Seanad Éireann - Volume 177 - 07 July, 2004
EU Presidency: Motion.
Ms Ormonde Ms Ormonde
 Ms Ormonde: I move:
That Seanad Éireann:
Commends the members of the Government on the hugely successful EU Presidency and thanks them for all their efforts which have ensured that the reputation of the country has been greatly enhanced world-wide;
commends the Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, and the team of public servants who ensured that agreement was found on a new EU constitution;
urges the Members of the House to become familiar with the text of the new EU constitution which sets out clearly for citizens the very nature of the European Union, its powers, the limits of those powers, its values and its objectives as a single text incorporating all previous EU treaties will help to make the work of the EU more understandable to all of our citizens;
welcomes the new EU constitution for the manner in which Ireland’s concerns in certain areas have been addressed including areas such as preserving total unanimity on tax, maintaining safeguards for our national criminal justice system, ensuring our traditional policy of military neutrality and maintaining the institutional balance in the EU including total equality in the Commission;
calls on the Government to increase its efforts to explain the workings of Europe and, in particular, the new constitution to citizens as Europe has a hugely positive influence in our daily lives;
urges that all Members of each House become engaged in debate in the coming months and years; praises the work of the Government in reinvigorating the Lisbon Agenda to make Europe the most knowledge-based economy in the world and urges the Government to use every opportunity to keep the Lisbon Agenda at the top of the European agenda;
and welcomes the nomination by the European Council of José Manuel Durão Barroso with whom we look forward to working as Commission President if he secures the backing of the European Parliament.
I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Roche, to the House. Even though I have expressed many congratulations over the last number of months, I am pleased to reiterate and reinforce my feelings on the success of the Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, and the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, and all those senior civil servants who worked to make the Presidency such a triumph.
The programme of the Presidency was ambitious. The Minister of State, Deputy Roche, the Taoiseach and the Minister, Deputy Cowen, came to this Chamber on many occasions to highlight the key areas of focus. It was challenging to hear from the Taoiseach how he proposed to implement the programme, which has been such a success. The highlights of it were the enlargement of the Union, the drawing up and securing final agreement on the draft EU constitution and the appointment of the President of the EU Commission, José Manuel Durão Barroso.
The day marking the enlargement of the Union from 15 members to 25 members was a marvellous one. I congratulate the Taoiseach and all concerned on making it such a great success in terms of the events that took place throughout Ireland and the security in place to ensure they ran smoothly. It was a beautiful day for Ireland to be on the European and international stage.
The agreement on the draft constitution is fair. I have only read the parts of it that were distributed last week by the National Forum on Europe. It incorporates the existing treaties and allows Ireland great flexibility in terms of sovereignty in regard to tax matters and our criminal justice system. At the same time it sets out how to tackle crime on an international front without posing any threat to our traditional military neutrality.
The draft constitution sets out clearly for our citizens what it is all about, its powers and their limits, its values and objectives. The Taoiseach had in mind the definite goal that, regardless of the manner in which the treaty would be shaped, it would be understandable and readable and not have attached to it the European lingo that was attached to previous treaties. Success has been achieved in that area.
On the international front, agreement on the draft constitution was successful in reinforcing relationships with partners and in dealing with other areas in which there are zones of conflict. In this regard, the Taoiseach did his best in his tours around Europe and elsewhere to reinforce relationships with the United Nations.
The real debate will have to commence as to how we can fight crime, promote trade, create jobs, protect our environment and promote a peaceful world. We have to engage with our citizens to bring them up to date on every aspect of the proposed treaty. The message in this respect will have to be imparted to people in all walks of life. I acknowledge the contributions of the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, and other members of the Irish delegation who made themselves available over the past six months and who on many occasions attended this Chamber and meetings of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs and the National Forum on Europe under the chairmanship of Senator Maurice Hayes. I call on the Minister of State and his team to engage again with our citizens in getting across the message about what this draft constitution is about and to encourage them to engage in debate about aspects of it that will affect their lives.
Now that Ireland is at the heart of Europe, the key areas of focus will be on economic growth and employment creation. Over the past six months the Minister of State highlighted the commitment to advance the Lisbon Agenda and to speed up reforms in areas of economic and environmental protection in regard to employment, education, training and up-skilling. More co-ordination across Departments and greater collaboration with the European institutions is required. In this regard I hope our colleagues in the Netherlands will continue from where the Taoiseach and his team finished.
We secured agreements on several fronts in regard to directives on a financial plan, infrastructure and employment and social inclusion. I was particularly interested in the spring European Council in terms of strategies put forward to eradicate poverty and tackle social exclusion.
The Single Market is at the core of the development of the Union. It will facilitate the movement of people, services and goods. It is central to how we can create employment in member states and to how access to social security entitlements by non-nationals will be made easy.
Considerable work and debate will be involved in regard to the draft constitution. Debate on it will reflect the pulse of the nation for the next few months until we decide when it must be ratified. People want freedom of movement, to acknowledge that they are Europeans but at the same time to retain their identify. This Chamber should be the main venue to deal with these matters while discussions at the Forum on Europe should help open up the debate.
I call on the media to give the Seanad the opportunity to air the debate and to get the message across to the public. The media has a major responsibility to make it easy for the public to understand the issues in the debate and to ensure that we are not cast in the light in which we were in previous debates when members of the public did not understand the issues and blamed public representatives for the downfall of the first Nice referendum.
We have learned major lessons and have had great success over the past six months. The role played by the Taoiseach has been universally acknowledged by all the leaders of the EU member states. The success he achieved and his gift in knowing how to debate and to bring people together, as he brought his team together, won acclaim for Ireland, not only throughout the EU but elsewhere internationally.
We have finally put Ireland on the international map. We are the model country. Ours is a major success story. People will acknowledge this when they understand what this debate is about, how we have achieved such success, benefited greatly from our membership of the Union and how we will maintain our identity in terms of our culture and retain sovereignty over areas such as tax matters and so on.
We have a major responsibility ahead of us but this debate presents us with the opportunity to again congratulate the Minister of State, the Taoiseach, the Minister, Deputy Cowen, and all the senior civil servants concerned who spared no effort during the past months to make Ireland a successful model in terms of our economy and our people. They showed that, even though ours is a small country, we have the strength to survive and to take on challenges in the wider world.
I am delighted the Minister of State was able to come to the Chamber this evening and I thank him again for his work. I ask him to convey to the Taoiseach and the others involved that we were impressed and confident that they would bring us back such a success story. Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.
Mr. Mooney Mr. Mooney
Mr. Mooney: I second the motion. I re-echo all my friend and colleague, Senator Ormonde, said about the outstanding success of the Irish Presidency and pay tribute to the efforts of those involved. The political leaders — the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, the Minister, Deputy Cowen, and the Minister of State, Deputy Roche — carried the flag for Ireland publicly but, as they readily acknowledged in other fora, they were assisted by an impressive array of Civil Service expertise available to them throughout the Presidency. When one considers the limited resources this country has in comparison to other countries, even those of like size, our Presidency was a remarkable achievement.
Given that the EU will move to a new form of Presidency, with the result that Ireland may never again have the opportunity to head one, this time will be looked on as an historic moment in the development of this country. Although we always use it as a cliché, we are moving closer to Emmet’s aspiration about his epitaph being written when we take our place among the nations of the earth. In the context of Emmet’s noble aspirations we have not got there yet because of the national question but we are moving towards it internationally.
