investment through Europe that has taken place during Ireland's development. Some 280,000 jobs are secured by way of Irish companies trading within the European market, which is a significant number. I know from my discussions with Irish companies, and from travelling with them abroad and working with them through Enterprise Ireland, that there is a huge investment and commitment by Europe to establish a framework through the World Trade Organisation talks that will allow us to work and export to other countries. If we are to build on our export figures, we need a strong deal with Europe and we need Europe to make a strong deal with the other major world markets. We need to be out there working with those economies to ensure success for Irish companies doing business abroad.

It is significant that the argument by the "No" lobby with regard to Article 48, taxation and foreign direct investment is simply untrue — it is not a fact. I heard Mr. Ganley say in Kilkenny that this treaty was drawn up by fools and idiots, to quote him directly. That shows complete disrespect not just for the 27 states but for the public and the parliaments that subscribed to the formation of this treaty. He should be held to account on that. He also stated the treaty was bad for business. I ask Members what kind of trade they could envisage with no WTO arrangement and no European Parliament basis. Ireland would simply not be able to compete. We would not be able to gain that foothold within and beyond Europe that we need so badly to ensure the development of the economy into the future.

The treaty is about the institutions and ensuring that the administration is more competitive. It is about giving parliaments within the 27 member states the opportunity to debate the real issues around Europe. In this House, we debate the regulations in committee, when we have time. I was a member of those committees and saw the volume of regulation and commentary on Europe coming through. It would take a person's full time, 24-7, to deal with it. It would be no harm to bring this Parliament centre stage with regard to the development of legislation and regulations within Europe, which would help us have a significant input into what is happening.

I welcome the Charter of Fundamental Rights for citizens. The understanding of Europe among 500 million people in the 27 states rests on this. To think that they too have a mechanism for having issues raised, debated, corrected or highlighted is a significant step forward for these citizens of Europe. For myself, however, the treaty is about business. It is about ensuring we have a framework that will monitor what happens between states. We now have a Europe that is about peacemaking and European countries not being at war or in conflict with each other. The treaty is about reaching out beyond Europe to the other economies to ensure our foothold within the global economy is secure. Without Europe, it would be a very insecure place to do business.

In the context of the WTO talks and the new Europe, we need to consider trade facilitation, removing the bureaucracy from our exports, ensuring we can limit paperwork and perhaps creating a trading house or clearing house in Ireland to promote new opportunities in the financial services sector. There are new challenges but in the face of those challenges, there are new opportunities for Ireland. In the context of the world trade talks, we need to shove the WTO ever further in terms of trade facilitation and creating the ability for us to trade within the services we now export. Our export figures for services are hugely significant. Ireland is now the 12th largest exporter of services in the world. Where would we be without our attachment to Europe and without that significant framework which enables us to deliver that type of service?

With regard to non-agricultural market access, it is highly important that within that framework we get a significantly better deal than that currently on the table from the WTO. This can only happen by having partners within Europe with whom we can negotiate and by giving the lead in regard to how we deal with this treaty. I believe we are, in the majority, good Europeans. While we want to debate the issues and have an input, there is nothing wrong with that. However, in having that input, people will find reasons to support the treaty if they give themselves a chance to consider even the simple explanations of this treaty. Once we support it, we can then place ourselves at the heart of Europe, within the centre, and say that we debated not just in this Parliament but outside in public debates. As Deputy Varadkar rightly said, we must go beyond our political system into the public system. That will attract the public to the debate and will inform them and allow them to make an informed choice. I ask the public to reflect on what we have gained from Europe and what we continue to gain. If they are given the opportunity to do that, the only answer is to vote "Yes".

I am grateful for the chance to speak on this important treaty. I welcome that the Government has named the date of 12 June for the referendum. I had reservations about the date not being set and the fact it was not doing any good for the "Yes" campaign. I am pleased the referendum on children's rights will not be held on the same day, as this would have created more confusion than might already be the case.

We, in the Fine Gael party, have taken the lead in campaigning on this important treaty. We started our campaign a few months ago. Since then we have organised many public meetings throughout the country and leaflet drops in our constituencies. We have a proud record of supporting all previous European treaty campaigns and will do so again on this occasion.

In a nutshell, the treaty is necessary to cater for an expanded Europe of 27 member states with a population of 500 million. I will be voting "Yes" for the treaty because it will enhance human rights within the European Union. The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union will become legally binding for the first time. This is a positive move because it will add a new level of protection to the rights of the people of Ireland and elsewhere in the European Union. These rights include basic human rights such as human dignity, the right to life, the right to the integrity of the person, the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and the prohibition of slavery and forced labour. The charter is very detailed and includes 54 articles which cover economic, social and cultural rights, such as the right to choose an occupation and the right to engage in work.

