Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Tuesday, 29 Sep 2009

Lisbon Treaty: Discussion with Leader of the Green Party.

In continuing the committee's policy of inviting the various party leaders in the Oireachtas to appear before it to give their views on the Lisbon treaty and the reasons for and against it, as the case may be, today the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, is here and the usual format applies. We have apologies from Deputies Pat Breen, Joe Costello, Joanna Tuffy, Michael Mulcahy, Beverly Flynn, Billy Timmins and Lucinda Creighton and Senator Terry Leyden. The usual citation applies in regard to the inadvertent or otherwise use of the names of persons outside the House who might be identified by Members of the Oireachtas who have privilege. The procedure is not to identify people who are outside the House in a way that might potentially defame them.

We will follow the usual format, that is, an opening statement from the party leader for approximately 15 minutes and then a response from members, followed by closing remarks from the party leader, the Minister, Deputy Gormley. He is very welcome and I ask him to make his presentation.

I am very pleased to be here this afternoon. I thank the committee for its invitation and congratulate it on the vital work it does on European Union issues, which were for too long neglected by all national parliaments. I note that if the Lisbon treaty is ratified, as I believe it will be, the Oireachtas will have even more responsibilities and powers to vet EU laws.

My colleagues and I in the Green Party have been asking people to vote "Yes" on Friday for a number of very positive reasons. I firmly believe a better organised Europe, which can tackle climate change and protect our rights and the environment, is worth supporting and I am convinced the Lisbon treaty promotes and advances those aims. I am also asking voters to say "Yes" on Friday because I believe our concerns have been dealt with in a declaration signed by 27 EU Heads of Government.

I have worked all of my adult life on things which protect the environment. The Lisbon treaty gives the EU new roles in the fields of climate change and energy which will have the potential to make a major impact on our lives. Many people of this generation do not really think these issues are too important right now. However, in 30 years' time, and perhaps far less, people will have realised that these are the defining issues of this generation.

I also believe the Lisbon treaty will consolidate workers' rights and build on the great advances which helped the EU deliver on women's rights in Ireland. It was the EU which delivered equal pay for women, a move initially opposed by the Dublin Government. The Lisbon treaty, specifically through Article 23 of the Charter for Fundamental Rights, builds on all the advances towards gender equality by preventing workplace discrimination.

More important, the treaty also allows the EU to take tougher action against criminals involved in the abominable business of people trafficking under Article 83 (1) of the Treaty on European Union. The Lisbon treaty will also improve democracy within the European Union. The Oireachtas, in common with other national parliaments, will have more say in shaping EU laws under Article 12 of the Treaty on European Union. Deputies and Senators can combine with members of other national parliaments to show a yellow card to draft EU laws which are opposed by more than a third of parliaments.

I am particularly pleased to see Article 11(4) of the Treaty on European Union catering for the provision of the citizens' initiative. It creates the possibility of 1 million citizens coming together and requesting the European Commission to take action on a particular issue. This was something I proposed while working on the Convention on the Future of Europe which cleared the way for the forerunner of the Lisbon treaty, the EU constitution.

The Lisbon treaty also gives more power to the European Parliament, which is leading the way in producing good progressive laws. Over the past few years it has taken the lead in working to phase out dangerous chemicals, to reduce emissions from cars. It has played an important role in stopping big companies from taking our patents on software, which would hamper innovation and could result in monopolies and price rises for software users. Thus, under Lisbon, our Deputies, Senators and MEPs have more powers and the people electing the Deputies and MEPs will have more powers as a result.

Since I came to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government over two years ago, much of my work has involved ensuring that Ireland joins with other countries in taking strong action to tackle the effects of climate change. It makes perfect sense that Ireland acts with the European Union on this issue. In Copenhagen in December, the EU will represent Ireland at talks to agree targets and actions for tackling climate change. These talks are aimed at producing a follow-up agreement to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

We know with a very good degree of certainty that rising sea levels and flooding will be one consequence of climate change. Here in Ireland, and in western Europe generally, we might be smug enough to think we can cope with what is coming but I believe that to be a dangerous assumption. As so many Irish aid organisations have eloquently and graphically argued, there are tens, perhaps hundreds of millions of people around the world, especially in Africa, India and along the equator, who simply do not have the money or the expertise to prepare for the enormous and catastrophic consequences of what climate change will do to them. Droughts, desertification, floods, monsoons, storms and tsunamis will be more and more common. Crops will fail and clean drinking water will become even more scarce than it is now. It will be a living nightmare. There are many things we can do at a personal level and as a country, to tackle climate change but to really make a difference we can work together in the European Union. By combining their strength the 27 countries of the EU, nearly 500 million people, can commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and ask the rest of the world to match that effort.

Article 191 of the Treaty for the Functioning of the European Union, provides for the promotion of measures to combat climate change as part of the Union's environmental competence. I am proud to say this reference was included at the request of the Irish Government. Article 191 of the Treaty for the Functioning of the European Union, will give the Union a specific basis for promoting international action against climate change. This is an important provision. It has been cynically derided by advocates of a "No" vote because it is a brief reference. History, however, teaches that some of the briefest references can prove to be most significant. It is important here because it gives the European Union the legal basis for joint action. It is just a beginning. In future disputes between environmentalists and big business, the European Court of Justice will be able to act. If the Lisbon treaty is passed the EU can justifiably push all the harder for an ambitious deal at the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen this December.

Ireland is at the tail-end of a supply line of expensive and dirty oil and gas much of which comes from politically unstable regions and supplies are running out. The Lisbon treaty gives the European Union new competences in the field of energy under Article 195 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It is up to the Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas and the Government now and in the future to ensure this blossoms, as it can, into policies which continue to promote the creation of interlinked EU-wide energy grids based mainly on renewable energy sources. There is no reason wind and wave power from Ireland, hydropower from Scandinavia and solar power from Spain cannot power our industries and homes in the future. This can best be advanced by the European Union and the Lisbon treaty points the way.