I am sure the Minister of State has many images of the Presidency. In fact, I look forward to his book. As someone with a great interest in historical record, I hope somebody writes the book and the Minister would be well placed to do so. My enduring image of the Presidency was of the G8 Summit in Georgia where the Taoiseach walked alongside the biggest, strongest, most economically powerful leaders in the free world. While some, full of begrudgery, focused on the Taoiseach’s sartorial style, I focused on the people with whom he walked on the strand such as the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Japan, people who are shaping our lives as we speak. The Taoiseach was there with them as an equal, as somebody whose reputation has been enhanced as a result of the various world leadership fora in which he was involved during the Presidency.
I also pay tribute to the Minister of State, Deputy Roche. Members of this House have known him as a Senator and as a colleague for many years. Knowing his voracious appetite for hard work, none of us was surprised at the manner in which he adapted to his role as Minister with responsibility for European Affairs. However, I wish to put on record the significant role he played in the early stages of discussions relating to the problems surrounding the Presidency, specifically those relating to the treaty. He was able to quickly bring together like-minded countries, those with similar interests to Ireland but many of which were outside the EU at that time and looking for leadership. The Minister of State was able to go to the nub of the problem and meet them on firm ground, coming from a country viewed by many of the accession countries as a model. As a result of that correct perception, he was able to use our credibility to great effect and we owe him a great debt for ensuring that we brought these countries on side. I have limited personal knowledge of his efforts having been on the same aeroplane as him as he made telephone calls in an effort to bring people together. He went straight from the aeroplane to a meeting with some of the leaders of like-minded countries.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen’s international visits also considerably enhanced this country’s role as an arbiter of peace and reconciliation. He visited the Middle East and many other trouble spots as part of the Troika. He went to Kosovo, which is a real problem for us, an issue to which I hope this House will return. The Minister was able to considerably enhance our international image.
My time is limited although I wish I could say more. I will briefly mention the treaty provisions. I am deeply saddened that there is no reference to God in the constitution. I know the Taoiseach, the Minister, Deputy Cowen, the Minister of State, Deputy Roche and the entire Irish delegation did all they could to advance that particular agenda as it reflected the overwhelming view of the people of this country. I am saddened that it has not happened and I cannot understand why.
Foreign policy and defence issues will form a major plank of the debate relating to the constitutional treaty. These issues arose at the Forum on Europe last week. When they come up again in the public arena and are reported on, the manner of the response given at the forum by the Minister, Deputy Cowen, and the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, should eliminate any fears the electorate might have regarding Ireland’s continuing role. Our neutrality is confirmed, acknowledged and respected by the member states. I have no doubt the Minister of State will amplify this in his contribution.
I welcome the Charter of Fundamental Rights. I was privileged to be associated with it as a representative of this Parliament during the debate thereon and, therefore, probably have a greater insight than I would normally have. Apart from welcoming it, I also think the charter presents us with a challenge as it concerns the rights of citizens under EU laws. Directives from Europe that are incorporated into Irish law will also be subject to the charter’s obligations. There are challenges, certainly with regard to the question of resources. This will be an issue for debate in the coming referendum.
On the referendum strategy, I echo Senator Ormonde’s comments that we should harness the wonderful work the forum is doing under the chairmanship of our distinguished friend and colleague, Senator Maurice Hayes. The forum demonstrated during the first and second Nice referenda the valuable role it played in ensuring that proper information was conveyed to the Irish electorate. I know the Taoiseach and the Government are supportive of the forum’s continuing role but it should be considerably enhanced because of the importance of this treaty for the future of our country and of Europe.
I hope the Lisbon Agenda will be pursued. We have lost the plot at European Union level regarding the aspirations put forward at Lisbon. We have not achieved as much as was set out at the time. This is an issue in which the Government should have a role. It was, in fact, involved in those discussions over the past number of months. US criticism of Europe is centred around what the US perceives as a regulatory culture endemic in many European countries. Ireland has deregulated to a large extent, but we are alone in that regard. If one considers the manner in which the trade unions and state sector in France, Germany and various other large EU countries operate, there is a real problem regarding competitiveness and the European Union’s ability to provide greater prosperity for its citizens.
Due to our strong cultural links with the United States, I suggest Ireland draws its inspiration from Boston. However, we also draw our economic strength from Berlin and other EU countries. That is the pivotal position we are in.
I compliment the Government, the Taoiseach and all associated with the Presidency on the manner in which they were able to restore the EU-US relationship which was effectively in tatters in the aftermath of the Iraq war. What a wonderful day it was in Shannon, irrespective of the begrudgers and those who legitimately held an anti-war position. That day in Shannon brought about a stronger relationship between Ireland and the United States. It also restored the accurate perception of this country as welcoming, especially towards the President of the United States of America with whom we have a strong historical and cultural link. I commend the Government for the manner in which it handled the Shannon visit, notwithstanding the valid rights of those who demonstrated against the war.
Mr. Bradford Mr. Bradford
Mr. Bradford: I welcome the Minister to the House. He has frequently attended debates on matters of European and foreign policy in recent years. Geographically, we may be at the periphery of Europe but we are at the core of European politics. What the Minister of State and his Government colleagues have completed over the past weeks and months must be recognised as a significant achievement. The lengthy motion put forward by Fianna Fáil Senators is similar to one which might be presented before the North Korean Parliament in that we are missing the dear Leader here this afternoon. However, we can all support its sentiments. The work that went into the preparation of the constitution, the various summit meetings, and the Presidency was outstanding. A tremendous job was done. As the Minister of State and his colleagues have acknowledged, the Irish diplomatic staff and Civil Service have again proved themselves to be top of their class. No other country could have achieved a better result than the Irish Presidency, a fact all sides of the political spectrum must recognise.
On 1 May we welcomed the new countries, which were really the old countries, into an enlarged Europe. That was a significant and historic day although it has probably not been sufficiently recognised as such. We now have a new, dynamic and united Europe. Where there were walls of concrete and weapons of fear, there are now 25 countries working together towards a new and positive agenda. I have remarked before that when I first entered this House in 1987 the Continent was divided, built on fear and it had a very uncertain future. However, since 1989 in particular, which saw the fall of the Berlin Wall and the decline of communism, there has been a sea change in western and central Europe, which is now manifesting itself in eastern Europe.
It is a tremendous achievement that this country has played such a significant role over the past few important and historic months. Senator Mooney’s quotation of Robert Emmett is apt. I had intended to quote the lines myself. We are taking our place among the nations of the earth.
It is now a question of where we go next and how to proceed. The draft constitution, which has been agreed, is very balanced but will have to be put before the people in a referendum. There is no need for me to lecture the Minister on what needs to be done, we must ensure we do not have a debacle such as the one in respect of the Nice referendum. The issues put before the people should be plain and clear, and the political parties that claim to be supporters of Europe, which comprise the vast majority on this island, should be to the fore in the political argument. Nothing can be left to chance. It would be an enormous tragedy if, after the work of the Government during the Presidency, the National Forum on Europe and the majority of politicians in Leinster House, we did not ensure the referendum was carried. The constitution contains good news for Ireland and Europe. It is fair and balanced and ensures our vital national interests are fully protected. We can fully stand over it.
The appointment of the new President of the Commission must be welcomed. It is fair to say there was some speculation that the job would be given to the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern. It would have been very positive for Ireland had he decided to allow his name to be considered. He chose otherwise and his decision must be respected. Perhaps the system of appointing a new President is somewhat cumbersome and unusual in the sense that candidates are not declared in the conventional way.
