Dáil Éireann - Volume 538 - 21 June, 2001

European Council Meeting in Gothenburg: Statements.

The Taoiseach: Accompanied by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, and the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, I attended the European Council meeting held in Gothenburg, Sweden, on 15 and 16 June. On the evening before the Council itself, together with the other European Union Heads of State or [1007] Government, I had dinner with the President of the United States, Mr. Bush, who had earlier taken part in a formal EU-US summit meeting with Prime Minister Persson and President Prodi. Directly after the meeting of the European Council there was a working lunch involving the 15 EU member states, the 12 candidate states with which accession negotiations are under way and Turkey. I had pre-arranged bilateral meetings with Prime Minister Blair and Prime Minister Buzek of Poland and, as is normal, I had numerous informal conversations with colleagues from both member and applicant states. I have arranged for a copy of the Presidency conclusions from the European Council to be laid before the House.

Before I move on to the business of the summit I wish to comment on the disturbances that took place on the streets of Gothenburg during our meeting. They were disgraceful. I do not believe any cause can, or should, benefit from premeditated violence and vandalism of the type we saw. While the great majority of the protesters were genuinely peaceful, it is clear that a hard core set out to deliberately cause the maximum possible disruption and distraction. I hope those individual and the groups who genuinely wish to promote critical dialogue on issues such as the environment and world trade think carefully on how best they can disassociate themselves from the thuggery of a few.

Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): What about the victims of the Swedish police?

The Taoiseach: The people of Gothenburg have a fine and well run city of which they can be justifiably proud.

Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): I wish the Taoiseach to give way.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Taoiseach can give way only towards the end of his speech.

The Taoiseach: I am very sorry that during the Council so many citizens were inconvenienced and so many businesses damaged. I hope matters have very quickly got back to normal.

It would be unfortunate and unfair if the events in Gothenburg were considered to have distracted in any way from the success of the Swedish Presidency. Its handling of the Union's agenda has been efficient and sensitive and considerable progress has been made in many areas, above all with regard to enlargement. Sweden has demonstrated, just as others have in the past, ourselves included, that the smaller member states of the Union can play a very positive and distinctive role. I congratulate it on its success.

As the House will be aware, the outcome of the Irish referendum on the Treaty of Nice was, inevitably, a major topic of discussion at the European Council and at our meeting with the applicant states. Before going to Gothenburg, I [1008] asked the presidency for the opportunity to make a statement at the start of the meeting on the matter to ensure our partners at the highest level were fully aware of the Government's thinking. I also released my statement to the media and spoke in similar terms at the Union's meeting with the applicants. I have arranged to have my statement laid before the House, but it is important for me to place on the record exactly what I said.

I began by explaining that ratification of the treaty by Ireland requires an enabling amendment of our Constitution and it was on this that the people voted. I said this was the fifth referendum to be held in Ireland on a European matter since 1972. The previous four referenda on Ireland's accession, the Single European Act and the Treaties of Maastricht and Amsterdam all passed comfortably, even if the margin of success had been gradually declining. I explained that, on this occasion, the referendum was defeated by 54% to 46%. Of our 41 parliamentary constituencies, 39 voted against and the overall turnout was less than 35% of the total electorate – by some way the lowest in any EU referendum to date.

I said to my European colleagues, as I said last week in the House and elsewhere, that the Government was profoundly disappointed by the result. We have consistently argued to the public that the ratification of the Treaty of Nice is necessary for the enlargement of the Union; that enlargement is not alone an historic duty but a major opportunity—

Mr. Gormley: On a point of order, will the Taoiseach give way on this point? Mr. Prodi said today that is not the case.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: That is not a point of order. I ask the Deputy to resume his seat.

Mr. Gormley: I am asking the Taoiseach to give way.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy should resume his seat.

Mr. Gormley: On a point of order—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy's point of order is a point of disorder and he should resume his seat.

Mr. Gormley: Will the Taoiseach give way?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Taoiseach will continue.

Mr. Gormley: Will the Taoiseach answer that question?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I already dealt with the question of Deputy Higgins asking the [1009] Taoiseach to give way at the beginning of his speech.

Mr. Gormley: What the Standing Order states—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I will ask the Deputy to leave the House if he continues to be disorderly.

Mr. Gormley: Will the Chair give me the Standing Order? Will the Taoiseach answer the question? Mr. Prodi said enlargement would take place. This is wrong.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Does the Deputy wish to leave the House?

Mr. Gormley: Of course not.

The Taoiseach: We have consistently argued to the public that the ratification of the Treaty of Nice is necessary for the enlargement of the Union—

Mr. Gormley: Rubbish.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Please, Deputy Gormley

The Taoiseach: —that enlargement is not alone an historic duty, but a major opportunity for the existing members of the Union as well as for the candidate countries; and that the changes included in the treaty, which was a hard fought compromise, did not in any way affect Ireland's basic interests or threaten our values. I emphasised, however, that, while regretting it, at the same time we fully respect the democratic legitimacy of the people's decision.

I also sought to make it absolutely clear that, in my view, the “No” vote should not be interpreted as a vote against enlargement. Most of the leading “No” campaigners were at pains to say they supported enlargement and this has since been repeated by them. Last week, the Minister for Foreign Affairs personally reassured his colleagues in the applicant countries that Ireland remains fully committed to enlargement and to the successful conclusion of the accession negotiations. I solemnly reiterated that pledge.

I went on to say that it is now necessary for us to reflect carefully and patiently on how to move on from here. In that I asked for the support of my colleagues and their Governments. I said that the Irish Government very much appreciated their readiness, as expressed in Luxembourg at the General Affairs Council on 11 June, to contribute in every possible way to help us to find a way forward, taking into account the concerns reflected by the result of the referendum.

It would have been premature on Friday for me to begin to discuss how specifically the difficult situation in which we now find ourselves might be resolved. I repeated that we genuinely need, at national level, an extended period of reflection. [1010] I told the Council that the Government has announced the establishment of a national forum on Europe and I made it clear that I hoped this will allow for a more systematic and extensive debate on the European Union and its future direction than has ever before proved possible. There are also important questions to be considered regarding how our national Parliament scrutinises EU business.