The Government's own research has shown that one of the people's key concerns around the Lisbon treaty has been about the erosion of Ireland's traditional neutrality. Since its foundation the Green Party has been to the forefront in articulating concerns about the importance of Irish neutrality. I am satisfied that if Irish voters endorse the EU Lisbon treaty on Friday, decisions on defence and foreign policy will continue to be made unanimously. We have secured a guarantee from the EU leaders' summit that Ireland's military neutrality will be respected. Irish neutrality will not in any respect be affected or prejudiced by the treaty.

I insist that these guarantees are binding. All 27 EU governments have endorsed them. There is no precedent in the European Union's 52 year history where such guarantees were not respected. Such guarantees have always been respected and at all events we have received assurances that these guarantees will be given full legal status in a forthcoming EU treaty to remove any ambiguity.

The European Defence Agency has also been a matter of concern. Members of the committee know that this agency was established in 2004 to help EU member states to develop defence capabilities. There were concerns that Irish participation in the agency might undermine Irish neutrality. I am glad to say we worked very hard with our Government partners to address this very issue. Earlier this month the European Defence Agency Bill 2009 was cleared by the Cabinet and published. This legislation means that both Cabinet and Dáil approval will be required for participation in EDA projects or programmes. The Green Party insisted upon this to ensure the right amount of transparency and oversight. We insisted upon the removal of any shadow over the issue of neutrality. Separate legislation will also be worked on to restrict all State agencies from promoting an armaments industry in Ireland, while work will continue on a new White Paper on defence for the period 2011 to 2020, as agreed in the programme for Government.

There are many positive reasons for the people to say "Yes" to the Lisbon treaty on Friday. I thank the committee for its attention and would welcome questions.

I thank the Minister for his contribution. Looking back two years, at global and European level, climate change was being given priority, with major changes and co-operation forthcoming at the time. Due to the financial crisis that has affected most countries, climate change has since not been given the priority we would like and which is necessary. How can the Minister assure voters that a vote to endorse the treaty will lead to climate change being given the priority it deserves? Does he accept that we have not explained clearly to the people the enormous difficulties and challenges thrown up by the issue?

I thank the Minister, Deputy Gormley, for attending. I was interested in the thrust of his contribution, which is about our future based on climate change, one he believes will be far better if we endorse the Lisbon treaty in that it will give us more clout in the Copenhagen summit where we are due to address the important climate change motion.

To follow on from what Deputy Power said, I seek the Minister's reassurance that shortage of finance does not mean there will be a shortage of commitment to climate change. It is hugely important that the emphasis upon it is kept up and strengthened because the dangers increase and if the dangers which abound with regard to our environment are not checked. Ireland, on the tail end of Europe, will not feel snug as everything will come down to us, so to speak.

I was also interested in comments the Minister made last week during a visit with some children. I am not sure if they came to the Minister or he visited them but the school children said the "No" posters had the greater impact on them. I was very taken by that because I had been going on for ages about the way lies can make an impact when it is very difficult to make an impact with a true statement, such as the Minister laid out earlier, as well as those from some of the other party leaders who came before the committee. I realise it is a little late to seek advice on how to combat lies but at the same time what the children said to the Minister is amazing. The child's mind is unclouded and is able to discern things swiftly. The children the Minister met were able to say clearly to him that the "No" posters had a greater impact on them, particularly the one on a minimum wage, which is a lie. I have no hesitation in using that word because it states that Europe will impose a minimum wage of €1.84, which is untrue. Also, we have not taken enough account of the fact that the starkness of the untruths is difficult to combat. People ask why we are so negative. We are negative because we have to say "No" first before we get an opportunity to say "Yes", which is extremely difficult.

I very much welcome the emphasis on the Minister's field of activity, namely, climate change, energy security and all of those issues. It is difficult sometimes to whip up enthusiasm about those matters, which I believe did not feature enough in both sides of the debate on Lisbon. However, I thank the Minister for his contribution and his obvious enthusiasm for his brief.

I thank the Minister, Deputy Gormley, for addressing the committee this afternoon. I will emphasise three points in response to his contribution and then put a question to him.

First, the Minister made an important point in his contribution when he emphasised that in respect of the guarantees Ireland has received, even before they are ratified by other European countries, it has never been the case that guarantees of that kind were not respected by other European countries in the history of the European Union in all its different incarnations. In the period before those guarantees are ratified, as I know they will be, that point cannot be emphasised enough in the final days of the debate.

Second, the Minister's contribution concluded with reference to the European Defence Agency Bill published earlier in the year. That is a new development from the previous debate because a Bill such as that was not under discussion. That has been a positive contribution in the debate on neutrality and the Lisbon treaty because it emphasises again to the Irish people that any participation we may have in activity like that can only happen with the consent of the people they elect here in Ireland. That legislation makes that clear.

My third point is a question to which I would like a response. I was surprised during the debate on the first and second Lisbon treaty referendum by the number of young people I met who instinctively understand the importance of the environment as a political and defining issue but who intend to vote "No" to the Lisbon treaty in larger numbers than I had anticipated. What would the Minister say to those people who share many of the passions he and his political party share but who intend to vote "No" on Friday?

The Minister touched on three points in his contribution, those of neutrality, energy security and climate change. What effect does he believe a "No" vote would have on our ability to deliver what is in our national interest in those three areas?