In practical terms the Charter of Fundamental Rights ensures that if a person feels his or her rights are not adequately protected in his or her own country by the government in its implementation of EU law, he or she will have the opportunity to appeal the case to the European Court of Justice. The rights contained in the charter are not new, in that Ireland has already signed up to the Charter of Fundamental Rights for the EU. However, people are afforded a greater level of protection under the reform treaty.

Europe has been excellent for Ireland throughout our years of membership. As the Minister of State outlined, the European Union opened up significant opportunities for Ireland which helped sow the seeds for the Celtic tiger of the past ten years. We have received billions of euro in Structural Funds. Ireland has been in receipt of European funds since we joined the EEC in 1973. This has helped us build our vital infrastructure, such as the rail system and the valuable road network. If we did not receive this funding we would be in a much more backward situation currently. That is acknowledged in the signage on motorways and railway lines which bear the European Union flag.

Farmers have also benefited greatly from the payments made under the Common Agricultural Policy process. I accept that frustration is evident among farmers regarding the level of red tape and bureaucracy with which they must comply but the system overall has benefited farmers and the country in general.

The Common Market in Europe provided a framework through which Irish business has thrived. We have much more confidence in our own abilities in business, as well as access to new markets and greater freedom of movement of goods within Europe. We have received all of these benefits through our membership of the European Union. In the 1960s and 1970s we were a small open economy which experienced high unemployment and mass emigration and we were totally dependent on the United Kingdom. We managed to reverse that situation by virtue of our membership of the European Union. Inward investment improved significantly also. Many multinational companies from America decided to set up their European headquarters here mainly to gain easy access to European markets. That would not have been possible were it not for our EU membership.

The passing of the treaty will further the cause of democracy in Europe. If national parliaments are unhappy with decisions made in Brussels, for the first time they will be able to refer their case to the European Court of Justice, especially when the Commission is seen to overstep its brief. The concept of EU citizenship is confirmed and developed in the treaty. Greater rights are accorded to citizens, allowing them to appeal to the European Court of Justice on various issues. The new citizens' initiative compels the Commission to take action once 1 million signatures have been received from a significant number of member states. This will help people feel they have more involvement with the decision making of the European Union and will allow for a greater sense of ownership.

The Fine Gael Party has a proud tradition in Europe. We are aligned to the European People's Party, the largest party in Europe. We are pro-European and have always supported the various EU treaties such the Maastricht treaty, the Nice treaty and now the EU reform treaty. Our party leader, Deputy Kenny, has organised numerous party meetings and information campaigns. Our party organisation is committed to putting the national interest above the party interest. Our message to all those people who are unhappy with the current state of the economy and other matters is to hold back and not to punish the Government on this occasion but to wait until the next European and local elections when they will get their chance to make their protest vote against the Government. They should not use the opportunity of the referendum on the reform treaty to vote "No" against the Government to hurt Fianna Fáil because it will not do the country any good. It is not in the national interest to vote "No" to this treaty.

Decision making will be faster as a result of endorsing the reform treaty. The expansion of the EU to 27 states makes it impossible to achieve unanimous backing from all members on areas of policy. The change towards qualified majority voting will mean a majority of the countries and a majority of the residents must vote in favour of a proposal in place of the current voting system. This will ensure larger states cannot dominate the process or bully the smaller states into making decisions with which they may be unhappy. The qualified majority voting system will help to protect everybody's rights.

This voting system will only apply to areas such as the environment and energy, security and justice and urgent humanitarian aid. These are areas where one member state acting on its own can have minimal influence, but where 27 states united can have a major impact. Ireland's veto in areas such as taxation and neutrality will still apply. One of the myths that has been propagated is that the treaty deals with abortion. That is untrue.

The appointment of an EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs will provide Europe for the first time with a strong and united voice speaking on our behalf in world affairs. Deputy Varadkar alluded to the famous quotation from Henry Kissinger: "Who do I call when I want to call Europe?" There will now be one contact in the person of the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs. This will strengthen the position of the European Union and enhance its role on the world stage. In the run up to the war in Iraq, Europe was divided as to what approach should be taken and this allowed the Americans to determine policy which should not happen in future. A united voice will also be critical in trade negotiations with the World Trade Organisation and other global bodies. The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs will have a diplomatic service at his disposal, which will enable him and his staff campaign on behalf of the European Union and represent the position of Europe in a better way than is the case at present.

Irish soldiers will have a greater role in peacekeeping missions. Irish soldiers have taken part in a number of European Union and United Nations peacekeeping missions, including in Bosnia and Kosovo. The Government recently deployed troops to Chad as part of a peacekeeping operation to protect refugees fleeing the terrible conflict taking place in Darfur, Sudan.

Cuireadh an díospóireacht ar athló.

Debate adjourned.