Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 17 Dec 2008

Vol. 671 No. 1

European Council Meeting: Statements.

I attended the meeting of the European Council in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, 11 and 12 December. I was accompanied at the meeting by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Micheál Martin, the Minister of State with responsibility for European Union affairs, Deputy Dick Roche, and the Attorney General.

The Council had an unusually heavy agenda. While the bulk of discussion centred on the Lisbon treaty, energy and climate change negotiations and the economic and financial crisis, other issues were also dealt with. That such a heavy agenda could be completed with unanimously agreed conclusions is testament to the excellent French EU Presidency of the past six months. France deployed its own highly successful mix of pragmatism, determination and dynamism. In acknowledging France's success, I single out the particularly effective role played by President Nicolas Sarkozy. I met him on several occasions in recent months. We are indebted to him for the leadership and assistance he has provided for Europe. President Sarkozy has shown himself to be a friend of Ireland.

When I reported to the House following the October European Council, I said our task in the period ahead would be to work out how to address our concerns on the Lisbon treaty in a way which could be endorsed by all 27 member states. With the co-operation of our partners in the European Union, the outcome of last week's Council represents a significant step towards delivering the way forward. Before outlining the detail of last week's meeting, I will briefly recap on the context against which it took place, and the steps the Government has taken since the referendum.

The Government accepted the outcome of the referendum last June, and undertook to manage the impasse arising as a result of it. We sought to gain an understanding of the reasons underlying the rejection of the treaty. That included the commissioning of very comprehensive research, the findings of which have been published and with which the House is familiar. The Government co-operated with the other parties in the Oireachtas in the establishment of the Sub-Committee on Ireland’s Future in the European Union, which undertook intensive and broad work, hearing from some 110 witnesses from more than 40 organisations.

We then brought the key concerns, as identified in the Government's research and examined by the sub committee, to our partners in Europe and requested that these concerns would be addressed. We did this through direct and extensive contact at many levels. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister of State with responsibility for European Union affairs and our diplomatic network were very active in engaging with all other member states.

I stayed in close contact with President Sarkozy, meeting on several occasions. As the Council meeting approached, I undertook a number of visits to European capitals to meet leaders and to discuss our approach with them and to hear their views. Early last week I spoke by telephone with as many of my European Council colleagues as proved possible to outline again our concerns and explain the nature of the response we felt was required. Last week, we took those concerns to the European Council. The following is a summary of what I said last week to my EU counterparts at the European Council.

I began by reminding my colleagues that Ireland had agreed in October to seek to identify the elements of a solution which could command the support of all at the December Council meeting. I stressed the Government's belief that the Lisbon treaty is important for the Union's future development. I also recalled that it could only enter into force if it is ratified by all 27 member states. I made clear that the concerns of the Irish people as expressed during the referendum must be reflected in any solution. I elaborated on my comments in October about those concerns. Many people felt that they lacked sufficient information or understanding to vote "Yes". Many were concerned at a perceived loss of influence to Ireland, especially when the Commission ceased to include a national of every member state. Others were concerned that decisions on important social and ethical issues, especially, but not only, abortion, would be taken out of Irish hands. Some were concerned that workers' rights would somehow be constrained. Some felt that the position on tax, notably corporation tax, was somehow undermined by the Lisbon treaty. Others were concerned that our traditional policy of military neutrality, to which very many Irish people, whether they voted "Yes" or "No", hold a very strong sense of attachment, would be compromised by the Lisbon treaty. Some were even misled to fear that it could lead to conscription to a European army. I said that while some of these fears and concerns were misplaced or based on misapprehension or misinformation, it did not take away from the fact that they were sincerely held and require a respectful response.

I briefed my colleagues on the European Council on the work of the Oireachtas Sub-Committee on Ireland's Future in the European Union, noting that it had representation from across the political spectrum. Again, I record my appreciation for the work of that committee and the way in which it carried out its business. I informed the European Council that the Committee's report stated clearly that to help secure Ireland firmly at the heart of Europe, the concerns that arose during the referendum campaign must be addressed. I made clear that the response to the concerns of the Irish people had to be satisfactory. I then set out the nature of the response to the concerns that I believed was required.

I stated that retaining a Commissioner was a real concern for the Irish people. There was no doubt that this was a very significant part of the debate during the referendum campaign, and that a change was necessary to respond to the belief among the public that the loss of a Commissioner represented a considerable loss of influence.

Second, I stated the Government needed an undertaking that the other concerns of the Irish people, which I had set out and that are recorded in the annex to the conclusions, would be addressed satisfactorily and in a legally robust manner, where appropriate. Moreover, such an undertaking required the inclusion of a reaffirmation by the Union of the value it attaches to issues such as workers' rights and national competence in respect of key public services.

Negotiations on the conclusions lasted for many hours last Thursday evening and resumed on Friday morning. I am pleased to report to this House that the Council was able to reach unanimous agreement on the response to Ireland's concerns. This unanimous agreement represents an extremely encouraging response to the concerns of the Irish people. Our partners are prepared to adjust the institutional balance agreed within the Lisbon treaty to provide that member states keep a Commissioner each in response to Irish concerns. This is a very significant move. While several member states were strongly opposed, ultimately they accepted that this change is required.

Second, with regard to the other areas of concern I have outlined previously, the Union agreed that our concerns should be responded to satisfactorily, including through the use of legally binding guarantees. While the detail is yet to follow, our partners are clear about the nature of those guarantees. The Union also agreed on the need to confirm the importance of issues such as workers' rights. On the basis of the agreement on these elements and on condition of our being able to put in place appropriate guarantees, I stated that I would be prepared to return to the public to put a new package and to seek their approval of it. I believe this to be a significant outcome.

I emphasise that considerable work lies ahead on the responses to such concerns. I also emphasise the nature of the agreement on the Commission because there was considerable confusion at the time of the referendum. The maintenance of one Commissioner per member state is not possible under the existing treaty arrangements, as the Nice treaty requires the size of the Commission to be reduced. Only if the Lisbon treaty enters into force will Ireland and every other member state now keep a Commissioner. The conclusions agreed last week are very clear on this point.

While my focus and that of my delegation was necessarily on the Lisbon treaty issue, other important issues also were discussed. On the economic front, there has been extensive coverage of the European economic recovery plan. This represents a framework for member states' efforts and is designed to ensure consistency and maximum impact. In Ireland's case, while we will continue to sustain our capital spending at a level far above the historical norm, the immediate focus of our efforts must remain on redressing the budgetary imbalance. The Council also agreed to take forward work on better global regulation of financial markets, better global governance and ensuring there is not growth in protectionism at a time of economic stress. As a small exporting nation dependent on favourable international trading conditions, avoiding growth in protectionism is important for us.