I said that, nevertheless, I believed it is already apparent that many of the concerns, anxieties and uncertainties which led to the result – and to the very high level of abstentions – go well beyond the terms of the treaty itself. The result of our referendum graphically underscores what all those present at the European Council already knew – that there is, unfortunately, a widespread sense of disconnection between the institutions of the Union and its citizens. There is frustration at what is sometimes seen as an absence of clarity, openness and responsiveness in how the Union goes about its business. There is a real and urgent need to focus on how we can make the Union more meaningful to our citizens and on how its democratic accountability can be strengthened. I feel very strongly about this aspect.

I admitted that it is easier to diagnose the problem than to prescribe widely acceptable remedies. I also know that there are many misconceptions and misunderstandings which unjustly shape popular perceptions of the Union. Nevertheless, I stressed to colleagues that it is vital that this dimension be kept at the forefront of our thinking throughout the entire forthcoming debate on the future of the Union. At the end of my statement, I thanked each of my colleagues personally for their understanding. I said that the Irish Government is determined to work with them to find a mutually acceptable way forward which will help lead to the outcome all of us are committed to achieving, namely a successful enlargement of the Union.

Both at the European Council itself and at the meeting with the applicant states, I was heartened by the positive response to what I said. There was an unquestioning recognition of the validity and integrity of our own national constitutional processes. It was widely accepted that the “No” vote should not be seen as a rejection of enlargement by the Irish people, although, as Deputies will be aware, there remains in some quarters across Europe a degree of suspicion that this might be the case.

Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): The “No” vote is being treated with contempt. The Government members are all “yes” men and I am leaving the House in protest.

The Taoiseach: This makes it imperative that we continue to do all we can to demonstrate that this is not so. In the Council conclusions, partners restated their willingness to contribute in every possible way to helping to find a way forward.

My views about the sense of disconnection [1011] between the institutions of the Union and its citizens were very widely shared and there was an acceptance that this must be at the heart of what we do in the future. As the conclusions indicate, there was agreement that “the Union must be served by modern, open and citizen-oriented institutions”.

Enlargement was the major theme of the Council and of the Swedish Presidency as a whole. The clear message from our partners also is that the entry into force of the Treaty of Nice is a necessary condition of the enlargement process.

Mr. Gormley: I do not wish to be disorderly, but, under Standing Orders, the Taoiseach can give way to allow Deputies to ask a question.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy has 30 seconds.

Mr. Gormley: Many people want to know why Mr. Romano Prodi disagrees so profoundly with the Taoiseach. Mr. Prodi said enlargement can take place anyway and that the ratification of the Nice treaty is not required. I ask the Taoiseach to address that point.

The Taoiseach: I thank the Deputy for raising the question. I saw the headlines this morning and I checked what was said. I understand Mr. Prodi, who was asked this question this morning during interviews in Stockholm, said that he wished to put the record straight to the effect that whatever might be technically feasible from a legal point of view, this must not be confused with political imperatives. He believes the changes contained in the Nice treaty are necessary for an enlarged Union to work and so the treaty is a political condition for enlargement.

As the Deputy is aware, this is fully in line with the view of the European Council in Gothenburg last week. It said that the ratification process for the Treaty of Nice will continue so that the Union is in a position to welcome new member states from 2002 and the strongly shared view of the member states is that ratification of the Treaty of Nice is necessary for enlargement.

Mr. Gormley: Legally, it is possible to enlarge. That is precisely what we said.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy is being disorderly.

The Taoiseach: As the Minister for Foreign Affairs has rightly said, there is a need for mutual respect. We have asked our partners to respect the outcome of our referendum and they do so. However, at the same time, we need to respect their views and their own national parliamentary and constitutional procedures. They are fully entitled to continue their own ratification processes and it would have been wrong for me to go to Gothenburg and try to press them to stop. Just as Ireland has the right to make up its own [1012] mind by itself, so too others have the right to make up their own minds.

The entry into force of the treaty requires ratification by all 15 member states. If, by the end of 2002, not all have ratified, the treaty will not be able to enter into force as envisaged. Let there be no doubt that whatever hypothetical options may exist, the political reality in the view of the member states is that this would create major difficulties and would constitute a clear obstacle to enlargement on the basis all have been working on to date. We should all accept this fact. How we resolve the difficulties is genuinely a matter for further deep reflection. We all need time and space to consider the implications of this and to try to build some form of consensus on how to proceed.

Intensive work is continuing on preparing draft terms of reference for the national forum on Europe and on coming up with proposals on such key questions as its composition and working methods. I hope soon to be in a position to begin to discuss these issues with the Opposition parties so that it might be possible to reach broad agreement before the summer break with a view to the forum starting its work in the early autumn.

On enlargement, the European Council agreed that significant breakthroughs have been achieved in the accession negotiations under the Swedish Presidency and we are further ahead than was envisaged six months ago. While of course some important issues remain to be addressed, considerable progress has been made on such key areas of concern as the free movement of workers and the free movement of capital. Overall, more than two thirds of the negotiating chapters have been closed with the leading accession candidates. It was agreed that the overall road map for the negotiations which was adopted at Nice has managed to be both ambitious and realistic and it will continue to guide the incoming Belgian and Spanish Presidencies.

As the Council stated, this momentum has to be matched by continuing progress in the candidate countries in making the internal preparations they need to complete to meet the challenge of membership. There was a recognition of the need to devote special efforts to Bulgaria and Romania. The Council also restated the very important principle of differentiation, which means that candidate countries will continue to be judged solely on their individual merits.

Surveying the position overall, the European Council confirmed that the enlargement process is irreversible. We agreed that, provided progress towards meeting the accession criteria continues unabated, it should be possible by the end of 2002 to complete negotiations with those candidate countries which are ready. The objective is that they should participate in the European Parliament elections of 2004 as members. This last phase marks a step forward from what could be agreed six months ago.

The Union sent out a very strong and clear [1013] message that enlargement remains on course. This has been very positively welcomed by the accession countries. Certainly the Polish Prime Minister, Professor Buzek, was very welcoming of this position at my bilateral meeting with him. One purpose of the meeting was to emphasise the particular interest of Irish business in the Polish market. This underlines the potential value of enlargement and of the wider internal market it will help achieve. The greater prosperity of the new members, the strengthening of their administrative and judicial systems, and their adhesion to the EU's rules and policies in matters like competition policy, will all create valuable new opportunities. I spoke to Polish journalists with the Prime Minister and with journalists from other applicant countries.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs in his remarks will say something about the Council's consideration of external relations issues, including the Middle East and the Balkans, and of progress in the European security and defence policy. However, having attended the dinner with President Bush, I want to say a little about the EU-US relationship. Both sides agreed on the continuing fundamental importance of this relationship, and reconfirmed our core values and shared objectives. There is a need to ensure that dialogue between us continues to be frank and constructive. At a personal level, as was the case when I met him in Washington in March, President Bush was very engaged with the issues and presented his country's position forcefully and clearly, but in a positive and non-confrontational manner.

