European Union Bill 2009: Order for Second Stage – Wednesday, 21st October 2009.

October 21st, 2009 - Pat Breen

I thank my colleague, Deputy Timmins, for sharing time with me. As he and the Minister indicated, the Bill fulfils the legislative requirement to give domestic effect to the Lisbon treaty. It is primarily an administrative measure and is broadly similar to the legislative instruments passed in the immediate aftermath of the Nice treaty ratification in 2006.
The Bill also provides for a number of other measures independent of giving domestic effect to the treaty. Given the short timescales involved some minor provisions and sections are not discussed. Rather, the Bills digest discusses the Bill around three principal themes. The first is to give domestic effect to the Lisbon treaty. We need the treaty to reform the institutions of the European Union. When the European Union was formed in 1957 there were six member states. It is obvious that a Union of 26 countries would require changes.
The European Union, then EEC, was set up following the Second World War. After the events of 11 September 2001 it was evident that the European Union would have a responsibility to fight against injustice and to ensure that global matters were settled peacefully rather than through war. The European Union decided that it was time that the then 25 member states would stand together on a global stage and be part of world events. The Union involves 500 million people working closely together in all areas, not just to maintain peace but also on economic matters. It is important that we have an ability to play a leading role in the new world order.
During the referendum campaign I used the analogy of a club to explain why we needed to ratify the treaty. No club of 27 people would agree on a single issue. Differences in language and culture also play a part. In any club one must have rules and regulations. The resounding support for the treaty on this occasion was in stark contrast to the situation of one year ago. One wonders if the Celtic tiger had continued whether the people of Ireland would have given a resounding “Yes” on this occasion also. Perhaps it was the reality of the recession that brought people to their senses and convinced them of how important Europe is to this country, how much it meant to us and how much we have got from it since we joined in the 1970s.
On this occasion the people gave a resounding “Yes” to the treaty. A total of 67.1% of people voted for it compared to 32.9% against. That is very different from the previous occasion when the “No” vote won by 53.4% to 46.6%. My own constituency of Clare played an important role in both campaigns.
On both occasions we gave a resounding “Yes” to the treaty. In the second referendum on 2 October last the “Yes” vote increased. All parties played an important role during the campaign.
The referendum generated significant media interest in this country during the first week in October. There were 560 TV, radio and print journalists; not only from other EU countries but from as far away as China and Japan. Anyone with satellite television who watched it on 2 October could see that this country was at the forefront of the news on Euronews, France 24, al-Jazeera and others. They were camped outside awaiting the result. They did not have to wait for too long as the results came in early on Saturday morning. It was clear from early on that this country was going to endorse the Lisbon treaty on this occasion. I was at the count in Ennis where the tallymen got the correct result early on.
When canvassing on this occasion I found that people had a far clearer understanding of what is involved in the treaty. The political parties on the “Yes” side ran a very effective campaign second time around. I congratulate all those involved in the “Yes” campaign on how it was conducted. We canvassed at supermarkets and door to door. People were angry with the Government’s mismanagement of the economy but they put that aside on this occasion because they felt that Europe was so important in helping us to get out of the recession. That shows how intelligent the electorate is and that people have a clear understanding of what is happening. A good campaign was run in the media also. It was a victory for democracy. Deputy Timmins was the Fine Gael director of elections. We played an important role in the campaign. The Minister, Deputy Martin, has acknowledged the role played by Opposition parties. We distributed over 1 million pieces of literature, held 40 meetings around the country, put up 25,000 posters and our party leader travelled more than 6,000 km and visited almost every constituency to promote a “Yes” vote.
The reason there was a substantial swing was partly due to the greater role played by the political parties. However, the legal guarantees that were negotiated by the Taoiseach and Minister and his team in Brussels were very important. Deputy Timmins referred to that and the Millward Brown research poll. Issues such as the retention of our EU Commissioner, the right to life and the fears that people had on the previous occasion that Irish people could be conscripted into an EU army were dispelled. We focused more on the positive aspects of the treaty. We all remember that in the previous referendum the “No” side depicted certain issues but on this occasion they did not succeed in convincing the people. The people we met at the doorsteps understood that the guarantees we secured in regard to Ireland’s position were important.
The deterioration in our finances did not reflect a rejection in terms of the outcome even though more than 423,000 people are now unemployed. People understood that we cannot get out of this mess on our own, that we need Europe and to be at the heart of the Union.
The Declan Ganley factor in the campaign was important. He said he would not get involved in a second referendum following his failure to get elected in the European elections but then he become involved in the “No” side of the campaign at a late stage. The business people who got involved in the “Yes” side of the campaign played an important role.
Love him or loathe him, the debate with Michael O’Leary on “Prime Time” was also an important factor. As a successful businessman, he, as well as others, came forward in support of the “Yes” side of the campaign. However, Mr. Ganley’s entry into the race backfired on this occasion.
The “Yes” side were very organised. All sections of society including business people, trade unions such as SIPTU, former taoisigh, particularly a former Taoiseach and former leader of our party, Garret FitzGerald, played an important role on this occasion. That must be acknowledged. The fact that Garret FitzGerald, who is in his eighties and is still actively interested in the European project, shows his commitment to the European ideals.
There are lessons to be learned from the campaign. All political parties can learn lessons from the negative campaigning that took place. The “No” poster claiming that Ireland’s minimum wage would be reduced to €1.84 per hour if the treaty was passed backfired. Such negative posters did not have a huge impact on the campaign on this occasion. I found that young people I met at the doorsteps were the only people who were concerned about that issue. However, that negative campaigning did not have an impact on the outcome.
We must also examine the reason almost 33% percentage of people voted “No” in the referendum. We need to ask why the people in the two Donegal constituencies voted “No”. What factors were different between Donegal and the other counties? People reflected on issues such as unemployment, the banking crisis and local issues.
The reality is that this treaty is good for Ireland. It is important that the EU is brought closer to the people. Proposed EU legislation will now be dealt with in the Houses of the Oireachtas, which we as legislators very much welcome. The Minister rightly pointed out that a yellow card system will apply.
The Minister also referred to the fact that people will be able to put a face to the European Union and he spoke about the role of the president of EU. It is important for the Union to have a President. Up to now the European Presidency has been rotated every six months. During his four-year term of office, President Obama would meet eight different EU leaders under the current structure. It would be difficult to build up a relationship in that respect. We will now have a President of the EU and will be able to put a face to the Union. It is extremely important that the President of the EU will not be president of a country. The focus of the President will be the European Union representing the 27 countries. He or she will be elected for two and a half years and more than likely will continue in office for a second term, which would bring his or her term up to five years.
The other significant appointment is the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Javier Solana held that office and during his term he has limited powers. It is extremely important that people can put a face to the person in Europe dealing with foreign policy.
The proposed European External Action Service is also important. Ireland has 76 embassies throughout the world. The UN recognises approximately 200 embassies. If a problem arises in a country in which we do not have an embassy, action can be taken speedily to address it because we are part of that system. That is extremely important.
I could speak about other relevant issues, particularly how the ratification process will move forward in terms of the Czech Republic. An EU summit will be held on 29 and 30 October.
We have removed the largest obstacle to the ratification of the treaty and its ratification now lies in the hands of the European Union.
I welcome the Bill. I am confident it will get a speedy passage through this House.