The agreement by the European Council on the climate change and energy package is of huge importance. It is a good outcome for the environment and for Ireland and a number of our key concerns were taken on board at a late stage of the negotiations. I pay particular tribute to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, and his officials for their excellent work in negotiations on this agreement. It represents a significant step in the effort to forge a wider international agreement to tackle one of the greatest challenges of our age. Nearly two years ago, under the leadership of Chancellor Merkel, Europe agreed to unilaterally reduce our emissions by 20% compared to 1990. Friday's agreement under President Sarkozy's watchful eye was, in effect, the setting down in detail of how that is to be done and Ireland played its full part in delivering on that.

The agreement represents the culmination of intensive and highly complex negotiations. Many people hoped for a more robust deal and Ireland supported the Presidency and the Commission in pushing for a package that was stronger than that which finally was agreed. However, one must recognise that compromise was necessary. The compromises, with which some are unhappy, were necessary to ensure that agreement was reached. Failure to reach agreement last week would have represented a serious set-back to the momentum we must bring to the climate change negotiations.

The Minister, Deputy Gormley, led the Irish delegation at the UN negotiations in Poznan while the European Council was under way and we remained in close contact. Ireland sought an acceleration of the international negotiations to agree a deal next year and the EU's leadership in this process was reinforced by last week's deal in Brussels. The reality for all countries is that if progress is to be made in tackling climate change, meaningful adjustments must be made and inevitably this will involve some change for all. The agreement is testament to Europe's ability to keep working, however challenging that may be, until agreement is reached. While this may be slow, and at times, tortuous, it is the best and the only way. On climate change, Europe now has shown the way forward by setting down its approach in detail on how it will reach reductions of 20%. If the rest of the world rises to the challenge, the Union is committed to stepping up its target to minus 30%.

The Council also adopted conclusions in several other areas, including agriculture, external relations and security and defence policy. The full text of the conclusions has been laid in the Oireachtas Library. As for the developments in Ireland in the pigmeat sector, at our request the Council agreed to invite the Commission to contribute to our efforts to support farmers and slaughterhouses. The Government is following up with the Commission on this welcome development. I record my appreciation to the Council and to Commission President Barroso in particular, for their support of, and solidarity towards, Ireland on this issue,

The extent of the challenge Ireland faces in respect of its future relationship with Europe can hardly be over-stated. There will be much written, accurately and regrettably otherwise, about the agreement reached last Friday and about what the Lisbon treaty itself does and does not do. We must be careful not to lose sight of the wood for the trees. My view, which I believe is shared by the vast majority of Members, is that our future must be within Europe. Within Europe, we must be close to the centre and not at the margins or with some semi-detached status. This has been the approach of Irish Governments of various hues for more than 35 years and it has served the country well.

This shared approach over a sustained period reflects the reality that Ireland's relationship with Europe and its European partners is a truly national issue that transcends party politics. I appreciate the approach adopted by Opposition leaders, with whom I have had discussions in recent days. Whatever about our differences, we share a view that our future in Europe is so important that it requires as strongly united a position as possible within this House. Those who suggest Ireland can remain at the heart of Europe while refusing to work with its fellow member states, which are convinced of the necessity for more efficient and effective institutions and a stronger EU voice internationally, are attempting to render a great disservice to the public. Moreover, lest anyone consider that another referendum would create a pressure point around which concessions might be leveraged from the Government in return for support, I wish it to be understood that no good can come of such an approach. Advancing sectoral or narrow interests in such a way could be highly damaging for this country, especially at this time.

These are difficult times on a variety of fronts. Just as many of the challenges Ireland faces are international, so must be the response to them. Ireland must face outwards, not inwards, in seeking to advance its interests and protect its people and the hard-won improvements in living standards over the last decades. Serving our national interest requires us to play our full role within Europe.

Friday's conclusions on the Lisbon treaty move us further along the path of identifying a way forward that could gain the support of the Irish people, while at the same time being acceptable to all our partners. The outcome of last week's meeting augurs well. I am confident the Irish people's concerns can be addressed and will be addressed satisfactorily. If a satisfactory outcome to the work I have described is achieved in the coming months, the Government will put the issue to another referendum. Whether our future relationship with Europe will be based on Ireland playing a full and constructive role in the European Union or otherwise, ultimately will be for the Irish people to decide.

I wish to share time with Deputies Timmins and Creighton.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Some time ago I criticised the Taoiseach and the Government for not being up front with those Opposition parties that have supported the Lisbon treaty. I acknowledge and thank him for his response, in that the Government now is open to keeping Opposition leaders briefed on the issues that are emerging as we proceed with this business. This is important, because whatever differences may exist between the Government and the Opposition, and there are many on matters such as the economy and the manner in which the country is run or otherwise, the Taoiseach may take it that Fine Gael always has supported Ireland's position in Europe and will continue to so do. Some weeks ago, I stated that the only way the Lisbon treaty can come into effect is when the people give their decision on a different question, whenever that is to be asked. I also made the point that this must take place towards the latter part of next year. I acknowledge the response from the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs on being open to discussing these questions and how they should be dealt with.

It will be necessary to put in place a structure pertaining to ways of demolishing the extant myths, falsifications and lies about what was not contained in the Lisbon treaty and the fears generated for those who had concerns.

Let me repeat for the record that I think it is appropriate that either the sub-committee of the Joint Committee on European Affairs, which was chaired excellently by young Senator Paschal Donohoe, or some other independent group would carry out an audit of how we have transposed European directives into Irish law. This is important because there is a range of measures that were causing people concern such as red tape in business, for sheep farmers on the hills etc. Those concerns will not go away due to the fact the Taoiseach will hold a second referendum. It is important that we would be able to demonstrate that people have listened to those concerns and that at least the Government has tried to address them in the sense of having examples of how the directives have been transposed into law in France, Italy or Germany as against in Ireland, and so that one can say to people that these directives were agreed and this is the way they have been implemented in Ireland as distinct from other areas. I do not want to lessen the impact of a directive in any way but, in terms of common sense and flexibility, Government should respond here with an independent assessment of how that has happened.

In my capacity as a Vice President of the European People's Party, I attended that party's meeting before the Heads of Government meeting. I was struck by the generosity of the 14 prime ministers in that group towards this country and in wanting to help Ireland to deal with its difficulty. They recognise that Europe needs Ireland and Ireland needs Europe.