I welcome the presentation by the Minister, Deputy Gormley. It is useful we are discussing the areas to which he alluded, in particular, the issues of greatest importance to him and his party, those of climate change and energy security. Some within the "No" campaign have sought to undermine the treaty to some extent, and the Minister alluded to it in his presentation when dealing with this issue, because the treaty is light in terms of language around climate change. Will he accept that the fact there is a statement of intent to deal with this issue leaves it open to the member states to work together and develop more coherent policies and, for that reason, there is nothing to suggest that the limited amount of language is in any way a limitation on the extent to which member states recognise the importance of climate change and energy security, which are, to some extent, interlinked?

What is the Minister's view on the security of food supply, which is a central theme and perhaps has not been taken as seriously across Europe as it should be taken? Some countries have a policy of selling food cheaply and are not too minded from where it comes. There is a view emerging, especially within the agricultural sector here, that a coherent policy is required that ensures Europe is able to provide its own food supply into the future, recognising that within 40 years we will have to double our food production to feed the world, as it is currently constituted. Will the Minister accept that is an another area that we, as a green nation and one that does food production well, would need to continue to assert within the policies that will emerge from this overriding treaty?

I welcome the Minister to the committee and thank him for his contribution. I agree with Deputy O'Rourke's comments on the issue of the minimum wage. It is one that has created great concern, particularly among young people who are probably working at the lower wage scale and have serious concerns about the future. It is critical in the next few days that the lie concerning this issue is put to bed and seen for what it is, namely, something that distorts our having a proper debate on this issue.

I agree with the Minister's comments that Europe has been a platform for Ireland in introducing reforming and progressive legislation. The issue of gender equality and gender discrimination in the workplace is only one aspect of that. It was well recounted in the 1990s that the social welfare payment for women was less than it was for men and how that issue was dealt with by Europe.

It is also well known that the driving force in creating a platform to deal with climate change has come very much from the European Union in the past decade and without question much of the legislation that has come before the House has had its genesis in the European Union. It takes a considerable time to transpose into Irish law many of EU directives that come to the House. How many EU directives are awaiting transposition into Irish law in the Department?

I thank the Minister for his presentation. My question relates to the competence of Europe in the areas of energy and climate change. Membership appears to have been a very positive experience in Ireland. In fact, many farm families would have no income this year without the single farm payment from Europe. This is an area where Europe claims competence. Now it will claim competence in two other areas. Clearly, national parliaments would not have given up this competence unless they saw it as beneficial. Will the Minister mention one or two positive proposals from Europe on how to deal with energy security and, equally important, how to deal with the difficulty of climate change?

The "No" campaign has suggested that the protocols are not binding. After the defeat in the referendum 18 months ago, Ireland went back to Europe seeking guarantees. The "No" side is now suggesting that the 27 member states that gave us the guarantees to bring back to the Irish nation will now renege on their promise. Is that not bizarre and ridiculous?

Can the Senator repeat his question?

Eighteen months ago there was an analysis of the reasons people voted "No". Their concerns were brought to Europe. Ireland received, in good faith, undertakings from Europe regarding those main concerns, which were to be put into the treaty as a declaration and subsequently as a protocol. Having secured that declaration, and we will get the subsequent protocol, it has now been suggested that the very people who have given the undertakings will renege on them. Is that not ludicrous?

I welcome the Minister and his presentation. The Minister said the Lisbon treaty allows the EU to take tougher action against criminals. He was referring to human trafficking. However, I am concerned about cigarette smuggling. I understand that the amount of cigarettes smuggled into Ireland is huge. Figures quoted during the week suggest that smuggling is depriving the Revenue Commissioners of between €0.5 billion and €0.75 billion per year. There is also the issue of counterfeit cigarettes being smuggled into the country, which are very damaging to the health of smokers. Smoking is damaging anyway but these are even worse. I understand Ireland has opted out of certain actions in the battle against criminals because Britain has done so and we have moved with Britain. Is this the best procedure to take or should we reconsider it?

I join members of the committee in welcoming the Minister, Deputy Gormley, and the opportunity to put a number of questions to him. As one of only two "No" proponents here today, I would love to have had the opportunity to respond to some members, but that is not the format. I must ask the Minister the questions.

I remember working closely with the Minister in the previous Dáil in the Technical Group, which comprised Sinn Féin, the Green Party and the Independents. I recall working closely with Deputy Gormley and his colleagues in the Green Party on the constitutional treaty which was proposed in 2005. Sinn Féin, members of the Green Party and others worked closely together in strong opposition to what was proposed in the constitutional treaty. According to my notes from that time, the Green Party opposed that treaty because it contended the treaty would undermine Irish and European democracy, would lead to increasing militarisation of the European Union and because it recommitted Ireland to membership of the European Atomic Energy Community. Can the Minister outline what is so markedly different in the Lisbon treaty that has brought about this volte-face in his position as leader of the Green Party vis-à-vis Irish and European democracy, increased militarisation of the European Union and Ireland’s continued membership of the European Atomic Energy Community?

The Minister referred to climate change. I do not doubt the Minister's or his party's commitment in this area but where does the Lisbon treaty actually use the words "climate change"? There are a couple of other points I wish to raise to try to understand where the Green Party stands today. Does it now support a European common defence compatible with NATO that seeks to increase the ability of the European Union to deploy troops in non-EU countries and in what the Lisbon treaty refers to as joint disarmament missions, such as that currently under way in Iraq, or missions to assist non-EU countries in combatting terrorism, as currently under way in Afghanistan?

There has been much focus on posters and so on during the past week. In particular, I note the Green Party posters say: "Yes for workers". I could go on to a whole range of areas in this regard but I have one question. Article 28 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights provides for the right to collective bargaining and Article 16 of the charter guarantees freedom to conduct a business. What will happen post-Lisbon, if it is ratified, with these two competing rights given the context of the European Court of Justice's decisions in regard to Laval, Rüffort, Viking and Luxembourg?