Mr. Mooney Mr. Mooney
Mr. Mooney: It is a bit like the papacy.
Mr. Bradford Mr. Bradford
Mr. Bradford: We are simply missing the smoke. Of course the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, would not allow us to use smoke, white or black. We must wish the incoming President well. He has an enormous challenge on his hands and I hope he will be up to the job.
Now that the appointment is made, the next issue on which the Taoiseach will have to contemplate as part of the overall jigsaw of European politics will be the appointment of the Irish Commissioner. He has indicated in recent interviews that an appointment will be made in the near future. That is to be welcomed. There have been a number of Irish Commissioners since 1973, some of whom have played a greater role than others, perhaps because they had more important jobs. The early announcement of an Irish Commissioner will allow the Government to ensure that the candidate, be it male or female, will be in a position to secure an important role. Ireland as a whole benefits from any positive developments in Europe. It is important that the Taoiseach appoint a Commission candidate who will secure a top-class role on the Commission. I wish him well in that regard.
I fully concur with Senator Mooney’s comments on the visit of President Bush to Ireland. The day of the visit will be regarded as one of the most important of the Irish Presidency. It was the subject of great controversy and debate and there was a certain degree of protest but genuine good was achieved by it. It was a visit by the US President to the European Union, the Presidency of which was based in Ireland. The Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and President McAleese presented to President Bush in a dignified, honest and open fashion the feelings of the Irish people on certain matters of concern. The debate was constructive and showed how things should be done. It also helped repair any damage which, in the eyes of the American media and public, had been caused by some of the earlier protests. The visit of President Bush was successful and I am sure the strong, persuasive arguments put forward by the Taoiseach and President McAleese are being taken on board to some degree by the Pesident
I congratulate all concerned, particularly the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, on the work that has been done to date. The Minister of State has been magnificent in his role. He has invested thousands of hours in this project and this should be respected by all sides of the House.
Mr. Minihan Mr. Minihan
Mr. Minihan: I am delighted to support this motion. I, too, congratulate the Government on the outstanding efforts it has made over the past six months. It is interesting to note that, just six months ago, people were saying agreement on a new constitution for Europe was impossible and that the sides were too far apart. Among those who offered advice on this matter was the editor of the Sunday Independent, who advised on 4 January that the Taoiseach should “tread warily and ... hope that he can postpone any serious discussions on the constitution until Ireland’s presidency is at an end.” Fortunately the Taoiseach chose to ignore this advice. Instead he chose to embark on an ambitious round of shuttle diplomacy eliciting the views of member states in his quest for agreement on the constitution. Compromises were made and the Polish and Spanish Governments stopped insisting on maintaining the voting formula agreed to in Nice. Others also compromised and, in the end, the agreement that a qualified majority shall be defined as at least 55% of the members of the Council, representing at least 65% of the population of the Union, was an honourable one.
So it was that on 18 June, after much negotiation and the burning of midnight oil, the Presidency was able to issue document CIG 85/04, which sounds innocuous but which will resonate for many years after we have retired from politics because it is the final agreement on the constitution of the European Union.
Others also deserve credit for this achievement. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, deserves much credit and it would be somewhat mischievous for me to suggest that the agreement was a fitting finale to his period in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. The Minister of State, Deputy Roche, should be congratulated on his work and commitment leading up to the Presidency.
I am especially pleased that this motion mentions the role of the Civil Service. In the past, civil servants attending meetings such as the one in Brussels were nicknamed “sherpas” because, without their support, their principals would never have reached the summit. Never has such a description been more deserved, as I am sure the Taoiseach, the Minister, Deputy Cowen, and the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, would agree. I appreciate the work of the Civil Service in Brussels and elsewhere, especially during the Presidency.
This motion also calls on the Government to increase its efforts in explaining the workings of Europe to the people. I would be surprised if the Government had not already made that decision given that the constitution will need to be endorsed by the people by way of a referendum. We all remember the first Nice referendum, which was lost because the Government, the Opposition and we as individual politicians failed to make a convincing argument in favour of that treaty.
While I agree with the motion’s call on the Government to increase its efforts in explaining the workings of Europe, I believe we all have a responsibility to promote and explain the EU and its institutions and the implications of the constitution. If we do not do so there are those who, using misinformation and scare tactics, will frighten the people into rejecting this landmark decision.
While the agreement on the constitution marked the pinnacle of the Presidency’s achievements there were other high points. The Presidency’s commitment to the Lisbon strategy and to making the European Union the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion, was perhaps one of the more significant moments of the past six months. Another was the speed with which the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform acted following the atrocities in Madrid. This was proof that this country could not only plan for a successful Presidency but could act with speed and determination when the situation demanded.
Perhaps, though, for most citizens of this country and the wider European community the events of 1 May will remain long in their memories. The sight of the leaders of Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic attending a joint ceremony at Zittau on their collective border could not but have moved the older generation. Age-old animosities were buried on the day of welcomes. Here in Ireland the emphasis was on the younger generation as people flocked to events in our nation’s capital and throughout the State. In the southern capital Corkonians made new friends as they welcomed the people of Slovakia. Slovak foods, arts, crafts and music were a feature of that memorable sun-filled May day.
I acknowledge the unique situation when an Irishman, Mr. Pat Cox, was President of the European Parliament and Mr. David O’Sullivan was the senior civil servant while our Government held the Presidency. This was a remarkable achievement for this small country. I acknowledge the way in which the Government and the country handled the summit between the European Union and the United States of America and President Bush’s visit. We honoured our commitment to Europe and reflected the views of the Irish people in a dignified manner.
The last six months have been a triumph for the Government and for Ireland but, above all, a triumph for the European dream. It was the long-awaited dream of Jean Monnet, Robert Schuman and others that through closer trade links Europe would never again suffer the conflagrations that had afflicted it down through the centuries. The Presidency saw that dream move one step closer.
I would like to finish with this short quote:
What he [Bertie Ahern] and his ministerial colleagues, Brian Cowen and Dick Roche, managed to secure last Friday in Brussels was remarkable: the agreement by 25 states to a new European Union constitution.
This political and diplomatic triumph is a negotiating achievement without parallel in Ireland’s 31 year experience of membership of the Union. And a measure of that achievement was President Jacques Chirac’s own compliment that the Irish Presidency was the best he had ever experienced.
So wrote the aforementioned editor of the Sunday Independent on 20 June last. While a week may be a long time in politics six months, it appears, is a lifetime in the media.
I am delighted to support the motion before the House and to congratulate all associated with the Presidency.
Mr. Ryan Mr. Ryan
Mr. Ryan: I begin by being as generous and as ungrudging as I can be, which my colleagues on the Government side will feel is not very much, in complimenting the Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, on a job well done. It is not meant to diminish their achievement to say that we have come to take for granted that our Presidencies go well. Our politicians perform well in this area. It is a pity that those who lampoon politics with great delight seem to be unable to acknowledge when things are done well. It is not for me, as an Opposition figure, to add to the nonsensical cynicism of many journalists. I say, without qualification, that ours was a successful Presidency that reflected well on the Government and on the country. It did not reflect too well on the Government in the elections but that is the nature of politics and does not take from the fact that the Presidency was a successful one for which congratulations are due.