In the next 20 years, there will be the emergence of new global powers like China, India, Russia because of its natural resources, South Africa and Brazil, in addition to the United States. In there, at the tail end of that, is the European Union. Nobody wants to see a situation where catastrophe stares us in the face, as has happened with Iceland being outside of the eurozone and not having access to the European Central Bank. These all are elements of having a prosperous society where one can use the fruits to build a country where people can live their dreams and fulfil their aspirations.

It might be appropriate if the Taoiseach could respond and give us an indication of when he intends to hold the referendum. I seek clarification from the Minister for Foreign Affairs about how the declarations can become legally binding. I hope they evolve to a point where there is a specific protocol given on these matters.

I campaigned on the basis of what was contained in the Lisbon treaty in respect of the commissionerships, and I was happy with that. However, it is a concern of people and I take the point that if people feel that a Commissioner for every country is an important element of this, then I will not object to it. The declarations given from the European Council meeting for Ireland are important and valid, and will go a long way towards ameliorating people's concerns about this. If one gets to a point where the French Presidency under Presidency Sarkozy or, in June, the Czech Presidency, can evolve to a point of a legally binding protocol, then so much the better.

I would like to say a great deal about climate change and other areas of fiscal responsibility in this regard but time does not permit me to do that today.

I take this opportunity to wish the outgoing Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Dermot Gallagher, well in his retirement. He has given a full life to public service and I wish him well. I hope he can find time in the days ahead to spend floating around regions of the upper Shannon. I wish his successor, Mr. Cooney, well.

Coming to the end of the French Presidency of the EU, the Taoiseach mentioned the role played by President Sarkozy. The French President got much flak in certain quarters in this country at the end of June last, but one must acknowledge the tremendous role he played in taking on board the concerns of the Irish people and the Irish Government. He ensured, through his vigour and enthusiasm, that the EU responded in a positive manner to the needs of Ireland. The way he dealt with the crisis in Georgia, and the tremendous role that Europe played in it, his dealing with the international financial crisis and his efforts to get a global approach to financial difficulties epitomised for me the need for a full-time president of the European Union based on the two and a half year concept. That, to me, is one of the most essential ingredients required, as is outlined in the Lisbon treaty.

I also welcome the steps taken by Government to get undertakings on measures. One must acknowledge that from our point of view in the main, with the exception of the Commissioner, all of these were dealt with in the treaty. However, there was a lack of certainty among people. There were concerns and it is important those concerns have been addressed.

The EU is probably the most democratic political concept on the planet. I must admit it is much more democratic than we are here in this country where the Opposition gets generally only crumbs from Government, irrespective of who is in Government, and we are not blaming the Minister, Deputy Martin, exclusively for that. In the EU, everyone has a say, views are taken on board and compromises are made, notwithstanding the fact that many countries do not agree with the provision of a Commissioner for every member state because they feel that it will impinge upon efficiency.

I note from the "No" side of the campaign that the argument has moved on a little. The treaty contains so many matters that there are many new claims, and many new battles will be fought over the months ahead on new territory. It is important we do not lose sight of the treaty's tremendous advantages.

The Lisbon treaty is not meant to replace what is there. It is not something new coming in for something old or unworkable. It enhances what is already there. It is an improvement on what is already there. The practitioners who operate on a day-to-day, month-to-month and year-to-year basis feel the need for it. I cannot come around to the concept that there is a conspiracy by 26 or 27 governments to make life difficult for their people or for their administrators. We must bear in mind that the concept of this is for the common good.

I look at the many positive things it can do. It can deal with cross-border crime, and I hope that we can see it in our wisdom to opt in on judicial and home affairs. It can deal with the energy crisis. We are here at the periphery of Europe, at the end of the pipe. Where would we stand trying to create an energy security policy on our own? It would not be possible.

Ireland is the gateway to Europe. We projected ourselves as the young Europeans for decades. Europe has been very positive for us. Jobs are an issue with respect to Europe. I heard some of the "No" campaigners talk about scare tactics and I thought it was a little rich of them. Certainly, Ireland being at the heart of Europe is essential for our foreign direct investment needs and the "No" to the Lisbon treaty sent out a negative message. The message is not that tangible at present but, as some of the contributors to the sub-committee mentioned, by the time it becomes tangible it will be too late.

The Taoiseach mentioned earlier the issue of workers' rights. It is important the legislation that is necessary here on home territory to deal with workers' rights issues should be put in place in the first half of next year.

On the treaty, this morning I read bits of an extract from a speech by Mr. Gay Byrne. In the last campaign there was the great slogan, "If you don't know, vote No". In my view, if you do not know, you try to learn and find out about it. If you do not find out about it, do not go and impinge upon other people who have taken the time to go and find out about something and make an informed decision. I am not picking on Mr. Byrne specifically, but I will use him as the figurehead for many of the people in that campaign. He stated, "I agree with Ulick McEvaddy that the entire thing is unintelligible bilge". If I adopted the same approach to the transport legislation on road safety as Mr. Byrne has done on this occasion, I would be saying to the public that if they had a vote on this legislation, do not pass it because they will not understand it. That approach is too simplistic. It is too serious a matter for opinion makers to adopt that approach. One goes out and informs oneself of the rights or wrongs. One does not need to know every comma and full-stop in the treaty but the information is freely available even if knowledge and interest is more limited.

I challenge opinion makers to study the material before they make an informed decision and, if they then discover an ideological difficulty with the text, people will respect them for it. They should not take the simplistic view that it is in vogue to vote "No" if one does not know. In regard to the idea of signing a contract on a house, I do not know how many people have read their mortgage contracts. I have not read them even though I have bought more than one house in my time. I signed my name and accepted my solicitor's advice that matters were in order.

Mr. Byrne wrote: "One other thing I'll guarantee: within six months of Ireland voting "Yes", our special corporate tax rate will be gone". The untruth of that statement will be copperfastened by a protocol following the commitment received by the Government on taxation. If Mr. Byrne and other commentators intend to participate in a national debate, they should at least afford the public the courtesy of learning the issues before they pass pronouncement. Their views will be respected even by those who disagree with their judgment if they are based on informed knowledge.

Senator Donohoe has produced a report on the findings of the Sub-Committee on Ireland's Future in the European Union which is available on the Internet for free or the Government publications sales office for €4.10. Efforts are also being made to circulate copies of the report to libraries. It will not be the most exciting read this Christmas but it will probably be one of the most important. A recent "The Gerry Ryan Show" included a segment in which information was sought on the report. The programme was contacted shortly after this segment aired but a decision was made not to inform viewers on the report's availability. Anyone who wants a copy of the report could obtain one from the Government, Fine Gael or the Labour Party.