At the dinner, much of the discussion was about climate change. We noted, in a very honest and direct way, our disagreement over the Kyoto Protocol and its ratification. However, we expressed our shared determination to meet our national commitments and obligations under the climate change convention. The European Council welcomed the commitment by the US not to block the Kyoto process and to work constructively at the forthcoming COP-6 meeting in Bonn next month. A high level group of personal representatives is also being established to take forward dialogue on climate change.

I was particularly pleased that at the dinner we also discussed the HIV-AIDS crisis, especially in Africa. We agreed that there is a need for an integrated and comprehensive approach, and in particular the need to facilitate the broadest possible provision of drugs in an affordable and medically effective manner was emphasised.

At the European Council we also discussed a range of social and economic issues, flowing from our Stockholm meeting in March. Recognising the current weakening in growth prospects, we agreed that, while the fundamentals of the European economy remain strong, it is important to continue vigorously to pursue modernisation.

Apart from enlargement, however, the main other issue we discussed was sustainable development. The environment was one of the Swedish Presidency's main priorities. We agreed a strategy [1014] for sustainable development, which essentially means meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising those of future generations. It was agreed that there will be better policy co-ordination within the Union, including the integration of environmental questions with social and economic issues in the Lisbon process. The global dimension of what happens in Europe was recognised. Finally, four main environmental priorities for sustainability were identified: combating climate change; ensuring sustainable transport; addressing threats to public health; and managing natural resources more responsibly.

It was, therefore, a highly successful European Council which did very good business across a wide range of issues. It underscores yet again just how indispensable the European Union is in promoting action and co-operation for our common good in areas where it makes sense for us to work together. By pooling our sovereignty in appropriate areas all of the member states, and more importantly all of our people, are better off than we would conceivable be on our own. This European Council was important in bringing closer the day on which we will be able to welcome new members, which I am convinced is the strong wish of the Irish people.

Mr. Noonan: I wish to share my time with Deputy Jim O'Keeffe.

In a number of important respects the summit at Gothenburg last week was a unique experience for an Irish Head of Government. It was unique because of the level of interest on the part of our partners in the outcome of the referendum on the Nice treaty, because of an unprecedented split in the Irish delegation and because of the Taoiseach's failure to take away even a crumb of comfort from our EU partners as to how we might deal with the roadblock which has now been created on the road to enlargement.

Irish Heads of Government have gone to many summits over the past 36 years in circumstances where we have faced difficulties. On every occasion they have managed, through clever groundwork in negotiation, to come away with a satisfactory outcome. They have been able to do this, not least because of the goodwill built up over the years through Governments taking a constructive part in all Community activities. They have also been able to do this because Fine Gael and the Labour Party have built up a network of contacts at European political party level to a point where, in Fine Gael's case, the European People's Party exerts majority influence in the European Parliament. Both Fine Gael and Labour are active members of the European political party groupings and, incidentally, both Deputy Quinn and myself last week at Gothenburg gave full public and private backing to the Taoiseach at the meetings of our respective groupings.

The fact that Fianna Fáil does not belong to any such grouping puts the Taoiseach at a disadvantage at summits, and particularly at this [1015] summit. He was at an even greater disadvantage because of the Minister for Finance's very public and unnecessary row with the Commission on budgetary policy earlier this year. While this row may have had sections of the home gallery cheering for him, it resulted in a serious diminution in European Union goodwill for Ireland. The diminution of goodwill could not have come at a worse time. In Gothenburg the Taoiseach was faced, for the first time ever, with an atmosphere where there was some doubt, even before the outcome of the Nice treaty referendum, about Ireland's commitment to the current EU arrangements.

As some European finance Ministers have already pointed out to Deputy McCreevy, Ireland has at all times been a party to the negotiation of these arrangements. A Minister for Finance, therefore, was refusing to comply with guidelines which had been negotiated and agreed by himself. So the Taoiseach found himself in Gothenburg, against the background, not only of the negative referendum outcome but of the damage created by the extraordinary behaviour of the Minister, Deputy McCreevy, earlier in the year.

Unbelievably, the Minister for Finance added recklessly to the Taoiseach's difficulties by playing, in Gothenburg, the Eurosceptic card. We now know he did so in a deliberate and calculated manner. He was not trapped into it in the heady atmosphere of a summit by a persistent and tough questioner. He sought out the opportunity to make his point. Subsequently, when questioned, his spokesperson went out of his way to confirm the position the Minister had taken.

In any other country or party, leadership would have been exercised and the Minister, Deputy McCreevy, would either have been silenced, called on to retract his comments or asked to resign. What did the Taoiseach do? He simply shrugged his shoulders and said: “That's Charlie for you”. The Taoiseach should know that explanation is not enough now, no more than when he said the same thing in relation to the use by one of his predecessors as leader of Fianna Fáil of a book of blank cheques. It was not an adequate response then and it is not adequate now, when we are talking about a different Charlie.

European summits are important events where goodwill is built up which can be used when we face difficult negotiating positions on issues of national importance. In the annals of Ireland's participation in summits over 36 years, Gothenburg is the only self-inflicted wound. I sincerely hope the Taoiseach has learned a lesson and will apply it to ensure there is no repeat performance.

Perhaps we should not have been too surprised by the dismal performance at Gothenburg. Since the formation of the Government four years ago, the Taoiseach has seriously diluted its EU agenda. He is the first Taoiseach in recent years not to have appointed a Minister of State with responsibility for European Affairs to pull together, at political level, the European efforts of various Ministers and Departments. Former [1016] Deputy Máire Geoghegan-Quinn and Deputies Tom Kitt and Gay Mitchell exercised this function. The Taoiseach made an abortive attempt to appoint Deputy David Andrews as Minister for European Affairs but the initiative was vetoed by then Minister for Foreign Affairs, former Deputy Ray Burke, after which the Taoiseach did nothing. Unlike the administrations of his three predecessors, the Taoiseach does not have a Minister of State with responsibility for European Affairs.