We should reflect on a couple of aspects of that success. When artificial constraints are not imposed on us — I think of the constraint of tradition and our degree of deference to the traditions of the neighbouring island and the constraint of precedent, usually and most unfortunately argued by the Department of Finance — we discover that we can do things well with a skill and capacity for innovation unlike many other countries. We have extremely good public servants and politicians, from all parties, who are capable of using, in a way that politics should, the skills of an extremely good Civil Service and public service. It is interesting that when we move into territory where there are no big files saying that one must do this, we never did that and something else is unprecedented and where we have to learn as we go along——
Mr. Roche Mr. Roche
Mr. Roche: There is such a file.
Mr. Ryan Mr. Ryan
Mr. Ryan: This is uncharted territory and in such circumstances we do a very good job. It is time we believed in ourselves. The report which is to be released today on our future industrial development says the same thing.
Mr. Roche Mr. Roche
Mr. Roche: Hear, hear.
Mr. Ryan Mr. Ryan
Mr. Ryan: If anything has been learned over the past ten years it is that we are a capable, innovative, imaginative and flexible people. International capital, that most ruthless of measuring indices, has recognised that fact. I do not dispute the significance of tax rates, grants and so on but the most appealing quality, according to HP, Intel and many other companies, is our achievement in producing an intelligent, well educated and very flexible, in the best sense of the word, labour force. This shows up when we have to do a job like this with extremely limited resources.
It is not long since terror and shock went through the entire Irish public service when there was political chaos in Italy and it was suggested that the Presidency would skip Italy and move on to Ireland at a month’s notice. It is interesting that it was suggested that one of the biggest member states and a founder member of the EU was not up to the job but no one had doubts about the capacity of the Irish to do it. While I accept the practicalities involved, the boost to the confidence of small countries that came with the rotating Presidency is one of the things we will lose. Other things will come in its place but a permanent Presidency will take away some of that advantage. I look forward to the Minister of State’s response to this point, which I do not make in any negative way.
I cannot but reflect on the irony of seeing, on the seventh day after the end of our Presidency, an announcement in the newspapers that our senior civil servants have been told they will have to wait three years for a review of their salaries. There is not a multinational company anywhere on this island which would make such a statement so soon after such a successful endeavour. Even if it thought of doing such a thing, no company would make a public announcement about it. One cannot but wonder if that mean-minded response to senior public servants has something to do with their increasingly effective campaign against the worst excesses of the poorly thought out decentralisation programme. It may be a coincidence that some of our most senior civil servants and their trade union have been among the most effective and vocal critics of decentralisation. After the level of achievement of the last six months, what looks like a mean-minded decision to repudiate their skills is regrettable. I am disappointed that a Government would do it.
While the constitution is exciting and challenging, I will reserve judgment until I see it. I know it is being printed in 21 languages and I appreciate the logistics involved but we should hold off until we see what it contains. I did a quick calculation, because I had more of a focus on the outcome of the European elections than others, and between 400,000 and 500,000 people in the European elections voted for candidates who are vigorously and overtly opposed to the European constitution, although I do not know how they could be opposed to it when it was not finished at the time. Whatever the outcome, we must be wary.
I have no problems with the Lisbon Agenda but Europe must stop believing that it is a basket case. I will end with a quotation:
America’s superior economic performance over the past decade is much exaggerated. Productivity has grown just as fast in the euro area; GDP per person has grown a bit slower but mainly because Europeans have chosen to take more leisure rather than more income; European employment in recent years has grown even faster than in America; and America has created some serious imbalances which could yet trip the economy up badly.
That might sound like a paean to European social democracy but it comes from The Economist of 17 June. By all means let us make our economy in Europe more competitive and efficient but we must not abandon the qualities that have made Europe a better place to live than the United States for most ordinary working people, epitomised by the clear decision in Europe to choose longer holidays and shorter working hours over the simple accumulation of more consumer goods.
Mr. Lydon Mr. Lydon
Mr. Lydon: I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I sincerely believe that he is the only person, and I include the Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Giscard d’Estaing, all the civil servants and everyone else in the whole Union in this, who reads all the documentation on the Lisbon Agenda, the enlargement process and the new constitution. Credit where credit is due and we owe a debt of gratitude to the Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the civil servants and the Minister of State. Even securing agreement on the candidate for the post of Commission President was a remarkable achievement and we all look forward to working with José Manuel Durão Barroso if he is confirmed in his post.
The word “constitution” is unfortunate in that it is liable to conjure up ideas of a superpower state where until now we had an association of states. We should not be afraid in this regard. Article 1.5 states that the constitution will have primacy over the laws of member states but this is nothing to fear because it does not happen in all cases.
The treaty establishing a constitution for Europe repeals all existing EU and EC treaties from the Treaty of Rome to the Treaty of Nice and incorporates their main elements into the new constitution. Some have criticised elements of this but it is a great idea. Anyone who has tried to plough his or her way through some of the treaties, such as Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice, will be pleased with the clarity of the text of the new constitution. It is a final treaty more than a constitution.
Should the constitution be ratified, competencies in the security, defence and foreign policy areas will be centralised in Brussels with a unified European approach. This will be a good development. Such an approach is important and I see nothing wrong with a European army or foreign, security and defence policy. More than being just an international power broker, however, the European Union should become a partner in solidarity for the cultural and economic development of the Third World.
It was a major disappointment to me that there was no mention of the indisputable Christian heritage of Europe. A few governments categorically opposed the mention of a specific Christian heritage. It is sad that those were precisely the countries where Christianity played an enormous part in shaping their cultures.
It is clear that an ideological prejudice motivated the opposition and the fear that an explicit mention of Christian heritage could make the European Union less acceptable to a Muslim country that might form part of it. This fear is unfounded as it is from Christianity that arises the principle of religious liberty and the clear distinction between religious and political spheres that allows for peaceful co-existence between different religions within one political organisation.
Even the mention of God was excluded. It is ironic that 25 Heads of State agreed to this constitution without one reference to God on 18 June, the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is a decision that will come back to haunt us. There are, however, positive elements in the text that must be noted and applauded. Those include safeguards for the status of churches in member states, recognition of the identities of churches and their contribution and promises of open and regular dialogue. I am glad that an article in the constitution mentions the right to life of all. I wonder does this include the right to life as protected by article 40.3.3º of the Constitution and the protocol appended to the Amsterdam treaty to protect it.
The enlargement process involved 450 million people, a mind boggling number. It is wonderful to be able to travel so widely and use the same currency. The former Yugoslav Republics of Macedonia and Croatia have both applied for membership. People can call it an empire if they want. It is multilingual, multicultural and multiracial but it is all European, from the Urals to the Twelve Pins, a wonderful grand design for working together and healing disputes with rational argument and discussion rather than fighting, as was the case in the past.
The work on the Lisbon Agenda was incredible. The two new elements of the financial services action plan, the financial instruments market directive and the transparency directive, were completed and other directives were agreed on take over bids and intellectual property rights, something we do not respect in Ireland. There was agreement on infrastructure, the trans-European networks for transport and the second railway packet. All these efforts help to make this huge organisation work.
There is a new directive on terrorism and we have adopted a directive on compensation to crime victims. There is an agreed approach on the mutual recognition of confiscation orders, re-establishment of the counter-terrorism task force under Europol and substantial progress was made towards the establishment of a European borders agency.
All in all, a great job was done and I congratulate everyone involved. This constitution will give us global status, recognition as Europeans and a strong position in negotiations for world trade agreements and at the UN. I hope that this will be used in a caring manner because we have great power to do good here. With so many people working and travelling together and benefiting from the education processes, this is a grand design.