As this is probably the most serious issue we will decide in a referendum for a generation, people should inform themselves. If they make their decision on an informed basis, nobody can argue with them, but they should not vote "No" because they claim not to know. That is a simplistic and irresponsible approach. This is not the opinion of a Europhile or a member of an unelected elite lecturing to "No" people; it is basic common sense.

I wish to share time with Deputy Costello.

Last week's summit was critically important for Ireland and Europe because it considered a €200 billion recovery plan for the European economy and the urgent issue of climate change. These should have been the priorities for the European summit and today's discussion. Instead, as a consequence of last June's referendum, the first priority at the summit and for this House is the Lisbon treaty and the future constitutional arrangements for Europe. That may be good news for those who wish to slow down Europe for the sake of their commercial or political interests or whose politics thrive on institutional paralysis but it is not good news for those who need the European Union to respond more effectively to the economic crisis or wish the European Union to lead on the future of the planet.

The big story coming out of the summit was that a deal was struck on the Lisbon treaty and a second referendum will be held. Already people are lined up in their trenches. Those who were for it are for it again and those were against it are against it again regardless of what is written in the document. I do not take that approach. This is by no means a done deal. Important progress has been made but this matter remains a work in progress. What has been agreed is a carefully constructed formula which under certain conditions should lead to a second referendum. However, as the Taoiseach confirmed in the comments he made this morning, the holding of a second referendum is conditional on a satisfactory outcome for the work currently in progress.

If we have learned anything from the last referendum, it is the importance of reading the small print. I welcome the recognition in Europe that the same question cannot be put to the people again. Significant changes are required to address the concerns raised during the campaign and major progress has been in that regard. The decision to revert to one Commissioner per member state is a significant change to the proposition that was put to us last June. The proposal to reduce the size of the Commission arose from a concern for making that body more efficient. It was an agreed and important part of the new architecture but as my colleague, Proinsias De Rossa, MEP, has pointed out and to paraphrase the Secretary General of the Commission, if one has to choose between efficiency and legitimacy, one chooses legitimacy. The decision that each member state will retain a Commissioner should be acknowledged as representing a real response to concerns raised during the Irish referendum.

The European Council has also undertaken to address a number of the other concerns that arose during the campaign. The proposals on abortion, neutrality and taxation are not controversial and were never going to be affected by the treaty anyway. Nonetheless, it is welcome the a belt and braces approach is being pursued in order to reassure voters on these points. However, I have concerns about two other issues.

The first issue pertains to the summit conclusions, which commit to "a guarantee that the provisions of the Irish Constitution in relation to the right to life, education and the family are not in any way affected by the fact that the Treaty of Lisbon attributes legal status to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights or by the justice and home affairs provisions of the said Treaty". What does that mean? I am aware that abortion was an issue in the referendum and I have no objection to a restatement of the status quo, in other words, that abortion is entirely an Irish matter. That was done in the Maastricht treaty. However, I have serious concerns about this paragraph in terms of where it came from and what it might mean. Exactly what are these issues of education and the family in respect of which it would appear that Irish recourse to the charter is to be restricted? I heard some ingenious falsehoods being peddled during the campaign but these issues are new.

One of the principal reasons the Labour Party supported the Lisbon treaty in June was the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which we believe would greatly strengthen the rights of the individual citizen in the European Union. We would be very concerned if the charter was watered down or if Irish citizens had more limited access than other European citizens to the rights enshrined therein. Clearly, the devil is in the detail and a process of negotiation must now begin. A mechanism should be found to allow the involvement of pro-Lisbon treaty parties in that process.

The other issue about which I have concerns is workers' rights. I was satisfied that the Lisbon treaty would significantly enhance worker's rights but a perception was successfully created during the campaign that the opposite was the case. This was not helped by the Government's poor record in protecting and enforcing workers' rights at home or in progressing European initiatives to enhance rights. The issue was further complicated by decisions of the European Court of Justice, including the Laval case. There is a real concern among working people that the way has been opened for undermining the levels of pay and working conditions accepted as the norm in this country and most other member states. These issues must be satisfactorily addressed before another referendum is held.

Working through the Sub-Committee on Ireland's Future in the European Union, Deputy Costello has advanced a number of proposals that would protect workers' rights. However, these proposals, which are discussed in the report of the sub-committee, were not adequately taken up by the Government. I welcome the political commitment made in the conclusions to attach high importance to this issue but this needs to be fleshed out. We also need to see a commitment from the Government to address this issue domestically. Again, I am aware this is intended to start a process of drafting and I am prepared to engage with the Government in this regard but the importance of this issue does not seem to have been grasped.

The Government has committed to holding another referendum before the end of next October. The proposition to be put to the people in that referendum is to be changed. We can see the shape of some of that change, but we do not know the detail. It is the detail of the change which concerns me and which will determine the Labour Party's response.

This is not a done deal and two issues arise which are of real concern. These are the Charter of Fundamental Rights and workers' rights. If a second referendum is to be held or passed, those concerns must be addressed and the Opposition parties need to be involved in the process that addresses them.

I want to say a few words about the economy and climate change. I welcome the decision made by the European Council to launch a co-ordinated economic recovery package across the European Union. The plan wisely avoids a one-size-fits-all approach but emphasises instead the need for a co-ordinated approach. It also endorses some key principles. The initial thinking from the Commission pointed to the need for short-term action that would build long-term competitiveness. It pointed, for example, to the potential of the green collar sector to create employment, and the importance of investment in research and development and in infrastructure.

These are points which the Labour Party has been making for some time. I also believe that Ireland should play its part in this European initiative but again, there is no clarity as to what the Government is thinking or doing. After months of doing nothing, last Monday there was a big public relations exercise at Farmleigh, although there is still no plan. It is by no means clear whether the Government's economic plan, when it eventually appears, will fit with the overall EU strategy. It should do so.

The EU has, in recent years, been one of the strongest advocates of international action to prevent runaway global warming. It was in this context that the Commission's energy and climate change package was published at the beginning of the year. The intervening 11 months have changed global economics and politics almost beyond recognition. The reality of global warming has not changed, nor has our obligation to stop it.

Whereas much of the detail of the energy and climate change package is welcome, the major concessions to big polluters and the conditions now attached to a 30% reduction if goodwill is shown in Copenhagen by the United States, China and others are a cause for concern. This watering down of the original package is delaying the inevitable — that we must take radical, collective action to prevent catastrophic climate change, and that we must take it sooner rather than later.