Mr. Quinn: It shows.

Mr. Noonan: As Taoiseach he has done nothing about the all-party Committee's recommendation to use the Seanad to review EU regulations and directives. At this late stage I urge that this recommendation be implemented in full. I assure the Taoiseach of the wholehearted support of the Fine Gael Party to achieve this.

It is comical to hear the Attorney General talk about the undemocratic nature of EU directives when the same directives have to be sanctioned domestically before they can be signed in Europe and that, as part of that sanctioning, they are put through the Attorney General's office. It is ironic that the Attorney General lectures us on the undemocratic nature of directives when the Taoiseach is responsible for ordering business in the House and has ignored the all-party committee's recommendation that the Seanad should be used as a European chamber, in which EU directives are scrutinised.

The Taoiseach has also contributed to the democratic deficit of the European Union by dropping the publication of the Government's six-monthly report on EU developments relating to Ireland. A summary or reprise of what happened in Europe had always been presented to the Dáil and the Seanad. That practice has now stopped. It is a disgrace that the last such report covers the first half of 1999 and was not published until 16 months later in October 2000.

The Taoiseach heads a Fianna Fáil Party which is all over the place on Europe. His Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, is proud of his euro-scepticism, the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Deputy de Valera, can not even find her way to Brussels – the record shows that she is one of the worst attendees at Council of Minister meetings – and the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Cuiv, has truly contorted himself by canvassing for, and voting against, the Nice treaty.

Four days later the Taoiseach has still not done anything to heal the Government split manifested in Gothenburg. He has allowed his Ministers free rein and has not imposed a single sanction. In a scene reminiscent of “Après Match” the Attorney General has become a vocal critic of Government policies, to which he made a significant contribution during formulation.

Ireland's role in the future of Europe is too serious to be treated with the contempt that this [1017] Government is showing. We need constructive contributions to the debate, a unified approach at Government level and, above all, leadership from the Taoiseach. He must clearly set out the Government's objectives. We need coherence, ministerial backing for these stated objectives and a team approach to their fulfilment.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Observing this shambles of a Government in action, I am reminded of the words of WB Yeats in “The Second Coming”:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

On a political level I am delighted to see this Government falling apart. However, my political joy is tempered by one major concern. One of the major issues causing internal Government tension is our relationship with our European neighbours. Most Members will agree that our assured and massive access to the European market has been a major magnet for mobile international investment into Ireland over the past 25 to 30 years creating tens of thousands of well paid jobs.

The Taoiseach is aware – I refer, in particular, to the current choice between Ireland and Hungary – that investment decisions are already being called into question because of the uncertainty created by the Government about our future in Europe. Ambiguity, ambivalence and indecision in the Government parties is a total turn-off for those who make these investment decisions involving hundreds of millions of dollars. Euro-sceptic talk is cheap but it will have an enormous national cost unless the Government is able to present a coherent united front on an issue of such fundamental importance. I do not intend to further parade the growing list of provisional Europeans in the Government ranks who question the official Government line. Yeats had a line for them, “The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity”.

In reviewing the meeting in Gothenburg, it is fairly clear that 14 member states, with Ireland's consent or acquiescence, have agreed the Treaty of Nice will be ratified by the end of 2002 and the process of enlargement will proceed apace. One can conclude from the Gothenburg meeting that it is clear that as far as the other member states are concerned the defeat of the referendum proposal in Ireland is regarded as an Irish difficulty and, by implication, it is not a problem for the European Union or the other 14 member states. The Gothenburg meeting also made clear that the treaty is not open to re-negotiation. That, too, has been accepted by the Government.

Where does that leave us? I had hoped the Taoiseach would give an indication of the future of the Treaty of Nice as far as Ireland is concerned. It raises the question of when we will be told what Government policy is. The real question, however, is when there will be a Government policy and, once decisions are taken, will they have the full support of all Government members and parties? We have, again, an official [1018] and a provisional Government policy. Will some members of the Government support policy in a public capacity but not in a private capacity? If, after Gothenburg and the referendum, that is the end result of the deliberations of this Government, it will be a sure recipe for further failure.

Let us return to the question of what we should do now. Is it not obvious that there will be a second referendum? If we want to continue to fully participate in the development and enlargement of Europe, there will have to be a further referendum. The sooner that issue is confronted, the better. It is also important that we learn from the mistakes and failures of the Government in the last referendum. This primarily means the timing and arrangements must permit a proper debate and information campaign. I accept that there should be a reasonable period of reflection. This Government is in obvious need of it to enable it to formulate a policy and, I hope, secure the full support of its members therefor.

We also need to look at the reasons people voted “No” in the last referendum. There are people who oppose membership of the European Union.

With all the obvious benefits and no matter what the issue, there are people who will still vote against it. We must accept that it is their entitlement. There are others who are against the enlargement of the Union. We must accept that also. It is clear that the vast majority of the 18% of the electorate who voted against the Treaty of Nice do not fall into either of those categories. It is also very important that the prominent spokespersons of the “No” campaign proclaimed their support for enlargement. Given that the Treaty of Nice is principally designed to facilitate the enlargement of the Union, and to enable the enlarged Union to operate effectively and efficiently without individual member states of the 27 being able to veto virtually any proposal, it is critical that we isolate the reasons or the perceived reasons that led the majority to vote “No”. I would have expected some analysis of that from the Government.

I would also have thought that people from the European Union and in particular from the Commission would be careful and sensitive towards the situation here. President Prodi's comments on the enlargement of the Union and his manner of their expression were not helpful to the debate. I am glad the Taoiseach had the opportunity of clarifying that issue following the intervention from Deputy Gormley. It is an indication of how important it is for people like President Prodi to be careful in the way in which they express their views. They should be sensitive to the issues that confront people domestically.

It is important that there be an informed debate on the main issues and that it is not conducted in the hot-house atmosphere that we have had since the referendum result. It is also important not to have the hot air that we have had from different elements of the Government parties on the issue. We need a balanced and [1019] informed debate rather than slogans on neutrality and militarism. The myth of the European super state needs to be confronted. There are strong federalists who have expressed views but it is totally dishonest to suggest that these views are represented in the Treaty of Nice and that issue has to be confronted.

