Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Friday, 9 May 2008

Lisbon Treaty: Public Deliberations.

Everybody is very welcome to this normal, statutory meeting of the Joint Committee on European Affairs which is one of a series of meetings the committee is holding. One can call them outreach meetings if one wishes. It is the committee's wish that we hold meetings throughout the country to engage with the public on the Lisbon treaty so as to generate information and enable the people to come to a conclusion on the treaty and the arguments for and against it. The committee comprises members of the various parties represented in Leinster House. The parties must have certain numerical strength to be represented on the committee. Normal Dáil procedures apply. The Chairman has the last word, as always, and the right to bring speakers to a halt or intervene in the middle of a speech. The Chairman has the last word at all times.

We have had a number of meetings in Leinster House, DCU, Galway, UCC and Dundalk last week. We are having this meeting in the centre of the country, not because we were leaving it late but because we felt we had to prepare ourselves better for it. Next week we will have a meeting in Limerick. The meetings are all part of the discussion. According to what we hear, there appears to be misinformation, disinformation and a lack of knowledge on the issues pertaining to the Lisbon treaty. The purpose of this exercise is to generate debate from which people may glean information which is of benefit to them in making up their minds. We have had the social partners and various groups before the committee and have more to meet. At the end of the meetings and before the referendum on 12 June we will compile a report which will carry conclusions based on the information we receive in the various submissions made to us in the course of our hearings, including tonight.

This is a special day. This meeting is being held on a Friday because today is Europe Day. Each year the European Union marks the anniversary of the declaration made by Mr. Robert Schuman on 9 May 1950 against the background of a potential third world war. At the time things were very difficult throughout Europe and with the arms race and everything else, there was the possibility of a third world war on the horizon. The founding fathers, Mr. Schuman, Mr. Konrad Adenauer and Mr. Jean Monnet, decided Europe could not afford any more wars and founded the European Coal and Steel Community. We are walking in the footsteps of those great Europeans. We must remember Europe was always beset by wars. All European peoples fought themselves to a standstill on numerous occasions. The only result was that arms manufacturers did extremely well while Europeans died. We can at least say there was no conflict between the European Union member states in the last 50 years and I hope it will remain that way for a long time to come.

All the usual staff from Leinster House are present, including our secretarial, communications and lighting staff, ushers and translators. We have two tables with microphones and the usual format is that we invite our guest speakers for and against the treaty to speak first for ten to 15 minutes each. We then draw people from the floor. They will take a seat at the tables with the microphones for three minutes each, after which they will be asked to return to their seats in the audience. We will try to get people to come forward to the reserved seats in the front while preparing to speak. If I interrupt a speaker, he or she will not lose time, they will have the full three minutes.

Our two guest speakers are Mr. Matt Dempsey, editor and chief executive of the Irish Farmers’ Journal, and Dr. Andy Storey of Action from Ireland, AfrI, and UCD school of politics and international relations. As I said, this is the fifth of our series of meetings. By special arrangement or order of the House, the committee has been enabled to meet outside Leinster House, hence our presence in Athlone tonight. Each member on the platform, except our two guest speakers, has Dáil privilege. This means they can say what they like, as in a court. Nobody else has such privilege. I ask speakers on the platform who have privilege not to use the names of persons or describe anybody outside the meeting who could be identified as a result of anything they might say. I ask those who are not Members of the Oireachtas to observe the rules.

All political parties in the Dáil are entitled to sit on the platform. Sinn Féin has been invited to this and all other meetings. Libertas which opposes the treaty has been invited to all the meetings but has not taken up the invitation at any stage. It has been offered the opportunity to speak from the platform and will have another opportunity next week in Limerick, as will Sinn Féin. Members of Sinn Féin elected to the Dáil have the right to sit on and speak from the platform. Sinn Féin opposes the treaty.

We welcome our guest speakers. Dr. Andy Storey will speak first.

Dr. Andy Storey

Good evening and it is a pleasure to be in Athlone. I thank the Chairman and the committee for the introduction and I am glad a group opposed to the Lisbon treaty other than Libertas is getting to speak. There is a range of opinions, of which Libertas is not necessarily representative, on the "No" side.

I am here to represent an organisation called Action from Ireland, or AfrI, a justice, peace and human rights organisation which has been around since 1975. It organises activities such as an annual famine walk, which will take place tomorrow week in Louisburgh in County Mayo, which highlights issues of global injustice, resource access and so on, with a particular focus on issues affecting people in so-called developing countries or the global south. That is the perspective from which we come.

There is a brochure for that walk on the table by the door and there are other publications, including one more relevant to tonight, a position paper we have recently published detailing our arguments against the Lisbon treaty. Attendees should feel free to take a copy of that on their way out.

I welcome greatly the chance to engage in this debate, which is very valuable. I acknowledge there are arguments for a "Yes" vote and I look forward to hearing those. I am keen to emphasise there are at least two sides to this debate and those urging a "No" vote are not necessarily loolas or insane, to use the language of a former Taoiseach. There is a reasonable argument.

I wish to start that argument with a somewhat provocative statement, which is that in many respects, Ireland is no longer a neutral country. It is not the act of a neutral country to offer Shannon Airport as a staging post for the transit of US troops and supplies involved in the occupation of Iraq. It is not the act of a neutral Government to refuse to act upon the strong evidence of Irish airports being used for the purposes of extraordinary rendition, the kidnapping and torturing of individuals accused of terrorist involvement. It is not the action of a fully neutral Government to participate in European and NATO military structures.

Irish troops already serve at NATO headquarters in Brussels under the NATO-led Partnership for Peace initiative. They have participated in NATO-led missions, including in Afghanistan. There are also full-time EU military staff headquartered in Brussels, with whom Irish Army officers serve, along with various other committees and networks.

There is already a great deal of militarisation occurring. As a crucial starting point, that has implications for neutrality, which I will return to in a moment.

In so far as it is possible to work out what the Lisbon treaty, quite a complex document, is saying, the question is whether the new treaty significantly affects the existing scenario of EU and Irish militarisation, and, if so, whether it makes a difference for the better or worse. There are at least four specific proposals in the treaty, or elements of the treaty, that impact upon military matters. I will speak on military matters.

The first relates to a common defence arrangement, a very controversial issue. One of the articles of the treaty states that if a member state is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other member states shall have towards it an obligation of aid and assistance by all means in their power in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. There is also a solidarity clause, which expresses quite a similar commitment in many ways.

The Chairman has mentioned that this is Europe Day, commemorating a speech made by Robert Schuman, one of the founders of what would become the European Union. In its explanatory guide to the treaty, the Robert Schuman Foundation has described these clauses as "a vital step towards the development of European defence".

The Government insists that Ireland's so-called traditional concept of military neutrality is unaffected by these provisions. This raises very thorny, vexed issues of what exactly neutrality means. Not only is there no agreement on whether Ireland is actually neutral but the meaning of neutrality itself is quite unclear.

According to successive Governments, Ireland's military neutrality is characterised by non-membership of military alliances. That is a very narrow definition. In the first place, formal membership of a military alliance may not be the only measure of neutrality or its absence. For example, Ireland did not join a formal military alliance when, as I mentioned, it granted US troops transit facilities through Shannon. Even people who support that decision would not argue that Ireland has remained neutral vis-à-vis the conflict in Iraq.

The notion of what constitutes a formal military alliance is itself routinely reduced to participation, or non-participation, in a mutual defence pact. Participation in what are clearly military structures at EU level would strike most people, including those who approve or disapprove of them, as participation in some form of military alliance or at least joint military undertaking.

For many people, neutrality represents something other than this rather narrow and negative concept which the Government claims. Many people see neutrality as an opportunity for Ireland to actively engage in the affairs of the world, promoting in a fairly even-handed way the peaceful resolution of disputes, generally pursuing a foreign policy that is not militarily aggressive. That admirable stance is made more difficult when Ireland is seen to be so closely allied to the military objectives of powers such as the US in Iraq or France in Chad. I will return to the Chad issue in a moment.

Present trends, including the Lisbon treaty, would undermine the capacity for what I would term "active neutrality". Ireland is no longer neutral in many important respects and it would become less so under the Lisbon treaty. Its potential to play a positive role in the world — active neutrality — would be further eroded by the treaty. The question of common defence is the first military dimension of the treaty.

The second important innovation in the treaty is the extension of tasks that EU forces may engage in throughout the world under the treaty. At the moment, EU forces abroad in Chad or elsewhere can already engage in a very wide range of tasks and the treaty proposes that the range of tasks be extended to include, for example, military advice and assistance tasks and "supporting third countries in combating terrorism in their territories".

I will come back to the concern that external interventions by the European Union are being given a very wide legitimising framework and potential agenda for action. For example, claiming to be assisting a third country government in combating terrorism through the provision of military advice and assistance raises quite legitimate fears of autocratic rulers being facilitated to suppress opposition. That is not scaremongering and Chad provides a very concrete example of that fear.

The third military dimension of the treaty is it allowing states that wish to do their own thing in military affairs to do so under what is called permanent structured co-operation. Subsets of EU member states may pursue their own agendas for military integration and co-operation without necessarily involving all other member states. Crucially, as the treaty puts it, this must be done within the Union framework. Those subset operations can be undertaken on the basis of a qualified majority vote within the EU Council.

Ireland may choose not to participate directly in such initiatives but by virtue of its participation in the general business of EU military co-operation, including its financing, Ireland would help lay the basis for other states to engage in such co-operation. That co-operation would rightly be perceived as an EU undertaking, even if not all EU members were directly involved.

Incidentally, the Lisbon treaty makes no reference to the requirement of a UN mandate for an EU intervention. Ireland insists its own troops would never be deployed without a UN mandate but there is nothing to prevent troops from other countries, unavoidably backed up by Irish planning and financial resources, drawing on the support of an EU infrastructure, to launch such an intervention. Subgroups could do so without a UN mandate.

There is lip-service to the UN in the treaty but there is a more concrete and real commitment to another international organisation, NATO. A protocol of the treaty declares that a more assertive EU role will contribute to the vitality of a renewed NATO. We must ask ourselves whether we wish to help renew and revitalise NATO. These subgroups and so-called permanent structured co-operation are the third dimension of the military aspect.