The EU has been the most important vehicle for progress in recent European history. It has been vital for progress in Ireland of its citizens, economy and environment. We must not allow our current difficulties, or the political difficulties of this Government, to reverse this progress for the sake of a short-term fix.

I thank Deputy Gilmore for sharing his time. He has articulated very well the issues of major concern to the Labour Party and those matters which still need to be addressed. This European Council meeting was one of the most significant in many years. Some of the issues being addressed were major global matters, including the financial crisis, as now the full 15 eurozone countries have slipped into recession. The €200 billion recovery package has been extremely important in that respect.

As I understand it, none of the Irish banks has taken up the €30 billion package put forward in October, some two months ago, for small and medium enterprises. That would have been fantastic for providing liquidity in this credit crunch, with 54% of the small and medium enterprises in need of cash flow. Likewise, I was amazed to hear last night on "Oireachtas Report" the spokesperson from Allied Irish Bank, who appeared before a committee, saying that the bank did not need any liquidity and was quite happy not to get the €10 billion from the Government. Where are we on the banking issue and the money being made available from Europe?

On the climate change issue, it is good to see we have at last made the first rung on the ladder to the 20% reduction, efficiency and sustainability with regard to greenhouse gases. The challenge we face is that from 2012, it will cost the Irish economy an estimated €1 billion. We must address the challenge and ensure this becomes a benefit to the Irish economy, and the area of industry dealing with cutting greenhouse gases becomes an advantage. We have enormous resources in wind, geothermal and others that should enable us to add to the economy.

The central issue addressed with regard to this country was the aftermath of the Lisbon treaty rejection in June. We had a circle to square in that the people rejected the Lisbon treaty while at the same time indicating strongly that they were in support of participation and engagement in the European Union going forward. We had preliminary work arising from the Millward Brown survey and the work of the sub-committee, which lasted for two months.

The Government went to the European Council with five central identified issues to address. The first was the matter of the Commissioner, which we must recognise was very successfully addressed. The second was the matter of taxation and legal guarantees have been given on this. The third was the matter of the European security and defence policy and how this relates to neutrality, and legal guarantees have also been provided on this. The fourth matter was right to life, education and the family, and again legal guarantees were provided in this area.

The fifth issue raised by the Government was the protection of workers' rights and public services. No legal guarantee was sought or given in this respect, although assurances were sought and given. Even at this, it appears the United Kingdom was not happy with that level of assurance. This can be seen in almost the same terms as 40% of Irish voters voting in respect of the Lisbon treaty having considered the protection of workers' rights as very important. The Council confirmed it considers the issue very important but it did not assert it would act on it, which was the case in terms of the other four issues.

The question remains of what will be done. How will we make the assurances sufficiently robust for the issues to be addressed? The nub of the problem is that we must find a legal mechanism to ensure that when a conflict arises with regard to the four freedoms of the marketplace and the movement of goods, services and people, it must be addressed in the context of not allowing them take precedence over the protection of the rights of workers. These are fundamental rights which have been based on long-term national law that has been discussed and put in place. Agreements and practices have also been engaged in, and these must be protected rather than undermined.

I am not so sure I wish to engage again in an all-party sub-committee where one party uses the forum to grandstand rather than engage. The party attempted to delete everything proposed within that sub-committee's findings. Another party to that sub-committee did not make any submission of its own but went out to the plinth just as the sub-committee's findings were being drafted and made statements of its own which, to a large degree, undermined the good work done in the previous seven or eight weeks.

If we are to engage in an all-party sub-committee, we must engage with integrity and in a manner so that everybody will participate fully in it. No party should seek to use political sharp practice in the relationship.

We must have constant consultation with the Taoiseach and Ministers on this matter. I am not sure whether it would be better done on a bipartisan level at this point rather than with a process of re-establishing a sub-committee.

It is interesting to note how difficult some colleagues find it to accept that everyone will not always agree with them.

Throughout the Lisbon referendum campaign Sinn Féin argued that a better deal was possible. We argued that the Irish people's concerns on workers' rights, public services, neutrality, democracy, tax sovereignty and international trade were valid and had to be addressed. The Taoiseach, Deputy Brian Cowen, and his fellow "Yes" campaign supporters told the people that there was no better deal to be had. Last week's meeting of the EU Council has proven this proposition wrong. However, the EU Council agreement raises more questions than answers. Earlier this morning, we had some opportunity to commence teasing that out.

As it stands today, the Government has committed itself to re-running a referendum on the same treaty the people rejected on 12 June. They have not secured any changes to the Lisbon treaty or its protocols. The deal struck will not address the substantive issues raised by the electorate time and time again before and after the Lisbon referendum. Sinn Féin wants to see these issues addressed. Ireland is a full and active member of the European Union and will remain so. We want to see Ireland's influence maintained and enhanced. We want to see neutrality protected. We want to see a social progress clause that will protect workers' pay and conditions. We want to see a new approach on public services. We want to see the promotion of a trade policy that is good for Irish farmers and the developing world. We want to see the Government deliver on the mandate it was given.

What did the Government agree to? Over the last number of days we have listened to Ministers in the media telling us that the changes they secured on the issue of a Commissioner and a number of declarations will allow them to return to the people and re-run the referendum. The question is whether these assertions stand up to scrutiny. In our opinion, on the evidence before us, they do not.

We are told that the agreement which was reached allows all member states to keep their Commissioner if the Lisbon treaty is passed by October 2009, but that is not true. Under the Nice treaty unanimity is required to decide the number of Commissioners. An interim solution could have been found to allow for every state to keep its Commissioner until the broader issue of the reform of the EU was resolved. This could have been done while the broader issues of the EU's democratic deficit, workers' rights and public services, militarisation and the influence of small countries in the EU institutions were being addressed. The Government had the opportunity to put these issues on the table but, with respect, it failed to do so.

The second assertion is about legally binding guarantees. The Government has told the people that a number of the key issues of debate during the referendum will be dealt with through legally binding guarantees. We are also being told that this may happen in the context of the Croatian accession treaty in 2010 or 2011. How this is to be achieved, and what impact it will have on the Lisbon treaty, is not clear. What is clear, however, is that any future accession treaty will not be put to the people in a referendum. What we are likely to get is some form of declaration, promising protocols to an accession treaty that we may or may not see prior to a second Lisbon treaty referendum. That is a very important point.

Contrary to claims made by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Micheál Martin, in newspapers this week, Sinn Féin has not rejected any deal before considering its detail.