I thank you for taking the time to listen.

Mr. Joe Higgins MEP

Gabh mo leithscéal as bheith déanach. Tá an-bhrú orainn ag an bpointe seo, mar is eol don choiste.

I apologise for my late arrival. We are under intense pressure in the dying days of the campaign on the Lisbon treaty second time round. At the last meeting of this joint committee, Deputy Dooley was so concerned that I could not make it I thought, in fairness to him, that I absolutely had to attend today.

We are very grateful that Mr. Higgins made it. We appreciate it.

Mr. Joe Higgins MEP

Thank you.

I wish to ask the Minister a couple of brief questions. Will he comment on the following statement from Volume 554 of the Dáil report of 4th September 2002 at column No. 33:

The aim of the EU is, over time, to create a military force to rival that of the United States and create an arms industry to compete with that of the United States. This goes to the heart of the problem. By seeking to compete with the United States, the EU has ended up copying it. This is not the direction in which Europe should be heading.

Those were his words in a debate on the Nice treaty second time round when the opinions of the Irish people first time were also rejected by a Government which he opposed?

Lisbon provides for intensification of militarisation, for intensification of armaments development and for the first time puts the European Defence Agency in an EU treaty in a formal position. The Minister spoke vehemently against the European Defence Agency in the past. Considering that one of its remits is to create a competitive armaments market in Europe and to push for further research and development in the creation of armaments, that is, weapons of horrific destruction, how does he reconcile his views at that time with his now saying that he enthusiastically supports the Lisbon treaty? Is it that he has sold out on every single issue he said he believed in before he went into Government?

In regard to the European Defence Agency, the Minister said he was happy to say that we worked very hard with our Government partners to address this issue. Earlier this month the European Defence Agency Bill 2009 was cleared by Cabinet and published. The Cabinet discussed it, found that there was not a problem and the Minister could go against every principle for which he said he stood. He was against the development of armaments and against the creation of further militarisation but now he endorses it. Will he at least agree that he is guilty of the most massive hypocrisy or of the biggest sell out by a political party in the history of this State?

I remind Mr. Higgins that the committee tends not to venture beyond the normal parliamentary procedures. It is not a public meeting as such; it is a meeting of the committee.

It has not been the practise of the committee to accuse political party leaders of hypocrisy or anything else. He can do that outside of the room if he wishes, but not here.

Mr. Joe Higgins, MEP

I have put it all in terms of questions. The Minister can respond.

Bear in mind that the committee tries to maintain a certain decorum. The level of the debate outside need not necessarily prevail in here. We had to remind somebody else last week of the same point.

Mr. Joe Higgins, MEP

I have made my point and I will leave it at that.

I warmly welcome the Minister, Deputy Gormley, and thank him for his wide-ranging presentation. It is a broad contribution. I salute him, and all of his parliamentary party colleagues on the enlightened and positive leadership he has given his party over the past two years in ensuring that the Green Party in Ireland can be mainstreamed to mirror the thinking of the Green Party throughout the European Union. It speaks volumes for the importance of the Lisbon treaty that the Green Party across Europe has a strong positive attitude to that treaty, and I salute all of the members of the Green Party on that.

I also salute him on his contribution to neutrality in ensuring that it has been underpinned by another party. My party, and its founding father, the late Éamon de Valera, put Ireland on the international stage at the time of the last world war in maintaining and sustaining Ireland's position as a neutral nation. We have been strong on that since then and we are delighted to partner the Minister at this time in ensuring, as we embrace the expansion of the Union and the opportunity the Union confers on this country, that together we can give that governmental leadership that will be important in the future.

On climate change, my party salutes the Minister on the leadership he is giving in this field. Can he expand somewhat on the strong commitment and the key role the Union must play and the enabling device the Lisbon treaty will be to us as a small country to play our part in this considerable global challenge?

On common energy supply, as an island nation on the periphery of Europe, how important is it for Ireland that the assistance of the Lisbon treaty gives us that extra cover, support and sustainability of supply through the Union to ensure that we can grow our economy and embrace the opportunities for all of our people and future generations?

Looking at the treaty in more detail, taking into account its commitment to advancing the Union and its technological capacity in a competitive world, would the Minister accept that Ireland's membership of the Union, which confers on us the right to be members of the European Space Agency, gives us a particular niche as a small country to play an important part in a vast global opportunity, which has major technological and economic benefits for our country and which we could not do outside of the Union, and that the Lisbon treaty assists us in doing this?

Moving from the global and the European position to the importance of democracy, the veracity of facts, of the dissemination of information and of not confusing our citizens as we face into this important decision for our nation, would the Minister give some indication of how, post Lisbon II, he, as Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, could deal with the serious situation that has emanated in this campaign where the lack of veracity in the information put up on posters, printed and produced in pamphlets and distributed across the nation is causing serious concern, not just to citizens but particularly to vulnerable citizens? Perhaps he might like to comment on the larceny of an image of one of our most revered international and national actors, namely, Mr. Frank Kelly, aka Fr. Jack in "Father Ted", which has been displayed on posters by the "No" campaign without the permission of him or the company that owns that image can Deputy Gormley, as Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, ensure that such a situation will not prevail in the future?

It is extremely disingenuous of Sinn Féin to put up posters which state that if people do not like the Government, they should vote "No". I do not understand what people's level of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the Government has to do with the referendum on the Lisbon treaty.

It is a matter of trust.

I intend to comment on that matter at the end of the meeting.


Members have raised a wide variety of issues and I call on the Minister to reply.