The fourth dimension of the treaty vis-à-vis military affairs is that Ireland is being urged, at the very least, to increase military expenditure. An Article 28A to be included, stipulates that member states shall undertake progressively to improve their military capabilities. It gives formal treaty status to what is called the European Defence Agency, which is intended to co-ordinate and promote military expenditure. As one commentator noted, that appears to be, on the face of it, an entirely unique case of obligatory military expansion being written into a constitution or EU law. It is interesting that the treaty does not say member states shall undertake progressively to improve their education services or member states shall undertake progressively to improve their health services. It says member states shall undertake progressively to improve their military capabilities. That commitment is a very significant statement of intent on the part of the EU.

These are the four elements of the treaty that seem to me to be most relevant vis-à-vis militarisation. They are brought into sharp relief by the current intervention in Chad. The EU’s military intervention there is, ostensibly, intended to protect refugees from Sudan and displaced people within Chad. Over 400 Irish soldiers will be involved. French troops stationed in Chad have, for many years, been instrumental in keeping a dictator, Idriss Deby, in power. When Deby’s regime was attacked earlier this year French troops helped defend the airport, directly fired on rebels and ferried ammunition to Government troops. A French Green Party MEP stated that at the moment France is basically supporting a dictator and has done so for some time. Deby’s regime is not only corrupt and repressive, it also helps foment conflict in Darfur and neighbouring Sudan. Organisations such as Human Rights Watch have highlighted the regime’s responsibility for human rights abuses and the near total impunity that has accompanied those violations.

Rebels in Chad, who are also guilty of human rights violations, rightly see the French as their enemy. Given the activities of French forces over the years, it is highly probable that the rebels will not distinguish between French troops shoring up an autocratic Government and those nominally serving under an EU flag. It is significant for an Oireachtas committee that Dutch members of parliament have expressed concerns about Dutch participation in the mission for precisely this reason. A German MEP described the EU mission as highly irresponsible, especially in view of the fact that intelligence will be shared between the EU force and the longer standing French contingent.

Existing French assets, including aircraft and camp facilities, are being made available to the EU operation and more than half the EU force will be French. An Irishman has overall command of the operation but his headquarters are in France and the commander of forces on the ground will be French. Gérard Prunier, a leading French expert on French African policy, said Idriss Deby is hanging on to power by the skin of his teeth but is likely to hang on only as long as Paris and Brussels continue their support under some kind of pseudo-humanitarian, face-saving dispensation.

I sincerely wish Irish forces serving in Chad well and I sincerely hope that my fears prove unfounded. I hope Irish troops do not become entangled in a civil conflict in support of a dictator. However, I think the prospect is there and we must take it into account. This matter highlights the fears of many Irish people regarding the direction of Irish and EU military developments. Ireland's very honourable record of impartial participation in UN peacekeeping, which I would include under what I earlier termed active neutrality, could be compromised by participation in EU operations that serve as fig leaves for the promotion of the interests of the French state or other EU states.

It is here that the proposals to extend the tasks that EU forces can engage in set alarm bells ringing. "Military advice and assistance tasks" and "supporting third countries in combating terrorism" might come to constitute euphemisms for helping the likes of Idriss Deby suppress those who oppose his rule. I will grant that the Chad operation shows that worrying interventions can already be undertaken but the extension of allowable tasks could facilitate the mounting of even more disturbing interventions and could make such interventions easier in future. Given this real concern, it is unwise to undertake progressively to improve military capabilities when the ends to which those capabilities can be deployed are so obviously problematic.

That is the bulk of what I wanted to say. If I have a couple more minutes I will point out that the rest of the position paper goes into some detail around another aspect of EU policy, namely, development and trade policy. We examine the EU's record in trade negotiations with poorer countries and argue it is largely negative and has damaged the interests of those countries. This is how the Commission has used its existing powers in the area of development and trade policy, the Lisbon treaty proposes to give the Commission additional powers.

Its common commercial policy would be extended to allow it to cover trade in services, commercial aspects of intellectual property rights and foreign direct investment. If the Lisbon treaty is ratified, qualified majority voting will be applied at the level of the Council of Ministers for the conclusion of trade agreements. The Irish veto on trade and agriculture was given away in 1997 under the Amsterdam treaty. If farmers are unhappy with the deal Commissioner Peter Mandelson negotiates at the World Trade Organisation, WTO, talks there is no capacity for an Irish veto and the second speaker may wish to comment on this. This will be extended to the services sector if the Lisbon treaty is passed.

The global liberalisation agenda will be advanced under the Lisbon treaty and this is a significant concern. We highlight the fact that this treaty refers to prohibiting all restrictions on the movement of capital between member states and between member states and third countries. We point to the fact that the treaty refers to the progressive abolition of restrictions on international trade and on foreign direct investment. The treaty says that the EU's negotiating stance in international trade negotiations must be exercised in the pursuit of the liberalisation of capital and trade in goods and services. We argue that legally ensuring this seems unlikely to advance the interests of poor countries. On those grounds alone there is an argument for rejecting the treaty.

The question I posed at the outset was whether the Lisbon treaty will change Irish participation in European and military structures for better or worse. I think it will constitute a change for the worse. We are moving closer to a collective defence arrangement, the range of tasks Irish and European forces may engage in will be extended, subgroups of EU members may use EU resources for external actions and member states are being urged to increase military spending. Such actions would be guided by an overarching commitment to trade liberalisation and other components of an external agenda prejudicial to the interests of poor countries. In short, the EU seeks to acquire enhanced military resources and options and there are strong grounds for doubting that such enhancements would be deployed in ways that would promote justice, peace, human rights and development. For these reasons there is a strong case for rejecting the treaty and voting "No" in the forthcoming referendum.

I thank Dr. Storey and call on our second guest speaker, Mr. Matt Dempsey.

Mr. Matt Dempsey

I thank the Chairman, Deputies and Senators, committee members and the ladies and gentlemen present in the audience. I am honoured to be asked by the committee to attend this meeting and partake in the subsequent debate. I thank the committee for giving me the opportunity to express my views on this matter.

Are there any farmers in the audience?

There would be few.

Mr. Matt Dempsey

I would like to briefly outline the direction I am coming from. After those of the Independent group and The Irish Times, the Irish Farmers’ Journal is the largest selling newspaper in the country. Its sales far exceed those of the Irish Examiner, the Sunday Business Post and so on. In many ways the Irish Farmers’ Journal encapsulates what Europe stands for. It was founded with private money in the late 1940s or early 1950s and in the mid 1960s the then owner, a farmer from County Meath who was well-off but not rich, was approached by Lord Thomson of England, who owned a string of regional papers and The Sunday Times. He sought to buy the newspaper to set up an Irish base. The owner gave the paper, without any payment, to a charitable trust and it exists under that trust arrangement to this day. The newspaper’s directors receive no fees and it has no shareholders who receive a dividend. The only objective of we who work for the newspaper is to serve the sector to the best of our ability and we continually try to improve the product.

I am not suggesting that I come from a philanthropic base but I hope my point of view aims to gauge what is in the long-term interest of the country and the agricultural sector, in the broadest sense. Underlying this must be an ethical view on what life is about and that is why I wanted to start with this subject. The preamble to the treaty refers to the cultural, religious and humanistic traditions of Europe and what they are based on. Those of us trying to prepare for life or trying to prepare our families for life must have something they can hang on to and aspire to. The European Union has been in existence from the mid-to-late 1950s until now. For those who would vote "No"— and we would have to accept, presumably, that they come from a base of belief — are we saying that the same rules that were applied for six or nine or 12 member states are adequate for 27? Nobody would be criticised more quickly than the new Taoiseach if he put 27 members around the Cabinet table, because there are not 27 sensible jobs available. There is a range of areas in which this is essentially a tidying-up exercise, which is badly needed. There is not that much of a fundamental nature. I will mention some of the specific points that have been raised in this regard, but what we are talking about is less use of the veto — although it will still exist.

Incidentally, while I am on the question of the veto, we met the French Minister for Agriculture this morning. This man is a former Commissioner, former Minister for Foreign Affairs and now Minister for Agriculture, which shows the sensible position of agriculture in the French hierarchy. However, this is a biased view. Before we began the conference, he stated clearly that at the end of the WTO discussions either Ireland or France or both of us could veto the agreement if we wished and it would not go ahead. He said that at the moment the French are not satisfied with the agreement and it is not adequate but obviously it is the President's call as to whether the veto is used. He mentioned this without any prompting from me or any of the other press representatives that were there.

In a wider sense, do we say that we have arrived at a place in the Union and we are not going any further, despite the clear institutional handicaps to progress that exist? To use Parnell's famous phrase, are we setting a boundary to the march of a nation and shouting "Stop"? That is not the way life is. In our private and other lives we must aim for improvement. If we grow we must take on the extra responsibilities that growth entails. When we hear about the Burmese junta not letting in humanitarian aid and the European community standing by, not able to take any action because this type of facility has not been afforded to it by the electorate, we must consider that as we have some of the richest countries in the world and such ideals of which we can be proud, maybe it is time to take on some new powers.

I do not know how many of those present have been to Dubrovnik. I was there two years ago. The shells are still there and the marks from incidents of ethnic cleansing are still just up the road. I think it was this that spurred countries that have a real responsibility, given their wealth, their population, their strategic locations, their history and their sense of what is appropriate and right, to take a more developed view as to what is ethically the right thing to do in certain circumstances. That is the position we must take.

Those of my generation will remember, in the narrow agricultural sense, that one of the main features of the year was the announcement from the House of Commons of the new British prices. A small trickle of that translated into a small quota of butter and beef that could be exported to Britain. On the general run of products, we faced competition in terms of lamb and dairy products from New Zealand and beef from the Argentine. If we wanted to help our farmers we did it from our national Exchequer. That has all been forgotten; eaten bread is soon forgotten. Nevertheless, it is worth reminding ourselves that when the huge IMP plant at Leixlip, only down the western road, closed, it was replaced by the Hewlett-Packard plant and the Intel plant. They are not here because we are such nice people. If we had pursued a policy of self-sufficiency, insularity, and isolation, would we find ourselves the welcome target of people coming to this island, for a change, for work, fairness, equity and a better way of life?