I am in favour of the Labour Party's proposal for the forum. However, I understood the forum was principally designed to deal with the post-Nice treaty position. The four principal issues, the division of responsibilities within the member states, the charter, the simplification of the treaties, and the role of national parliaments. I enthusiastically endorse the forum. I have some concerns about the way the Government has hijacked the Labour Party proposal for the forum to use it as a sticking-plaster approach to the Treaty of Nice problem.

Mr. Cowen: You cannot win. You just cannot win.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: I am delighted the Government accepted the Labour Party proposal. I am concerned that was a Pavlovian response to the failure of the Treaty of Nice referendum. It may work. I saw Deputy O'Malley, another alleged supporter of the Government, raising some questions about it.

Mr. Quinn: It is just another demarcation dispute.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Indeed. That was not the original basis on which the forum was proposed but I hope it will work.

Mr. Cowen: We look forward to the Deputy's full co-operation.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: I have heard a great deal of criticism from people speaking both publicly and privately about the inadequacy of the monitoring of EU legislation. People used that as a reason for voting against the Treaty of Nice. I would expect more sense from people, bearing in mind the positions which they occupy. If they want to criticise anyone for that, they should criticise the Government. It is a matter for the Government to put in place the appropriate procedures.

Four years ago, I as chairman assisted in completing a report on the Seanad which focused on that very issue. The report suggested that the Seanad should be the bridgehead to Europe, it highlighted the deficiencies in relation to this very issue. That report of the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution has been on the Taoiseach's desk since the day he took up office, has been on the Attorney General's desk since he took up office, and nothing has been done. If there is a complaint against anybody or people wish to vote against anything or anybody, because of the inadequate procedure we have in place here for monitoring Community legislation, [1020] then complain about the Government and vote against the Government and do not confuse people on that issue.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Naughten): Deputy Quinn has 20 minutes speaking time.

Mr. Quinn: I wish to share my time with Deputy Proinsias De Rossa.

It is rare that events in Ireland dominate the European political agenda, but the Gothenburg summit was one such occasion. The backdrop to the summit was dominated by two events, the outcome of the Nice referendum in Ireland and the first visit of the new US President, George W. Bush, to Europe. I attended a meeting of the PES leaders and dealt with the issue of referendum and was pleased that I got a better reception than that which seems to have been accorded to Deputy Noonan at his gathering. Emotions continue to run high about the outcome of the referendum, something which Ministers have sought to stoke since the result came in. Initially the reaction to the result from Europe was particularly unhelpful. Suggestions that the enlargement of the Union can go ahead to deal with all the accession states regardless of the Irish result are simply untrue and ultra vires the treaty itself. Frustration at one level is understandable. Accession negotiations have been going better than expected under the Swedish Presidency and it is no doubt a difficult job to do to explain in the accession countries, where the Enlargement Commissioner, Gunter Verheugen, found himself, that things have changed. On that note I congratulate the Swedish presidency for an excellent six months of work, as has the Taoiseach. Nevertheless it would be a bad day's work and counter-productive for the European Union if it was seen to ride roughshod over its own structures which are already held in some disrepute by its citizens.

In that context I am deeply unhappy with the remarks attributed to the President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi. The European treaties are not something to be played with, their spirit should be adhered to. If the Nice treaty falls – and remarks like that of Mr Prodi help ensure that it will – then enlargement beyond the 20 members currently allowed for is a matter for another Intergovernmental Conference. It will inevitably be delayed. Sadly, the clarification or correction which the Taoiseach read into the record of the House fell on very deaf ears and will not get front page Irish Times coverage in the way that we saw today. That said, I do not believe the vote in Ireland was a vote against enlargement. I agree with the Attorney General that a European Union which comprises a greater number of smaller states will be an easier one for countries like Ireland to work and prosper in. However, to do so our Government will have to drop its obsession with inter-governmentalism, particularly with the UK, and to support the role of the Commission.

Nonetheless again we have to accept that the [1021] result of our referendum is such as to delay the enlargement procedures. That is not something with which I feel comfortable, but it is a reality. It is time for a period of reflection on all the issues involved so that they can be debated in a mature fashion. At one level it is not necessarily contradictory to say that enlargement can go ahead despite the Irish vote. As has been pointed out, there is provision for a further five new members under existing treaty law. Although I do not envy anybody the job of telling them it has to come out of a hat if more than five applicant states are deemed to qualify to join. There will be other treaties. There is an Intergovernmental Conference scheduled for 2004, for example. Issues can be addressed there.

What has happened while and since the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs attended the summit is a source of more immediate concern, certainly to me. The contributions by the Ministers Deputies de Valera Ó Cuiv and McCreevy are deeply cynical. As one editorial put it yesterday the time to intervene, as members of the Government, about the Nice treaty was before it was signed. Remember, the treaty was only signed formally in February although negotiations concluded in December. All these Ministers had plenty of time to reflect on what had occurred. Some of us who had reservations about the treaty also had time to reflect but we at least have stuck by decisions we made then.

I am not interested in playing politics with this issue. In a way, I do not need to. The Taoiseach's Ministers are doing a good enough job undermining their own party leader without assistance from me. That it conveys an impression of a Cabinet without any courage, coherence or leadership is inescapable. The comments made by junior Ministers, Deputies O'Donnell and Kitt yesterday can only be understood in that context. The failure of the Taoiseach to speak with a clear voice is prompting others to do so. The result is further dangerous division. It also conveys the impression of a deeply conservative Cabinet.

Acting Chairman: May we have silence in the gallery, please?

Mr. Quinn: At least there is somebody up there.

Acting Chairman: The Deputy may proceed.

Mr. Quinn: The Tánaiste has suggested that Ireland's “No” vote to the treaty was not influenced by the fact that Ireland would no longer receive European funds. I am, on balance, inclined to agree with her. For my part I have argued for a number of years that the end of the begging bowl era presented an opportunity for us to be more assertive in Europe. Sadly, it is not a position the Government adopted, choosing instead to get the ultimate out of the begging [1022] bowl, and I think accordingly a chance to engage the Irish people in a new dialogue about Europe was lost. I do think that becoming net contributors to the Union is having a profound effect on the Cabinet.