Quite a number of observations and questions were offered by members. I will spend more time responding to the criticisms levelled rather than remarking on the positive comments and questions offered. I hope members understand my reasons for doing so. I will deal with each of the criticisms in turn.

Deputy Seán Power commented on climate change and referred to the way in which attitudes have altered as a result of the economic context. That is undoubtedly the case. Human behaviour is understandable in that context because it is the so-called bread and butter issues that take precedence at a time of economic crisis. However, that is not to state climate change, as an issue, is less important. The scientific evidence for it is available. The most recent scientific reports indicate that the window of opportunity in which we might deal with the issue is shrinking all the time. Ban Ki-Moon previously referred to a window of ten years but this has shrunk to approximately eight years. It is within the latter period that we must get our act together.

The scale of the problem is monumental. The European Union which has led the way on the matter is committed to reducing its emissions by 30% below 1990 levels by 2020 if a global agreement is reached in Copenhagen. This can be done. There are, however, two problems. The first, to which some members referred, is that which relates to energy security, peak oil and climate change. These three factors are related. That is why the Government established a Cabinet committee on climate change and energy security. These factors are also fundamentally linked to the concept of the green economy. If we can invest in the green economy by means of insisting on better insulation standards for houses and making progress in respect of renewables, that will go a long way towards providing more sustainable jobs and tackling climate change. We should not perceive the issues of job security and job creation as being divorced from the question of climate change. They are fundamentally linked.

There is no doubt that the global economy and the way business is done will change dramatically in the coming years. The world views behind capitalism and socialism will have to change also. We will move towards what is termed "resourcism", namely, how we might deal with the resources of planet Earth.

Deputy Ó Caoláin asked me to quote directly from the treaty and I will do so because there are some extremely interesting references which I did not mention in my initial contribution relating to how we might deal with the environment. I will quote from the treaty in this regard when I come to deal with the Deputy's question.

I asked the Minister to indicate where climate change was dealt with in the treaty.

I will do so. I will comment on climate change and the protection of the environment — a matter of fundamental importance — in reply to the Deputy's question.

Deputy O'Rourke referred to the power of posters. There is no question that they are often dismissed by people who state they do not influence the way they think about elections, etc., but that is not true. Posters are an extremely powerful form of advertising.

Some of the posters put up by the "No" campaign are extremely powerful and work well.

They work well for the "No" side.

Yes. Speaking objectively, one must admit they are powerful. Whether they tell the truth is another matter.

In many cases, they are entirely misleading and the children in St. Louis secondary school, Rathmines, felt particularly that the minimum wage poster was extremely powerful because many children will leave school shortly. This also relates to Senator Donohoe's question about the reason people aged between 18 and 25 are negatively disposed towards the treaty. They believe the propaganda, which is a lie. Cóir says there is a question mark but that is disingenuous. It is a misleading but, nonetheless, powerful poster in the context of its propaganda value. The problem for the "Yes" side is we must spend our time rebutting much of this misinformation.

Senator Donohoe mentioned the EDA. The legislation we pushed hard for sets out clearly the types of missions in which Ireland can partake. Even in opposition, I supported every mission, including peace enforcement, involving the Army but it is important that our involvement in the EDA confines itself to missions we have always excelled at, namely, humanitarian and UN mandated missions. It is not just a case of having the imprimatur of the Dáil and the Government but the agency also has to ensure it sticks to what we are good at. We have been praised. I recently had a meeting with the new British ambassador, who said Ireland has always led the way on humanitarian missions.

The Senator also asked about the consequences of a "No" vote. It is difficult to predict what they would be but Ireland and Europe would be set back. That would present us with another crisis and the perception of Ireland would change radically and not for the better. It would have a negative impact. Anybody who has European experience would say the same. With regard to investment, one only has to listen to what people running large companies that employ many people have had to say and the consequences of a "No" vote are clear.

Deputy Ciarán Lynch referred to the necessity for EU directives and how they have played an important role. I have a list of transposition dates and I will give it to the Deputy following the conclusion of the meeting.

How many are awaiting transposition?

Approximately ten. I will give the list to the Deputy. I have tried to ensure that we not only transpose the directives, which is absolutely vital, but we also comply with them. That is not easy very often but it is absolutely necessary. The habitats directive, the birds directive, the special protection areas, SPAs, and special areas of conservation, SACs, around the country, the nitrates directive, the dangerous substances directive, the water framework directive — the list goes on of environmental directives from Europe — are there for one purpose only, namely, to protect our environment. Having worked in Europe with the Commission and having worked with Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and other organisations, I believe Europe is leading the way globally on these environmental questions. Ratification of the Lisbon treaty is one further step in that direction.

It is important to consider the objectives of the treaty and what it says about environmental protection. Some of it could have been written — and probably was — by people like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. The treaty states that the Union is about promoting economic, social and territorial cohesion and solidarity among member states and that it will respect its rich cultural and linguistic diversity. I am sure Europe's cultural heritage is safeguarded and enhanced by it. It continues by stating that in its relation with the wider world, the Union will uphold and promote its values and interests and contribute to the protection of its citizens by contributing to peace, security and the sustainable development of the earth.

Those words, "the sustainable development of the earth" are powerful words. This is new language for a European treaty. The treaty continues and states it will promote solidarity and mutual respect among peoples, free and fair trade, eradication of poverty and the protection of human rights, in particular, the rights of the child as well as the strict observance and the development of international law, including respect for the principles of the United Nations Charter. This is powerful language.

How could anybody oppose that?

Having worked with people in the area of environmental protection, I believe that wording was put in at the behest of those who are interested in protecting the environment.