This, ultimately, is what Europe has meant to us. It has meant that our farmers have right of access to Europe and our children have a right of access across Europe for jobs. I do not know how many of those present have children working in the financial services sector. I have, as it happens. They are mobile at the drop of a hat between Frankfurt, London and Dublin. A few of them were in the house with my eldest son the other day and he explained that with the fall-out from the sub-prime crisis in Wall Street, the visas for European workers at Banque Nationale de Paris in the US were not being renewed because the jobs must go to American citizens. Are we really saying that there are hypothetical problems a long way down the line if we pass a treaty such as the Lisbon treaty? Or do we take a conscious decision, saying that we have arrived at a certain point and that we will ignore the constitutional imperatives that need to be tidied up as part of this treaty, live in our own shell and not look outside, and not assess our wider responsibilities?

Agriculture is a genuinely worldwide activity. As editor of the Irish Farmers’ Journal, I have been fortunate enough to visit quite a few countries. I remember delivering some seeds to a monastery in Nigeria. On a main road of about 110 miles, we were held up 16 times by armed thugs looking for bribes so that we might continue on our journey. Are we seriously saying we should retreat into our shell and be wary in case we go down a slippery road of providing armed help, in the form of peacekeeping facilities, to countries such as this? Are we saying we have no obligation to tackle the widespread corruption we see around us? Why has Europe been a target for membership by all of eastern Europe? Some of those present must have travelled widely in eastern Europe before the fall of communism. In these countries, half the population seemed to be paid by the state to keep an eye on the other half. Let us not forget the freedom we enjoy, the media to which we have access, the sheer unadulterated life that can be given to human beings. This is what this advancement is about.

I want to deal briefly with the question of military involvement. This strikes an emotional chord with a significant section of the Irish population. That is fine. It also strikes an emotional chord — perhaps even more so, given their history — with the Swedes. Yet the Swedes have accepted this. When they came to Dublin we quizzed them on how they coped with neutrality. Their Minister, I remember, became quite upset and irate and took a view that we were insulting the Swedish tradition of neutrality and insinuating that they were colluding with its erosion. She rebutted both allegations forcibly and with conviction and I was certainly happy. Others of us accept the triple-lock mechanism, whereby the Government, the Houses of the Oireachtas and the UN must first sanction military action before Ireland can participate in it. What other safeguards do we want or need? Do we want an eternal safeguard against every hypothetical problem that might arise in 50, 100 or 200 years? Life is not like that. We must face the realities as we find them. The safeguards are clearly there. I am aghast that anybody can seriously suggest that, while we have a perfect right to stand aside from military involvement, we should actually insist on having, effectively, the power of veto to prevent other member states pursuing what they consider to be right as a major international bloc. Given the history of Europe and its role in the world, that is a bridge way too far.

As I see it, on the development side, we have lost our sugar industry. The ostensible reason was that it was unfair to developing countries. I believe this was wrong. The abolition of our sugar industry has put developing countries at a disadvantage. I was heartened to hear the Minister, Monsieur Bernier, say today that the problem with a large part of the present WTO deal is that it does not respect the obligation of the rich to help the developing world. We seem to have forgotten so easily that the European Union, uniquely in the world, gives free access to its markets for every product produced by the 50 poorest countries of the world, the exception being arms. That means every single product, from agricultural to industrial to services. Those of the audience who have travelled abroad cannot, in my view, but be proud to belong to a bloc that has taken its obligations of aid to the Third World so seriously and is continuing to strive to put more effective mechanisms in place.

I have gone through the treaty to the best of my ability. I am not saying that it is not limited. However, I can find hardly any point about which I have reservations, and a great deal that encourages me, not merely to vote "Yes" but also to encourage those with whom I am fortunate enough to come in contact, to vote "Yes".

Well done. I thank the guest speakers. We have here the whole spectrum of European evolution. The concerns and aspirations of both sides have been well and truly demonstrated. This brings us to the interesting point when the committee calls on speakers from the floor to take their seats in the front row and come to the platform. Each speaker will have three minutes and can be interrupted by committee members without erosion of his or her time. We also have the right to call the speaker to a halt after three minutes.

I wish to introduce my colleagues on the platform. From my extreme right, although not ideologically, of course, are Deputy Noel Treacy, Deputy Denis Naughten, Senator Terry Leyden, and Deputy Joe Costello, all the way from Dublin, who has participated in all the debates. Some of the speakers are members of the committee, others are standing in for members who come from other areas. From my extreme left, again not ideologically, are Senator Nicky McFadden, our guest speaker, Deputy Mary O'Rourke——

From Athlone. The two speakers on my left are in their home base and are both very welcome. Deputy Mary O'Rourke is a member of the committee. Senator McFadden is standing in for a member.

Speakers must give their names and details of organisations if they are involved in such. Their words will become part of an Oireachtas committee report on the Lisbon treaty.

Mr. David McKay

I thank the committee for the opportunity to say something about the Lisbon treaty. My name is David McKay and I am from an organisation called People Before Profit that is opposed to the treaty for various reasons. One of the main reasons is related to points the first speaker made about the militarisation of Europe. I am for Europe but not for a Europe that wishes to spend more and more money on weapons of war to kill people. I am for a Europe that wishes to spend more on health and education. In the Lisbon treaty there is no aspiration, doctrine or clause that expresses desire to spend more on these. There is aspiration to spend more on weapons. I believe that will take Europe down a completely different direction, one I would oppose and would argue for others also to oppose.

The other point I wish to make relates to the broad question of democracy. I have been to some of these meetings before. Most of the speakers from the platform have said that there will be more democracy and that things will be more open. Yet I find it appalling and disgusting that, while people say the Lisbon treaty opens up democracy, Ireland is the only country that has been given a chance to practise that democracy by voting on the treaty. Votes were taken in France and in the Netherlands, and Ireland itself voted against different forms of this treaty in the past. I believe that one reason people are not being given the opportunity to vote is that the European Union actually does not want people to vote on this issue. The British people were told by Tony Blair, supposedly, that they would get a vote and then it was stopped. The leaders in two or three other countries in Europe said that an opportunity to vote would be provided but the option was taken away from the people.

It is not in the powers of the committee here, obviously, to change that situation but I do find it disgusting that while we talk here about the Lisbon treaty taking people on a whole new way forward, the people of Europe are not being given a chance to vote on this. The other fear I have is that once the Lisbon treaty is ratified — or not, depending on how Ireland votes — there will be very little opportunity to change anything. Rather than increasing democracy I see the treaty as eroding it.

We will hear two sets of questions and then call on members to respond.

Councillor Paul Hogan

I am Paul Hogan, mayor of Athlone and a member of Sinn Féin. I welcome the opportunity to speak at this Oireachtas committee meeting on the EU. I should say at the outset that I regard myself as a proud European, proud of Europe and what it has done. However, listening to the speakers here, I noticed very little reference to the Lisbon treaty itself. Very few speakers mentioned specific articles. I have listened to the "Yes" debate on an ongoing basis since the issue has come to the fore, even in local newspapers. Very few speakers are willing to reference specific articles of the treaty and I wonder why that is the case.

People say that the Lisbon treaty will make the EU more democratic. They mention the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the citizens' initiative. The charter was the carrot for us to vote for the Treaty of Nice. Yet, after that treaty went through, on its second round, the carrot suddenly became a political objective. A person who is involved in politics every day knows exactly what happens to political objectives. They are put on the long finger.

The citizens' initiative requires 1 million votes across the member states to be brought before the Commission which is then obliged to review the proposal in question. They are not obliged in law, however, to do anything about it which means that the citizens' initiative is a very weak tool. As Mr. McKay has said, there is specific reference under Article 28(a) for increased military spending. Everyone may have views on that point but there is no specific reference to increased spending in education, health or in any other public services.

A speaker from IBEC at the National Forum for Europe on 29 April stated that a "Yes" vote for the Lisbon treaty "creates the potential for increased opportunities for Irish business, particularly in areas subject to increasing liberalisation such as health, education, transport, energy and environment". Does this mean that the treaty is paving the way for privatisation of these services? They should remain State owned public services.

Article 113 of the treaty is topical as it deals with the veto for tax harmonisation. Why are we discussing the veto? Is tax harmonisation on the agenda? The French will assume the Presidency of the European Council later this year. A Minister from the French Government, Ms Christine Lagarde, said recently in a statement that the French Government intends to press ahead with a common corporation tax base. That we are talking about vetoes at all means it is on the agenda and it is in the treaty under Article 113. We discussed companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Intel and Elan here in Athlone. If there is a common corporation tax base those businesses will not remain here. That has been pointed out by the editor of the Irish Farmers’ Journal. We discussed climate change——

That is not what he said to be fair to him.

Mr. Paul Hogan

There seems to be an argument that climate change is addressed in the treaty. What is in the treaty is a mere six additional words on climate change. There are 24 times the number of words on space exploration than climate change. Does that show our priorities? The Government has failed to negotiate the deal we deserve with this Lisbon treaty.

We previously discussed the matter of water charges and while it is not related to the Lisbon treaty it was an EU directive under the 1992 Maastricht treaty. This brings me to my final point. What is in this treaty and what makes it more democratic? We will lose half our current voting rights at Council. Ratifying the treaty will mean for five years out of every 15, where the decisions will be made, we will be without a commissioner. That is a fact. It means that we are reduced to 0.08% of a say in Europe. Is that good for a country like this in a remote location? This is my last point——

The speaker is in his fourth minute.

Mr. Paul Hogan

——Deputy Bertie Ahern and a French Minister were quoted as saying that 96% of the constitution which was rejected by France and the Netherlands is contained in this treaty. Mr. Giuliano Amato said what is good about the Lisbon treaty is that it is not called a constitution which means that we will not need a referendum to ratify it. This means the people will not have their say.