Let me expand. The end of the “funding” era has come with the end of another European project in which we are participating – the completion of the Single Market and the single currency. It seems these are the only two projects in which Irish conservatives are truly interested. The Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, and the Attorney General are big business, small government people. They reject the European social model and do not want anything to do with it. Part-time working directives and consultation rights for workers are not on their list of priorities or on the list of priorities for the Government. For them it is critical that Europe takes minimalist positions on social and environmental issues. The issue is simply free trade. For them a process of intellectual disengagement has begun and it puts their support for the Amsterdam Treaty – the first European Treaty on social issues – in a poor light.

The Attorney General's contribution to the debate was an interesting one although far less so than his media champions suggest. He was implicitly critical of himself and the Government but let us deal with the issues he raised. The use of language like “federalism” and “super state” is deliberately designed to be emotive. We are already part of a federal arrangement of sorts when we pool some sovereignty. The word is commonly used by eurosceptics to convey the notion of a united states of Europe along the lines of the United States of America. There are, in my experience, few adherents to this view of the future of Europe as a single united states of Europe analogous to, identical to or similar to that of the United States of America. Similarly words like “constitution” are used in the same fashion. Again the Attorney General seeks to convey the impression of a monolithic state but I have another take on the issue of a constitution.

What are European treaties but a series of basic laws save in this case presented in a fashion that is totally and utterly intractable for its citizens? No European citizen can acquire a copy of its basic law in the same fashion that Irish citizens can purchase copies of Bunreacht na hÉireann. That is what I think a European constitution can offer its citizens – clarity and perspective. It need not be an integrationist project but it could demystify the language and ownership of the debate about the European Union issues that helps alienate it from its citizens.

The other fundamental issue raised by the Attorney General is the issue of accountability. On that we are at one. The Dáil has not fulfilled its obligations to scrutinise European decision making properly. To be more precise, it is the decision making of the Irish Executive outside the Dáil and particularly in Europe that is not sufficiently scrutinised. There is a tendency of late [1023] to blame Europe for all our failings even when it is clear the failings are our own.

This is an issue the Labour Party raised during the debate on the treaty. Today we have published our European Union Bill that addresses this issue. We are doing so because we have said we would and because measures such as we are proposing should have been implemented years ago. It is not part of any attempt to revisit the people's decision. We seek merely to correct a failing of our own. Similarly we pointed out during the campaign that excessive secrecy attaches to the way the European Union, and particularly Irish Ministers acting in the European Union – I confess my own guilt in relation to this procedure, it is not unique to the current Administration – do their business and I believe the Freedom of Information Act should apply to the maximum extent possible here.

We disagree with the Attorney General and the constitutional review group on one issue which is that the Seanad should be designated the body to review European legislation. That view fails to recognise the expertise garnered by Members of both Houses in respect of specialist committee memberships. It makes sense to us that if there is a transport issue facing an Irish Minister in Europe, the body it should be asked to consult with is the Oireachtas committee charged with these issues. Co-ordination of policy and/or difficulties that arise seem to us to demand this approach. However, we are prepared to listen to what others have to say.

One newspaper has congratulated the Attorney General on being the first to make an important contribution about the future of Europe and Ireland's relationship to it. That remark needs to be put in context. A formal debate about the future of Europe has been under way since 7 March. One of the strengths of the Nice treaty was that it recognised how limited its scope was and ordained that a proper debate about the ultimate destination of the European project take place. This is a source of concern to many people and is used, as per the Attorney General, to strike anti-European poses.

It is in this context that the debate about Europe has been taking place and in which contributions by other member states should be seen. We should not have an inferiority complex about this. We should be making our voice heard. Our views on Europe are as important as those of the French or Germans. It is the manifest failure of the Government to make any voice heard that creates the impression that we are being lectured at by others. Why should the Taoiseach not do some thinking aloud himself on behalf of the Government? I suspect the reality is that he has no position or, alternatively, as his Cabinet manifests, an array of positions.

That does not mean there is a monolithic view among others that is to be imposed on us. The French and the Germans, for example, do not agree so there is little chance of them ganging up [1024] on us, as the impression was so assiduously created elsewhere. There is no point in criticising the French or the Germans or anybody else for participating in a debate that we are all entitled to join in. In fact there are Irish citizens making their views known on this debate on the Europe website.

Until Monday however, the Irish Government was silent and even the Attorney General claims to have been speaking in a personal capacity. This is no way to run Government policy in an area critical to our well being. The Taoiseach has talked in the past about the debate only beginning at the Laeken Council in December. I hope he has been disabused of that notion by now. If not today's newspsper coverage of his leadership role should convince him.

I welcome the decision by the Government to accept the Labour Party proposal for a national forum on Europe. It was a generous response from the Government and I wholeheartedly welcome it. I do not know that any forum can actually achieve national consensus given the wide range of various views on this issue but it must do a job in exploring all the issues in their full complexity. For too long the debate about Europe has been dominated by specialist groups such as the IFA, ICTU and IBEC along with our own Civil Service. The language has been dominated by European institutions in terminology that is inaccessible to most citizens who have little hope of getting to grips with the intricate workings of the Union, the Council of Ministers, the role of the President, the Commission and the Parliament. What the people did on 7 June has given notice that that era is over. The national forum for Europe originally conceived in respect of the Intergovernmental Conference 2004 project can now do that in respect of where we find ourselves now.

As I stated earlier the other significant event was the arrival of US President Bush. I am no less uneasy about the global intentions of the new President than I was before. Our own position on global warming may not be a good one – another of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government's failures – but at least we are not in total denial. The continued rejection of the Kyoto Accord by the US is unacceptable particularly in light of recent scientific research within the US. Accordingly the position adopted by the US President is mind boggling.

Similarly one cannot help being concerned about the latest Star Wars initiative which seems capable of fuelling another arms race, particularly in light of the ongoing instability within Russia. I can only hope that through a process of constructive engagement at a global level the new US Administration can take some of the hawks within.

I look forward at the earliest possible opportunity of discussing with the Taoiseach the shape and composition which the forum on Europe should take so that we can meet the objectives stated publicly by him, which I share, so that it [1025] can be established during the summer months and can commence work in earnest in September.

Proinsias De Rossa: I start by congratulating the Swedish Presidency for an excellent and successful Presidency. The Swedes set out three main objectives on employment, enlargement and the environment. They have been successful on all three. I am particularly pleased that they put sustainable development on the European agenda and this is on an equal footing with the objectives of full employment, having the most competitive economy and the most cohesive society in the world. These are very worthwhile objectives.