There is a major job ahead — explaining this to the public and assuring them that the deal they are getting is a good one. No one will be pleased with everything but when the leaders of so many nations agree to so much, it is an incredible accomplishment. I am sure the Taoiseach did not do it all on his own but he was a great motivator for everyone else. He did a fantastic job, as did the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, and everyone who worked with them. I congratulate them all. I hope this grand design works out because it deserves our support.
Mr. Roche Mr. Roche
Mr. Roche: I thank the Members of the House for their generosity. I also thank the Members of both Houses for the exceptionally positive role played by politicians from all the major political parties in the success of the Irish Presidency. I unreservedly thank the diplomats and the senior and junior civil servants who played such an extraordinary role. I have never been so proud to be Irish as I was on the night we brought the constitutional treaty home. When the Irish Presidency began on 1 January 2004, things looked bleak. It looked as if there had been a disaster. The humour during the course of the European Council meeting in December was disastrous and negative. It was worse than not producing the treaty. It seemed as if irreparable damage had been done. I agree absolutely with Senator Ryan that we should celebrate those things that as a nation we do well. We carry a post-colonial chip on our shoulder and we find it difficult to celebrate our successes. We are a remarkable nation. We should not delude ourselves and suggest we are perfect; we are far from perfection——
Mr. Ryan Mr. Ryan
Mr. Ryan: I will remind the Minister of State of that from time to time.
Mr. Roche Mr. Roche
Mr. Roche: ——but for a small nation, when we put our mind to it and put on the green jersey, we can pull together and do the job. I pay tribute to the role played in achieving the constitutional treaty by Opposition parties. Colleagues such as Deputy John Bruton, Proinsias De Rossa, MEP, and Deputy Gormley assisted me as the Government representative to put together what I believe were very good responses to the challenges which arose during the course of the constitutional convention. A book has been published today in Vienna in which Ireland’s contribution is celebrated. A book in circulation at present, The Accidental Constitution, also recognises Ireland’s role. It is something of which we can all be proud and it is not to seek or suggest there should be partisan advantage.
It gives me great pleasure to take part in this debate on Ireland’s EU Presidency. The sixth Irish Presidency of the European Union will be remembered, as this motion recognises, for the careful preparation, hard work and patient negotiation which led to the eventual agreement on the new European constitution. It will also be remembered for the successful enlargement of the European Union and the special occasion on 1 May when Ireland celebrated the day of welcomes with the new member states. That was a truly remarkable and memorable day. Senator Lydon noted that there is no reference to God in the constitution, but God smiled on Ireland that day. It was a day we will all remember with emotion.
That magic moment could be fairly described as the highlight of the Irish Presidency. The bitterness, divisions, waste, destruction and horrors of the past century were finally put behind us and we looked to the future. We can take real pride, as a small nation on the periphery of Europe, that on that day those events took place in this country during our Presidency.
Members will have received a copy of the report on Ireland’s Presidency of the European Union, prepared by the Department of Foreign Affairs. The report states that significant progress was made during our Presidency on all the main priorities we had set ourselves. The motion notes the Lisbon Agenda which remains a priority.
I am delighted that it proved possible, at the special meeting of Heads of State and Government on 29 June to reach agreement on the nomination of the new President of the Commission, José Manuel Durão Barroso, as well as on other senior appointments. That was the icing on the cake in many ways.
I intend to focus in my contribution on the new European constitution. It will be the lasting legacy of Ireland’s sixth Presidency. The Presidency brought to a successful conclusion the process that began in Laeken in December 2001. The text of the constitution will be prepared for signature by legal and language experts and it is expected that a signature ceremony will be held in Rome later in the year. Like the Treaty of Rome, the European constitution will serve for many years as the foundation of a Union at the service of its citizens. Once the constitution has been signed, the process of ratification will begin. While it is for every member state to decide how to proceed according to its own constitutional requirements, I welcome the fact that a significant number of states will hold referenda. It is an appropriate way to put before the people of Europe the contents of this remarkable document. I acknowledge that Senator Ryan may not have had the opportunity to read it yet. I am confident that when he reads it, he will be very proud to European. It is a remarkable document which recognises, as the Senator suggested, those things which have made Europe unique.
I look forward to a vigorous and informed debate on the constitutional treaty. The Government will take all appropriate steps to ensure that people are as familiar as possible with the constitution and all it entails. The National Forum on Europe and the Houses of the Oireachtas, including the Joint Committee on European Affairs, will continue to play a full and active role. Laeken set in train the drafting of a constitution for the European Union. To pave the way for the work of the IGC, it proposed that the first draft be produced by a European Convention, bringing together national and European parliamentarians with representatives of the Union’s institutions. As the House will be aware, the European Convention did excellent work and it was right that the text it prepared was adopted largely unchanged by the IGC. Laeken identified a number of key challenges, all of which have now been met.
The constitution contains a clearer description than ever before of what the Union is and what it does. The Union’s powers and competencies are set out in a straightforward way and its objectives and competencies are clearly linked to its activities in the various policy areas. The key principles underpinning these activities are conferral, subsidiarity and proportionality. These are set out in plain terms. For the first time it is made absolutely clear that the Union only has those powers which the member states have conferred upon it and that it can only act to the extent necessary to secure its objectives. While the document is a large one, I remind the House that the core element, part one of the constitutional treaty, is only 30 pages long and for the first time, is written in plain language, which is an achievement in itself.
National parliaments will play an important new role in ensuring that these principles are fully adhered to. It will be possible for parliaments to challenge proposals brought forward by the Commission on grounds of subsidiarity, obliging it to re-think proposals. Some have sought to downplay the significance of these new arrangements but they are wrong. While the role of the European Parliament is very important, it is simply a fact that many citizens identify most directly with their own national representatives. That those representatives can now act as a watchdog of the Union’s legislative process, ensuring that citizens’ interests are fully respected, should be welcomed by everyone.
The constitution makes very significant advances in the protection of human rights. The Charter of Fundamental Rights will become an integral part of the Union’s basic law. The Union will be legally bound to recognise the rights it contains and citizens will be able to access the courts to vindicate them. Part 2 of the constitutional treaty, which contains the charter, is set out in the clearest possible language. Every citizen and democrat will be very proud to sign up for the charter. In addition, the Union is to accede to the European Convention on Human Rights, ensuring a coherent and consistent approach between the courts in Strasbourg and Luxembourg. I was very pleased that a representative of Amnesty International has welcomed these important new provisions.
The Union will also be better equipped to play an effective role on the international stage. There will be a Union Foreign Minister, drawing together the work of the Commission and the Council and ensuring coherence between them. The Minister will be served by an external action service, including officials from the Council, the Commission and the member states.
These new arrangements will in no way supplant or reduce the responsibilities of member states’ Foreign Ministers and their diplomatic services. Rather, they will complement and enhance the work done at member state level. Such a joined-up approach must be welcomed. There would be no point, however, in having a more effective infrastructure if the policies being pursued were not the right ones. This is the reason the clear presentation of the Union’s aims and objectives in the conduct of its external actions and relations is so important.
Ireland made a key contribution to shaping the language in this area. In the wider world, the Union is to:
. . . . contribute to peace, security, the sustainable development of the earth, solidarity and mutual respect among peoples, free and fair trade, eradication of poverty and protection of human rights and in particular the rights of the child, as well as to strict observance and to development of international law, including respect for the principles of the United Nations Charter.