I thank Mr. Hogan, who had three minutes to speak. Before I call Deputy Mary O'Rourke, I wish to state that what the French and the Dutch did is not our business. We are an independent sovereign State and it is our right to make a decision based on our involvement in the European project as an independent entity, not influenced by anybody else. For the European Parliament the proposed ratio of parliamentarians to the population in this country — this is already incorporated in the treaty — will be 300,000:1 and in Germany it will be 840,000:1, so we have not lost much.

I thank the Chairman and the committee for coming to Athlone, and I thank everybody who turned up this evening. I know the Chairman wishes us to address the comments made by speakers so I will address the points made by Mr. David McKay. He mentioned that other countries are not voting on the treaty, but we are doing so. We are concerned about our country and we are lucky that we have a Constitution to which we must adhere. Mr. Raymond Crotty took a court case in 1987, the result of which implied and made clear that if we want to make additions or changes to our constitution and it was deemed that any European decision would affect it, then the citizens would have to vote on the matter. I am proud that our country has a vote and I am not worried that the other countries do not. Everybody in this room has a vote. I therefore do not see how Mr. McKay can lay this at our door as a fault. He said the treaty represents an erosion of democracy, but it is quite the opposite. Everyone will have a vote on 12 June——

Mr. David McKay

The other 26 countries are not getting a vote.

I am sorry if he has not, he must not be on the register, but everyone who is will have a vote. There can be nothing more democratic than that.

Mr. David McKay

The other 26 countries are not getting a vote.

I am not here to fight for France and Germany——

Only one speaker at a time, please.

I am here to fight for Ireland, not any other country.

I will now address the points made by Mr. Paul Hogan, who is a very good chairman of the town council and Mayor of Athlone. He mentioned the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which is associated with the treaty. The citizens' initiative is a start and if there is matter which people feel is worth legislating for across Europe, then we can propose that law and it will be considered. I recognise the point made about there being no compulsion to consider every proposal and maybe not every law would be a good law, but it certainly would receive serious consideration. We can then move on from that as a beginning.

Mr. Hogan said that while there is increased mention of military spending there is no mention of spending on education and health. However, these are matters of subsidiarity, which is a great big word that I like to use, but what it means is that domestic parliaments will deal with initiatives, spending plans and priorities on matters which affect them. Such matters as education and health are domestic, national Government matters and it is up the Government, whatever hue it may be, to plan spending on education and health. It is not a matter for Europe.

Mr. Paul Hogan

Can these public services——

We will come back to that point again. We will let each speaker respond. I want to be clear about this. The speaker from the platform is responding to the questions raised. We will give other speakers the opportunity to speak again but they should not interrupt.

I did not interrupt Mr. Hogan.

Only the Chairman can interrupt.

Mr. Paul Hogan

Can I come back in?

Mr. Hogan must admit that we did not interrupt him when he spoke. Health and education will remain the concern of the Government. Mr. Hogan mentioned the proposed increase in military spending. However, the European project was set up to ensure that there would never again be world wars, or countries demolished or countries led into untold difficulties. Of course some countries will need to increase military spending. We are committed to having peace enforcement and that is the reason our soldiers are gone to Chad and the reason they were in the Congo and the Lebannon. These projects account for increased military spending.

Mr. Hogan mentioned climate change and regardless of whether we wanted it we have embraced the Green Party which is determined to address climate change. We believe there will be progress in this area.

Mr. Hogan referred to the diminution of representation and the Chairman provided figures to illustrate this is not the case. In Ireland we have one elected MEP for every 300,000 people, whereas in Germany it is one for every 800,000. We are represented quite well. Nobody wants to own up to losing a commissioner. After several years we will lose one, but so will the UK, Germany and France each of which has two commissioners. The proposed changes represent a complete levelling of the pitch with regard to commissioners as each country will have the same losses and gains in the distribution of commissioners. These are the matters raised. I am proud that we have a vote here. We fight Ireland's fight.

Mr. Hogan made the point about Hewlett-Packard, Elan and other companies but we have the veto on taxation. Nobody can take that from us. We cannot stop anyone wishing to bring forward a motion or a matter regarding equality of taxation but we have the right, lámh in ard, to say "No" and that is what we will say because that is what we have been mandated to do.

There is not a witch behind every bush, so to speak, in this treaty. People have every right to say "No" to the treaty as I have every right to say "Yes" but I do not go around looking for witches behind bushes or fearing the next ogre that might emerge from Europe. I am happy and positive about being a member of a Europe committed to equality, democracy and opportunities for people including the right to travel, as Mr. Dempsey said, the right for young people to have jobs and to travel throughout Europe and have that ease of mobility my generation never had. They can go to their local institute of technology, get their qualifications, perhaps get further qualifications, get a passport and away they go. The world is their oyster.

I thank Deputy O'Rourke. I call Deputy Joe Costello.

I am delighted to be in Athlone and have an opportunity to answer some questions. Deputy O'Rourke covered a good deal of ground in her contribution. I will try to concentrate on some of the same issues but different aspects of them.

The issue of militarisation and Irish neutrality has come up in the debates on all the treaties and the argument is made on each occasion that we have reached the doomsday situation where Ireland is no longer neutral, it is now tied into a European common defence policy, we will have a European army and woe betide us. That is not provided for in the treaty.

Ireland can only be involved in a military mission or civil action, because the Garda is involved as well, in accordance with the triple lock mechanism, which means that where there is a specific United Nations mandate or a decision of the plenary Council on which our Parliament votes. There is no other way we can be involved in a military mission. That is what happened in Chad. The United Nations wanted the European Union to put a force into Chad. Ireland agreed to be part of that force. There was a specific UN mandate for it. That is how it happened. There is no mystery or conspiracy about it. It does not make us a militarised country.

To take a step backwards from that, the European Union itself and countries in the European Union have different views on the issue of NATO and so on because most countries in Europe are members of NATO for different historical reasons. Some joined after the Second World War. Others joined at the time of the fall of the iron curtain because they were afraid of ever having to live again under a totalitarian regime. We did not. Five other members of the European Union that are members are neutral countries as well.

Nevertheless, in regard to the Common Foreign and Security Policy, the Lisbon treaty states categorically that, first, the European Union cannot get involved in any military mission unless that military mission is in accordance with the United Nations Charter.

Dr. Andy Storey

It is not a mandate.

Nobody said it was a mandate. That is the Irish extra demand in it but for every other European country it is in accordance with the United Nations Charter.

Second, it must be in accordance with international law and, third, it must be in accordance with the principles of democracy. Those are the rules for the European Union. Ireland has upped the bar a stage further with the triple lock mechanism. That must be recognised. We are not being pushed into any military activity that is not in the context of peacekeeping, conflict resolution, peace-making, humanitarian aid or what are called the Petersberg Tasks.

On the article Mr. Hogan mentioned about tax harmonisation, Article 1.13 has nothing to do with our corporate tax regime, the so-called tax harmonisation. It is about indirect taxes. It is about turnover tax, customs and excise taxes. It is not about corporate tax. In Belfast yesterday, the British Prime Minister, Mr. Gordon Brown, said that the British Government has no intention of allowing any form of tax harmonisation to be established. Ireland and Britain have the veto. That is two countries that have said they will not allow it. There is no sense in trailing those red herrings because they have nothing to do with the treaty.

On the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the difference now is that when the Nice treaty was being passed in 2002 the charter existed as a declaration. It had no legal standing. When we pass the referendum on the Lisbon reform treaty, which I hope we will, and ratify it on 12 June, the Charter of Fundamental Rights will have legal standing. It will be legally binding. It is no longer a declaration and it is very strong on workers' rights, equality, women's rights and the environment, which raises the issue of climate change. Mr. Hogan said there were only six words in regard to climate change. That is not true. They are six important words that give a legal commitment to climate change but the Charter of Fundamental Rights specifically states that all European policy and legislation must be defined in the context of the sustainability of the planet, including climate change. He should read the whole treaty and he will see that it is covered strongly.

On public services, Mr. Hogan said that what we will have in that regard is the liberalisation of public services. That is not true. Protocol 9 deals with that. There are two references to public services. One refers to general services, which are the ordinary services such as health and education. As Deputy O'Rourke said, the European Union has no competence, power or right to interfere with the way each member state conducts its education policy, provision or funding, or its health funding. It does not have any say in the matter because it was not given the power to have a say in it. These are items of subsidiarity. Each member state deals with them.

The services of general economic interest would be to do with semi-State bodies such as Bus Éireann, Iarnród Éireann, Aer Lingus and others. They are services of general economic interest that can be of a semi-State nature. What has happened is that instead of liberalisation we have the opposite. For the first time we have been given a legal basis whereby we can regulate those public services in the interest of the community rather than free for all liberalisation. In the past we could have given money to Aer Lingus if we wished and stopped it from being privatised but we did not do that. Currently, under the European reform treaty we can still do that. There is no interference with it but as well as that we now have a legal basis for putting forward legally binding regulations to ensure that situation is maintained. That is a strong commitment and it is the opposite to the liberalisation about which we have heard.

Deputy Naughten wishes to speak. Following his contribution, I will return to the floor and bring in speakers who wish to contribute a second time, but I also want to encourage those who have not spoken to contribute.

Like Deputy O'Rourke, I welcome those present to my home town of Athlone. I am delighted the committee is meeting here and thank Deputy O'Rourke and her colleagues for holding one of the series of meetings in Athlone. The process in which the committee is involved is useful. I hope that as a result of it, people will have much more information on what is or is not contained in the treaty when it comes to casting their vote on 12 June.

I wish to comment on a number of issues, the first of which concerns military capabilities. We are meeting in the home town of the western command from which the majority of the 400 personnel who will serve in Chad come. We all wish them well in that task. There is provision in the treaty for progressively improving military capabilities. As Deputy Costello said, it relates to the Petersberg Tasks which include peacekeeping, conflict prevention and humanitarian tasks. Dr. Storey mentioned the issue in the context of providing assistance. However, a fundamental issue is being ignored — it is the elephant in the corner of the room. What would happen if an incident such as that which occurred in the United States with the hijacking of aeroplanes were to occur here with a place in Ireland being a target? Would we call on the Defence Forces to shoot down such an aeroplane? We do not have the capability to do this. That is the stark reality in terms of our military capability. Switzerland, a neutral country, has put significant resources into its miliary capability to be able to claim neutrality in the manner in which it has.