The problem is that the Government has agreed to hold a second referendum without putting the detail into the public domain, but why? The answer is that the Government does not have it, and it is telling us that it will not have it until later in 2009. How therefore does the Government know it will in any way resolve the substantive concerns that led people to vote "No" in June?

Declarations are not worth the paper they are written on as they are not legally binding. They are exactly what they are called — political declarations made by politicians with no legal status or force. They are like promises made by a Government at election time, sadly, more likely to be broken than implemented. Unless protocols are secured and ratified by all member states, guarantees as described by the Government are worthless.

On the issue of neutrality, even if this declaration were legally binding there would be huge questions about its value. The declaration refers to Ireland's "traditional policy of neutrality" which, given the role this State plays in assisting the transit of US troops to Iraq, would hardly instill confidence. It will do nothing to halt the drift towards militarisation of the EU, the enlargement of the EU's military tasks, and the establishment of the European Defence Agency. It will not prevent closer, so-called EU co-ordination with NATO.

The declaration on taxation changes nothing in the treaties. Unanimity in the Council is still required for tax harmonisation measures, but the Council will have the ability to bypass popular referenda in order to take such a step. This point was confirmed in a legal opinion secured by the Oireachtas Sub-Committee on Ireland's Future in the European Union. For the record, I will quote the legal opinion:

Article 48 expressly gives power to change the mechanism of voting and a ratification of this Article or the Treaty containing this Article by the Irish people in referendum gives authority in referendum for any subsequent change which complies with Article 48 without the necessity of further recourse to the people.

There is obviously a belief among EU leaders that a future Irish Government will be convinced to go along with such a move. A declaration, even if legally binding, would not change that. That is a crucial point. The authority of the Irish people to decide on this matter by referenda will be removed.

The Council conclusions on the issues of workers' rights and public services are deeply worrying. These issues have been totally ignored by the Government since the "No" vote, despite Sinn Féin and others insisting they were critical issues that had to be addressed. The Government and the Council seem to have recognised, belatedly, that they are important issues but the way in which they are dealt with is completely inadequate. The undermining of workers' pay and conditions has caused serious disquiet across the country. It is totally unacceptable that the Government has failed to secure a social progress clause to prevent the exploitation of workers in Ireland and across the EU. This is a missed opportunity.

The conclusions refer to ". . . public services, as an indispensable instrument of social and regional cohesion". Not only is this limiting in terms of what public services are, for the conclusions of the Council make it clear that EU leaders have absolutely no intention of halting or reversing the liberalisation of public services as provided for in the treaties.

The same is true with regard to "the responsibility of member states for the delivery of education and health services". The conclusions also refer to:

. . . the essential role and wide discretion of national, regional and local governments in providing, commissioning and organising non-economic services of general interest, which is not affected by any provision of the Treaty of Lisbon, including those relating to the common commercial policy.

That is a reiteration of protocol 9 of the Lisbon treaty. The "non-economic services of general interest" definition is, as we know, constructed in such a way as to limit governments' role in the broader field of public services, namely health, education, social services, transport, utilities etc.

All in all, the Council conclusions appear to be an exercise in smoke and mirrors. They do not provide credible guarantees where they are needed. They divert attention away from many of the real reasons for the "No" vote. They fail to deliver positive reasons for voting in favour of the Lisbon treaty. They attempt to confuse a number of issues in order to give full reign to fear and misinformation in a rerun of the referendum.

Having seen them in action over this past short spell, the approach of some members of the Government, including those present, has been arrogant.

Sinn Féin's canvassers in Tullamore were talking about conscription.

It has been in evidence over the past six months.

Sinn Féin's is the only army that one cannot leave.

When one interrupts and heckles, one has already lost.

I have not lost it.

It shows a complete lack of respect——

The Deputy has some neck talking to me about misinformation.

——for both the democratic institutions of the State and the democratic will of the people. That is what it amounts to. The Taoiseach can make all the mocking sounds he likes as to the irony of my saying this, but——

The Deputy accused me of peddling misinformation.

——I point it out to him, nevertheless. However uncomfortable it makes him, it is his problem, not mine.

Sinn Féin's canvassers were going around my town talking about conscription and getting into an army, but there was nothing wrong with the one they were in themselves.

Rerunning the referendum on the Lisbon treaty, albeit one that will not be altered by one iota, would be a denial of democracy. It is no different from a defeated Government rerunning a general election in the hope that the people will change their minds. We have often wished it, but we know that it is never an option. If the Taoiseach proceeds with his intention to put the same treaty to the people for a second time, as matters stand and according to the information provided today, not only in the Taoiseach's contributions to these statements but the earlier engagement with him during questions to the Taoiseach, he will have profoundly misjudged the public mood once again and be in for another sorry response.

I would not like to hear Deputy Ó Caoláin's contribution when Sinn Féin decides a position if that was his contribution while his party is still deliberating. Notwithstanding that, he is entitled to make his contribution.

Will the Minister for Foreign Affairs confirm whether, under the Constitution, the Government can introduce a proposal for a constitutional referendum as often as it wishes? I will not go down the road of discussing the number of times America's suffragettes needed to make proposals. They were told "No" 30 or 40 times before they got the vote.

Will the Minister confirm the co-finance measures to deal with the pork crisis? What funding, if any, will be available from the EU? At the bishops' conference this week, Bishop Fields called on the Government to urge the EU to send peacekeeping troops to the Congo. Did this possibility arise during the Council meeting? While the African Union-UN force in the Congo is working to the best of its ability, additional forces are required in the region to restore peace and stability to the Congo. Currently, this could only be done by EU troops.

Reference was made to the Middle East peace process. Will the Minister inform the House of the EU's role in the Quartet discussions?

Regarding the €200 billion economic stimulus package, what input will Ireland have and over what period will it last?

There are precedents of organising multiple referendums on various issues, such as electoral representation, divorce and abortion. There is no constraint on reverting to the people to allow them to decide on any particular question.

Regarding pigmeat, the issue was handled in the context of the EU through the European Food Safety Authority. This showed the importance of belonging to an international organisation where people on the veterinary, food safety and public health sides work collectively in accordance with best principles, such as the precautionary principle, as it gives the markets confidence. There is a direct link between an EU public health surveillance and food safety network and ultimate market confidence in food products. This was clearly displayed in the pork issue.