I am extraordinarily proud that those words were penned in this city. These aims are totally in harmony with the provisions of our Constitution and our commitment to the ideal of peace and friendly co-operation among nations founded on international justice. I believe all Irish people can identify with and support these aims.
I fully appreciate that for many in Ireland and the House provisions on security and defence policy are of particular sensitivity. It is important that people study what has been agreed with great care. Going into the Intergovernmental Conference, the Government stated it would seek to clarify the parameters and operation of the various proposals made by the convention in this area to ensure they were open, accountable and fully in keeping with our policy of military neutrality. I am very pleased to be able to inform the House that I am fully satisfied that these requirements have been met in full.
It is made explicitly clear that the provisions relating to the possible establishment of a common defence at some point in the future “shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policies of certain Member States”. This is a specific reference to this State. Written in existing treaty language, this provision protects the positions of neutral or non-aligned countries and has been carried into the new constitution in full. The Seville declarations remain fully in place and the Government will ensure their substance is fully protected in the drafting of any new amendment to the constitution.
The provisions relating to structured co-operation, about which some people have been concerned, were substantially amended by the Intergovernmental Conference. It is made clear that, rather than creating a defence inner core or avant garde, these arrangements are open to all member states that wish to participate. Appropriate accountability has been ensured.
The focus has been shifted from undertaking operations to developing capabilities by member states so as to be able to participate in the Union’s peacekeeping and conflict prevention activities. Arrangements for structured co-operation are set out in a protocol attached to the constitution. It is explicitly stated that it “does not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policies of Member States”, and that the Union’s activities are to be “in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations”. To any fair-minded person, these are significant advances.
The Government does not need to decide at this time whether it would be appropriate for Ireland to participate. However, if we are to have an honest and informed debate about the European constitution, we must guard against any distortion or wilful misrepresentation of what is involved. The constitution does not alter in any significant way the balance of competence between the member states and the Union. There are, however, some important over-arching new provisions which have the potential to have a positive impact.
Ireland was a strong supporter of the inclusion of a new social article which requires the Union, in defining and implementing all of its policies and actions, to take into account requirements linked to a high level of employment, the guarantee of adequate social protection, the fight against social exclusion, and a high level of education, training and protection of human health. This provision has been widely welcomed. Today, while on my way to the House, I received an e-mail from the European Anti-Poverty Network specifically complimenting the Irish Presidency and welcoming the inclusion of this article in the constitutional treaty.
We would have liked to be able to do more about the EURATOM Treaty. Ireland, with Germany and Austria, signed a declaration calling for a review conference to examine the treaty’s provisions which are outdated and inappropriate. Any change required unanimous support in the IGC, however, and this was not forthcoming. Nonetheless, I welcome that, for the first time, the constitution provides the Union with a competence to promote energy efficiency and saving and the development of new and renewable forms of energy.
Some people have expressed particular concern about and interest in the Common Commercial Policy. Ireland and a number of other member states were concerned to ensure that international trade agreements in the very sensitive areas of health, education and social services would not undermine national systems. I am very pleased the Intergovernmental Conference agreed that unanimity will be required where agreements in these areas risk seriously disturbing the national organisation of such services and prejudicing the responsibility of member states to deliver them. Senator Ryan who touched on this issue will note that I attended the congress of the European Federation of Public Service Unions in Stockholm two weeks ago, at which the wording the Irish Presidency imported into the text in this area was welcomed. As a former public servant and public service union representative, I also welcome it.
Going into the negotiations last autumn, we stated that our key national concerns were retaining unanimity for decision making on taxation; ensuring our distinctive legal tradition was fully protected in the new arrangements in the area of justice and home affairs; protecting our neutrality in defence matters; and ensuring a balanced outcome on the institutions, including equality in the Commission. Working with member states that shared our concerns, we secured a positive outcome for Ireland in all these areas. I take an extraordinary degree of personal pride in this achievement. Although work on the negotiations in this area was long and hard, it was also fruitful and worthwhile.
We also managed to reach agreement on a balanced set of arrangements for the Union’s institutions which protect the interests of the Union and all member states, large and small. This was, perhaps, the most difficult aspect of the negotiations. With regard to voting, we secured a compromise with which everyone could live. On the Commission, each member state will be represented in two of every three Commissions from 2014 onwards and all member states will be treated on the basis of strict equality. It will also be open to the European Council, acting unanimously, to set a different size if it so wishes. This is one of the aspects many member states sought to include in the constitution. Let us see how a Commission of 25 members works. It has been consistently asserted that a large Commission would not work and a small Commission was necessary for efficiency. We will have an opportunity to test both hypotheses in 2014.
As regards seats in the European Parliament, we reached agreement on a minimum threshold of six MEPs per member state, a point of particular concern for the smallest states. This decision was just and equitable and indicated generosity on the part of some of the larger member states.
As I have stated, I look forward to the debate ahead. We have a document to present to the people which is good for the European Union and Ireland. We can be genuinely proud of the role we, as a small nation, played in bringing it about.
I will make a brief comment about the external relations agenda. The challenges of the Presidency were particularly evident in this area. During this time, the Taoiseach chaired five summits with Canada, Russia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Japan and the United States. In addition to chairing the monthly meetings of the General Affairs and External Relations Council, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, hosted an informal meeting of EU Foreign Ministers in Tullamore in April, as well as two large foreign ministerial meetings in Ireland with ASEM and EuroMed, the Asian and Mediterranean countries respectively. He conducted in excess of 50 ministerial meetings. As a nation, we can take great pride in the work done by the Minister, who is not present. I had the opportunity and privilege to witness at first hand his extraordinary dedication and the extraordinary amount of work and effort he undertook. Mr. Cowen played a pivotal role in the effort to reactivate interest in the negotiations on the Middle East peace process based on the Quartet roadmap. Although he does not look for personal aggrandisement, he is entitled to the nation’s gratitude for his achievements as he has served it and the European Union extraordinarily well.
In guiding the EU’s foreign policy agenda, we focused on the key foreign policy priorities which we set out in the Presidency programme. These included promoting democratic values and human rights, advancing support for an effective multilateral system based on the primacy of the UN, supporting the Middle East peace process through the Quartet and developing a strategic partnership with the wider Middle East and Mediterranean region, strengthening the EU’s relationships with its key partners, not least the US, China and Russia and working with African partners to address the enormous development and security challenges facing the Continent. Development issues, including the fight against HIV-AIDS, were given the highest priority. I commend the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Kitt, for his work in this area which is often overlooked. These priorities, while common to all countries of the EU, reflect the traditional principles of Ireland’s approach to foreign policy.
A Presidency must also be able to respond swiftly and effectively to unforeseen events. We worked hard to develop a co-ordinated EU approach to combating terrorism, following the appalling terrorist attacks in Madrid on 11 March. The June European Council took note of the significant progress made, including the adoption of a declaration on combating terrorism and the appointment of an EU counter terrorism co-ordinator, Mr. Gijs de Vries, at the March European Council.
Ireland’s Presidency came at a time of immense change and transition for the European Union. Aware of this, we set out to address ambitious goals in a realistic way. We were determined to run an efficient, fair and transparent Presidency and we can fairly say that we achieved all our main objectives. The task now for all of us, as the EU moves forward, is to ensure that our citizens are kept fully engaged and informed and to build on the good will which our Presidency has generated among our partners to ensure that we retain a strong voice in Europe in pursuit of our values and in promoting the concerns of our citizens.