I will come back to the reference by Deputy Ó Caoláin, but want to reply to Senator Feargal Quinn first on the question of why we acted with Britain. Sometimes we do that. I cannot give the Senator a definitive answer on the issue, but I imagine it has to do with the fact that we share a border. Despite everything, we are still very much tied to Britain and we work closely with the British within the European Union. That is our tradition. That said, the European Union has provided us with the opportunity to come out from under Britain's shadow and that has been worthwhile for us. The difficulty with regard to cigarette smuggling is that it is inevitable that as we raise the price of cigarettes, smuggling becomes more intensive. This means we must spend more money trying to tackle smuggling. Therefore, sometimes raising prices can be a counter-productive exercise.

On the issue raised by Deputy Ó Caoláin and Mr. Joe Higgins, MEP, I am glad Mr. Higgins quoted me correctly as saying what I said at the time of the Nice treaty. The Green Party did not adopt an official position on the constitution or the Lisbon treaty at the time, although it was criticised on that account. However, we adopted a position on Lisbon subsequently. First we had a vote, but did not get a two-thirds majority, so we could not have an official position. Then we had a second vote and got a two-thirds majority. Those are the facts. I was critical, and still am, of the original constitution. I felt it should have been voted on by way of a Europe-wide referendum — by way of double majority, a majority of votes and a majority of states — to be held on the same day. It was argued at the time that certain member states, such as Germany, did not have the facility or were precluded from having a referendum but I was of the opinion there could have been a plebiscite at the very least and that was the best way of doing it. As we have seen the way we are doing it now is susceptible to all sorts of difficulties. That was my critique and it is still my point of view.

Will the Minister acknowledge that there is a fine line between a party taking a formal position and what I said, which was that members of the Minister's Oireachtas team today, in tandem with me and others at the time, acknowledged that they were opposed to the constitutional treaty as presented and on the areas which I have already put on the record of the House?

That is what was said at the time.

That is not true. What is true is that we took a position with regard to the Nice treaty; we did not take a position with regard to either the constitutional treaty or the Lisbon treaty originally but we have now taken a position on the Lisbon treaty and that has to be by way of the party membership——

There are members of the Minister's party acting independently.

No. I am telling the committee what is the official position of the party. Deputy Ó Caoláin asked about the question of climate change so I will provide the reference to climate change. This is important. When we hear about the posters and the propaganda, we must go back to the text of the treaty and read the original text as it has a very powerful resonance. There is no gainsaying it as it is in black and white.

I refer to the section of the treaty dealing with preserving, protecting and improving the quality of the environment, protecting human health, prudent and rational utilisation of natural resources, promoting measures at international level to deal with regional or worldwide environmental problems and in particular, combating climate change. Union policy on the environment shall aim at a high level of protection, taking into account the diversity of situations in the various regions of the Union. It shall be based on the precautionary principle and on the principles that preventive action should be taken, that environmental damage should, as a priority, be rectified at source and that the polluter should pay. Any environmentalist will say that this is music to his or her ears, that is what environmentalists want to see included in legislation. For the first time, we have included, at the request of the Irish Government, a section dealing with combating climate change. In my view, that is a major victory for this Irish Government. We were the ones who asked for that and we are the ones who got it and not enough has been made of that achievement.

The Minister has acknowledged——

There should be no cross-talking at the meeting. One speaker at a time, please. The Minister is replying.

Deputy Ó Caoláin asked if I support a common defence policy and the answer is that I do not know. It is the Irish people who will decide if we support a common defence policy.

But the Lisbon treaty——

The Minister is being very selective——

Deputy Ó Caoláin is the leader of a party and he knows very well that this is not the way we do business here because if we did business in that fashion he would be still here and it is at least three weeks since he visited us. I call on the Minister to reply.

The Chairman cannot have it both ways.

If the Deputy wishes to address the committee we will reverse the procedure.

A colleague from the Austrian Greens was in attendance yesterday at a press conference with me to spell out in detail what the Lisbon treaty says; how the non-aligned countries are protected. In particular I refer to what I have seen written on a poster issued by the Deputy's party -"increased military spending". Ireland will not have to spend any increased amount on military matters and that is a fact. We will not have to spend an extra penny because of the Lisbon treaty and the statement is a complete and utter myth.

It is there as an obligation within the Lisbon treaty.

We have an absolute guarantee on that matter. It is up to this member state to decide how much money it will spend on military matters. I should add, to be very practical about this, that if the Minister, Deputy O'Dea, wanted to spend money tomorrow, it would not be endorsed by the Cabinet.

He would not get it.

It is just not there.

It is a complete and utter myth.

——the European Union——

I am sorry, Deputy Ó Caoláin. You asked already.

It is myth. It is not there.

You asked already.

Please stop putting that out. It is about this country.

It is about the European Union——

It is about what this country spends on military equipment.

——and Ireland's role in it.

That is a fact.

I do not mind if we stay here all day.

I am sure the members of the committee are not too pleased to hear that. I assure everybody that the intention has always been to give everybody a fair hearing. I refer to those who address the meeting and those who wish to ask questions or make comments. There is also a general intention to avoid becoming personal or acrimonious and to have a reasonable debate, in a debate which outside the Oireachtas has not been all that reasonable.

In fairness, Sinn Féin has always opposed military spending.

I ask the committee to allow the Minister to continue.

I recognise that Deputy Ó Caoláin was not being personal. He has tried to engage in debate at this forum. However, his party's posters relating to military spending are disingenuous.

There is no question about it.

I totally reject the Minister's position.

I ask the Deputy to allow the Minister to continue.

You may sell that to your own party members, but only to some of them.

The Minister is encouraging the Deputy and that is a parliamentary practice that is discouraged.

I would like to respond to Mr. Joe Higgins, MEP. I have a problem with his approach to politics. He can throw out all the accusations he likes, but he has always engaged in the politics of negativity.