Mr. Paul Hogan mentioned the issue of military spending, as did the previous speaker, and they made the argument in the context of education and health needs. As Deputy O'Rourke said, as these do not form part of the competencies of the European Union, it cannot be involved in them. I do not want more money to be invested in the health service, given that the budget for health spending increased by a factor of five during the past ten years. We spend €15 billion on health services and while such expenditure has increased from €3.5 billion ten years ago, standards in the health service have deteriorated. The issue is how such expenditure is being managed by the Health Service Executive. It should be our priority to have that issue addressed.

Mr. Hogan also mentioned the issue of liberalisation, claiming that it means privatisation. The European Union has introduced such regulation. The energy sector is a good example. State companies such as Bord na Móna, Bord Gáis and the ESB are very much involved. The ESB has invested significant amounts of money in the United Kingdom, Poland and other EU member states and capitalised on this investment. That State company has been successful in gaining new opportunities. The introduction of regulation does not necessarily lead to privatisation.

I wish to return to a point made about climate change. It is a serious issue that cannot be ignored at European level. As Deputy Costello said, there may be only a few words referring to it in the treaty but they are crucial. Between 1987 and 1998 the average number of climate related disasters throughout the world was 195. Between 2000 and 2006 that figure rose to 365, an 87% increase. Some 40 million people, mainly in Africa and Asia, are affected by this issue annually and no one is giving leadership. The European Union can and will give leadership and take ownership of the issue, through the treaty, and support developing countries.

Mr. Matt Dempsey was correct in what he said about the Everything But Arms agreement, but he did not point out that the 50 poorest countries in the world have preferential access to the European Union over other countries. At the World Trade Organisation talks countries such as Brazil, Argentina, New Zealand and Australia are fighting to secure the same access, which would mean that the 50 poorest countries and their economies would be decimated. This happened in the case of the sugar industry. The countries producing that commodity do not now have the preferential access to the Union that they once enjoyed. They were the countries that supported European farmers and the retention of the status quo because it was in their interests to do so.

We need a European Union that can make decisions. It is tied up in bureaucracy and it is about time we eliminated some of it. The treaty provides a mechanism to do this.

Following a brief intervention by an earlier speaker, we will hear from three more speakers on the platform. I encourage people who have not spoken to come forward and take seats in the front row in order that I can catch their eye.

I wish to quickly make a correction. I believe Dr. Storey quoted Article 49 dealing with the mutual defence clause. The article continues:“This shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain Member States”. That clause was inserted by the Government to secure and protect our neutrality.

A speaker mentioned the issue of privatisation which was also mentioned by a Sinn Féin representative during last Thursday night's meeting of the committee in Dundalk. Eircom was selected as an example of where privatisation had gone wrong and it was argued that we should vote against the treaty because of this. However, there is another issue. What about all the other European countries which have telecommunications systems that are working well? The telecommunications sectors of even some of the latecomers to the European Union from eastern Europe which were in the communist bloc are working very well. It is not as a result of the European Union that the system has not worked in the way it should. We have to perfect it. Privatisation works very well in the United States. We may not have yet perfected it to the same extent here, but it is working throughout Europe. Many more are employed in the telecommunications sector now than ten or 15 years ago. Such privatisation creates competition.

I wish to make a further point about the Commission. Reference was made to the loss of our commissioner for a period, but that is a positive development. While few would agree with me, having been a member of this committee for 26 years, I believe this is the most positive development that has occurred because it will eliminate the notion that a member state owns a commissioner. It was never intended that a member state would own a commissioner and regard him or her as its commissioner. The Commission is supposed to act collectively in the interests of all member states of the European Union. I do not want to delay the meeting but people should know about this. The Commission represents all the people who are entitled to assert their rights. Reference was made to the petitions committee in that regard. There is such access and it was provided for for a purpose.

The concerns expressed about the agriculture sector would not have arisen if the Lisbon treaty had been passed five years ago, as there would not have been an opportunity for a single Commissioner to go on a solo run. I was a member of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs at the time of the debate on CAP reform. All the NGOs lobbied for CAP reform along the lines proposed. I was one of those who resolutely spoke against this on the basis that the CAP reforms proposed and ultimately being pursued by Commissioner Peter Mandelson would not be in the interests of European producers or poor farmers in Africa. Unfortunately, I was right. I did know I would be at the time but it has transpired that I was.

The next speaker who has already had three minutes to make his point seeks clarification on a particular matter. I will then invite others to speak, to be followed by three more speakers from the platform.

Mr. David McKay

Thank you for the opportunity to speak again. Clarification is coming from the floor to the platform. Various speakers said health and education are subsidiary. That effectively sums it up. It puts health and education lower down the list.

They were not subsidiary — the word is "subsidiarity". That is a different matter.

Mr. David McKay

I do not think it is. To me it is putting health and education, the welfare of the 450 million people of Europe, lower down than spending on weapons. That is what I get from the Lisbon treaty.

I do not believe that.

It is in the hands of the member states.

It has nothing to do with "subsidiary". It is subsidiarity.

Mr. David McKay

My interpretation of what you are saying is that the Lisbon treaty puts militarisation centrally up there.

Just a second.

Mr. David McKay

The Chairman is interrupting me. I thought the European Union was about democracy.

I will not stop you from speaking. I want to clarify something. Militarism is not above health, education and the rest.

Mr. David McKay

I want my opportunity to speak.

You had three minutes and you are getting a second three minutes.

Mr. David McKay

I have not had three minutes.

Nobody will curtail your right to speak. So-called militarism arises from something already said by other speakers. Mr. Matt Dempsey referred to somebody visiting Dubrovnik, as I did. I also visited Mostar. A few years ago a small force of Dutch UN peacekeepers protecting safe havens in Bosnia was overcome or surrendered. Whatever happened, there was no European security system that could intervene. Eight thousand people were slaughtered in a week in a safe haven. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. As a result of that, the European Union decided there should be some means whereby member states could come to each other's assistance in the event of their being vulnerable. This has been referred to by Deputy Joe Costello and others. It is important that we clarify these matters. There is no question of putting defence and security at a higher level. Previously there was no competence to do anything. Nothing could be done by the Dutch, the French, the Germans, the Italians or the Russians, who all had a history in this area. As a result, this treaty proposes peace enforcement. With the consent of the United Nations, the European Union has the right to defend. We looked at our televisions every night when all those people were being slaughtered and said it was a awful thing, but nobody did anything about it.

Mr. David McKay

Why is the European Union not doing something about the people who misdiagnosed the cancer in Irish hospitals? Why is the European Union not doing something about the thousands of people lying on hospital trollies in Ireland and possibly in other European states? These are the areas I would like to see covered in a treaty, not militarisation. Thank you.

That is not within the competence of the European Union; it is the competence of the member states.

You cannot have it every way.

We will hear a new speaker. Your name, please, and the organisation to which you belong.

Mr. Micheál Ó Faoiláin

Micheál Ó Faoiláin is ainm dom. I am a member of Fianna Fáil and proud of it. It is a great opportunity to address an Oireachtas committee in Athlone. It is a bit daunting. Quite a number of people here hold views contrary to views expressed from the floor. In 1971 when the original referendum was held, I campaigned against it, with many of the trade unions and the Labour Party. We were desperately and horrendously wrong. Membership brought something which had not been seen since the Act of Union in 1800, namely huge amounts of funding, not only for infrastructure such as roads, sewerage, harbours, airports and so on, but also badly needed funding for the education system, particularly the regional colleges and institutes of technology. This was one of the major pillars for the take-off of the economy. The term "Celtic tiger" is beginning to be used in a disparaging way, but it certainly created many opportunities and much contentment. We have really found ourselves as a nation in the past few years. It is under threat at the moment, but perhaps that is not really what the Lisbon treaty is about.

There have been many questions about increased military funding within member states. I recall from my study of politics that it is the fundamental duty of any government to protect democracy and when democracy is under threat the government has an obligation to raise an army or defence force. Let there be no doubt that democracy is under huge threat in the modern world. We have seen this on the edge of the European Union in places like Serbia and Dubrovnik. Real people died in that ethnic cleansing and they were very close to creating a great deal of trouble, even within the EU.

I was very much in favour of our neutrality in the past, but the world has changed. We find ourselves in a privileged position in the sense that we can help. I was particularly taken by the impassioned pleas of John O'Shea regarding intervention in Darfur. We can hypothesise and talk all we like about it, but there is a huge humanitarian disaster there and the soldiers of this town are helping in a tremendous way. If people want to use us as pawns of the French, as has been suggested, they take us, our Government, our Army and our organisations as fools. That is really insulting.

A claim was made that a mutual defence pact is part of Article 50. If that means we have to go to the aid of France if it is attacked, and the French have to come to our aid if we are attacked, I think we are getting the better part of that bargain. In this town, more jobs in connection with the military are welcome. It is the use to which the military are put that is the real question.

There are many other issues involved. I accept the point made by Deputy Joe Costello about the charter and references to climate change. While all the regulations can be made and all governments can make points about it, ultimately it comes down to the rights and obligations of individuals. If those rights and obligations are stated in the charter, those conditions of the Lisbon treaty are well worth supporting. Ultimately it is a matter of trust. The people proposing a "Yes" vote on this treaty have led us in the right direction. In this case there is cross-party leadership. It is the most significant cross-party issue in a long time. I am prepared to accept their opinion rather than read and interpret every point. I accept their assurances.

Thank you for having us in Athlone. I also thank Deputy O'Rourke and Deputy Naughten for hosting us. It is great to be in this town.