Last week, a private storage scheme for pigmeat was exclusively introduced for Ireland. This will allow the storage of some 30,000 tonnes of pigmeat products with an underlying value of €15 million for a period of six months. We managed to achieve a Council conclusion in text format, which will enable the Council to express its support for Ireland's effort to deal with the situation and for its prompt precautionary action and ask the Commission to support farmers and slaughterhouses in Ireland by way of co-financed measures to remove the relevant animals and products from the market. The conclusion has been given politically and the Commission is working with the Government on the details in terms of how the former can add supports over and above what has been offered in terms of the private storage area. This demonstrates the good faith shown by our European partners during the exceptional situation in which we found ourselves.

Last week, the EU's Foreign Ministers held two significant discussions on the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC. The first occurred at the General Affairs and External Relations Council meeting on Monday and the second occurred over dinner at the European Council meeting on Thursday, 11 December. The key issue was our response to the request of the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, for assistance and support. The original request was for a deployment by the EU or some of its member states of a multinational force for up to four months, pending the arrival of reinforcements requested by the UN Security Council. The matter has been under discussion, including a detailed discussion at the meeting and a briefing by Javier Solana.

There have been some welcome developments on the regional political side of the issue, as leaders are engaging. There is no unanimity on the deployment of a battle group, but we agreed on further engagement with Ban Ki-moon concerning the details of what would be required on the ground and what could be deployed effectively. From a humanitarian perspective, we believe that there should be a positive and meaningful response to the Secretary-General's request, which I articulated at the Foreign Affairs Council.

One can argue that the whole idea of battle groups was to have them in readiness to be able to respond to such situations. Obviously, circumstances are moving quickly. At Thursday's meeting, there was a sense that matters had improved somewhat and that we should keep them under consideration. Discussions are continuing at senior level under Javier Solana's office.

At the Foreign Affairs Council meeting on Thursday, our text contributed significantly to an extended discussion on the Middle East and found its way into the ultimate conclusions of the overall text in terms of developing broader support for the Arab peace initiative and a broader regional dimension and encouraging the prioritisation of the Middle East question by the incoming American presidential Administration.

With regard to the economy, we are spending approximately twice the EU average on capital investment. We are ahead of the game in that regard in the context of the stimulus policy. We welcome the initiative on the part of President Barroso in respect of this matter.

How does the Minister propose to progress the agreements reached at the summit in respect of the Lisbon treaty? What is the position regarding the conditional response to a second referendum? How does the Minister propose to deal with the Opposition in the House in respect of this matter? Does he intend to establish a new committee or will the existing sub-committee remain in place? What steps does he propose to take in the context of introducing domestic legislation relating to the EU directives — such as the services directive, the agency workers directive and the migrant workers directive — that are awaiting transposition into Irish law? There is also the question of the employment law compliance legislation. A report published yesterday indicates that fewer than half of those employed in the hotel and services industries are paid the minimum wage and that 75% of them are not paid overtime at weekends.

Between now and the summer of next year — when the Czech Republic will hold the Presidency of the EU — what steps does the Minister propose to take to deal with the issues raised at the summit? How does he propose to progress matters relating to them to a satisfactory conclusion?

On the €200 billion stimulus package, why does Ireland seem to have difficulty in drawing down the money available from the European Investment Bank? Why has none of the €30 billion available from this source in respect of small and medium enterprises not been drawn down by Irish banks to date? Such enterprises here are crying out for cash but the banks are not making it available. The banks are stonewalling these businesses and stating that they have no problem as regards liquidity. However, there is no sign of credit being provided. Why do we appear to have a problem with regard to drawing down EU money?

Matters relating to Zimbabwe were discussed at the Council meeting and I understand the case of Jestina Mukoko, a campaigner for human rights in that country, was raised. Was any progress made in the context of pressurising South Africa, the key player in the region, to take action? Did the possibility of imposing sanctions arise at the Council meeting? I understand certain Irish pension funds are invested in the region. Perhaps taking action in respect of these might be an appropriate avenue of action.

As the Taoiseach stated, detailed work will have to be carried out in respect of dealing with the issues on which we received undertakings from our European colleagues and obtaining legal guarantees. These three issues are the protection of our traditional policy of military neutrality, ensuring that nothing under the Lisbon treaty will affect our competence in the area of direct taxation and our freedom to decide on ethical questions. Detailed texts will have to be drawn up in respect of these matters. These will be the subject of negotiations with our European colleagues.

Who will have responsibility in that regard?

The Government negotiates with other governments in the context of obtaining agreements. Normally it works with the member state which holds the Presidency, which then negotiates with the other member states.

On the domestic front, the Deputy made the point that there should be constant communication between the parties on a bipartisan level. Such communication will continue to be the norm. I am of the view that it may be useful to retain the Sub-Committee on Ireland's Future in the European Union, which produced a report prior to the Council meeting. Notwithstanding some of the reservations articulated earlier by the Deputy, the sub-committee operated as an extremely effective vehicle within the Oireachtas for facilitating a debate on issues relating to Ireland and the European Union, particularly in the aftermath of the Lisbon treaty referendum result.

The sub-committee may have an opportunity to continue its work. I have been working on this matter since July and when we established the sub-committee, Deputy Costello suggested that it should issue an interim report and that there should, perhaps, be a second phase to its work. That may be one possibility as to what might happen. I will consult with the Deputy and others in order to decide on what might be the best way to proceed. We must go about our work in an effective and efficient manner.

On workers' rights, it is important to again point out that we work with the other member states on the amendment of the EU's body of law on labour and that we draw up domestic legislation in respect of this matter. We ensured that the conclusions agreed last week contain an acceptance and confirmation in respect of the importance attached by European Union member states to the issue of workers' rights. That is a better outcome than we anticipated prior to the Council meeting. Our original presentation to the Presidency took the form of the attachment to the conclusions of an Irish text relating to this matter. Through a process of negotiation, however, we moved beyond that to a position where the undertakings to give legal guarantees to issues specific to Ireland — neutrality, tax and ethics — are contained in the conclusions, which are strong as a result. In addition, there is an attachment of high importance to the issue of workers' rights.

The EU would have no choice but to attach high importance to workers' rights.

Deputy Costello should not interrupt. Time is limited and Deputy Ó Caoláin wishes to ask his questions. The Minister should conclude his reply.

The matter relating to the hotel industry does not revolve around introducing even further legislation, rather it relates to the implementation and enforcement of existing law. The critical issue is that Ireland has in place a minimum wage. Sweden did not have a minimum wage and, as a result, the Laval judgment is extremely specific to that country. The absence of legal frameworks in Sweden made it fundamentally vulnerable. In this country there are recognised employment agreements, REAs, in the area of construction, joint labour committees, JLCs, operate in certain sectors and there is also the minimum wage.

