Gabhaim buíochas as an am a bheith againn chun labhairt ar an cheist ríthábhachtach seo. Is trua nach bhfuil deis níos faide agam chun na pointí atá agam a leagan amach agus is trua ach go háirithe toisc sinn an t-aon pháirtí sa Teach seo atá ag cur i gcoinne an mholta atá os ár gcomhair inniu, go rithfear an reachtaíocht seo a thabharfaidh cead reifreann eile ar chonradh Liospóin a dhéanamh athuair. Ba chóir go mbeimís tar éis an deis chéanna a fháil agus gach aon pháirtí eile.
Go fisiciúil, is ar imeall na hEorpa atá muid. Le linn an-chuid dar stair is ar imeall imeachtaí móra a stroic an Mhór-roinn as a céile nó a mhúnlaigh an áit ina bhfuil muid inniu a bhí Éire. Sin ráite, is minic chomh maith inár stair go raibh Éire i gcroí-lár na hEorpa. Ní ghá ach smaoineamh ar leathnú na Críostaíochta — bhí alt suimiúil faoi sin ag Beresford Ellis, agus "Untilled Fields", scéal faoi chomh mór agus a bhí Éire ag tréimhsí difriúla. I rith thréimhse an ghorta agus eachtraí eile, bhí Éire i gcroí-lár na hEorpa.
Le déanaí bhí muid i gcroí-lár na hEorpa dhá uair — an tAontas atá i gceist agam, seachas an Eoraip stairiúil — nuair a chuir muid spanner in inneall ailtirí thodhchaí an Aontais, todhchaí a bhí siad ag triail a mhunlú mar ollstát. Is cuimhin liom an alltacht a bhí orthu siúd go raibh sé de dhánacht ann ag tír bheag ar imeall na hEorpa, mar sin an tslí a fhéachann siad ar Éirinn, fód a sheasamh ina gcoinne. Tharla sin nuair a dhiúltaigh muid conradh Nice den chéad uair agus tharla sé anuraidh nuair a bhí sé d'éirim ag muintir na hÉireann conradh nach raibh ar a leasa a dhiúltú — sin an conradh Liospóin.
In ainneoin nach bhfuil aon duine ag rá nár chóir go mbeadh Éire i gcroí-lár na hEorpa, tá urlabhraithe an Rialtais ag cur inár leith gur sin an seasamh atá againn. Ar eagla nár chuala siad mé nó mo pháirtí le blianta anuas, is í croí-lár na hEorpa áit cheart na tíre seo ach is é an sórt Eorpa atá faoi chaibidil — agus ba cheart go mbeadh sin faoi chaibidil — ach go háirithe tar éis an vóta i gcoinne chonradh Liospóin anuraidh agus i gcoinne chonradh Nice roimhe sin. Sin an díospóireacht atá ar lorg timpeall na Mór-roinne ach tá sé ar lorg go háirithe sa tír seo.
Ireland's place is at the heart of Europe. Those of us who campaigned against the Lisbon treaty and the overwhelming number of people who voted against it last year did so because we believe a better Europe is possible, a Europe that is democratic and accountable, promotes workers' rights, protects public services and seeks to play a positive and progressive role in the wider world.
In June 2008 when almost 1 million people rejected the Lisbon treaty, we gave the Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen, and the Government a mandate for change. We gave him a strong hand to play at the Council of Ministers. Following the example of the people of France and The Netherlands, we called on our Government to re-open the treaty negotiations and to secure a better deal, not only for Ireland, but for the EU as a whole. The Government had the mandate to seek that from its EU partners. While it might not have liked this, it would have understood.
Once again, the Taoiseach and the Government failed the people. Like their disastrous mismanagement of the economy, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party have squandered an opportunity to secure a better treaty and a better future of the EU for all of us. They could have taken the steps demanded by the vote in June 2008. They could have renegotiated a better deal for Ireland. They could have built alliances with those in other EU countries who were seeking a better EU, namely, social and trade union movements, cultural and political organisations and individuals who endorsed the progressive "No" vote. They could have demanded a more democratic and accountable EU.
In the Taoiseach's statement to the House on 24 June, following the European Council meeting, An Taoiseach showed that he had failed miserably to do what the mandate had demanded of the Government. He told us the Council had agreed a package of legally binding guarantees that responded comprehensively to the concerns of the people. I wish that were true. If it were true, Sinn Féin would be taking a different position in this debate. The most salient fact to be drawn from the Council of Ministers meeting of last month is that the Government failed to secure a single change to the text of the Lisbon treaty.
When we vote on this matter on 2 October, we will vote on exactly the same treaty as was rejected by 53% of the electorate on 12 June 2008 — no amendments, additions or deletions. The so-called legally binding guarantees are nothing more than clarifications of the treaty. For those of us who took the time to read it the first time around, they tell us nothing new and in no way alter the content or our analysis of the treaty. They are simply an attempt to provide the Government with sufficient political cover to rerun a referendum on a treaty that already has been democratically rejected by the people.
Before dealing with the detail of the so-called guarantees, let me say a word about the Government's claim that, if the treaty comes into force, each member state will keep its Commissioner. Unfortunately, I suspect a slight of hand, that is, rather than having secured each member state's right to a permanent Commissioner, the Government has secured a deal that will last only five years, at which time the Lisbon treaty formula of a smaller rotating membership Commission will come into force in 2014. I call on the Minister for Foreign Affairs to clarify the position. Has he secured Ireland's right to a permanent Commissioner or, as I suspect, has he secured a stay of execution lasting only five years?
Two of the key reasons a majority of the electorate rejected the Lisbon treaty in June were concerns over workers' rights and public services. For the past decade, both the European Commission and the European Court of Justice have increasingly adopted right-wing neo-liberal policies and decisions in an attempt to "complete the internal market". Adopting a rigid interpretation of EU treaty law, both the Commission and the court actively campaigned against what they believed to be "distortions to competition". These included key aspects of workers' rights, such as minimum pay agreements and rights to collective bargaining. They also included attempts to prize open public services such as health and education to the vagaries of the market.
Across the EU, trade unions and citizens understood these threats. In France and The Netherlands, the forerunner of the Lisbon treaty was defeated primarily, although not exclusively, because of these concerns. They were not addressed in the subsequent Lisbon treaty. In Ireland, the country's largest union, SIPTU, could not endorse the treaty because of its concerns on these matters. Two of the state's largest unions, Unite and the TEEU, actively opposed it. According to the opinion polls, even a majority of Labour Party voters were opposed to the treaty because of concerns over workers' rights and public services.
Only hours after the result of last year's referendum was known, the Labour Party leader, Deputy Gilmore, understanding that many of his own supporters did not agree with him on the issue, was quick to tell anyone who was listening that the treaty was dead. Shortly after that referendum, he told the media the people had spoken and the result of the referendum must be fully respected. It is a pity he has not continued to espouse that view. He later said there can be no question of putting the same package to the people as was put to them before, yet he is supporting legislation in the House today that will put exactly the same package to them later this year. The referendum in October will be on exactly the same treaty as was rejected by more than 53% of the electorate in June 2008. I oppose the Bill.