I also deplore the organised violence by, what appears to be, a group of anarchists that now travel around the world to various events and summits. It was particularly unfortunate that this should happen in Sweden, which is renowned for its democracy and openness in how it does its business. It was not deserved by the Swedish people or Government.

Unfortunately, in all debates on Europe and in particular those held in Ireland, the social dimension to what is achieved in summits and treaties is always ignored. One of the features of the Nice debate was that the major steps forward made in Nice on the social agenda were ignored. It was the same with the Amsterdam treaty. In the past six months the achievements of Swedish Presidency included updating the 1976 Equal Treatment Directive; the extension of the Information and Consultation to Workers; the proposal in relation to a European co-operative society directive, which will parallel the European company statute directive that was approved just six months ago; and the economic sustainability issue, which is key to how Europe will evolve and develop in the future.

The position of the Irish Greens and people like Deputy Joe Higgins, who are all absent from this debate, is always negative. I simply cannot understand why they ignore the advances that are made on behalf of the common people of this island and of Europe by the European Union treaties and summits.

It is unfortunate that the metaphor that springs to mind in relation to this Government's position on Europe is headless chickens. It is extraordinary that in the aftermath of what is in effect a watershed for Ireland's role in Europe that we have this cacophony of voices from the Government all pointing in different directions. That is legitimate in relation to a forum or a debate about what place we take in Europe, but in the immediate aftermath of Nice it sends clear signals to the people that those who voted “Yes” were wrong and those who voted “No” or stayed away from the polls were right. That is the unfortunate message being delivered by this divergence of views that has emerged from the Government in the aftermath of Nice.

The debate that we are now having clearly demonstrates the left-right divide on Europe and its future. The Minister for Finance, Deputy [1026] McCreevy, the Tánaiste, Deputy Harney, and more recently the Attorney General have clearly outlined their preference for the European economic and social model based on individualism. In the United States, they are quite happy to have that; that is their choice. The European choice has always been for the European social model based on solidarity. There is a clear debate emerging as between those two positions. That is a point at which we will divide. I do not know where other Ministers stand; perhaps in the course of the forum this will emerge. In my view there is a clear divide on how the key figures in Government believe Europe should evolve.

At the weekend the Taoiseach signed up to the broad economic guidelines negotiated by the Minister for Finance two weeks ago. No sooner had the Minister for Finance negotiated the broad economic guidelines for 2002 than he announced that he would not comply with them. Will the Taoiseach insist that his Government Ministers, and in particular the Minister for Finance, comply with the guidelines that he has freely negotiated on behalf of this country with our partners in Europe? That is a fundamental question because we will face another crisis with Europe if the Minister, Deputy McCreevy, goes down the road he is currently signalling and the Taoiseach has an obligation to haul him in or sack him.

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen): I wish to address some of the external relations issues discussed at Gothenburg and perhaps comment on some other developments raised in the debate.

The European Council issued a declaration on the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in which it reaffirmed the necessity of a political solution in that troubled country while recalling the EU's strong attachment to the inviolability of borders and the sovereignty of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The EU reaffirmed the necessity of a political solution based on the opening of a true dialogue between all parties covering all issues, including key constitutional matters, and the establishment of a durable peace. President Trajkvoski has presented a plan for disarmament, which has been adopted by his government. This is a good basis for progress. It is imperative that the ceasefire is maintained and consolidated. The Prime Minister of FYROM is due to report on the progress of the political dialogue to the General Affairs Council in Luxembourg next Monday. I am aware of some developments in the interim since those Council conclusions were agreed and we will take up those very serious matters when the President comes to discuss those issues on Monday.

The Swedish Presidency's report on European security and defence policy covers both civilian and military aspects of crisis management. Five annexes are attached to the report, focusing largely on civilian crisis management issues. The report and annexes are generally favourable from [1027] Ireland's perspective. The report confirms that the development of European security and defence policy strengthens the Union's capacity to contribute to international peace and security in accordance with the principles of the UN Charter. The primary responsibility of the UN Security Council for the maintenance of peace and security is also well reflected.

In this context, the European Council took note of the important steps, which have been taken to reinforce the political dialogue and strengthen co-operation between the EU and the UN. It was agreed that the EU-UN partnership should be further strengthened by ensuring that the Union's evolving military and civilian capabilities provide real added value for UN crisis management activities.

Significant progress was also made at Gothenburg in the areas of civilian crisis management and conflict prevention. A Programme for the Prevention of Violent Conflicts was approved.

The European Council also noted developments in relations with NATO and with non-EU countries. Developments in these areas are in accordance with the important principles of the autonomy of decision making of both organisations and of non-discrimination against any State.

The conclusions of the EU-US Summit on Thursday 14 June included a statement on the Middle East, welcoming the Mitchell Report and urging both Israel and the Palestinians to implement the report's recommendations in all aspects, including ending the violence, taking confidence building measures and reviving negotiations. The Middle East was the main topic of discussion at the dinner held that evening between the EU Foreign Ministers and US Secretary of State, Colin Powell.

The European Council itself gave full support to the Mitchell Report recommendations seeing its implementation by both sides as a window of opportunity. What is needed now is a continuing and effective commitment to the cessation of incitement and violence by both sides in the lifting of closures. It welcomed the recently agreed Palestinian-Israeli security implementation work plan. This requires effective commitment to bring about sustainable progress in the security situation and the lifting of closures. Importantly, the European Council called for the total freezing of settlements activity. A cooling off period should start as soon as possible to allow for the implementation of confidence building measures, leading to the resumption of full and meaningful negotiations for the final status agreement on the basis of UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. The European Council agreed with the view of the High Representative, as set out in his report to the Council, that rebuilding confidence needs urgent improvement of the situation on the ground, that rebuilding faith in peace needs EU support for the restoration of co-operation between civil societies and that aid to the Pales[1028] tinian institutions and economy remains a European commitment that we should maintain as part of the international effort to further the peace process in the region.

On Algeria, the European Council called on all those responsible in Algeria to act to end the present confrontations and violence and called on the authorities to initiate a political initiative aimed at overcoming the crisis by means of a dialogue among all Algerians.

On East Timor, the European Council expressed full support for the forthcoming elections for the constituent assembly and agreed that the EU would make a substantial contribution to the international monitoring of the elections.