The agreements to which the Minister refers are being breached because we do not have employment law compliance legislation in place.

We are consulting with the social partners in respect of the employment law compliance Bill. I was involved in the process to establish the National Employment Rights Authority and also the appointment of almost 60 additional inspectors.

When will all to which the Minister refers be implemented?

As the Taoiseach stated, the decision on holding a referendum is conditional on our obtaining satisfactory resolutions in respect of the issues we have identified. In any event, it will all be implemented in 2009.

There are just over four minutes remaining. In those circumstances, I ask Deputy Ó Caoláin to keep his questions brief.

I wish to put two straightforward questions to the Minister. The Taoiseach indicated that a number of member states were opposed to the retention of a Commissioner by each member state but stated that they ultimately accepted that this change is required. Will the Minister indicate the states that were strongly opposed and outline the specific arguments they put forward in this regard? Will he provide detail in respect of this matter in order that we might be assured that the undertaking relating to Commissioners is not merely being included to create the appearance of serious engagement?

President Sarkozy referred to the treaty relating to Croatia's anticipated accession in 2010 or 2011. It has been stated that some of the declarations to which the Minister, the Taoiseach and their colleagues have referred since the European Council meeting would form part of that treaty. Will the Minister indicate if that is the case? Will we have a second Lisbon treaty referendum prior to our even seeing some of the ostensibly "legally binding declarations", to use the wording employed by Government, that they will not present until 2010 or 2011? Perhaps the Minister would clarify the position in this regard.

Will the Minister arrange for a reply to be sent to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security in respect of the points made by it when scrutinising the proposals for 2012-20?

In the context of changes made to facilitate other countries, was agreement reached on the establishment of a fund to deal with carbon capture and storage from coal? Also, was there any discussion on the energy super-grid, which would be of great interest to Ireland in terms of wind and wave generation?

There were fundamental contradictions in Deputy Ó Caoláin's original contribution in which he stated a better deal than expected was achieved. However, he quickly moved away from that. On his point in regard to the Commission, under Lisbon there will be fewer members of the Commission; that is a legal fact. There is no getting around this; an interim agreement cannot be provided.

I think the Minister is speaking about the Nice treaty.

I apologise. Under the Nice treaty the number of Commissioners must be reduced. That is a legal imperative.

The Deputy does not.

That is not the question I asked the Minister.

No, through the Chair——

The Minister is slating——

I will address the point made by the Deputy.

——once again, which is typical of his arrogant approach. The Minister will not answer the questions I have asked.

Only one minute remains and if the Deputy wishes to have answers to his questions he will have to restrain himself.

If there is one arrogant man in this House, it is Deputy Ó Caoláin.

The Minister should, at the very least, answer my questions.

Deputy Ó Caoláin must restrain himself.

The Minister should answer my question given we have only limited time.

It is Deputy Ó Caoláin who is arrogant and manipulative.

We have one minute remaining. I call the Minister to respond.

I beg the Chair's pardon.

I did not interrupt Deputy Ó Caoláin who asked about the Commission. I am making the point that we succeeded last week in obtaining agreement that under Lisbon there will be one Commissioner per member state. Everybody in this House knows that during the last referendum campaign Sinn Féin erected on every lamppost in Ireland posters stating "Vote No, Keep Your Commissioner".

I asked the Minister to outline the member states involved and their arguments.

If the Deputy allows me to finish, I will tell him. The member states in question are the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.

What were their arguments?

They believed that there was an institutional balance to be arrived at and had no difficulty articulating the view that they believe a reduced Commission would lead to more efficiency and so forth. They have articulated this view publicly and within the Council. Others had reservations earlier in the negotiating phase. I respect the positions they presented to us. This was a difficult and substantial issue. It was a major concession by our colleagues to Ireland to agree to change the situation in regard to implementation of the Lisbon treaty.

Deputy Ó Caoláin continually uses the word "declaration". We never used that word. That word is not contained in the conclusions or used in any public articulation of the issues. I have nothing against the word "declaration". One of the most far-reaching declarations we ever had was the "Downing Street Declaration" with which Sinn Féin had no problem. What we have referred to here are "decisions" of the European Council which in themselves have legal validity.

What we are talking about in this regard is a decision from the European Council which has undertaken to give robust legal guarantees that would have treaty status and will be attached to the treaties. Obviously, these will be attached to the treaties at the time of the next accession treaty, which potentially is the Croatian accession. There is a precedent in this regard in terms of the Danish experience. This is far better than Deputy Ó Caoláin ever thought we would get.

It is a hell of a lot better than the Government was prepared to accept, but we are not there yet.

Deputy Ó Caoláin jumped the gun prior to Council and during the debate. Sinn Féin's spokespeople continually stated we were getting meaningless declarations. They are more surprised than anybody by what has been achieved. President Sarkozy was open and honest and told the 27 members at the Council meeting that this will mean a legal guarantee, a protocol, will be attached to the treaties.

I would like to make a final and important point in respect of workers' rights, an issue raised by all Deputies. The Charter of Fundamental Rights is key to Lisbon. It is part of Lisbon and refers to the right of workers to negotiate and conclude collective agreements at appropriate levels; to take collective action to defend their interests, including strike action; workers' and their representatives guarantee of information and consultation in good time; workers' rights to protection against unjustified dismissal in accordance with union laws, national laws and practices; workers' rights of access to a free placement service; workers' rights to working conditions which respect their health, safety and dignity; workers' rights to limitation of maximum working hours, to daily and weekly rest periods and to periods of paid annual leave; and the prohibition in respect of the employment of children. It states that the minimum age of admission to employment may not be lower than the minimum school-leaving age, without prejudice to such rules as may be more favourable to young people and except for limited derogations. Also, young people admitted to work must have working conditions appropriate to their age and be protected against economic exploitation and any work likely to harm their safety, health or physical, mental, moral or social development or to interfere with their education. These provisions are contained in the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Why, in the name of God, does Sinn Féin insist on voting against these fundamental rights for workers?

Why does the Government not, in the first instance, include them in the Irish Constitution? Doing so would provide it with an opportunity to demonstrate its good faith on this issue. Then we might believe the Government is sincere. The Government continually refuses——-

I ask the Minister to reply in writing to the questions put by Deputy Barrett.

I will do so. I wish to confirm that a substantial provision of up to €300 million was agreed for carbon capture and storage. There was a robust debate on that issue, in respect of which we obtained a satisfactory outcome. I will reply formally to the Deputy in regard to the committee's work.

Sitting suspended at 2.10 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.