Mr. Joe Higgins MEP

That is rich coming from the Minister.

It is easy to be consistent when one is against everything.

I mean everything. Mr. Higgins is against war, which is fine, but he also against peace. He is against UN peacekeeping. He is against the United Nations. That is a fact. He is the only person sitting here who came out against the peace process, who came out against the Anglo-Irish Agreement. That is extraordinary. He is against the Israelis, but he is also against the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

Mr. Joe Higgins MEP

It is one of the most corrupt organisations on the face of the eastern——

He has come out against practically everything. I disagree with his approach to politics. I believe one has to try to make a difference. It is sometimes difficult to do that.

That is why I have produced a Bill that will ensure this country cannot over-spend on military equipment. Mr. Higgins should support that positive Bill.

Mr. Joe Higgins MEP

The Minister has sold out everything he said he believed in.

No. You do not have——

Mr. Joe Higgins MEP


You have nothing to sell out, Joe.

Mr. Joe Higgins MEP

You have sold out.

I know it is embarrassing.

Mr. Joe Higgins MEP

You have sold out every principle the Green Party has ever stood for.

The Minister to continue.

I am speaking and he is interrupting.

Respect the Minister, please.

I know it is embarrassing for Mr. Higgins that I have revealed he came out against the peace process, which is something not many people know.

Mr. Joe Higgins MEP

For the record, Chairman——

He came out against the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

Mr. Joe Higgins MEP

That is a total fabrication.

He asked people to vote against the Anglo-Irish Agreement. He does not even support the United Nations. That is extraordinary stuff. People out there do not actually know that. If they began to know where you really stand on all these issues, I think they would doubt your credibility on all the other issues as well.

He wants to increase taxation.

Mr. Joe Higgins MEP

I would not mention credibility if I were the Minister. I know whose credibility is in shreds here.

I insist that the Minister be allowed to reply.

I would like to respond now to Deputy Treacy.

Mr. Joe Higgins MEP

The Minister did not answer my question about armaments, anyway.

I hope Mr. Higgins supports this country's legislation on the European Defence Agency. We have worked on the legislation, which is very good. I think it will receive the endorsement of most people in Dáil Éireann.

I refer to Opposition Deputies as well as those on the Government side.

Mr. Joe Higgins MEP

Is the Minister legislating for a bigger armaments market in Europe?

Mr. Joe Higgins MEP

That is what it is about.

It ensures that this country only engages in those missions in which it has always engaged. I always supported those missions, even when I was in Opposition. We will continue to engage in UN peacekeeping and peace enforcement missions. I am proud to have made a contribution to that legislation, which spells out that we cannot go beyond that.

Mr. Joe Higgins MEP

Pontius Pilate. Wash your hands and let them at it.

I will respond to Deputy Treacy who made the final contribution. Rather, Senator Prendergast made the final point but that was more of an observation than a question. There has been a distortion of facts in this campaign. It is difficult to avoid that. In the cut and thrust of any debate one will get accusation and counter-accusation. It is extremely difficult for people to make up their minds in that type of cauldron.

One can look to the wisdom of children. When they look at the posters they ask what the treaty is about. One tries to explain it to people by saying it is a way of re-organising the European Union, a union that has served us well. What is most difficult is to explain the issue to 18 to 25 year olds who have never experienced Ireland outside of the European Union and who take it for granted. Those of us who can remember, recall that this was a very different island. We have benefitted enormously from our participation in the European Union and we should never take it for granted. It has improved our quality of life, broadened our cultural horizons, protected our environment and provided peace on this Continent for a very long time. For those reasons I urge people to think about the way they cast their vote. I respect everybody's wish to cast his or her vote either way, but I urge people to think clearly about the future of this country and to vote "Yes" on 2 October.


Hear, hear.

I thank the Minister. Deputy Thomas Byrne wishes to say a few words. I will speak after that.

I apologise for being late as I was attending a function in my constituency. I thank the Minister. What he has done today has been notable and unusual in the debate in that he has referred to the treaty and highlighted a large section of text which he said could have been inserted by organisations such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace with which he has been associated, but that was inserted into the treaty at the behest of the Government, of which he is a member. I congratulate him on that. He has given good reasons for people of all ages to support the Lisbon treaty. He has referred to the text, left out the "what ifs" and "what abouts" in terms of what would happen if the European Court of Justice says this and then does that, he has said what is in the treaty, which is most important. He has given people a positive reason to support the treaty, namely, that it was negotiated by the Government. Too often we are told that Europe is imposing the treaty on us and we must accept it. The treaty is something we have sought and received and now we are being asked to ratify it in a referendum. I appeal to people to do what the Minister has done, namely, read the text of the treaty, see the advantages it contains and not to worry about the "what ifs", what if that word meant this or all of the other combinations mooted by the opposition. I thank the Minister for reading the clear words of the treaty.

With the Chairman's permission I second the proposal to thank the Minister for his clarification. It was most helpful at this crucial juncture three days before the referendum. In this calm room under the chairmanship of Deputy Durkan, the people of Ireland can hear the facts. I congratulate the Minister on all he has outlined and highlighted to the committee today. I urge the people to vote "Yes" on 2 October.

I will comment before we close this session. This is the last of our meetings with the party leaders in the Oireachtas. I thank the Minister and his predecessors for speaking before the committee. It was the committee's choice to go through this useful process. We have tried to have a rational debate and that can only be beneficial to the wider community in making their decisions.