On the Korean peninsula, the European Council welcomed the result of the EU mission to the two Koreas, led by Prime Minister Persson. The inter-Korean dialogue and co-operation, non-proliferation and human rights will remain issues of vital importance for further progress in developing the EU-Korean relations.

On Chechnya, the European Council agreed that a political solution to the conflict in Chechnya is urgently needed. Repeated violations of human rights have to be thoroughly investigated and perpetrators brought to trial. Russia has confirmed its readiness to co-operate with the EU in delivering humanitarian assistance programmes.

On the media in Russia, the situation of the independent media in Russia concerns the EU as a strong civil society, freedom of speech and pluralism in the media are key components of a modern democratic society and are vital for a genuine EU-Russian partnership.

On Kosovo, the European Council called on all parties to engage constructively in the implementation of the UN sponsored institutional framework for provisional self-government in Kosovo and to participate in elections scheduled for later this year.

On non-proliferation, the European Council agreed that the EU would draw up a common position in the fight against ballistic missile proliferation based on the universalities of the international code of conduct proposed by Missile Control Technology Regime. This initiative could lead in time to the convening of an international conference.

On EU-US relations, the Taoiseach spoke at the working dinner which took place between the Heads of State and Government and President Bush. The European Council meeting had been preceded by the regular summit meeting between the EU and the US where the Union, in line with established practice, was represented by the Presidency and the Commission. The Presidency reported that the meeting with President Bush took place in a very positive and friendly atmosphere and provided an ideal opportunity to reconfirm the essential values and shared objectives which are at the heart of the Europe's relations with the United States. As indicated in the European Council's conclusions, areas identified for further co-operation or joint foreign [1029] policy action include the Middle East, the Western Balkans and the Korean Peninsula.

There was agreement that climate change was the most urgent challenge to be faced. The differences between the EU and the US with regard to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change were acknowledged, as was the need for continuing dialogue on this most important area.

There was also agreement on the need for comprehensive action to combat AIDS and HIV and to facilitate the broadest possible provision of affordable drugs and on the need to launch a new inclusive round of global trade negotiations at the ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation which is to take place in Qatar next November. The EU Foreign Ministers had an informal dinner with Secretary of State Colin Powell, which provided an opportunity to discuss areas of global concern, in particular the Western Balkans and the Middle East.

Following the General Affairs Council in Luxembourg earlier last week, I had a series of bilateral meetings with Foreign Ministers of the candidate countries who were there for enlargement negotiations. The purpose of my meetings with the Foreign Ministers was to reassure the candidate countries that Ireland remained fully committed to the enlargement process. I pointed out that the referendum result should not be seen as a rejection by the Irish public of enlargement of the EU. I also told the Foreign Ministers that, despite our difficulties with the Nice treaty ratification process, Ireland would not be the cause of any delay in the negotiation and accession process. I conveyed a similar message to the ambassadors of these countries when I met them as a group in Dublin on 13 June. As the Taoiseach has already told the House, he also took the opportunity to reassure candidate prime ministers of Ireland's pro-enlargement policy in Gothenburg on Saturday, 16 June.

In relation to some issues which were raised in the debate with regard to the enlargement question, the member states are unanimous in their view that the ratification process must continue on the basis of the text as agreed at Nice and in accordance with the agreed timetable. They made it clear that there could be no question of any reopening of the text agreed at Nice. The Gothenburg European Council confirmed these conclusions while restating a willingness to do everything possible to help Ireland resolve the difficulties which have arisen. Mutual respect cuts both ways. Just as we rightly expect respect for the outcome of our referendum, we must also respect the unanimous view of the other 14 member states, fully supported by the applicant states. They are unwavering in their conviction that the Treaty of Nice is required for enlargement.

There has been an effort by some to use remarks by President Prodi to suggest that there is a contrary position in this regard. The unanimous and settled view of the member states is that enlargement can only proceed on the basis of the Treaty of Nice. There is no agreement – [1030] and no prospect of any agreement – to proceed on any other basis. That is the fact of the matter, and it will not be changed by reference to hypothetical, but entirely unreal, legal scenarios. I welcome the fact that President Prodi has indicated his concern at any construction placed on his remarks which would suggest otherwise. In his comments in Stockholm this morning, he has reiterated his view that the Treaty of Nice remains an imperative for enlargement. That is the factual position. He and the member states take this view because of the simple realisation that only by making the changes provided for in the treaty can an enlarged Union work in an acceptable manner.

It is surely obvious to all that an effectively functioning Union is not only in Europe's interests but is a vital national interest. That is why the Government is determined to ensure, through the forum on Europe, that we have the kind of full-scale debate on these issues which the situation demands.

I wish to refer briefly to some of Deputy Quinn's comments. I have already indicated on a number of occasions, even before the Treaty of Nice, that the Government is anxious to proceed with such a forum. The fact that the outcome of the referendum has been negative clearly indicates that the Treaty of Nice issues need to be addressed in that context. While I appreciate Deputy Quinn's sincerity in these matters, it does nobody any justice to get involved in labelling others. That is doing a great discredit to the complexity of this debate.

A grave disservice is also done to people's understanding of our role in Europe when it is suggested that we are moving from a begging bowl mentality to some other kind of mentality. No Irish Government has had a begging bowl mentality towards Europe. What was agreed in the Delors Plans 1 and 2 was precisely the economic realisation that, in a Single Market with its own centrifugal economic force, it was necessary for peripheral regions to be given the economic, social and cohesion funds which would allow them to compete in that Single Market. That was not a begging bowl mentality. It does little service to the argument for supporters of the EU – the vast majority of people in this House and in the country – to suggest that we have been engaged on the basis of a handout mentality. It has been a hands-on mentality. Successive Governments since 1973 have used those funds and have taken on board the multi-annual programming approach sought by the EU Commission and the other institutions which we have allowed to be part of our planning and decision making process, strategically, economically and socially. That is what has enabled Ireland to take up the benefits which we derive from membership of the European Union.

When we proceed to have the debate, I look forward to the substance and content of it bringing greater clarity to people's understanding of Ireland's present role in the EU, what the Treaty [1031] of Nice accession would mean if we agree to it and what the further post-Nice debate should be about. I put it to everybody in the House that we need to make sure that the substance and content of that debate will serve the purpose of public information. We must be conscious of the tone and tenor of what we have to say to others who may have a general overall agreeable view, but have a difference on detail. That should not dictate people's understanding of the issues as it has up to now.

Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.