Ms O’Meara Ms O’Meara
Ms O’Meara: I commend the Minister of State on his clear and extensive overview of the achievements of the Irish Presidency and I appreciate that he concentrated on the matter of the EU constitution. As the countries of the EU prepare to put the constitution before the people in the coming years, it will be a matter of significant concern to all politicians and not only Government politicians. I must also commend the Minister of State and all his colleagues in the Government including the Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, for all their work over the past six months and in the planning stage prior to that. It would be churlish not to recognise the extraordinary dedication and commitment of Government members such as the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, and of our public servants. To achieve agreement on the constitution and on the nomination of a new President of the European Commission and to oversee in such a stylish and commendable fashion the accession of the ten new member states was a great achievement. We can be proud of the Government’s performance in its Presidency of the EU.
The agreement on the constitution is the crowning achievement of the Irish Presidency but the work must now begin to ensure that the public is informed of its content and will support it at referendum and there are lessons from the past in that regard. I hope there will not be a repetition of the debacle that was the first referendum on the Nice treaty. Some of the public may be aware that a new constitution was agreed but an even smaller number know what it is about. I estimate that very few people had a clue what was involved in attaining agreement on the constitution and I appeal to the Minister of State and his colleagues, particularly those who are in the know on this matter, to recognise that they are in a minority.
I advise against the use of jargon, such as the term “the principles of conferral, subsidiarity and proportionality” which the Minister of State used in his speech. These types of phrases are fine when one knows what they mean but they mean nothing to the average citizen or indeed to many well-informed citizens. We will lose the argument by conducting the discussion at such an elevated level that it excludes the majority of people. We need to pitch the discussion at a level which people will understand. Perhaps the Minister of State might suggest to the National Forum on Europe the possibility of visiting primary and secondary level schools over the next two years to inform students about the content of the constitution, what it means for them, its wider context and the history of its development. Otherwise we will be faced with a situation where a dearth of knowledge will lead to a dissemination of deliberate misinformation and misinterpretation and the Government will find itself in a defensive position and with a problem on its hands.
I ask the Minister of State to consider how the constitution will be explained rather than sold to the people. The Government must set out the practical implications of the ratification of the constitution, which is a single document applicable right across the EU. I hope the constitution will be met positively both here and in the other member states although I am cognisant of the fact that the context is always political and the political context in which the referendums take place across Europe will have a bearing on the results.
The stewardship provided by the Irish Presidency has been commendable. Ms Brigid Laffan, the Jean Monnet professor of European politics in the Dublin European Institute at UCD, writes about the Presidency in The Irish Times today. She offers a good overview of the management of the Presidency, the meticulous attention to detail and the logistics involved in planning it, the ability to manage the political agenda, particularly after the terrorist attacks in Madrid, and the manner in which the Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Ministers of State conducted business. She notes the key role played by Ms Anne Anderson, Ireland’s permanent representative to the EU and the first female member of the high-level Committee of Permanent Representatives. It is good to see a senior female diplomat playing such an important part in one of Ireland’s best political performances in recent years and it is a testimony to her diplomatic and administrative skills.
Ms Laffan notes in her article that the organisation of the Presidency would not have been so well implemented had the decentralisation programme proposed by the Government been in place. According to her:
The model of decentralisation that is being pursued at present will exacerbate co-operation problems and would have made the management of the Presidency very difficult. No modern State attempting to govern a complex society would embark on this model of decentralisation.
That is an argument for a different day. Considering the Presidency was such a major success, one must examine why it worked.
Mr. Dardis Mr. Dardis
Mr. Dardis: Is the Senator in favour of federalism?
Ms O’Meara Ms O’Meara
Ms O’Meara: When something is working, it should not be wrecked.
I welcome the inclusion of the new social article in the constitution, which requires the Union “to take into account requirements linked to a high level of employment, the guarantee of adequate social protection, the fight against social exclusion and a high level of education, training and protection of human health”. The Minister of State said Ireland was a strong supporter of the inclusion of this article. I am also a supporter and I hope such guarantees will be played out on the national stage as well as the international stage.
Dr. Mansergh Dr. Mansergh
Dr. Mansergh: I warmly congratulate the Minister of State, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Taoiseach, the other Ministers and the teams of civil servants in different Departments who made the Presidency such a success. It is a source of tremendous pride in the country and within the Oireachtas. Ireland has never had a bad Presidency and it has had a number of important Presidencies, particularly our first one in 1975 when we showed we could it do it well and in 1990 when immensely important events were taking place in central and eastern Europe, South Africa and economic and monetary union commenced.
However, there has not been an occasion when so much pressure has been put on Ireland to pull the coals out of the fire for the entire Union. No more important task has fallen to a member state holding the Presidency and this Presidency was not simply a matter of co-ordinating everything that was going on. It is an exceptional tribute to the diplomatic skills of the Taoiseach and everyone else concerned that this difficult and important task was brought to a successful conclusion.
Other highlights of the Presidency were the successful enlargement of the Union and a number of summits with different countries such as Russia, Japan and, especially, the US. Given the deep rift between European countries and the US, I am glad that, following UN Resolution 1546 and the common US-EU position adopted at Dromoland Castle, the international community is coming together again because divisions serve no one’s purpose in the long term.
I refer to a number of different aspects of the constitution. While the main Opposition parties have been extraordinarily generous in their support of the Irish Presidency and acknowledged its achievements, a number of people at the fringes of the political system and outside it take a different and more negative view. I understand the disappointment that there is not a stronger religious reference in the constitution, though it contains a number of positive provisions. I refer to the editorial of the Church of Ireland Gazette on 2 July, which puts that in perspective. It states:
The Preamble does not make the reference to Europe’s Christian heritage that some states and churches were seeking. No tears should be shed over this omission for the church does not need any special recognition. Moreover, to have given Christianity special mention could easily have been resented by other faith communities — and the EU is a place where many different faiths are to be found. It was important, however, to retain the much more significant Article 51, which guarantees the churches, among others, an entitlement to regular consultation by the institutions of the EU.
It is frustrating to continually read the mantras of opponents of the constitution relating to superpowers, super states and so on. Super states would not have much difficulty attracting numerous applications for president of a similar body to the European Commission, if it were the equivalent of the office of President of the US or President of Russia. The “super state” has resources equivalent to 1.2% of GDP.
I fully endorse the Minister of State’s comments on the subject of defence. Reference is often made to the militarisation of Europe. I gave a lecture at the Curragh military college yesterday, which was followed by a discussion. It was put to me as fact that military spending in the EU generally is being cut. I wish Senator O’Meara luck in trying to persuade her party colleague, Mr. Roger Cole, of this.
It has been suggested by persons close to an unsuccessful candidate in the European Parliament elections that the forthcoming presidential election should be used as a referendum on the European constitution. That is an extraordinary suggestion, since the people will have a specific opportunity to vote on the constitution in a referendum and, moreover, the President does not have a role in this regard. He or she is one of the signatories of the constitutional treaty.
I refer to an extraordinary remark by John Brown in a newspaper article. He stated:
As for the presidential election, the issues are totally different this time. We are at a pivotal point in Irish history where we are talking about the final nail in Ireland’s coffin as a sovereign state. At the time of the Nice referendum, President McAleese said it was a good model for European — Fianna Fáil’s integrationist. The question that needs to be asked is if the Irish people ratify the European constitution, will she sign it?