I have listened with great interest to what has been said. Dr. Storey referred to the worry about common defence. Over the centuries, when we needed help, where did we look? We looked to Europe, to the French, the Germans, the Spanish. Eight hundred years of conflict on the island of Ireland between North and South, Catholic and Protestant, Unionists and Nationalists, concluded this week with the opening of the visitors' centre at the Boyne by the outgoing Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, and First Minister, Dr. Ian Paisley. Did we ever think to see it in our lifetime? In 1968, 1969 and 1970 when I was a student, there was a clamour to do something about the serious conflict in Northern Ireland. We had a serious conflict in Northern Ireland for 30 years from 1969. There was a clamour to do something about it. We could not do it ourselves and could not trust our great neighbours, so it seemed we would have to bring in the Europeans. However, the EU could not come in as honest brokers, peace enforcers or negotiators because there was no competence to do that within the laws of the European Union in successive treaties from the founding treaty in 1957 right up to today.

The European project was initiated in 1957 in a post-war environment after two desperate world wars in which millions had died. Visionary leaders such as Monnet, Schuman and de Gaulle got together to establish this great project for peace, progress, proper politics and prosperity for all the people in the original six countries. Ireland joined in 1973 along with Britain and Denmark. In 1994, the Union expanded to 15 members, in 2004 to 25 and now we have 27 members. How can one run the same operation with 27 members as one did in 1957 with only six? We must refine the structures to have greater competences and legal enforcement positions. We must all live under the law. We can presume to be wonderfully virtuous people but unless rules, regulations and laws are enforced, some people might not conform to the norms of humanity that apply to society at large. That is what the Lisbon treaty is all about — it is vesting power in individual citizens and it mirrors our own Constitution.

The European Charter of Fundamental Rights guarantees the right to liberty and security, respect for private and family life, protection of personal data, and the right to marry and found a family. Deputy O'Rourke already mentioned the principle of subsidiarity whereby the laws of Ireland concerning marriage are protected within the Lisbon treaty. Therefore, our marriage laws will prevail in Ireland, while UK and French laws will prevail in the United Kingdom and France, respectively. The charter also guarantees freedoms of assembly and association, expression and information, education, integrity of the person, the right to life and human dignity, prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and the prohibition of slavery and forced labour. The charter states: "The peoples of Europe, in creating an ever closer union among them, are resolved to share a peaceful future based on common values". That is what this is all about.

As Deputy Naughten pointed out, Athlone is a famous military town, historically linked with the great General Custume. Are we saying that in a modern Ireland we will have our soldiers in Chad or elsewhere without proper technology, resources or back-up facilities? Should we not arm our military, giving its members the right to defend themselves and, as Micheál Ó Faoiláin so eloquently said, protect those to whom they have a responsibility? We cannot operate in a cavalry situation that pertained in the 17th century when Custume and his men were here. Things move on. As a global player in a new world, the EU must have the resources and capacity to provide operational balance in the world, along with the United States, China, Japan and the emerging powers. We need such a balance and it is critically important to have it.

I listened to Councillor Hogan and I thank everybody who has spoken. In particular, I thank our two guest speakers. Mr. Dempsey made an outstanding summation of the role of Europe and the treaty itself. I thank him sincerely. I also wish to thank Dr. Storey for his contribution. I have heard him before and his presence here has given balance to the debate. Councillor Hogan spoke about climate change and space exploration. We are a small island. We are fortunate to be an island nation and, although it has disadvantages, it also has huge advantages. As a little country we have played to those advantages over the years. People should ask themselves what we can do about climate change on our own — a very small amount.

Going back to the point about voting, 0.8% is probably what we can contribute in Europe. Our vote in Europe is 0.8%, which represents 0.8% of the population of Europe. That is absolute equality. My colleagues on the top table who have been present in the Council of Ministers and various other European fora can confirm that in all the years we have been there, since 1973, we have never been pushed, shoved, coerced or driven into any decision. Matters are negotiated and debated before a consensual conclusion is arrived at in the interests of the common good of every citizen of the European Union.

Councillor Hogan spoke about space exploration as if it was a dangerous thing. The European space exploration programme is worth €100 million per annum to Ireland. We have researchers, scientists, technologists, communications specialists, software programmers and manufacturers, all of whom are involved in the space programme as a result of our membership of the EU.

The Common Agricultural Policy, which is vital for our farmers and future food security, is protected within the treaty. If we say "No" to the treaty we will be turning our backs on the opportunities and support we have received. As an tÚasal Ó Faoiláin said, an average of €2 billion per annum has come into this country since 1973.

Since the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 we have received in excess of €1 billion for the peace programmes in Northern Ireland. In the current peace programme, which starts this year and runs for three years, we have €333 million to embed the peace process, deliver structures, engender mutual respect and understanding, and provide new systems and facilities so that we can all live in peace, harmony, progress and prosperity thanks to the great European Union. This is about the common good of each individual citizen and the goodwill of all our people working together and coming closer together.

I wish to re-endorse what Deputy O'Rourke said. Mr. McKay talked about investment in health, but these are matters for each member state. Ireland is one of 27 EU member states and that is our responsibility. We are creating a refined structure so that we can have a collaborative and supportive partnership to ensure that Europe is a better place with better institutional systems to serve citizens in a more effective, efficient, positive and practical manner in future.

I will bring in our two Senators in just a minute but first I will call on another speaker from the floor.

Mr. John Kelly

My name is John Kelly. I wish to mention one or two small matters. I will not delay anyone. I served under the UN flag for approximately eight years, following two Israeli invasions and the Gulf War. The troops were addressed the other day by the Minister for Defence, Deputy Willie O'Dea. The UN flag I served under had a UN badge, but the troops who went abroad the other day did not have a UN badge. The badge under which they were deployed carries a higher risk. If I were a married man with a family I would think more than I did before, even though I was younger when I went out. The risk is that bit higher going out with the badge under which they operate at the moment. The commanding officer of the Irish contingent is conducting troops on the ground, while I think he is actually in France himself, although I could be wrong about that.

The co-ordinating centre is in France.

Mr. John Kelly

It is co-ordinated from France, yes.

The co-ordinating centre is in Paris but his operational office is in Chad.

Mr. John Kelly

Yes but automatically the troops are more at risk. In the Lebanon, for example, if Irish troops were to be targeted in a certain area, they would bomb or shoot at that area, whatever the case may be. In Chad, if they wanted to get through to the French or any other nationality — I am not picking on the French in particular — they would become part and parcel of the higher risk category. No matter, however, because they are out there at the moment. I would like somebody to explain the Laval and Rüffert cases to me. I am not sure about them so maybe one of the speakers might be able to explain them to me afterwards.

The Government mentioned that the Irish Ferries case did not happen on the island, it happened off the island. There was a technicality involved. Does that mean that in future, if it is a "Yes" vote, any company that comes in from a foreign country — it does not matter what country, be it Poland, Latvia or Slovakia — can operate according to their local rules? If people from any of these countries take over a company here, does that mean that if the referendum is passed, they can hire 200 or 1,000 people from their country and pay them the national wage in that country? If that is what it means, it will drive down Irish wages. We are not saying "No" to the treaty and "No" to the UN but we are saying "No" to the treaty in the sense that we would like to negotiate a better deal on some of the issues. In many ways, it is good and Europe was great for us at the start. However, as Mr. David McKay mentioned, it has changed direction of late.

I heard Councillor Paul Hogan mention the different articles involved. I did not hear many articles mentioned by the "Yes" side in regard to what is and what is not on the agenda.

The likes of Bus Éireann, which has been running the show in regard to school transport for years, is at great risk. There is a huge company waiting in the wings to take over. It will wipe the slate clean and will not pay monthly like Bus Éireann does. Children are transported to and from school which means parents do not have to transport them and can get on with their work. The Government is not moving on that at present and J. F. Dunne Insurances in Dublin is collecting money from bus companies to do legal work on it.

At present we are on a level playing pitch. However, there is a risk and it would be sad to see the likes of Bus Éireann and many other companies go. If there is a free for all, it will drive down wages in Ireland.

I find it hard to favour a "Yes" vote having listened to Councillor Paul Hogan and a few people. I would like if somebody would explain the Laval and Rüffert cases.

Mr. Fran Barnwell

I will comment on some of the last points raised, although I had not intended touching on them at all. I was involved in the trade union movement for 35 years in this town and at national level, particularly in the communications industry. I am looking at this issue from the point of view of employment law. I am not an expert in employment law but I refer to some of the issues raised by the last speaker. I very much welcome the fact that after much study, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the Labour Party, two very prominent bodies in regard to labour affairs and issues such as legislation, are quite satisfied there is nothing serious in the treaty from the point of view of any threat to the rights of workers. Deputy Joe Costello emphasised that point earlier.

On the question of the health service and education, I am amazed by the degree of opposition to the treaty on that basis. If I thought responsibility for education and health was being shifted to Europe, I would argue against this treaty. The very people opposed to the treaty want to hand over competence for them to Europe. By God, if that was the case, the treaty would certainly deserve to be thrown out.

The first point Mr. John Kelly made was about the UN badge. He said he served under the UN banner which is fantastic. There is a very proud record of Irish soldiers serving abroad since 1958 or 1959. Irish soldiers first served in the Congo. The United Nations specifically asked the European Union to carry out missions for it and to set up the capability to do so. KFOR, for example, resulted from a request from the United Nations. If Ireland gets involved in Chad with the European Union, it does so under a UN mandate. The blue beret may not be worn but Ireland is there under a UN mandate. That is the key issue.

I refer to the Laval, Rüffert, Viking and Irish Ferries cases. Some of the countries concerned were new accession states in which wages would have been lower than in Ireland or Sweden where the Laval case arose. The Rüffert case arose in Germany.

The Laval people negotiated with the trade union movement in their home country, Latvia, but did not negotiate with the Swedish trade union movement. It was paying minimum Swedish rates. The Swedish trade union movement decided to place a picket the company because those rates were lower than the going rate for the job. Not only did it place a picket on the particular operation Laval had set up but it also placed pickets on all the other Laval operations in Sweden. It engaged in what is called "secondary picketing", which is illegal in Ireland. In any case, that would not have happened in Ireland.