A few things need to be borne in mind. This campaign started approximately two years ago in the run up to the first referendum on the Lisbon treaty. The members of this committee took on a great workload and responsibility over that period. I compliment them and thank them for their work, not only during that campaign, which, from the majority of their points of view, was unsuccessful, but also in its aftermath. After the first referendum, the subcommittee chaired by Senator Paschal Donohoe had a very laborious series of hearings which I hope were beneficial to the wider community in that they aired the views for and against voting for the treaty. The debate during this committee's series of meetings, particularly during the past 12 months, was helpful to the public in allowing it to make up its mind. The debate was responsible for the circulation of further information in the public arena, which I hope will be of benefit.

There are a couple of matters which demand comment and which have been commented on already in respect of postering. I do not have any problem with the posters of Mr. Joe Higgins, he will be glad to know. I may not agree with them but they are consistent. I have no doubt that Mr. Higgins does not apply for funding from outside this jurisdiction. I am quite sure his posters are authentic and I compliment him thereon.

Mr. Joe Higgins, MEP

To correct the Chairman, all of the main parties have got funding from their groups in Europe.

I am not talking about that but about funding from outside this jurisdiction that does not come from the European Union. There is quite an amount of it, as Mr. Higgins will know.

Negative campaigning, which has featured during this campaign, has achieved new heights or depths, as the case may be. Whether this is good or bad remains to be seen. One group responsible in this regard is the one with the picture of the plaintive child on a poster. I do not know what it intends to portray to the community, in Ireland or beyond, but the European Union, as a union, has done more than any other society or group of nations across the globe to protect children, look after their interests, and protect and safeguard civil and human rights. Irrespective of what the poster in question is intended to portray, it does no justice to its authors, to the message it intends to convey or to democracy.

We need to bear in mind that there should always be some semblance of truth in the message one must circulate in the political arena. I am not saying there should be absolute truth but there should be some affinity with reality and the facts. Consider the Catcher in the Rye syndrome that has developed in recent times. Since John Wilkes Boothe fired that famous shot numerous conspiracy theories have been built around that but none to compete with the number of conspiracy theories that have been built around the campaigns on the Lisbon treaty, particularly the second one. The problem with conspiracies is that if eventually you believe everyone is out to get you and you become paranoid, eventually they will get you because it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. The imagination runs riot and eventually the person loses control.

You would go mad.

Eventually one begins to hear voices, which is a sad thing. Let me make two points.

Mr. Joe Higgins MEP

What does the Chairman make of multinational corporations threatening us this morning?

I will talk about them also.

Mr. Joe Higgins, MEP

Along with the Minister, Deputy Gormley.

With regard to multinational corporations, it has been suggested in recent days that a "No" vote would have a negative impact from an Irish perspective. Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that Mr. Joe Higgins is a millionaire or major investor who proposes to invest in Hawaii, Alaska or the other US states. If in one of these locations there was a vote or a debate on leaving the union, would Mr. Higgins be happy to continue investing? Would he consider it safe, or would his backers be happy with that investment? Whether he accepts it or not, the reality is that investors are a peculiar breed. They are not forced to invest anywhere; they will invest of their own accord.

With respect, no one is proposing to leave the European Union.

With respect, I will come to Deputy Ó Caoláin in a minute.

The Chairman is completely off. He should stick to the facts——

I want to finish off.

——and the truth as well.

I want to come to a valid point raised by Deputy Ó Caoláin.

Mr. Joe Higgins MEP

The Chairman must accept a short intervention.

Mr. Joe Higgins MEP

The Chairman spoke about false statements and then he made a false statement.

Unfortunately, I am winding up. If Mr. Joe Higgins wishes to take over the job of chair, I suggest he do so.

Mr. Joe Higgins MEP

I do not, but I beg the Chairman to hear for me for 60 seconds.

No, I will not. You had your contribution and I am summing up.

I want to deal with an issue, which is a fair one, raised by Deputy Ó Caoláin. He mentioned what appears to be a contradiction of the right to strike and the right to form a business. This is an important question which has gone around several times and people on opposing sides have used the argument.

I happen to be one of the people involved in the drawing up the fundamental charter. One matter discussed at great length was that when formally recognises the right to strike, who can say that one does not have the right to strike? There must always be a right to strike in certain circumstances. That does not mean one is forced or must strike in all circumstances. It has to be balanced. In the same way one must have the right – and there is the right – to set up a business. One is not forced to set up a business. The Lisbon treaty does not force one to set up a business. The fundamental charter does not force one to set up a business. However, there are balancing rights there, each of which in their own time and place have a particular reason for being there.

The point raised by Deputy Ó Caoláin is a valid point but I presume he raised it with tongue in cheek because he already knows the answer.

I raised it to give the Minister a chance to respond. However, like with many of the other questions I put, he did not respond to it.

I want to finish off on one other matter. Militarisation, militarism and so on has been referred to many times. Several members of the committee have visited EUFOR missions abroad. We all should be proud of the Defence Forces and the role it has played internationally for the past 60 years. It has done the nation proud. Those who suggest it should not have access to training with its colleagues in the EU and the UN are wrong. That is the most important factor in assisting the Defence Forces to look after its interests and do its job.

Incidentally, in every location Irish personnel have been posted with EUFOR, we have been told of the wonderful job they have done, how important it was and how their expertise was above beyond that of other defence forces throughout the world. We should not lose sight of the occasion to recognise them for the job they have done.

I thank members for being present. I thank the diplomatic corps, the press, our recording staff behind the glass case who are always silent, the committee secretariat and policy adviser, who advises us sometimes quietly and sometimes not so quietly. I thank our long suffering staff who have to change the formats of meetings at short notice. I thank members again for attending. It is not easy to attend when they are meant to be down in their constituencies working. I also thank those who campaign against the treaty for giving us of their time.

The Chairman can thank us on Saturday.

We will thank you on Friday. I thank the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, for attending.

The joint committee went into private session at 3.55 p.m. and adjourned at 4.20 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 13 October 2009.