This raises the extraordinary prospect of the people voting in a referendum on a constitution and, if a certain person is elected President, he or she will have the power to refuse to sign it. People need to reflect on certain basics before they charge in. Ireland has become a more sovereign nation since it joined the EU in comparison with the more isolated sovereignty which prevailed prior to that. Sovereignty should be used in co-operation and co-ordination with other countries. Ireland has done fantastically well out of Europe. The constitution provides a framework, which will enable a larger Union to operate coherently. How could that be contrary to our interests?
Mr. Dardis Mr. Dardis
Mr. Dardis: I wholeheartedly welcome the Minister of State who deserves enormous credit for the work he has done and I join in the tributes paid to him, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, as well as to the Civil Service. It is quite remarkable, given the size of the country and of the public service, that we can produce a team of such quality. When one sees the resources available to the public services in larger countries, our public service deserves enormous credit.
It was an inspired choice to appoint a Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs who would deal with the constitutional treaty, and Deputy Roche was also an inspired choice for that position.
Dr. Mansergh Dr. Mansergh
Dr. Mansergh: Hear, hear.
Mr. Dardis Mr. Dardis
Mr. Dardis: It is not readily appreciated outside places like the Forum on Europe or the Joint Committee on European Affairs, of which I am a member, how much work and vigilance the early drafts of the constitution needed. It had to be watched on behalf of Ireland to ensure the eventual outcome was one with which we and other member states could live. The Minister of State deserves enormous credit for that work, which is not as widely recognised as it might be.
The landmarks of the Presidency have been mentioned of which enlargement on 1 May was probably the highlight. As the Minister of State said, it was an emotional day and Seamus Heaney put it most eloquently and admirably when he said: “On a day when newcomers appear let it be a homecoming for them.” That was a perceptive and accurate reflection of what the day meant.
Getting agreement on the constitutional treaty was a singular achievement. When the Taoiseach spoke about it in the early days of the Presidency as being an objective which could be secured there was widespread scepticism, even among those who were advocates of the treaty, that that could be done. That was a milestone. Getting agreement on the incoming President of the Commission was also something to be very proud of.
There is a message here about the ability of smaller countries to broker deals. We do not come to the table with some of the baggage and agendas larger countries bring. Obviously the Irish effort in this instance was singularly successful, and smaller countries can bring valuable qualities to the table when it comes to issues like these. The Minister of State has acknowledged that the role of the Opposition was critical as well, which is correct. The Government did not have to look over its shoulder at what the Opposition was saying, because there was a unity of purpose within the country on the direction which should be taken. That was very helpful to the Government and it was notable at last week’s meeting of the Forum on Europe that there was unanimity among all parties on the success of the Presidency.
Last week Senator Hayes and others referred to what was said at the forum. It was obvious at the forum that people had moved on to the debate we would face in adopting the constitutional treaty. It will be incumbent on any of us involved in the “Yes” side of that debate to know this document inside out, upside down and backwards, which has not always been notable in the past. The great virtue of this treaty is that we have one document. When we campaigned for Maastricht and other treaties we were looking through four different books to get back to the original Treaty of Rome and it was an incredibly difficult task even for those dedicated to the job. At least we now have that coherence, as well as a clarity of language, notwithstanding some of the criticisms of Euro-jargon.
However, there was selective quoting from the treaty at the forum. Article 40, paragraph 2, states that the common security and defence policy shall include the progressive framing of a common Union defence policy, and that this will lead to a common defence. One should leave it at that but PANA said this indicated there was a first strike capability on the part of NATO and it was going to drop a bomb on someone. One has to read the rest of the paragraph, which states:
This will lead to a common defence when the European Council, acting unanimously, so decides. It shall [this is the phrase the Minister of State mentioned, to which I also subscribe] in that case recommend to the member states the adoption of such a decision in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements.
The document goes on to state that the policy of the Union, in accordance with this article, shall not prejudice the specific character of security and defence policy of certain member states. The safeguards are there, and to represent it otherwise is mischievous and wrong.
Senator O’Meara spoke about bringing the message to the schools and the forum has done valuable work in that area. There are essay and debating competitions for schools, and literature and videos have also been distributed. I am not talking in particular about the adoption of the treaty but a message has been sent out to try to bring these issues to a broader audience. Surveys reveal that there has been an impact.
On the constitution itself, the question of fundamental rights is incorporated. The charter is there. However, it is represented that there are no attitudes here on social policy, but the treaty spells that out specifically, as well as the responsibilities of states in ensuring equity and fairness and that workers’ rights are protected. It was also valuable to sort out the difficulties with qualified majority voting and with taxation. The language has been simplified.
The only outstanding task is to appoint a Commissioner. Deputy Walsh would be a very good Commissioner, but that is a personal view. He has been an excellent Minister and he knows the situation inside out. He would be capable of doing a good job, although David Byrne also deserves credit for the job he has done.
Our attitude to ourselves has been transformed. I began farming before we joined the EU and can remember what it was like — the post-colonial attitude to which Senator Mansergh referred was dominant. We could not see beyond the nearest neighbour. We did not know there were places like Bosnia-Herzegovina or that there were problems in the Middle East. We could not see beyond the pond. Now we have a much broader perspective. We have much greater national self-confidence and we are out from under the colonial yoke that stifled us for so long.
Ms Ormonde Ms Ormonde
Ms Ormonde: Ours was a great Presidency which reflected very well on the country. As the Minister of State said, we are a small nation but we wear the green jersey very well. When the going gets tough, we get going.
We have a superb Civil Service, which reflects our educational system, as we saw with the superb brains behind the scenes that delivered on each programme stage by stage. Many contributors have mentioned the principle of subsidiarity, and I had to reflect for some time on that issue. Now I have grasped it, I do not want to see it in the arena again. It means that we take control of our own decision-making process in the areas of taxation, social and security policies. We can co-operate on the international scene when we want to fight crime but our military neutrality is protected. That is clear. When the debate starts I do not want that distorted or misrepresented, as began to occur at the forum last Thursday. Fortunately, the Minister for Foreign Affairs was present to challenge those doing so to a debate on facts. I welcome that debate, which we should start early in the autumn.
We have a good, readable and accessible EU constitution but we must now get it into the schools and the wider arena. This time, the media should give us a chance to disseminate the constitution to members of the public who still do not know what it is about. During the local elections campaign, the issue of the did not arise and was not on anybody’s agenda.
Mr. Dardis Mr. Dardis
Mr. Dardis: It was not even a European election issue.
Ms Ormonde Ms Ormonde
Ms Ormonde: It did not arise, even at a time when Ireland was on the international stage. We have risen to the challenge and no longer suffer from an inferiority complex or low self-esteem. We have made our role in Europe work. The new constitution has evolved from positive thinking. I wish the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, well and I hope his portfolio will not be changed, although there may be good reason to promote him.
Mr. Dardis Mr. Dardis
Mr. Dardis: He might be hoping for a change.
Ms Ormonde Ms Ormonde
Ms Ormonde: Due to the Minister of State’s understanding of European affairs, he should be the key person to push this positive thinking forward. The media is now beginning to come round, but I ask them to adopt a positive role in the next six months because we are in a make or break situation. Citizens want us to work for them and we must make them understand that the EU constitution is for the good of Ireland. We are a great little country and we should not spoil it now. I am happy to leave this matter in the hands of the Minister of State because he will make it work. I congratulate the Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister of State and all the senior staff who took part in Ireland’s EU Presidency. As with all good stories, we must take care of it.
Question put and agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 6.55 p.m. and resumed at 7 p.m.
Seanad Éireann 177 EU Presidency: Motion.