The Laval company then appealed to the European Court of Justice for a decision on the matter. The European Court of Justice decided the Swedish trade union movement was quite entitled to engage in industrial action and to place pickets on the company but was not entitled to place pickets on every Laval operation in Sweden. The European Court of Justice decision was on the proportionality of the action. At the same time, it upheld the minimum wage and the right to strike. However, that was seen as a partial defeat for the trade union movement.

The Rüffert case was along the same lines. These cases related to the posting of workers directive which was transposed into law by Ireland and all EU countries. It relates to the manner in which workers from other countries are employed. In some countries, the posting of workers directive was transposed into domestic legislation in a very weak fashion and it did not protect workers to the degree it might. Any solution required can be produced by the member states by tightening up the posting of workers directive.

Another big issue is that of agency workers which is subject to the temporary agency workers directive the European Union has drawn up. Workers come to Ireland from other countries as temporary workers and they are paid less than Irish workers in the same position, so there is not equal treatment. Unfortunately, what has happened is that the Irish, British and Polish Governments have opposed its adoption. Therefore, we need to put pressure on the Government to ensure workers get their entitlements.

The Irish Ferries situation was our version of these cases. It related to services directive from the European Union for which Mr. Charlie McCreevy was responsible. There was a major concern that this directive would allow a race to the bottom in terms of wages paid in low cost and low wage economies in eastern Europe in that workers in Irish Ferries would be paid at the rate they would have been paid in Poland from where they had come. There was much pressure applied and the services directive was amended to ensure that workers were paid in the host country as distinct from the country from which they came. The posting of workers directive is one that still must be stored out. I do not know whether that explains the matter.

The situation will not arise in the future in that form. When I was in Brussels a couple of weeks ago I met Commissioner Spidla, the Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, who told me that if the Charter of Fundamental Rights had been in place when the Laval and Rüffert cases were going through, those cases would have been decided differently by the European Court of Justice because at the time, even though they referred to the charter, they could only refer to it as a declaration. They could not refer to the charter as a legally binding document, which gives it that extra strength for the protection of workers.

On Bus Éireann and privatisation, the situation there is quite simple. The European Union is totally neutral about privatisation. It is up to the member state. If the member state wants to privatise, it privatises. If it does not want to privatise, it does not privatise. Europe does not impose privatisation on any country.

I am delighted that we got an opportunity to bring the Joint Committee on European Affairs to Athlone and throughout the country to discuss this issue. I am delighted with the strong participation here tonight. It is encouraging to see such activity.

Ireland, of the 27 countries, is the only country to hold a referendum to ratify the Lisbon reform treaty and it will be held on 12 June. I am delighted that we have a Constitution that demands we hold a referendum, and that it is decided, not by the TDs and Senators of the national Parliament but by the people. Everyone has an equal vote on 12 June to ratify this Lisbon reform treaty. People must study it and ensure that it is in the best interests of their families, of their communities and of the country.

With 4.2 million people deciding on the future of 500 million people in the European Union, we have a major responsibility. Surely it is in our best interests, from a general point of view before going into the specifics of the treaty itself, that this is a major decision for us to make and Europe is certainly watching us in this regard.

What more influence would we have over the Commission or anybody else, if we voted "No" on 12 June? Our influence would be diminished. We are enhancing our position and we are retaining our unique position in the European Union. We have benefited greatly from membership of the Union since 1973.

The treaty provides for a new voting system in the Council of Ministers to make decisions more effective and a greater role for national parliaments. All legislation proposed by the European Union will be sent to the Dáil and Seanad to be scrutinised and to decide whether that competence should be at national parliament level or European Union level. That is not the case at present and it would give a particular role to Members of the Oireachtas.

There will be a rotating system of membership of the European Commission. I was not particularly keen about this. Somebody asked at one of the meetings was I happy with everything in the Lisbon reform treaty. I am not, but I am happy with enough of it to vote "Yes" on 12 June. The rotating system of membership of the European Commission is interesting. In ten out of 15 years every country will have a commissioner. France, Britain, Germany and Italy had two commissioners at one stage; now they have one. There is one Commission with 27 commissioners at present. Under the new system in two or three years time, if this is ratified, each country will lose a commissioner for a period of five years. We will be treated the same as Germany, Britain, France, Italy, Slovenia or any other country. In fairness, what we lose, other countries will lose equally. Of course the ultimate decision is made at the Council of Prime Ministers and Presidents.

There will also be a full-time president of the European Council to co-ordinate and chair EU summit meetings appointed on a two and a half year basis. That will be decided by the Council of Ministers on the recommendation of the Commission. It sounds like a good idea to have someone as a figure head. It could yet be an Irish figurehead. We could have a good candidate coming from this country for that job.

A high representative for foreign affairs and security policy will bring greater coherence to the Union's approach to foreign policy. He or she will not be a foreign minister as such, but will have a co-ordinating role.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights is given legally binding status by the treaty. That charter is very important. Although each member state of the European Union has signed up to the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the Union itself has not done so. Recently in Strasbourg, it was agreed by the Council of Europe to enter into negotiations with the European Union so that when the ratification of the treaty comes about, the Charter of Fundamental Rights would be brought in as part and parcel of it. It is worthwhile highlighting this important issue.

The treaty does not affect our neutrality. This is being brought up time and time again to try to damage every referendum — Nice I, Nice II and now the Lisbon treaty. It is not part of the Lisbon reform treaty. Our neutrality is laid out clearly and our participation in Chad, Kosovo or anywhere else is decided by the Oireachtas only on the basis of UN mandate. Other than that, we will not be participating in any peacekeeping operation. We are proud of our peacekeeping operations. We should be proud of them, and what Athlone has contributed in that regard through Custume Barracks. That issue does not arise.

The 12.5% corporate tax rate is retained. We would be voting against this treaty if there was any case of a lessening of that situation. The 12.5% rate is retained and we have a veto on that. We will protect that as absolutely essential for the retention of jobs in this country, particularly in multinationals who are here because of our tax regime and would be elsewhere if the tax regime was changed. We must protect that and defend it at all costs.

Nobody has mentioned abortion. It does not arise in the Lisbon reform treaty. It is not part of the treaty.

It is a good treaty. It is good for Ireland. We have benefited from Europe. It is better for us to be inside with influence looking out rather than outside with very little influence looking in. That is why I advocate a "Yes" vote on 12 June and I hope that many people will turn out and vote "Yes" as well.

I am sorry that Councillor Paul Hogan had to go. I thank him for his contribution.

I am delighted that the Joint Committee on European Affairs has chosen to be in Athlone on 9 May, the day on which in 1950 the French Foreign Minister, Mr. Robert Schuman, stated:

Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity.

Mr. Schuman was correct. There have been many concrete achievements for us in Ireland. One or two matters came to mind while Mr. John Kelly was stating that we did well out of Europe. I thought about the bridge across the River Shannon that brings Roscommon and Westmeath close together and the amount of money it cost. I thought about the CE schemes in place which are really good for our communities. I believe that we have benefited considerably from Europe.

Earlier we discussed service industries. The areas of energy, banking and telecommunications have all been transformed because of our membership of the EU. Sadly, the Celtic tiger is a distant memory and we are going through uncertain times for the first time in 15 years. It is imperative that we pass this treaty so that we have the confidence of being part of a greater Europe.

The other grave concern is that within a generation — approximately 70 years — China will probably be the most powerful country in the world, with America and Russia holding their own. Europe will only account for 7% of the world's population at that stage. We must, therefore, have this international clout. It is imperative that the treaty is not rejected.

We are responsible for our own domestic policies in the areas of health and education. It is wrong to state the European Union can affect these policies. It is the responsibility of the Government to get the health service in order.

I am about to bring in our guest speakers again because they have the right of reply. However, I wish to respond on the points raised in respect of Chad. It is correct to state the Defence Forces' undertaking in Chad is different from any in which they have been previously involved. However, they are highly regarded throughout Europe and by the United Nations. That is why the Dáil spent a great deal of time discussing the deployment of Irish troops to Chad. The debate on the matter was lengthy and the Minister returned to the Dáil on several occasions to answer questions regarding the safety of our troops and concerns about logistics, armaments, support, communications and supplies and transport. The issue of supply and transport is near and dear to the hearts of all military people. I was going to suggest that if a situation similar to that in Bosnia arose and Irish troops were asked to provide assistance, the Defence Forces would, of their own volition, be more than willing to participate. They have their own views regarding what happened in the past.

On the concept of the treaty, it was suggested at one of our previous meetings that a better deal could be obtained. Perhaps we might not obtain such a deal and the one which has already been reached is the best that can be achieved. We are at the centre of Europe — we are the driving force — and entitled to dictate, in so far as is possible, what happens in the 27-member European Union. It was suggested in certain quarters that we should use the analogy of the Good Friday Agreement. The latter is a treaty which encompasses all of the diverse and contradictory views on this island. It is true that there are many contradictions, otherwise there would be no need for a treaty. If the view of only one side is reflected, it is not a treaty. In the same way, the European reform treaty encompasses the views of 27 member states. The latter have their concerns about matters such as tax harmonisation, for example, and their aspirations which are all wound into the fabric of the treaty which was drafted in this way because the governments of the member states requested that it be so in order that the rights of individual states would be protected.

My final point relates to consensus politics, a matter to which Deputy Costello and one of the speakers from the floor referred. Consensus politics is an important concept. Members of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party are on this platform, all of whom have attended our meetings in the past five or six weeks at considerable inconvenience to themselves. It can honestly be said they would not have done so unless they had a deep belief this important matter needs to be dealt with and that they want to make a contribution in respect of it. I do not agree with the concept of consensus politics. If, however, an issue arises which is of fundamental importance to the well-being of the people, in such circumstances I would be glad to encourage consensus politics. That is why the three major political parties are represented on the platform. Sinn Féin's Oireachtas representatives and MEPs are also entitled to sit on the platform and have done so at previous meetings.

Mr. John Kelly referred to Bus Éireann. I was in charge of Bus Éireann for five years and he and I know one another very well. I am glad to see him here. The only people who can get rid of Bus Éireann are those who are members of the Government. They will not being doing so and neither would any Government of any hue. The European Union has nothing to do with Bus Éireann which is an Irish State company. There is nobody waiting or willing to wipe it out. Mr. Kelly referred to children being brought to school. Some 55% of the Bus Éireann fleet which is devoted to bringing children to school is in the hands of private operators which are subcontracted by Bus Éireann. What Mr. Kelly fears is not going to happen. Bus Éireann and the private operators will be okay.

Well done. Excellent stuff.

In 1999 the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Science produced a report on school transport. The Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Michael Kitt, served as Chairman on that committee and I drafted the report on its behalf. It was agreed by the members of that all-party committee that the school transport system should not be privatised. A strong argument was made by private operators that it should be. However, the committee took the alternative view because privatisation had been tried on a previous occasion in County Laois and had proved a disaster. The report to which I refer is available on the website of the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Mr. Matt Dempsey

The attention that has been shown by the audience and the Oireachtas Members demonstrates the importance of this issue and people's interest in it. We in the media may have fallen down to date in not providing enough easily absorbed information. Ironically, my colleague on the other side and I may not have quoted enough articles on the treaty, per se. We are probably slow to do so. Apart from the preamble, Article 4 clearly states the existing competences such as those relating to health and education rest with the existing member states. The article also states it will be as close as possible to the citizen. Article 12 gives an additional role to national parliaments. Article 15 states the European Council — this involves the Heads of Government — shall act by consensus. Article 17 gives an equal footing to every member state — this is astonishing, particularly when one considers the position of countries as large as Germany and Britain — at the European Commission. I do not mean to be in any way disparaging towards Sinn Féin but I allow myself a wry smile when I hear it call for the maintenance of a low tax regime for big business. That appears to fly in the face of everything I understand Sinn Féin to stand for. Article 113 is very clear: it only deals with indirect tax because corporate tax is specifically excluded. The articles can easily be referred to and if people are of the view that the media should cover them on an individual basis, the Irish Farmers’ Journal and its subsidiary publications will certainly do so.

Having listened to the various opinions put forward at this meeting, any fair-minded person would be obliged to come to the conclusion that we have not heard one valid reason or even suggestion the treaty should be rejected. We have a duty to ensure a bloc of 27 countries works as well as possible and that it recognises its responsibilities across a range of areas while also bearing in mind that it must earn its living in the real world. This is not an easy matter with which to deal. What has been achieved by the European Union so far shows that humanity can be combined with efficiency and economic growth. We lack the raw, uncontrolled capitalism of the United States but at the same time we also lack the deadening hand of the total socialistic involvement which so crippled eastern Europe. It is in order to search out that middle way, which shows respect for individual rights and efficiency, while also implementing long range measures to ensure our security, well-being and economic growth, that is the reason this further building block is being put in place. I commend the treaty to anyone whose mind is not fully made up.

Dr. Andy Storey

The Charter of Fundamental Rights which was referred to a great deal only protects fundamental rights in so far as they do not restrict other rights in the treaty, including crucially the freedom to provide services across national borders — the internal market. That is the significance of the European Court of Justice rulings in the Laval and other cases. The right of a Latvian company in the Laval case to provide services in Sweden overrode the collective union agreements negotiated in the state. That gives an indication of the liberalising trend and it was right to pinpoint it.

Deputy Costello has argued that the health and education sectors are protected by the treaty. If they are, why is the veto being removed in trade negotiations? If the Commission did not want to open up these services to competition, why is it seeking to remove the veto? It makes no sense. It can only be interpreted as part of an overall liberalising agenda, which is not guaranteed to produce privatisation but will provide openings for privatisation.

I agree what the French and Dutch did is their own business but the contempt with which their rejection of the constitution was treated is a good signal of the way in which and the arrogance with which this project is proceeding. Rejecting the treaty would not just be a statement on the part of the Irish electorate, it would be a statement of solidarity with the disenfranchised populations of France and Holland. Unlike Deputy O'Rourke, I am concerned about the welfare of people outside Ireland, including those in France and the Netherlands but also further afield. That is where our concerns are coming from. How will the treaty impact on people outside the European Union?

Reference was made to African countries having duty free access to everything in the European market but arms. That is true but in practice it produces few gains for them. Economic partnership agreements which the European Union has been negotiating with developing countries and the general agreement on trade and services are much more significant, as both have sought to reduce trade barriers on the part of poor countries with damaging impacts on specific developing countries. The proof of the pudding in many ways is in the eating in what the European Union does on the trade side. Everybody claims to be trying to protect the interests of the poor.

We should look at what they do, not at what they claim to do. The same principle applies in the military area. Many references were made to the Balkans, including to people dying there. Up to 2,000 people died at the hands of NATO forces in the bombing of Serbia and Kosovo in 1999 which was unanimously endorsed by the European Union. Amnesty International conclusively established that NATO had committed war crimes during the prosecution of that campaign, including the dropping of cluster bombs. Unexploded cluster bombs killed 50 people in the years after the conflict up to the end of the last century.

As Mr. Dempsey said, rich countries have ideals and responsibilities and that they should adopt ethical positions. That is not at issue but the question concerns what they do, not what they should do or what they say they do. In practice, they claimed to engage in peacekeeping but they dropped unexploded cluster munitions that killed children in Kosovo. They claim to protect democracy but they invaded Iraq and killed hundreds of thousands of people. They claim to combat terrorism but they bombed wedding parties in Afghanistan. Again, NATO forces were responsible for this. They cause humanitarian catastrophes by the blockade of Gaza and the refusal to negotiate with Hamas, a position endorsed by the European Union.

In recent years the French Government has backed a genocidal dictator in Rwanda and a dictator in Chad. That is what they do in practice. The question concerns what they do, not what they say they do. This is what they do with their existing military powers. Is it wise to give them additional military powers in that context? It also cocerns what they do with their existing trade and development powers. Is it wise to give them such additional powers? I am wary of giving them such powers. Contrary to what Mr. Dempsey said, we should not retreat into our own shell but, first, should practice the hippocratic principle to do no harm. We have being doing harm at Irish and European level with our trade and military policies. The usage of Shannon Airport by US troops has created the spectre of a terrorist attack on Ireland, a hypothetical scenario referred to by a previous speaker.

The major scenario is not hypothetical and I refer again to Chad. I absolutely respect the history of UN service. The Chad mission was debated in the Dáil but I fear the House got it wrong. The UN mandate is in place but it is not, as Deputy Costello suggested, that the United Nations objectively reviewed the situation and approached the European Union to commit a mission to Chad. The French Government pushed for multilateral support of its existing unilateral support of the Chadian Government. It was looking for a fig leaf to prop up what was becoming an increasingly unsupportable and reprehensible policy. Sadly, we have ended up buying into it. It is a dangerous situation in which troops of the western command, including from this town, are involved. It is real and dangerous stuff. It is happening right now and has nothing to do with protecting democracy or peace. We should not take it on trust, as somebody said. We should explore it and examine the agendas behind it, not what people claim it is.

In terms of the way the meeting has proceeded, with all due respect, shouting down and shouting over speakers from the audience is not a useful way of conducting what is supposed to be a consultative exercise. There is a cosy, patronising, smug and clubby atmosphere on the platform. It was stated not one valid reason or suggestion had been made for voting "No". Many valid reasons and suggestions have been made for voting "No". One can choose to reject them but one should not pretend to ignore them. There are valid reasons for voting "No" and I hope as many as possible will do so on 12 June.

I reject absolutely any suggestion there was an attempt to shout anybody down. Each speaker was invited to speak for three minutes and some were given a second and third opportunity. They went way over three minutes on both counts. It is disingenuous to make that suggestion. We have gone out of our way to allow people who have a view opposed to the majority of speakers on the platform to contribute, notwithstanding the fact that the people elected the representatives on the platform, with the exception of our two guest speakers.

Dr. Storey should join the club.

Dr. Andy Storey

I do not want to be a member of any club——

He should run for election.

As Dr. Storey will be aware working for an NGO, a great deal of discussion takes place nowadays as to when and where a country should intervene to prevent killing. Rwanda is a case in point. A total of 800,000 people were killed.

Dr. Andy Storey

I worked in Rwanda in 1995. I know the situation better than any of the committee members.

I am aware of that. No attempt was made at that point to intervene.

Dr. Andy Storey

Yes, there was. The French Government intervened on behalf of the genocidal Government of Rwanda. That is a fact.

It failed to intervene in a way to stop it.

Dr. Andy Storey

It did not fail to intervene. The French intervened to support a genocidal regime.

Dr. Storey did not tell us how the conflict could have been resolved.

Dr. Andy Storey

I know how it could have been stopped when we made threats.

We will not go there. I thank Dr. Storey for attending and giving us his views. Likewise, I thank Mr. Dempsey for attending. Both guests travelled at enormous personal inconvenience to give their views. We do not always agree with the views we hear but that is not our job. Our job is to produce a report based on the information brought to our attention, having regard to the discussions that have taken place. I also thank the committee members who have consistently attended the meetings. I thank the staff from Leinster House, including the recording staff, translator, ushers and committee secretariat.

Every directive that comes from Europe is discussed by either the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs or the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Scrutiny, more thoroughly than ever before. This happens is because we now have the resources. Therefore, anything that may happen will have been or is about to be discussed. Last week a gentleman attending the meeting mentioned some change that had been made and said that Brussels forced it upon the Irish people. It did not. I was a member of the committee at the time and the issue was discussed at length. It was also discussed at length in the Dáil and by every county council throughout the country. The decision arrived at did not please everybody, but that is the way it happens.

I thank the audience for attending tonight. I thank in particular those who raised questions and came to the platform to voice their concerns. We hope that as a result some of their concerns have been addressed. We vote on 12 June and hope the outcome will be conclusive and positive for the Irish people. Our next meeting is on Tuesday, 13 May 2008 at 2 p.m. and our next regional public meeting will take place in the Millennium Theatre, Limerick Institute of Technology at 8 p.m. on Thursday, 15 May 2008.

The joint committee adjourned at 10.35 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 13 May 2008.